Bruce Ivins (2001)

BIOTERRORBIBLE.COM: The 2001 anthrax attacks were allegedly committed by Army scientist Bruce Ivins shortly after 9/11. Although it is not yet clear if Ivins was truly responsible or just an unfortunate scapegoat, the strain of Anthrax was confirmed to be from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Speculation currently exists that Army biological weapons researcher Steven J. Hatfill was the rouge Anthrax scientist who coincidently and suspiciously had authored a book (unfinished and unpublished) in 1998 which describes a paralyzing bio-terror attack against the White House and Congress in which dozens of people sicken or die. It is quite possible that Hatfill’s book “Emergence” was a cleaver alibi which provided future political cover in the aftermath of the attacks.

The 9/11 Anthrax attacks are a great case study of why the government and its minions should always be the first suspect in any terror case, especially one involving bio-terrorism. Aside from having the means, the motive and the opportunity to conduct a major bio-terror attack, they have an unlimited supply of willing, able and blackmailable rouge scientists to choose from. In order to organize, plan, drill and execute a major bio-terror false-flag operation, millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to blackmail scientists, steal or develop the virus or agent, weaponize it, deliver it, and execute the operation without getting arrested or properly investigated. The sheer logistics, security, communication and cover-up needed before and after the bio-terror attack is so daunting, there is only one suspect (government) even capable of carrying it out.

Title: Suicide Of Anthrax Scientist Raises Questions
Date: August 1, 2008
Source: Science Mag

Abstract: One of the greatest criminal mysteries of the decade has taken a dramatic new turn with the suicide last Tuesday of Bruce Ivins, an anthrax researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. According to news reports, federal prosecutors were preparing to file charges against Ivins, 62, for plotting the anthrax letter attacks which killed five people and sickened 17 others in October and November 2001.

Biodefense researchers were pondering today whether there might be a backlash to their field if the worst bioterror crime in U.S. history was indeed committed by a scientist who had spent a career developing countermeasures against anthrax. But the fact that Ivins won't face trial also raised the uncomfortable specter that the full truth about the case may never come out. "We may never know for sure whether he did it or not," says virologist Thomas Geisbert, a former USAMRIID researcher now at Boston University. Ivins's lawyer, Paul Kemp of Rockville, Maryland, issued a statement quoted by The New York Times declaring his client innocent and alleging that mounting pressure from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had "led to his untimely death."

According to the Los Angeles Times, which broke the story this morning, Ivins committed suicide by taking an overdose of painkillers. Ivins had worked at USAMRIID for 18 years, focusing primarily on anthrax. Most of his published work was on anthrax vaccines. Ivins produced and used anthrax spores of the Ames strain, the type used in the letter attacks, to infect animals.

In a statement issued this afternoon, the FBI did not mention Ivins's name but said it would reveal more information about the case after victims' families had been informed. The bureau said that "substantial progress" has been made in the case, thanks in part to "new and sophisticated scientific tools"--but it didn't give specifics.

The FBI has been under immense pressure from politicians and the public to find the perpetrators of the 2001 attacks, and some are worried that Ivins's death may provide a premature opportunity to declare the case solved. In a statement today, Alan Pearson of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., called on the bureau to continue its investigation. "The need for a thorough investigation and a full accounting to the American people remains." Ivins's inability to defend himself makes it even more important that scientists be able to pore over the complete scientific evidence, says R. John Collier, an anthrax researcher at Harvard University. "I would love to see what they have," Collier says.

Just this summer, the government agreed to pay $4.6 million to Steven Hatfill, a biodefense researcher whose life was turned upside down in 2002 after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called him a "person of interest" in the anthrax attacks. Geisbert wonders whether Ivins's death was the result of "another Hatfill situation, and was he just unable to handle the pressure."

The death--and presumed involvement in the anthrax letters--puts the biodefense research community in a tight spot, says Gerald Epstein, a biosecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "From the very beginning, there has been speculation that the attacks were carried out by a biodefense zealot who wanted to prove that bioterrorism was a serious problem," says Epstein. If true, that could give the public the impression that "biodefense research is a giant fraud," he says. "It would be unfortunate if the message people take away from this is that the only individuals we should be concerned about are deranged biodefense scientists."

Geisbert worries that Ivins's potential involvement will give new ammunition to local groups that have tried to stop the wave of new biosafety labs. In Boston, "we have had a lot of opposition--and this is not going to help," he says. Still, Geisbert points out, none of the anthrax victims lived in or near USAMRIID, and there's no reason to believe local residents are at greater risk when a biodefense researcher becomes a bioterrorist himself.

Jonathan Tucker, a specialist on biological weapons control, says the incident is bound to evoke new concerns about "insider threats" at government and university labs. Officials may be compelled to further scrutinize researchers who work with select agents, Tucker says, adding that some questions have already been raised about "the adequacy of the screening process" used by the FBI to determine if a scientist should be allowed to work with a dangerous pathogen (Science Mag, 2008)

Title: Anthrax Case Renews Questions On Bioterror
Date: August 3, 2008
Source: New York Times

Abstract: Until the anthrax attacks of 2001, Bruce E. Ivins was one of just a few dozen American bioterrorism researchers working with the most lethal biological pathogens, almost all at high-security military laboratories.

