Nancy Haigwood: “I Had a Gut Feeling It Was Bruce”
… Let’s go back to the first time you met Bruce Ivins — how did you meet and what you thought of him, what your relationship was with him.
I went to graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and when I met Bruce and his wife, I was a graduate student and he was a new postdoc who had just arrived to work with Dr. Priscilla Wyrick. I met him casually, as all new people do, just dropped by the lab, “Hi, how you doing? Welcome,” that kind of thing. I had a casual friendship with him that’s typical of scientists from different laboratories.
What was he like?
He was a high-energy guy, very interested in engaging with other people. Seemed quite interested in his science. And a serious scientist, but with a fun streak to him.
His reputation at that point of the work that he was doing, the kind of intellect he had and such?
Oh, certainly very bright. I didn’t know much about it because I was studying something quite different from what his area was, so I wasn’t that familiar with the specifics. But certainly the caliber of students and fellows at UNC at that time was quite good and still is. And he seemed to fit in scientifically.
He was a little bit of an odd duck, though. That showed up in a few more months, in that he was persistently friendly in a way that scientists typically are not. We tend to be pretty contained within our own little scientific issue and typically within our own laboratories.
But he was different. How? How did it show up?
It’s so hard to describe. I know I’ve talked about this over the years. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was a little too persistent. It was just a little bit odd. It seemed as though Bruce wanted more attention than he was getting.
And his family life and his wife? Did his wife partake in a lot of the activities that would take place around a university?
There aren’t many activities around graduate school and postdoctoral life. There is the occasional picnic or holiday party. That’s really about it. And then individual laboratories sometimes have get-togethers.
I met her, and she seemed very pleasant. I know she was quite interested in sports and music. …
So what kind of interactions would you have with him? … Did you work together? …
No, we never worked together. Again, this is a very casual, sort of drop-by-the-lab kind of “Hi, how you doing?” type of interaction. Probably it must have been four years. I believe I was in graduate school about five years, and he arrived and left during that time. So the specific dates I don’t remember exactly, but I believe he certainly left Chapel Hill before I did.
… What was the nature of what he wanted out of the relationship with you?
I think he was generally looking for friends at UNC, but he specifically seems to have latched onto me because of my association with Kappa Kappa Gamma, which was my sorority in college. And it’s actually called a fraternity, but it is a sorority. And KKG, or Kappa Kappa Gamma, was a sorority that Bruce had developed a strong interest in.
His whole demeanor kind of lit up when he found out I was a KKG person. I happened to be also the faculty or graduate mentor to the chapter at Chapel Hill at that time, so I was still involved in Kappa Kappa Gamma while I was a graduate student.
He seemed to take an inordinate interest in it, and I remember at one point saying: “Bruce, this is just way beyond the bounds. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” But later, of course, it came out that he had a longstanding interest in Kappa Kappa Gamma where he had gone to college, and seemed to have retained what appears to have been kind of an obsession with the Kappas.
I have no idea. There’s been speculation, but I really don’t know.
What kind of things would he want to talk about?
Oh, he wanted to know what’s the secret cipher, and can you talk more about it? What was it like? What was your chapter like? He seemed to just want to drill down and kind of get into the specifics, which are irrelevant, in my view, to any man, let alone any woman who’s not in that particular sorority. It’s a wonderful way to get to know other women, and we had a few secret rituals, and that was a fun thing to do in college. And I certainly value my Kappa sisters and my experience there, but it’s not something I would ever share. And he seemed to just to be wanting to be very intrusive.
So his interest in you in a relationship was not romantic.
Oh, not at all.
It was almost more to find out information about the sorority.
I think so. I mean, I’m a pretty friendly person. People will tell you that I have been my whole life. So I was probably on the friendlier side of a typical scientist. And it came to be that very few other people were friends at all with Bruce, and I continued to be friendly. But that’s it.
Why did he have a problem finding other friends?
I think he had just unusual personality traits. Again, it’s very hard to describe, but Bruce could be very annoying.
Can you tell me how he was annoying?
I think that one word that comes to mind is obsequious. He tended to be just wanting to garner praise and wanting to overdo conversations in a way that just — people just eventually were turned off by that. …
The way it’s been reported is this obsession with you became bigger and bigger and lasted many, many years. What’s your take on it? The psychological report basically says that you became a defining character in his life.
