A top government scientist who helped the FBI analyze samples from the 2001 anthrax attacks has died in Maryland from an apparent suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the attacks, the Los Angeles Times has learned.Apparently Mr. Ivins was found Sunday at his home and died in the hospital Tuesday. Case closed or just another twist?
His death, ruled a suicide, makes sense in several ways. The FBI issued a press release in March stating they were scrutinizing 3 people at Fort Detrick and one outside, and according to reports Mr. Ivins had been having some emotional troubles since then. The CNN story says a restraining order was issued on him in July to stay away from a woman they refused to name. So far few of his colleagues, or even his own brother, will say a good word about him. Sounds sort of like Hatfill, but worse.
Since he died before being indicted we may have trouble getting more info. According to MSNBC the family retains the privacy rights, obviously fodder for lawsuits against the family and not something they'd be in a hurry to release. And per usual we have some conflicting information.
According to the CNN story the FBI has said the threat is over and they won't be pursuing things further, while the New York Times says the Justice Department hasn't decided yet. Additionally:
Due to the privacy lawsuit with Hatfill, the Justice Department and the FBI are being cautious about how much information they reveal about the investigation into Ivins, federal lawyers told NBC News' Pete Williams.Translated, the government can't use anonymous sources to leak something to the press like, "pssst, that was definitely our man because.." without risking another Hatfill-type defamation lawsuit by the family.
But other loose ends still linger. Surely the FBI had compelling evidence against Hatfill to consider him a person of interest. And surely they had even more against Ivins if they were ready to indict. Yet if they had anything on Ivins why did it take 7 years to act? Surely they scrutinized everyone at Fort Detrick in 2001, including Hatfill and Ivins, before pointing fingers at anyone. Indeed, Judge Reggie Walton made the following comment about Hatfill's defamation case:
"There is not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with this,"Shall we believe the government was so desperate for a fall guy they pinned it on someone they couldn't possibly place at the crime scene while ignoring someone they could? Well, consider the DC sniper case. Both were very emotionally charged cases.
The Times story paints Ivins as an eccentric but talented researcher. They drop a hint by saying his most recent paper talked about the lack of monkeys for testing anthrax vaccines, suggesting he might have been involved in some kind of twisted field research in 2001. They also tell us he was a regular church goer and such.
Gleaning from the stories, apparently he'd retired from the government in 2006 and like many had returned as a private contractor, only recently to have his clearance pulled. That's a pretty arrogant guy, coming back when he could have easily faded away. It might not be unusual for a killer, though. Perhaps more troubling is the thought that someone of such reputation had a top-secret clearance at one of our most critical bio-defense labs.
On a side note, it's interesting that another distinguished microbiologist, Don Wiley, also allegedly killed himself right here in Memphis back in 2001 followed by a most bizarre incident with the Medical Examiner being wrapped in a barbed wire with an explosive device attached. Add the mysterious death of Dr. David Kelly in England and his relationship with former Times writer Judy Miller, and her former acquaintance with former Cheney staffer Scooter Libby, and well, it's no wonder so many have doubts about all this stuff. It's like a real-world Clancy novel.
Right about now Hatfill would be a very interesting interview, wouldn't he? Perhaps his agreement, which holds the government harmless, also prevents him from speaking to the press. So far his lawyers have done all the talking. With such a lack of information, many will never consider this a closed case.
But it has the feeling of case closed. Sure, there's the possibility Ivins' recent anxiety was related more to becoming the new person of interest rather than about his guilt--he knew what Hatfill had endured but unlike the doctor, described as cocky or arrogant at times, Ivins has been described as thin-skinned and sensitive. His lawyers issued a statement claiming that his recent behavior might have been related to the scrutiny, and that he was innocent.
But believing the above requires believing he was either murdered or accidentally swallowed a bunch of Tylenols and Oxycodone. It might help to see the suicide note (if it's not part of the personal effects the family has control over now). Most rational people will reject the above in favor of believing he was fully aware of coming attractions and did what needed to be done. Prison would be rough on a 62 year old scientist. But that also makes it such a tidy wrap after all these years.
In sum, we've come full circle from one lone wolf suspect to another, with both telling no tales. Quite appropriate, it would seem.