The Anthrax Files: The Essential Documents
FRONTLINE closely examined more than 27,000 pages of FBI documents for this investigation. Here are some of the key documents and significant reports on the investigation and the government’s conclusion that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the perpetrator of the attacks. Click on the image to view the document.
This document shows Dr. Bruce Ivins at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) was the custodian of a 1000 ml flask of liquid anthrax labeled RMR-1029. The FBI later claims RMR-1029 is the parent material of the anthrax used in the mailings.
The anthrax from the letter addressed to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) was sent to USAMRIID for analysis by Ivins and his colleagues. In his report, Ivins wrote:
If this is a preparation of bacterial spores, it is an extremely pure preparation, and an extremely high concentration. These are not “garage” spores. The nature of the spore preparation suggests very highly that professional manufacturing techniques were used in the production and purification of the spores, as well as converting the spores into an extremely fine powder.
In the spring of 2005, investigators were narrowing in on RMR-1029, and they began interviewing people with access to the flask. They interview Ivins on March 31. He is asked detailed questions about the flask, anthrax production at USAMRIID, and personal e-mail exchanges:
IVINS was aware that many of these e-mails reveal aspects of his personal life and mental health at the time, including an acknowledgement by him that he was seeing a psychologist and had been diagnosed with “paranoid personality disorder.” IVINS offered that at the time some of these e-mails were written he was taking the antidepressant prescription medication Celexa (citalopram hydrobromide). IVINS said he is better now and no longer takes Celexa. IVINS related that he internalizes his negative emotions and, as a result, suffers from ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. When asked whether his psychological condition had ever caused him to do anything which surprised him, IVINS responded in the negative. IVINS offered that he does not “act out” and has never hit his wife.
Ivins is also asked whether, as the patent-holder on an anthrax vaccine, he could have financially benefited from the attacks. Ivins says that he received $6,000 in royalties after his vaccine was mass-produced and that he shared the payment with his colleagues.
Ivins also addresses his late hours and weekends at work, saying he would sometimes go to the lab “‘to escape’ the stresses of his family” and that he spent time in the hot suites to escape a security guard who bothered him.
And he talks about taking long, “mindless drives,” equating them with “the way some people go for a long walk,” but denies driving to Princeton, N.J. (the location from which the anthrax letters were mailed).
Years later, Ivins would e-mail a friend about this interrogation, which he says put him into a deep depression:
Up until that time I felt that I had been helping officials with the anthrax letters case, providing as much as I could that I thought was relevant. Then at the end of March I had an interrogation from two people who said I was suspicious … and asked me lots more accusatory questions. I was crushed and had to be taken out of the biocontainment suites for several months.
This FBI report shows all the samples that tested positive for the morphs that were in the attack anthrax. Three of those samples — highlighted in the document — came from Ivins. The report also notes an additional sample from Ivins that tested negative for the morphs; investigators would later accuse Ivins of having deliberately obscured this sample to hide his involvement in the attacks.
As pressure increased throughout the investigation, particularly following his May 2007 appearances before the grand jury, Ivins’ e-mail activity revealed an increasingly distraught man:
- “Eventually a trial will come and we’ll be dragged up to the witness chair to testify, and that’s when the other side wil [sic] start dragging us through the dirt. It’s a lawyer’s job to sully the personal and professional reputations of witnesses on the other side. For me it means people finding out that I’m a slob, keep poor records, am lousy at math, and see a psychiatrist. There are things that others would prefer not to be spread around. I’m planning on leaving at the end of September of 2008.” (May 23, 2007)
- “Who knows. I’m just so beat. I was at the grand jury for five hours, 3 hours on one day and 2 hours on the next. The questions were so accusatory on so many fronts. … I’m not planning on jumping off a bridge or something, so don’t think I’m going suicidal or something. I honestly don’t know what anybody can do. … I don’t think there’s much anybody can do. I search emails and documents, trying to find things, trying to help, and look at what it gets me. It makes me wish that I had never gone into biomedical research.” (May 24, 2007)
- “The grand jury was also very accusatory. I’m fortunately taking a lot of medication for depression, but that’s only helping some. I also have to use a lot of caffeine in the morning, and then alcohol and sleeping pills at night. Do you realize that if anybody gets indicted for even the most remote reason with respect to the anthrax letters — something as simple as not locking up spore preps to restrict them from only people in our lab — they face the death penalty? Playing any part, even a minor part such as providing information about how to make spores, or how to make them in broth, how to harvest and purify that could wind up putting one or more hapless persons on death row. Not pleasant to think about.” (June 10, 2007)
On Nov. 1, agents interview Ivins at work and ask him a series of questions about RMR-1029 and his submissions to the FBI repository.
Towards the end of the interview, agents tell Ivins that a search is underway of his home, vehicles and office space. The agents ask Ivins if he “worried”; he acknowledged he was and after a few minutes said that he does things “a middle age man should not do” and that would “not be acceptable to most people,” including cross-dressing.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Ivins would later e-mail a friend.
This is the FBI’s report of Ivins’ first major sit-down interview with federal prosecutors. During the interview, he details his obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, which began in the early 1960s after a KKG member rejected a date with him.
- Ivins admits visiting several KKG houses across the south and stealing secret ritual materials from KKG chapters at the University of North Carolina and West Virginia University. He says he committed the burglaries during spring breaks “to ensure nobody would be present in the houses.”
- Ivins says his wife had no knowledge of his obsession or his clandestine visits to KKG houses. In her interview with FRONTLINE, prosecutor Rachel Lieber underscored the significance of this admission: “He said to us, effectively, ‘I don’t have an alibi.'”