It was always puzzling to me. He seemed to maintain regular contact. By that I mean the yearly sort of Christmas card-level-type of contact over the years. And yet, at the same time, there were some very disturbing incidents that happened to me in graduate school and when I had my first job in Maryland — one in Chapel Hill and one in Maryland.
Both of these events were very disturbing. I’ll describe them to you. But I was suspicious that there was no one else who would have done anything like that to me except for Bruce. Bruce was the only oddball in my life. And I confronted him about these events, and he denied having done them. And later I learned from the FBI that he in fact had been the perpetrator.
One of them is the attack on your fiancé’s home.
Yes. I came home from work one day to discover that the fence outside our home and the car that belonged to my fiancé had been spray-painted with red paint, with “Kappa Kappa Gamma.” And of course, when I saw “Kappa Kappa Gamma,” my first thought was, this has to be Bruce Ivins. …
We reported it to the police right away, and they asked us who might have done this, and I said that I suspected that a former colleague of mine from graduate school might have been the person involved. I don’t think there was ever an investigation about that. There certainly was no conviction of any kind.
What do you think triggered it?
Desire for attention? I think Bruce wanted to let me know he was in the area, which I did know. He was working at Frederick at the time, and this was in Gaithersburg, Md. That certainly brought my attention to the fact that he was close by. And the way that it was done was very meticulous, which is also not the way someone who is simply out on a prank might do it. In other words, the spray paint on the back window of the Honda sedan was done in such a way that there was no extra paint; it was clearly on the glass so that it could be easily repaired, scraped off. So there was no actual long-term damage, just an annoyance.
And that intrusive kind of “I can do this to you” kind of thing is what started to make me uncomfortable.
When had been the last time you had talked to him? How long had it been since you’d had correspondence?
This was many years ago. I don’t remember exactly. But again, this is about a once-a-year type of discussion that I may have had with him, or exchanged family letters and things like that.
There were two other incidents that happened around that time that caused me to be in touch with Bruce. One was someone impersonated me writing a letter to the Frederick newspaper, signing my name to it, and it was about hazing in fraternities, especially in my sorority.
It was written in such a way that — well, of course I didn’t write the letter. Someone brought it to my attention, said, “Oh, I saw your letter.” And I said: “I didn’t write a letter. Show me. Show it to me.”
I called the Frederick Post, I think was the name of the paper, and they apologized. They said, “Well, we don’t check letters to the editor.” So I called Bruce at that point and said: “I think you did this, and I don’t appreciate it. Stop it.” And he denied it.
But at that point, I was very irritated. I don’t actually remember which occurred first, the newspaper event or the fence and car damage.
Did you cut off your relationship with him at that point?
Oh, yes. As far as I know, I never reached out to him. Now, Bruce was the kind of person who reached out to all kinds of people all the time, and he managed to find out where I was and continued to contact me over the years. I kept an absolutely arm’s-length, at least, approach from then on.
Yes, it was very creepy. And I haven’t described the first incident, which happened while I was there ending graduate school. This is a very intense time for a graduate student, because every single piece of data is critically important to one’s dissertation. I was working night and day.
I came in one day, and my laboratory notebook was gone. This is the only copy of my data. It was completely missing from the lab, and I was in a total panic.
And I went home and received a letter in the mail from I didn’t know who, saying that the notebooks had been taken and that they could be found in the bottom of a post office box in Chapel Hill. It’s a tiny town; there’s only one main post office box.
And I contacted the post office. This was like a Friday, so I had to wait till like a Monday. But at any rate, the authorities helped me out. The Chapel Hill police helped me out. And indeed, the notebook was in the bottom of the post office box.
This was, in my view, in retrospect, Bruce’s first use of the post office.
So you immediately thought again it was Bruce.
Well, this was the first time anything had happened to me, to my knowledge, and I really was quite puzzled. And I remember talking to everyone: Does anybody have any idea who this might have been? And Bruce was not living in North Carolina at that time, so I thought, you know, the one kook I know is Bruce, but he’s not here. Well, again, it turns out later, he has a brother living nearby. He did do it. I didn’t know that till after he died.
