NPR logo FBI Ends Nine-Year Probe Of Anthrax Attacks

FBI Ends Nine-Year Probe Of Anthrax Attacks

Dr. Bruce Ivins, seen in this 2003 photo, committed suicide in July 2008 as investigators closed in. Corbis hide caption

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Dr. Bruce Ivins, seen in this 2003 photo, committed suicide in July 2008 as investigators closed in.


The FBI has concluded that a former Army researcher was solely responsible for the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks, ending a nearly nine-year investigation, NPR has learned from sources familiar with the case.

Officials planned to release new evidence Friday proving that Dr. Bruce Ivins, 62, mailed poison-laced letters to a handful of politicians and newspaper outlets — a finding the bureau advanced during its preliminary investigation more than a year ago.

Five people died and 17 were sickened by the attacks. Government investigators were still several major legal steps away from indicting Ivins when he killed himself in 2008.

The case has been controversial because the FBI initially believed a different Army researcher, Steven Hatfill, was behind the attacks. Hatfill eventually cleared his name and won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the government for wrongly accusing him.

By formally closing the case, the bureau is no longer bound by grand jury secrecy requirements and is free to release new details and new evidence in the case. The FBI has already briefed the anthrax victims who survived the attack as well as the families of the five people who died after opening envelopes filled with anthrax spores.

In 2008, during the preliminary investigation, the FBI revealed that Ivins had logged long hours alone in his lab at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. Investigators said Ivins used that time to process the anthrax for mailing. They also said Ivins tried to throw them off his trail by providing false leads – specifically mentioning other people they should investigate and switching a batch of anthrax they had asked to examine, among other things.

The case took a bizarre turn in that summer as the FBI closed in on Ivins. In a bid to get the Army researcher to confess, investigators had been speaking with his lawyer and even showed Ivins some of the evidence they had gathered against him. Ivins took an overdose of Tylenol and died on July 29, 2008.

His suicide sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive. They pointed to the fact that the FBI had been convinced that Hatfill was their man before turning their sights on Ivins. What's more, some of the letters had been sent from New Jersey, and investigators couldn't place Ivins there.

People familiar with the case told NPR that the evidence to be released today will answer critics and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ivins was behind the attacks and acted alone.

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