Scientist Innocent of Anthrax Mailings, Former Colleague Says

A former colleague of the U.S. Army scientist suspected of producing and mailing anthrax spores that killed five people in 2001 told a scientific panel yesterday that there was no way that Bruce Ivins could have committed the crime, the New York Times reported (see GSN, March 22).

Microbiologist Henry Heine told the National Academy of Sciences committee that Ivins had "absolutely not" conducted the anthrax attacks. "Among the senior scientists" at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., "no one believes it," Heine said.

Generating the large amount of spores used in the mailings would have required a minimum of a year of concentrated work utilizing Army laboratory equipment, Heine said. Other researchers would have noticed that level of activity, but laboratory personnel who worked alongside Ivins did not see any suspicious conduct, he added.

Heine said that biosafety measures in place in Ivins' work space would have been insufficient to keep the spores from creeping into nearby offices and animal cages.

"You'd have had dead animals or dead people," Heine said in what the Times said constituted a significant public rejection of the FBI's findings.

Ivins committed suicide in 2008 before facing charges in the case. The Justice Department formally ended its probe into the mailings in February by concluding that Ivins had alone committed the anthrax attacks with the hopes of creating a public panic that would lead to increased funding for his scientific research (see GSN, Feb. 22).

The congressionally sanctioned science panel was assigned to study the scientific methodology used by the FBI to come to the conclusion that Ivins was the anthrax mailer. That conclusion remains controversial.

"Whoever did this is still running around out there," said Heine, who no longer works at the Army facility. "I truly believe that" (Scott Shane, New York Times, April 22).

April 23, 2010
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A former colleague of the U.S. Army scientist suspected of producing and mailing anthrax spores that killed five people in 2001 told a scientific panel yesterday that there was no way that Bruce Ivins could have committed the crime, the New York Times reported (see GSN, March 22).