It seems like the antics of a lovelorn individual who just maybe thinks it’s almost funny.
It wasn’t the least bit funny. It was intended to be frightening, and it was. And there was no love situation whatsoever.
What do you think it says about him?
I think this is someone — again, this is years of thinking about this — who felt very superior and underappreciated. I’m not a psychologist, but this is the kind of behavior that it looks like to me, who wanted desperately to get attention, especially from people whom he says he admired. He did get my attention, but he did not get my admiration. And that must have frustrated him.
But I also think there was a dark side to this where he saw that he could get away with these things. And then he realized he felt omnipotent and able to do all kinds of things, and I think he moved on from there. …
His e-mails that he wrote you over this period of years, what would he talk about? Do you now look back at them [and see] red flags embedded in them?
Not until shortly after 9/11, when I and a group … of maybe 20 people received an e-mail from Bruce showing him working in the lab. He sent us photographs of himself working with what he claimed to be the Ames strain.
What was remarkable to me about this e-mail was, first of all, it is very odd for scientists to send pictures of themselves at anytime to anyone, of themselves especially. And then secondly, it struck me that he was not wearing gloves, which is a kind of an active, in-your-face hubris to say: “I’m immune. I don’t need to wear gloves.” It’s bad microbiological practice not to wear gloves.
Now, this came out post-9/11, but before the anthrax letter attacks were known? When did that actually come out?
That’s such a great question. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but it was right around that time. At the time that I received this, I thought, well, that’s just Bruce trying to get attention again. And he does work on anthrax, and he’s showing everyone that he works on anthrax; he’s reminding everyone that he works on anthrax, which I thought, well, that’s odd, but I didn’t think anything more about it.
So it must have been before the attacks, but it was certainly around that time.
There were subsequent e-mails about how Bruce was involved in the investigation, that he was contacted, etc., etc. It was clear that he was interested in the outcome. …
The time that this all came to my mind was then — jump forward a few months — when we, members of the American Society for Microbiology, received an e-mail from the president of ASM, and the gist of this e-mail was, to the members: “We think that whoever perpetrated this attack had to have some significant microbiological training and very likely is either a member of the ASM or is known by someone who is a member of the ASM. So if you think you know anyone who might have been involved, please call the FBI.”
And at that moment, all of this stuff came flooding into my mind. It all fit. Literally in that moment that I read that e-mail, I thought, oh, my God, that’s what Bruce was doing. He’s involved. He could have even been the guy. I actually thought that at that moment. This is very early 2002.
I called the FBI within the hour, and I must say they were very responsive at that time. So they called me back, and they came to see me. And then that started a long cooperative time with them, where I shared with them all of the information that I had and all of the e-mails that I received.
Specifically at that moment when you say, “Holy God, this might be Bruce,” what were the things you were thinking about?
You know, it’s one of those “aha” moments that you have in science when you’ve been mulling things over in your mind, but things don’t quite fit together, and then suddenly a piece of data shows up, and you realize: “Oh, this really could be someone I know. This really could be Bruce.”
There was something about the combination of all of the thinking about who do I know who’s really competent, smart, [has] access and potentially [a] motive, who might be involved in this and who has a strange personality. It just suddenly came to me. I can’t say why, but it’s a bit like how you realize the answer to a puzzle. You put together everything in your mind, and of course I wasn’t sure, but it just seemed to fit.
Was there one thing that specifically he had done that made you feel you were right to call the FBI?
It was the sending of the photos. That’s so odd. He wanted to draw attention to himself: “I’m working on anthrax.” All of a sudden I thought, that’s why he did it; that’s why he sent that around.
So the FBI responds. You have a conversation with them, and then what happens? They seem to disappear. They don’t seem to dig much further at that point.
You know, it’s really not fair to suggest the FBI disappeared, because they visited me; they had me sign cooperative agreements with them to say that I would work with them. And they visited me regularly in Seattle and ultimately in Portland, and they contacted me regularly. So I was in continuous contact with the FBI. …
They don’t ask you at this point to renew correspondence with Bruce, though.
I don’t remember when they asked me to. They asked me to continue to correspond, to not rebuff him, but to maintain a cordial, open relationship with him, such that I could continue to receive e-mails from him. And that’s what I did. …
But they were slowly creeping closer and closer to him. … Did you see any changes in what he was writing you? Did he show any fear or paranoia?
