What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

The video for this story is not available, but you can still read the transcript below.
No image

Suspect’s Apparent Suicide Marks New Turn in Anthrax Probe

An Army microbiologist reportedly committed suicide just as Federal prosecutors were preparing to file criminal charges against him in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people. A reporter and a bioterrorism expert examine the case.

Read the Full Transcript

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Before government scientist Bruce Ivins was identified in published reports today as a possible suspect in the anthrax case, there was a seven-year-long investigation into what had happened.

    The first anthrax case came just after the attacks of September 11th, with the nation on edge about terrorism. Within weeks, the anthrax mailings had killed five people, sickened 17 others, and led thousands more to suspect exposure to the deadly bacteria.

    It began in early October, when Robert Stevens, photo editor for the Sun Newspaper, a Florida-based tabloid, died of what's called inhalation anthrax. Initially, the Bush administration said it was an isolated case.

    Soon after, more cases appeared. Letters containing the bacteria had been mailed nationwide to Washington, New York, Florida.

    One letter was sent to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in the Hart Senate Office Building. Another letter went to Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy. The Hart Senate Building would be closed for months before it was deemed safe.

    Thousands thought to be exposed to the bacteria were treated with ciprofloxacin, or Cipro, a powerful antibiotic.

    TOM BROKAW, Former Host, "NBC Nightly News": Bioterrorism is here…

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Letters arrived at the offices of CBS, ABC, and NBC News, including then-anchormen Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather. Assistants to both men were exposed and contracted the less serious, skin-based form of the infection, what's called cutaneous anthrax. Rather tried to calm nerves.

    DAN RATHER, Former Host, "CBS Evening News": Our biggest problem is fear. And we understand, and have talked about among ourselves, that those who are most afraid are in the most danger.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But by mid-October, fear was widespread. At postal facilities in Washington, Trenton, New Jersey, and elsewhere, workers had been exposed. Procedures for handling suspicious mail were instituted nationwide.

    Postmaster General John Potter.

  • JOHN POTTER, Postmaster General:

    Don't shake it. Don't taste it. Don't sniff it. Put it in a plastic bag and seal it.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The question remained: Who was doing this?

  • ROBERT MUELLER, FBI Director:

    So far, we have found no direct link to organized terrorism.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    A week later, the Washington Postal Service sorting facility that handled the Daschle letter announced two of its employees had died of inhalation anthrax.

    Spores of the bacteria were found in the mailrooms at the Supreme Court and a White House facility. The text of some of the letters included the phrase "Death to America."

    Attorney General John Ashcroft made this pronouncement.

  • JOHN ASHCROFT, Former Attorney General:

    You don't send anthrax through the mail without the kind of intent and conduct that's I think fairly labeled as "terrorism." And so we believe these to be terrorist acts.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Two women, the last victims, died in the New York area in late October and November 2001. The government later indicated the strain of anthrax was likely produced in a U.S. laboratory.

    In 2002, the Department of Justice characterized roughly two dozen people as "persons of interest" because of their backgrounds and expertise in germ warfare.

    None was more scrutinized than bio-weapons expert Steven Hatfill, who worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Anthrax was made and studied at the facility.

    Hatfill's name was leaked to various news organizations. The doctor angrily denounced the leaks as character assassination.

  • STEVEN HATFILL, Biological Weapons Scientist:

    I am not the anthrax killer. I know nothing about the anthrax attacks. I had absolutely nothing to do with this terrible crime.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Hatfill remained under suspicion for years. But last month, the U.S. government agreed to pay Hatfill $5.8 million to settle a privacy violation lawsuit.

    And today's revelations showed that investigators returned to the same weapons lab, but trained their sights on a different target.

The Latest