Today, there are hundreds of such researchers in scores of laboratories at universities and other institutions around the United States, preparing for the next bioattack.

But the revelation that F.B.I. investigators believe that the anthrax attacks were carried out by Dr. Ivins, an Army biodefense scientist who committed suicide last week after he learned that he was about to be indicted for murder, has already re-ignited a debate: Has the unprecedented boom in biodefense research made the country less secure by multiplying the places and people with access to dangerous germs?

“We are putting America at more risk, not less risk,” said Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of a House panel that has investigated recent safety lapses at biolabs.

F.B.I. investigators have long speculated that the motive for the attacks, if carried out by a biodefense insider like Dr. Ivins, might have been to draw public attention to a dire threat, attracting money and prestige to a once-obscure field.

If that was the motive, it succeeded. In the years since anthrax-laced letters were sent to members of Congress and news organizations in late 2001, killing five people, almost $50 billion in federal money has been spent to build new laboratories, develop vaccines and stockpile drugs.

After the attacks, for example, an experimental vaccine Dr. Ivins had spent years working on moved from the laboratory to a proposed $877 million federal contract, though the deal collapsed two years later. Federal documents suggest that Dr. Ivins, along with several colleagues, might have earned royalties had the contract gone forward, but the deal ultimately collapsed.

Dr. Ivins’s lawyer, Paul F. Kemp, and some of the scientist’s colleagues insist that he was innocent. Mr. Kemp said by e-mail on Saturday that news reports that his client had considered agreeing to a plea bargain were “entirely spurious.” And a senior law enforcement official said that discussions between investigators and Mr. Kemp were “preliminary” and routine and did not represent any active discussion of a plea bargain.

But officials at the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Saturday appeared confident that they had the right man. They said they were still weighing how and when to seek an end to the grand jury investigation.

“That’s not a decision we’re going to make lightly,” said one Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations. “There won’t be a rush to judgment.”

As prosecutors consider how to proceed in the wake of Dr. Ivins’s death, federal officials say they are convinced that the increase in biodefense spending has brought real gains.

“Across the spectrum of biothreats we have expanded our capacity significantly,” said Craig Vanderwagen, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services who oversees the biodefense effort. Systems to detect an attack, investigate it and respond with drugs, vaccines and cleanup are all hugely improved, Dr. Vanderwagen said. “We can get pills in the mouth,” he said.

Supporters of the spending increase cite studies that project apocalyptic tolls from a large-scale biological attack. One 2003 study led by a Stanford scholar, for instance, found that just two pounds of anthrax spores dropped over an American city could kill more than 100,000 people, even if antibiotic distribution began quickly.

And there is ample evidence that Qaeda leaders have shown interest in using biological weapons. Yazid Sufaat, a Malaysian-born Qaeda biochemist who trained in the United States, spent several months in 2001 trying to cultivate anthrax in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Yet nearly seven years have passed without another biological attack, which has reduced the sense of urgency about the bioterrorist threat, even among some specialists.

“I think it’s an important risk, but frankly I’m more concerned about bombs and guns, which are easily available and can be very destructive,” said Randall S. Murch, a former F.B.I. scientist who has studied ways to trace a bioterrorist attack to its source.

And Congressional investigators recently warned that the proliferation of biodefense research laboratories presents real threats, too.

More people in more places handling toxic agents create more opportunities for an accident or intentional misuse by an insider, Keith Rhodes, an investigator with the Government Accountability Office, said at a Congressional hearing in October.

Nationwide, an estimated 14,000 people work at about 400 laboratories and have permission to work with so-called select agents, which could be used in a bioterror attack, although not all are authorized to handle the most toxic substances, like anthrax. With so many people involved, there is insufficient federal oversight of biodefense facilities to make sure the laboratories follow security rules and report accidents that might threaten lab workers or lead to a release that might endanger the public, Mr. Rhodes testified.

In effect, the government may be providing the tools that a would-be terrorist could use, said Richard H. Ebright, a Rutgers University biochemist and vocal critic of the federal increase in biodefense spending.

“One well-placed student, technician or senior scientist — no cost, with the salary being provided courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer — and no risk, no difficulty,” Mr. Ebright said. “That is all it takes.”

Heightening the concern has been a string of accidents at certain new or expanded biodefense laboratories, several of which were not properly reported to the authorities when they took place.

One of the first accidents was in Dr. Ivins’s lab in late 2001, when he and his colleagues were aiding the federal investigation of the anthrax attacks and spores accidentally spilled outside the secure area. He failed to report the event to his superiors and instead tried to disinfect the contaminated areas, according to an Army report, which concluded, “Adherence to institute safety procedures by laboratory personnel is lax.”

In early 2006, at Texas A&M University, a worker was infected with Brucella bacteria, a pathogen common in livestock that can cause flulike symptoms like fever, fatigue and joint pain, although it is rarely fatal. Later, three researchers at the same lab were infected with Q fever, another cattle-borne disease that can cause serious but generally not fatal illness in humans.