He talked about being very stressed. He talked about being investigated and being very uncomfortable. He talked about being under tremendous psychological stress. I don’t remember the exact timing, but certainly within the last year before he died, he was sending e-mails to lots of people saying how stressed out he was and that he was worried about his personality, dual-personality issues. And he really talked rather openly about his concerns. And I don’t know if that was a call for rescue, or exactly what that was.
Did you ever see any of that before when you knew him in graduate school, dual-personality issues, psychological problems, the whole idea of dressing in women’s clothing? Any of that?
No. And I didn’t know him that well, honestly. I never went to his house. We were all quite a bit younger then, too. These things develop perhaps over time. But I had no such information.
Not knowing him that well and these correspondences once a year, why do you think he was so focused on you? Why do you think you seem to have made such a big difference in the way he perceived things, the way he wanted to have you think well of him?
I assumed he was trying to use me to make himself legitimate.
If I held him in high regard, then he would be more unassailable.
To other people, including the FBI.
To other people. Yes. I don’t know if he ever knew I was speaking with the FBI, but I was very worried about that.
Because this was someone who I learned had threatened other people, and later learned had threatened me bodily harm, which I didn’t know at the time.
When did he do that?
Apparently he did it in Chapel Hill. I didn’t know that.
How did that come out? How do we know that?
I was told by the FBI that he was busy tampering with my bicycle, which was my mode of transportation as a graduate student, messing with the brakes. And it was his intention to cause an accident. But he didn’t do it ultimately.
I don’t know.
How do we know that? He wrote that in his —
He told the FBI. They asked me after that — and this was before he died, but I think they disclosed this to me because they were letting me know that it was reasonable for me to be frightened.
They wanted you to be careful and take care of yourself.
Yes. I also found out he had been tapping into my telephone. He had the ability before, many years ago, to determine the location of where I was when I opened my cell phone, and that I was being tracked. So I was warned by the FBI to be careful about where I opened my cell phone.
Totally obsessive personality.
What I assumed was I was not the only victim; that he was doing this with other people as well.
So as the FBI became more interested in Bruce Ivins, as they moved away from the Hatfill investigation, what were your conversations like with the FBI? What were they asking you to do?
Most of the time it was, “Have you gotten any information that you haven’t shared?” Now I just shared any e-mails right away. I should add parenthetically that Bruce got into the habit in the latter years of sending around these kitties-and-puppies-and-flowers-type e-mails to people. You may have heard this from other individuals. So I shared those, too. That was kind of the foil to the more serious things, I think.
But then we came into discussion and they told me they were becoming very concerned, and they would like to find a way to have him discuss some of these issues more openly, and would I be willing to wear a wire and meet with him? And again, I agreed to consider it, and we set things up, some potential meetings, but I did not follow through. I became too frightened. …
What’s your overall view, stepping back now: Did Bruce Ivins do this? Was he in fact the one, the guilty guy, the guy who sent those letters? And what makes you think so?
I’m a scientist by training, and I have to look at the evidence. And I have a particular view of the evidence that comes from my own experience.
But when you put together my own experience of the odd, odd personality, to say the least, that Bruce had, the particular situation that he was in — that is, he stood to gain more than anyone, really, by there being a further emphasis on development of anthrax and work on bioterrorism — and thirdly, that he had skill and opportunity and a damning set of records of signing in and signing out of his laboratory at very suspicious times, I can come to no other conclusion.
Some of the people that worked with him at USAMRIID [U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases] will say he didn’t have access to the right equipment. He was a wet anthrax guy, not a dry spore guy. He didn’t have the knowledge; he didn’t have the equipment; he didn’t have the time, really, especially for the first group of letters, to get something out. What are your thoughts, or how do you respond to people who sort of take that position?
Bruce Ivins was a very smart man. I bet he figured it out. He figured out how to do it, and he pulled it off, single-handedly. He mailed the letters, as far as I can tell, in a very suspicious place, leaving clues everywhere. He used a post office right across the street from the Kappa Kappa Gamma headquarters. It’s an interesting story if you look at it from a certain perspective.
