Friday, Aug. 1 at 4:30 p.m.
Anthrax Scientist Dies in Suicide
Friday, August 1, 2008; 4:30 PM
Post writer Carol Leonnig was online Friday, Aug. 1 at 4:30 p.m. ET to take your questions about the suicide of Bruce Ivins, a Maryland scientist under investigation for a possible connection to the 2001 anthrax mailings.
A transcript follows
Scientist Eyed in Anthrax Case Commits Suicide (Post, Aug. 1)
Barbados, West Indies: The article does not mention a motive. Can you shed light on a possible reason for his action?
Carol Leonnig: The Department of Justice hasn't publicly told us what they believed Mr. Ivins' motives might have been. Indeed, they haven't officially confirmed that Ivins had become a prime suspect of the anthrax mailings that killed 5 and injured 17 others in fall of 2001.
However, sources who have been briefed on the probe say that investigators believed that Ivins was very upset and disturbed about inadequate research to develop a vaccine for anthrax and the United States' vulnerability to this kind of biological attack.
Washington, D.C.: Please clarify how this guy may have known charges were forthcoming? it seems illogical that a case of this manner would not have a certain degree of secrecy prior to issuing an indictment or arrest. I know the last 8-years have been one episode of fear after another, but second to the DC sniper this guy had the entire nation scared to open mail! If he was a high level suspect he should have been detained!
Carol Leonnig: Our understanding is that he had been alerted by his lawyer of likely charges, and was aware of a grand jury probing his possible connection to the anthrax mailings.
As for secrecy, the Department of Justice had asked Ivins' colleagues to remain silent about the investigators' questions about Ivins, as they feared leaks could harm the investigation.
Washington, D.C.: Has there been any conjecture by any officials as to, if Ivins did it, why he just suddenly stopped?
Carol Leonnig: The claim , as we discussed in first posting, is that he was upset about the lack of research into anthrax, the development of a vaccine, and fear about the country's vulnerability. And this mailing certainly did terrify Americans, so it could help alert the public to this weakness on biological weapons.
This was one of the FBI and investigators' early theories from the start: a disgruntled scientist upset about lack of focus on bio-weapons.
Providence, R.I.: Will we get more info as this is such an important case, or will grand jury secrecy prevent that?
I also know that Sen. Leahey had a deep interest in this case, do you think he will issue a public comment?
Carol Leonnig: Justice Department officials have indicated privately today that their agency will release significant new information in coming days and weeks.
But there is an unusal tension and silence surrounding this case. A suspect has apparently taken his own life prior to any charges being filed -- or tested in court. As well, the probe has suffered from some tremendous mistakes, including high-level leaks of information that led to the Justice Department this year paying the earlier prime suspect more than $5 million to settle his suit alleging privacy violations and libel.
Anonymous: So, is the investigation going to continue or what exactly happens now?
Carol Leonnig: We understand from sources that the grand jury that had been weighing this evidence is still empanelled and would need to be disbanded.
Peaks Island, Maine: What evidence links Ivins to the attacks other than his non-reporting of cleaning up anthrax in the vicinity of his office?
Carol Leonnig: That's an excellent question and one the Post will seek to answer in more detail in our coming stories. Sorry to be coy on specifics.
However, in general, there is the possibility of physical evidence as well as circumstantial evidence. And in this case, dealing with anthrax manipulated into a weapon, a very tiny circle of people are possible suspects.
Peaks Island, Maine: Since by July 24, per Duley's filing, it should have been evident that Ivins was a danger, to himself and others, why did they not take him into custody?
Carol Leonnig: There may be many reasons for this. When prosecutors consider when to file charges, they try to answer several questions:
is there a risk of flight if we don't act now?
is there a chance we can gain more evidence if we amass it quietly now without acting and alerting a suspect?
is the danger to the public so great that we have to act now, and forgo building more evidence?
In this case, it seems apparent that investigators concluded there was little risk of flight or continuing danger. People living near Dr. Ivins have told the Post that they were aware he was under regular surveillance, so perhaps if any law enforcement officials perceived any risk, it was mitigated by so much monitoring.
washingtonpost.com: Carol had to return to working on the Ivins story. Thank you for your questions.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.