FBI Faulted For Overstating Science In Anthrax Case The FBI and Justice Department overstated the certainty of the scientific evidence used to prove that Bruce Ivins carried out the anthrax mailings that killed five people in 2001, according to an independent panel of scientists. The panel limited its findings to the science and did not "assess the guilt or innocence of anyone" tied to the case.
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FBI Faulted For Overstating Science In Anthrax Case

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FBI Faulted For Overstating Science In Anthrax Case

FBI Faulted For Overstating Science In Anthrax Case

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This story gives us the opportunity to talk with two of our reporters, NPR's Joe Palca on the science, and NPR's Dina Temple-Raston on the investigation. Welcome to both of you.

DINA TEMPLE: Thank you.

JOE PALCA: Thanks.

NORRIS: Dina, I'm going to start with you. Can you remind us again about the broad outlines of this case?

TEMPLE: And then the suspect that they decided on, Bruce Ivins, they started investigating him in 2007. And the FBI says that just as agents were preparing to indict him, Ivins killed himself. And that was in July of 2008.

NORRIS: Joe, I'm going to get you in just a minute. But just tell us a bit about Bruce Ivins.

TEMPLE: Bruce Ivins was a scientist who actually worked with anthrax at Fort Detrick. And he had access to this and that was one of the reasons they started zeroing in on him. And then there were other sort of circumstantial evidence that came in.

NORRIS: So, Joe, what did this review panel say?

PALCA: And the reason they're saying yes, but, is that this is a very new branch of science being able to type a strain of bacteria. And the question is: Was it really for certain? And the academy panel said not necessarily for certain, probably, could be consistent with, but not certain.

NORRIS: Probably consistent with, not certain. So does it possibly mean that the FBI might have had the wrong guy?

PALCA: The scientific evidence doesn't speak to that exactly. What the scientific evidence says is - or what the science says is, if you're going to base your entire case on the science, it's not airtight. Right? You need to have other pieces of evidence. And, of course, the FBI says, well, sure, we have other piece of evidence.

NORRIS: Dina?

TEMPLE: And he also had this obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority. And it turns out that the mailbox from which some these anthrax letters were posted was about 60 feet away from the Princeton Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Now, that doesn't exactly put him there at the mailbox mailing things, but it adds to this whole narrative.

NORRIS: It sounds that it was hoped that this panel would provide definitive answers. Is this over now?

TEMPLE: Well, the FBI people that I spoke to said they have absolutely no intention of reopening the case. So in that respect, yes, it's over. But because Bruce Ivins took his life before they could actually indict him, there's always going to be some controversy and conspiracy theories around this case.

NORRIS: And, Joe, Congressman Rush Holt is still planning something with this.

PALCA: That's right. He represents the district where the letters were mailed from. His office was one of the ones that was contaminated by the letters that were sent to Capitol Hill. And he says, look, these are questions, scientific questions that are still open, maybe not proving that Ivins wasn't guilty, but still open scientific questions. And he thinks that neither the FBI or the academy want to say this publically, but they're still significant questions about this case and he wants a national commission to investigate.

NORRIS: Joe Palca, Dina Temple-Raston, thanks to both of you.

TEMPLE: You're welcome.

PALCA: You're welcome.

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