Published January 13, 2015
Bruce E. Ivins, the late microbiologist suspected in the 2001 anthrax attacks, had attempted to poison people as far back as 2000 and his therapist said she was "scared to death" of him, according to court testimony that emerged Saturday.
Social worker Jean Duley testified at a court hearing in Frederick on July 24 in a successful bid for a protective order from Ivins — who five days later committed suicide — that he "actually attempted to murder several other people."
Ivins took a fatal dose of acetaminophen, the active drug in Tylenol, as federal authorities monitored his movements and prepared to charge him with the murder of five people who died from anthrax poisoning in the weeks after the Sept. 2001 terror attacks. An audio recording of the court session was obtained by The New York Times and posted on its Web site.
The glimpse of the man at the center of the anthrax probe came as investigators consider how to proceed in their investigation.
Answers to one of the nation's highest profile unsolved mysteries are in documents that could be released as early as this week — and help explain how the government chased the wrong suspect for years.
Prosecutors were mulling this weekend whether to close the anthrax poisoning investigation, possibly as early as Monday or Tuesday. If that happens, court documents detailing newly developed scientific evidence that recently led the government to Ivins may be unsealed.
Five people died and 17 others were sickened when anthrax-laced letters began showing up at congressional offices, newsrooms and post offices soon after Sept. 11, 2001.
After wrongly investigating Army scientist Steven Hatfill, the FBI more than a year ago began looking at Ivins, who worked at the same military lab. Ivins, a decorated scientist who was working on an anthrax cure, killed himself last Tuesday.
Two U.S. officials said victims and their survivors could be briefed as early as Tuesday on the final piece of the bioterrorism attacks that confounded the government.
The Justice Department attributed the break in the case to "new and sophisticated scientific tools" that cost the FBI about $10 million. Investigators said the science focused, in part, on how the anthrax strains were handled and who had access to it at the time of the mailings.
FBI scientists were able to isolate strains used in the attacks, and determined they were not as common as previously thought. And that led investigators to Ivins.
Had the same process been available years ago, it would have cleared Hatfill much earlier, according to two people familiar with the FBI investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is not officially closed.
The therapists' comments raised new questions about how Ivins kept working at a high security job while behaving so erratically.
"As far back as the year 2000, the respondent has actually attempted to murder several other people, either through poisoning. He is a revenge killer. When he feels that he's been slighted or has had — especially toward women — he plots and actually tries to carry out revenge killings," Duley said.
She added that Ivins "has been forensically diagnosed by several top psychiatrists as a sociopathic, homicidal killer. I have that in evidence. And through my working with him, I also believe that to be very true."
Ivins, 62, who worked at an Army biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, took his own life as federal authorities were closing in after investigating him for more than a year in connection with the deaths of five people poisoned by anthrax sent through the mail.
The Army refused Saturday to say whether it had been reviewing the security clearance of Ivins.
Ivins was removed from his lab in Maryland by police on July 10 and temporarily hospitalized, according to court records, because it was feared that he was a danger to himself and others. But it was unclear whether he was still employed by the lab at the time of his death Tuesday.
That raises the question of whether Ivins still had his security clearance and, if so, how he kept it, given that his social worker said Ivins had been viewed as homicidal and sociopathic by his psychiatrist. Army spokesman Paul Boyce declined to comment and didn't respond to a question on what type of clearance microbiologists at the lab would have to hold.
David R. Franz, a former commander of the Army's lab biological warfare labs at Fort Detrick, Md., where Ivins worked, said Saturday he thought it was "very important that the FBI present their case against Bruce and not just state that the investigation was over because it was him and he's gone."
Initially, FBI profilers said they probably were looking for a loner with a scientific background. Maybe he had a grudge against the lawmakers and news organizations. Investigators also considered possible links to al-Qaida, the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks.
Intensive focus initially settled on Hatfill, who for years accused the government of unfairly targeting him. In late June, the government exonerated Hatfill and paid him a $5.82 million settlement.
With that, the government seemed no closer to solving the "Amerithrax" mystery. But, quietly, investigators were closing in on a different scientist, Ivins.
A murder indictment and the possibility of the death penalty could have produced a high-profile climax to the case. Shadowed by the FBI, Ivins died from an overdose, leaving the probe in limbo and a nation seeking answers.
Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, said: "I think the FBI owes us a complete accounting of their investigation and ought to be able to tell us at some point, how we're going to bring this to closure." Daschle's office received a letter containing the deadly white powder in 2001.
Among the unanswered questions is why the anthrax was sent. The FBI was investigating whether Ivins, renowned for his work developing anthrax vaccines and treatment, released the toxin to test those cures. Ivins was one of several scientists named in an application for a vaccine patent 18 months before the attacks.
Another puzzle is what finally led the FBI to focus on Ivins a year or so ago. Ivins attracted some attention for conducting unauthorized anthrax testing in the six months following the anthrax mailings, but the FBI focus stayed on Hatfill.
As Ivins' name emerged, so did a portrait of a conflicted, troubled man. His friends knew him as the man who played the keyboard at church, a Red Cross volunteer who was an avid juggler and gardener.
Others saw a darker side. Police recently removed him from work, fearing he was a danger to himself or others. Social worker Duley filed for a restraining order in a Maryland court.
In the taped testimony, Duley told the court that she had known Ivins for six months and had been meeting with him for group sessions weekly and for individual counseling every other week.
She said that on July 9, Ivins showed up for a group session "extremely agitated, out of control." She said that when she asked him what was wrong, he said he had obtained a gun and described to the group "a very long and detailed homicidal plan" to kill his co-workers.
Duley said she then called Ivins' two lawyers and the city police, who went to Ivins' workplace and had him committed to Frederick Memorial Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Ivins' lawyer, Paul F. Kemp, asserted the scientist's innocence and said he would have proved it at trial. Kemp said his client's death was the result of the government's "relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo."
Maryland's chief medical examiner, Dr. David Fowler, confirmed Saturday that Ivins died Tuesday morning at Frederick, Md., Memorial Hospital; that the cause of death was found to be an overdose of acetaminophen; and that it was ruled a suicide based on information from police and doctors.