Friday, August 1, 2008

2001 Anthrax Case Closed?

Most people have forgotten about the 2001 anthrax killings -- it’s the “forgotten terror attack” because it didn’t involve Muslims, people with brown skin and funny names, or things that exploded. So it’s helpful to remember that in the weeks and months after the 9/11 attacks, at a time when this country was told to be very, very afraid of biowarfare, “germ warfare,” anthrax, ricin, and sarin gas, five people were killed and 17 others were sickened by letters containing anthrax. Remember all those envelopes containing a “white powdery substance” that shut down the U.S. mail service?

Remember the Senate offices, the media outlets that were targeted?

Of course you don’t. No one remembers these things. Sigh.

Anyway, the government never made any arrests in the case but now, we’re told the FBI was closing in on a suspect who has apparently committed suicide:
A top government scientist who helped the FBI analyze samples from the 2001 anthrax attacks has died in Maryland from an apparent suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the attacks, the Los Angeles Times has learned.

Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who for the last 18 years worked at the government's elite biodefense research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md., had been informed of his impending prosecution, said people familiar with Ivins, his suspicious death and the FBI investigation.

Ivins, whose name had not been disclosed publicly as a suspect in the case, played a central role in research to improve anthrax vaccines by preparing anthrax formulations used in experiments on animals.

Regarded as a skilled microbiologist, Ivins also helped the FBI analyze the powdery material recovered from one of the anthrax-tainted envelopes sent to a U.S. senator's office in Washington.

Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital after ingesting a massive dose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine, said a friend and colleague, who declined to be identified out of concern that he would be harassed by the FBI.

You can off yourself with tylenol and codeine? I did not know that. I was always told at fiction writer’s camp that you can’t kill yourself with downers, you need to use uppers. But what do I know, I’m not a mystery writer.

Anyway, none of the news coverage I’ve read gives a possible motive for the attacks seven years ago. As for his suicide, the Los Angeles Times says Ivins was suffering from depression and stress over his pending forced retirement and the federal investigation. He was in therapy and had mentioned suicide previously.

But as for why he would target "American media" and certain U.S. Senators with anthrax, we don't know. Perhaps we'll find out soon.

Now to our next unsolved mystery: where's Osama?