Was man accused of post-9/11 anthrax attacks innocent?

Research disputes FBI's forensic evidence against scientist who committed suicide

Los Angeles

The man held responsible for the post-9/11 anthrax attacks may have had a secret accomplice, or been completely innocent of his alleged crimes, according to research into the FBI's investigation of the affair.

Bruce Ivins, an army bio-defence expert, committed suicide in 2008 after learning that murder charges were about to be filed against him in connection with the high-profile terrorist campaign, in which five people were killed and another 17 injured.

But an article published this week in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefence highlights several inconsistencies in the forensic evidence against Dr Ivins, raising speculation that the FBI got the wrong man, and then prematurely closed their investigation following his death. The report, co-authored by three scientists, says that detectives failed to properly analyse the dried anthrax spores that were used in the attacks, which took place over several weeks following the September 11 bombings in 2001.

Analysis of the white powder, which was sent through the postal service to news organisations and politicians, showed that it contains unexpected traces of tin. That suggests a high degree of manufacturing skill, contrary to official conclusions that the attacks were part of a relatively-unsophisticated campaign carried out by Dr Ivins alone.

Agency scientists initially described the tin as an "element of interest" in the case, according to internal FBI documents uncovered by The New York Times. Early on in their investigation, they regarded it as a crucial clue which suggested that the anthrax – which had been mailed in envelopes containing the message: "Death to America ... Death to Israel... Allah is great" – had come from a relatively-professional source.

They later dropped that line of inquiry, however, and never mentioned the tin publicly. Following the death of Dr Ivins, who killed himself as the FBI were preparing to indict him, the agency failed to provide any detailed explanation of how the anthrax was manufactured.

The Journal's article will add to speculation that Dr Ivins was innocent of his alleged crime. An eccentric, with a history of erratic behaviour and some circumstantial links to the attacks, sceptics say he made a convenient scapegoat for investigators under pressure to close what became a long-running case.

Dr Ivins had an office near the New Jersey post box where two of the contaminated letters originated, and worked unusually late hours on the nights before they had been sent. He had also spent much of his career studying anthrax and had sometimes referred to a schizophrenic alter ego called "Crazy Bruce."

There was, however, no concrete evidence linking Dr Ivins to the crime. A report published last year by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the FBI did not have enough scientific evidence to produce a conviction, had the case gone to trial.

Among their many criticisms, the authors found that the link between the anthrax used in the attacks and a supply which Dr Ivins kept in his lab was "not as strong" as the agency suggested.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn