FBI Wants Anthrax Attacks Report Postponed

(Dec. 10) -A cleanup worker in October 2001 prepares to enter a Florida office building that was one of the targets of the anthrax mailings that killed five people. The FBI has requested a delay in the release of an independent scientific assessment of the bureau's investigation of the case (U.S. Coast Guard/Getty Images).
(Dec. 10) -A cleanup worker in October 2001 prepares to enter a Florida office building that was one of the targets of the anthrax mailings that killed five people. The FBI has requested a delay in the release of an independent scientific assessment of the bureau's investigation of the case (U.S. Coast Guard/Getty Images).

The FBI is seeking to push back the scheduled publication of a scientific report on the bureau's probe of the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people, the New York Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Sept. 17).

Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller said the request suggests the bureau "may be seeking to try to steer or otherwise pressure" the National Academy of Sciences panel preparing the report "to reach a conclusion desired by the bureau."

The FBI notified the panel of its intention to submit more than 500 pages of case papers that had not been delivered even after the scientists sought all germane case reports when they began work in spring of last year.

“If these new documents were relevant to the NAS’s review why were they previously undisclosed and withheld?” stated Holt, a longtime skeptic of the FBI investigation who represents the district from which the anthrax-tainted letters originated (Scott Shane, New York Times, Dec. 9).

"Despite the FBI’s original charge to the NAS to examine only the scientific data and conclusions in the case, it now appears that the FBI -- which has consistently botched and bungled this case from the beginning -- may be seeking to try to steer or otherwise pressure the NAS panel to reach a conclusion desired by the Bureau,” wrote Holt, a physicist. “I ask that you meet with me this week to explain the FBI’s troubling conduct in this matter" (U.S. Representative Rush Holt release, Dec. 9).

An FBI spokesman did not address Holt's criticisms, but told the Times the bureau "continues to work with the National Academy of Science to support their ongoing review of the scientific approaches employed in the Amerithrax investigation."

After a major seven-year probe, the FBI determined in 2008 that civilian U.S. Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins had produced the anthrax and mailed the spores to two U.S. Senate offices and a number of news entities. Its evidence included genetic links between Ivins's cache of available anthrax and the material used in the attacks and the long days he worked leading up to two mail drops.

Ivins committed suicide before facing criminal charges. Some former co-workers at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and others have said they do not believe he was the mailer (see GSN, Feb. 24).

Congressional auditors at the Government Accountability Office are also reviewing the FBI's work in the anthrax investigation.

National Academy of Sciences executive officer William Colglazier said the FBI asked for the delay after receiving the document, which had been set for publication last month. He described the report as "very direct" but would not say whether it found fault with the FBI's science. The NAS document does not opine on whether Ivins was the anthrax mailer, Colglazier added.

The panel of 15 leading scientists is willing to continue its work and amend the report, though that is likely to add roughly $50,000 to the $879,550 fee for the analysis, Colglazier stated (Shane, New York Times).

The report is now expected to be released in February, Agence France-Presse reported (Agence France-Presse/Inquirer.net, Dec. 10).

December 10, 2010
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The FBI is seeking to push back the scheduled publication of a scientific report on the bureau's probe of the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people, the New York Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Sept. 17).