I had a gut feeling that it was Bruce, but I always maintained that I hoped I was wrong, because no one wants their own colleague and former friend to be involved in something like this. But to me, the evidence seems overwhelming.
When did the FBI appear to absolutely know it was him?
Within the last several months before he died, I understand they were beginning to question him rather closely.
So it really wasn’t until 2008 that they believed, as possibly as strongly as you did, that Bruce might have been the guy.
When the leadership on this case changed, there seemed to be a significant interest [in] going after more information. And as that information was gathered, I think that there became a clearer and clearer picture. One is never sure, and they’ll never know because he didn’t live to confess, but I think had he lived long enough to do that, he would have. …
You have an extreme dislike for this guy.
Now I do.
Because he went after me. I found out later that I was a victim. And I’m a tough person, really. And no one likes that. No one likes that. I didn’t deserve to be a victim. I never did anything to harm this man. Au contraire, I was the person who was the nicest to him, certainly at Chapel Hill. And to think that he, if indeed he was the person, he killed people, and he changed the face of research in the United States.
And I understand that we are in a different world these days, that we have to deal with bioterrorism, but the reality is we also have a lot of diseases that are killing people on a daily basis, and we shifted our budget within the National Institutes of Health [NIH] significantly to cover what turned out to be a very small number of deaths. And the consequence is that we reduced our spending on other diseases that are killing people daily.
I think the balance is out of whack, I’m sorry to say.
The balance of where the money is going and where research is —
I think we overreacted, and that was because Congress was attacked. I understand why. And it is important that we do research. It is important. I’m very happy that we’re investigating these emerging diseases — West Nile, yellow fever, etc. — but the real risk of an anthrax attack in the future is incredibly small. …
Your reading of the NAS [National Academy of Sciences] report that came out, that sort of said, “Wait a minute; hold on here; the science here doesn’t prove it,” what were your thoughts about that?
That’s natural, and that’s the right conclusion for a group of scientists to come to. It’s the same conclusion I’m coming to. We can’t prove it. We can’t know for sure because the evidence, it isn’t black-and-white; it’s very strong in a certain direction. So they’re saying, yes, it could have been, but there’s this small possibility that it wasn’t.
And that’s what I’m saying about Bruce. The evidence is awfully strong: motive, opportunity, skill. …
One of the other things he did was he also used your husband’s name on a post office box. Explain what he was doing.
He did. I don’t know. I was told by the FBI he used several different names on different post boxes to receive different types of materials, all kinds of materials, and I don’t really know what those were.
What they say in the report is KKG ritual books and bondage pornography. And he was using your husband’s name on the records of the post office. What do you think that was all about?
Again, convenient. Take advantage of somebody who he knew wasn’t living there anymore. Why not? I mean, this is someone who lied easily. Why would he use his own name? So instead of Joe Smith, why not just — it probably gave him some perverse pleasure to be using a particular name. …
I wanted to clarify, on the e-mails that you got in September, after 9/11, before and during the anthrax attacks, what communication you’d had in the years preceding 2001 from Bruce Ivins. Had he regularly been e-mailing you or sending you cards, or was this a contact out of the blue?
I don’t really remember what the contact, e-mail contact or any other snail-mail contact was like in those days. Those were the days when e-mail was just really getting going, it seems to me. Again, this was kind of a once-a-year, “How are things going?” type of contact.
So I’m sorry. I don’t remember exactly.
Specifically, the psychological report (PDF) said he hadn’t contacted you in 18 years and it was sort of out of the blue. Does that sound right?
No, that’s incorrect.
So he had been in contact more regularly than that?
Do you remember if the e-mails that you received were directed to you personally? Or you said one of them was on a list of 20 people. Or were some of [them] personal to you?
Some were personal, but very few were personal. And the personal ones tended to be fairly short. I mean, some were personal, but mostly they were, looked like seven or eight different [recipients], or maybe 20 different people. …
Is it strange that a guy like him … was in the position that he was in, working with some of the most dangerous weapons of war? Is that unusual? What does that say?
I can’t comment on that specifically. What I can say is that scientists are, again, rather unusual people. We are very obsessed with our work. We tend to work very long hours and have somewhat odd personalities. And on the grand spectrum of things, Bruce wasn’t off the scale totally, I mean, as far as we could tell.