- Ivins also tells investigators that after he learned his colleague Nancy Haigwood was a Kappa, “he set out to learn everything about and befriend her.” He admits to stealing her lab notebook while in graduate school, and to later spray painting “KKG” on the sidewalk near her house and vandalizing her car.
- Ivins admits to having several aliases and to maintaining a P.O. box from which he distributed copies of the KKG ritual book using a name prosecutors say was based on the name of Haigwood’s then-husband. He says he had a second P.O. box where he received bondage literature.
In a second sit-down interview with Ivins, prosecutors follow up on many of the statements he made in his first interview, including his KKG obsession. Ivins describes in detail breaking into the Chapel Hill and West Virginity University sorority houses:
He entered the house at night through a first floor bathroom window which was located behind a shrub. Although there were several lights on inside, he knew nobody was there as those lights were always left on. IVINS, using a small pen light to help him see, went upstairs and looked for anything which was locked and may contain secretive sorority documents or materials. There was a hallway closet which was locked, so IVINS used a coat hanger or some similar object to open the door. Inside the closet he found the “Cipher” and some documents regarding KKG rituals. The Cipher was a document encased in glass, and it referred to a book of ritual which IVINS also looked for but did not find. In an unlocked closet directly across from that which contained the Cipher were some blindfolds made from torn bed sheets. IVINS assumed the blindfolds were used for the KKG initiation, but he did not take them. IVINS left after spending about an hour in the house, taking with him the Cipher and ritual materials.
He also says he took long drives “as a way to relieve stress or as a form of therapy,” but says his wife never knew where he went or questioned him.
During the interview, investigators showed Ivins a diagram he drew early on in the investigation that showed how he prepared very pure anthrax spores. But when shown the diagram, Ivins said he didn’t remember drawing it and was “non-responsive” to questions about how to interpret the drawing.
Investigators would later contrast Ivins’ precise memory of events long past with his inability to explain how his time was spent during late nights in the laboratory. And they would argue that Ivins’ admissions of long drives was significant because it showed a pattern of behavior, and because he undercut an alibi by acknowledging his wife didn’t know when or where he was going.
Threatening to take revenge on his colleagues, Ivins broke down during a group therapy session in July 2008. His therapist, Jean Duley petitioned for Ivins to be involuntarily confined to a mental institution, and police forcibly removed Ivins from the lab the following day. Duley’s notes are included in this police report, released after Ivins’ suicide.
The client appeared angry, hostile, and jumpy. He was asked if there was an issue he wanted to discuss. The client was evasive, pressed he started talking about anger towards investigators, the government, the whole system. He began to detail the anger, asked to focus he described he wasn’t going to face the death penalty. He described his plan, the bullet proof vest, a gun, a list of co-workers, people that had wronged him, etc. He had a tone of anger but a smile on his face. He was very agitated, shaky and pressed I his speech, very delibrate, [sic] thoughtful and certain in manner. He explained that he had been on the streets looking for someone to pick a fight with him so that he could hurt them, showing a sharp pen he could use as a weapon. He stated that he was not going to drink, but when he did it would be the 1st time, he kept asking for sleeping pills, several times he asked. He repeated his plan with the bullet proof vest, gun, list, explaining that a well thought out plan cleaning up etc could be done, he was stopped because others in the group were unnerved by that speech. He was very clear in his thought patterns, is [sic] anger towards certain individuals and his ideas of harming others and himself.
The government publicly named Bruce Ivins as the suspect in a hastily arranged press conference days after his August 2008 suicide; the Justice Department’s final summary of the Amerithrax investigation was released 18 months later.
The 92-page report details the government’s case against Ivins, including his access to RMR-1029, his late nights and weekends in the lab, his mental health issues, his suspicious submissions to the FBI anthrax repository, his KKG obsession, his habit of long drives, and the threats made during his July 2008 therapy session. Regarding Ivins’ motive, investigators wrote:
… it is clear that by the summer of 2001, Dr. Ivins was under an extraordinary amount of stress in his professional life. The anthrax vaccine research program that Dr. Ivins had invested essentially his entire career of more than 20 years was in jeopardy of failure. … Under extreme pressure from so many different assaults on his career and life’s work, Dr. Ivins had a motive to commit the crime.”
Under criticism about the FBI’s conclusions in the case, FBI Director Robert Mueller asked an independent panel from the National Academies of Sciences to independently review the investigation’s scientific findings.
“It is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone,” the panel concluded in a 191-page report.
And the report particularly called into question the conclusions about RMR-1029: “The scientific link between the letter material and flask number RMR-1029 is not as conclusive as stated in the DOJ Investigative Summary,” though the panel did say that genetic evidence supported “an association” between the attack anthrax and RMR-1029.
In its official response, the FBI maintained that its scientific conclusions were only one part of its case against Ivins:
… while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case. Although there have been great strides in forensic science over the years, rarely does science alone solve an investigation. The scientific findings in this case provided investigators with valuable investigative leads that led to the identification of the late Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.
Following Ivins’ suicide, a federal court judge asked a panel of experts to review Ivins’ psychiatric records. The panel’s review of the records found that:
Dr. Ivins was psychologically disposed to undertake the mailings; his behavioral history demonstrated his potential for carrying them out; and he had the motivation and the means. The psychiatric records offer considerable additional circumstantial evidence in support of the DOJ’s finding.
The report details Ivins’ “traumatic, damaging childhood,” his KKG obsession and his “intense emotional attachments” to two of his female lab technicians. It suggests his “lifelong preoccupation” with revenge, “personal validation” and “professional redemption” as possible motives behind the attacks.
Ivins’ “significant and lengthy history of psychological disturbance and diagnosable mental illness” should have precluded him from holding a security clearance, the report concludes.