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FBI investigation of 2001 anthrax attacks concluded; U.S. releases details

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2001, file photo, biohazard worker Michelle Gillie, right, prepares to enter the office of Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., in the Longworth House office building on Capitol Hill in Washington. At left is Michelle Richman, scheduler for Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2001, file photo, biohazard worker Michelle Gillie, right, prepares to enter the office of Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., in the Longworth House office building on Capitol Hill in Washington. At left is Michelle Richman, scheduler for Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert, File) (Kenneth Lambert - AP)

Moreover, FBI and U.S. Postal Service investigators concluded that the envelopes used in the attack were purchased at a post office in Maryland or Virginia by someone who could have made the drive to the Princeton, N.J., mailbox in time to mail them from there.

Lab records from Fort Detrick revealed that Ivins uncharacteristically logged dozens of hours late at night just before the anthrax envelopes were sent and that he was inexplicably absent during long stretches when investigators think he drove to New Jersey to mail them. When asked about the unusual lab hours and absences, Ivins "was unable to provide reasonable or consistent explanations," the Justice summary stated.

The newly released documents also shed light on Ivins's apparent attempts to mislead investigators. At least twice, he told FBI agents that he lacked the equipment or skill to create the kind of highly concentrated and purified spore concoctions used in the attack. But in his e-mails and private writings, Ivins acknowledged having the capability and precisely the right kinds of technical gear, including a spore-drying machine called a lyophilizer that was assigned to him personally, with an instruction manual labeled for "Dr. Ivins."

The new documents also suggest for the first time that Ivins, who was known to have a fascination with hidden codes and ciphers, might have sent a hidden message in the handwritten labels on the anthrax envelopes sent to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw. The bioterrorist darkened the letters "A" and "T" in certain words in a manner that, when the A's and T's are looked at together, appears to spell out chains of nucleic acids, the building blocks of DNA. Each of the chains is in turn associated with a letter of the alphabet.

"From this analysis, two possible hidden meanings emerged: (1) 'FNY' -- a verbal assault on New York, and (2) 'PAT,' " the Justice summary said. Pat is the nickname of a former co-worker to whom Ivins was said to have an obsessive emotional attachment.

The FBI's handling of the investigation has been criticized by Ivins's colleagues and by independent analysts who pointed out multiple gaps, including a lack of hair, fiber or other physical evidence directly linking Ivins to the anthrax letters. But despite long delays and false leads, Justice officials expressed satisfaction Friday with the outcome.

The evidence "established that Dr. Ivins, alone, mailed the anthrax letters," the Justice summary stated.

Staff writers Peter Finn and Carrie Johnson and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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