And from what I can tell from what I’ve read, he had very cordial relationships with his colleagues, certainly his superiors at USAMRIID, enough to fool them completely that he had this other side to his personality.
So should they have noticed that there was something odd going on? It’s hard to say. Bruce was an incredibly good liar. He fooled a lot of people. He fooled me for a long time.
So I’m not into blaming people. I just think this is an unbelievably unfortunate coincidence that just wasn’t revealed soon enough to catch it. …
As you were finding out that they had tied the attack back to USAMRIID, and specifically eventually to the flask, what were you thinking?
Again, a mixture of relief and sadness — relief because, well, perhaps now we’re finally closing in on an answer to this problem, to this terrible tragedy; and then sadness because, ugh, I didn’t want to be right about that. …
What was the most frightening? What was the thing that really rang true as being the scariest part of it all?
I just think at any point things could have gone differently. What if I wasn’t so careful? If I hadn’t called the FBI? Might I have been a victim?
You think he had that potential?
I do. And I think they warned me on a regular basis. “Be careful,” they said. “The best thing you could possibly have done was to move to the West Coast, where you’re out of range, out of driving range.”
Do you think people to this day understand what the guy was capable of?
I don’t. …
Is that one of the reasons why you came forward and are willing to talk about what took place?
I’m interested in people knowing more. Again, as a scientist, we need all the data, and I think this story has been polarized in various directions: He’s a victim. He’s not a victim. This is the person. This is not the person. We have a terrible threat to the United States. It was one person.
There’s a political capital in keeping the fervor going that it would be some sort of conspiracy, so I’m told.
Government conspiracy, you mean.
A government conspiracy, from another government, from terrorists keeping the terrorist idea high. It’s still important to keep that issue in mind, but in this case, I think we need to learn from our mistakes, and we need to be really open about looking at all the data. And I do think that the FBI, in the early days, could have looked more closely at Bruce, and they didn’t. I’m sorry about that, but it didn’t happen.
And the point of view of some of the people at USAMRIID who sort of say the FBI hounded him; he was the weak link; he was the guy who, yes, emotionally had a problem, and they went after him, and they went after him; they hounded him, and they forced him to keep himself.
I think that I can understand why they have that point of view; I really can. Again — and this is someone who lied incredibly well. And I just think these individuals never had the opportunity to see this dark side of Bruce. And I’m very sorry that it existed, and I wish that it didn’t. But I can assure you that it was there. And I’m personally convinced that it was very likely that he did this work; this event was perpetrated by him.
Did you talk to Ivins during the investigation, after 2001, at all on the telephone?
I probably did talk to Bruce once or twice on the phone. One time for sure I did, because I think that I called in an effort to try to set up a meeting, a brief conversation to say: ” I’m thinking I might be in Washington this particular time. Are you going to be in town? Is it possible we might have lunch?,” that kind of thing. But then everything else was e-mail.
This was late in the game then.
Was he surprised to hear from you?
No, he didn’t seem surprised. He seemed happy.
Did he sound different than you expected? Did he sort of seem like the old Bruce?
Oh, gosh, I can’t make that judgment. I do recall one time going to Washington within the last couple of years before he died, where I was invited to give a seminar at NIH, and I intentionally did not tell him. And he found out later that I had given a seminar, and he wrote to me and said he was very disappointed that I hadn’t told him; he would have come to the seminar. And I simply set up a story [that] I’d forgotten.
… What were your feelings when you felt like you knew who had done it and the talk on the news, they’re saying the person of interest is Hatfill? What was going on in your mind?
Sounded good to me. I was happy they found the right person. I was relieved because it wasn’t Bruce. You must remember that I really didn’t want this to be the answer.
Also, I was brought up in a military family. I typically trust governmental agencies and agents, and I assumed that they had more data than I did.
And the data that came out, that was reported upon sounded feasible.
Yeah. They didn’t have all the evidence they wanted, but it seemed like the right person. This was the person that they decided on, and I can only trust that they have more data than they’re revealing. And it’s not my job; it’s their job to do that.
So later, I was sorry that that was the wrong individual. But again, the FBI was in there asking a lot of questions. And remember that Bruce was a very good liar. I brought this up. He intentionally misled them away from him, and they believed him. …