After the two incidents belatedly became public, federal officials temporarily shut down the laboratory, citing a series of safety shortcomings, like unapproved experiments and staff members given access to the dangerous agents even though they had not been approved to handle them.

Apart from the insider threat, some public health experts believe money used to study obscure pathogens that are not a major disease problem could be better directed to study known killers like influenza or AIDS.

Partly in response to this criticism, government officials now often talk about how strengthening the systems necessary to respond to a terror attack would also prepare the country for a natural epidemic like avian flu.

As experts debate threats, nervous neighbors of expanding biodefense facilities have repeatedly rallied to try to defeat them. At Fort Detrick in Maryland, some residents have opposed the construction of a “national biodefense campus” slated to include a new building to house the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Dr. Ivins worked for many years before his suicide. Three other new laboratories on the campus will be operated by the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture.

Proponents say clustering the laboratories on a military base will encourage safe scientific collaboration and save money through sharing of some facilities.

The buildup, and the related increase in research, has brought some important advances, federal officials argue, like promising new experimental vaccines or therapies to treat smallpox or Ebola virus.

The country now also has an expanded stockpile of vaccines and drugs to treat anyone exposed in a future attack, including enough antibiotics to treat more than 40 million Americans who might be exposed to anthrax and nearly five million bottles of a special potassium iodide liquid that helps protect infants from harm caused by nuclear fallout.

The deal for the $877 million contract that included Dr. Ivins’s vaccine collapsed in 2006 after the contractor, VaxGen of Brisbane, Calif., missed deadlines. VaxGen, in a licensing agreement with the Army to produce the vaccine, listed two patents held by Dr. Ivins and his colleagues. The possibility that Dr. Ivins could earn royalties from the patents was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

Arthur Friedlander, one of Dr. Ivins’s collaborators in the work that led to the anthrax vaccine patent in 2002, declined to comment when asked Saturday if he and others who had worked on the project stood to gain financially. He referred the question to an Army spokeswoman, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Dr. Ivins’s lawyer, Mr. Kemp, said he could not comment on the notion that Dr. Ivins stood to earn royalties from vaccine patents because of attorney-client privilege.

VaxGen had agreed to pay royalties to the Army in exchange for the license to produce the new anthrax vaccine, according to federal financial disclosure it filed. And Army policy would allow the inventor to receive up to $150,000 a year “of any royalties/payments resulting from commercial licensure.”

It is unclear what the deal in this case might have been, or how the royalties might have been split among the five researchers whose names were on the patent.

Addressing the issue of bioterrorism spending, Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, said he was convinced that the increase had left the nation better prepared for an attack, without creating significant new vulnerabilities.

“You can never say that the system is 100 percent secure,” Mr. Greenberger said. “But the research ethic today is one of much greater discipline and focus on security than was true prior to the anthrax attacks.”

Mr. Stupak, the congressman from Michigan, remains concerned.

“You have all these universities tripping over each other trying to be high-level biosecurity labs,” he said. “What the nation gets is a very expensive bill, less security and a greater risk to the surrounding communities" (New York Times, 2008)

Title: Army Researcher’s Alleged Anthrax Attack Raises Concerns Over Biodefense Labs
Date: August 4, 2008
Source: Discovery

Abstract: Last week’s suicide by a government biodefense researcher who had been linked to the mailing of anthrax-laced letters in 2001 has raised thorny questions about whether the benefits of biodefense research outweigh the risks. Researcher Bruce Ivins had reportedly been informed by the FBI that he was about to be indicted for murder in the incident that killed five people and sent 17 more to the hospital.

Some observers point out that biodefense research has vastly increased since the terrorist attacks of 2001, and raise the question: Has the unprecedented boom in biodefense research made the country less secure by multiplying the places and people with access to dangerous germs? … Nationwide, an estimated 14,000 people work at about 400 laboratories and have permission to work with so-called select agents, which could be used in a bioterror attack, although not all are authorized to handle the most toxic substances, like anthrax.

Yet Ivins may have been motivated by the desire to spur a further increase of biodefense spending and research, former acquaintances said. One former senior official with Ivins’ employer … said he believed his former colleague wanted more attention — and resources — shifted to biological defense. “It had to have been a motive,” said the former official, who suspects that Ivins was the culprit. “I don’t think he ever intended to kill anybody. He just wanted to prove ‘Look, this is possible.’ He probably had no clue that it would aerosolize through those envelopes and kill those postal workers”.

Ivins’ biography is full of contradictions. He was a trusted researcher for the U.S. Army for 35 years and received a commendation from the Department of Defense, yet his therapist described him as a “revenge killer” who had been diagnosed by several psychiatrists as “a sociopathic, homicidal killer”. The news of Ivins’ apparent instability is likely to draw more attention to the possibility of “insider threats” at government and university labs. Officials may be compelled to further scrutinize researchers who work with select agents, [biological weapons expert Jonathan] Tucker says, adding that some questions have already been raised about “the adequacy of the screening process” used by the FBI to determine if a scientist should be allowed to work with a dangerous pathogen (Discovery, 2008).