Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Case Against Bruce Ivins

The Smoking Gun has a collection of documents about the government's case against suicidal government bioweapons researcher Bruce Ivins that is fascinating. Apparently he engaged in an "edit war" on the Wikipedia entry for the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority (which my mother belonged to). He regularly posted negative information there, and became angry when it was deleted. He claimed that KKG had labeled him an "enemy" and issued a "fatwah" against him, and he broke into a KKG sorority house to steal a KKG handbook during his postdoc fellowship at UNC Chapel Hill.

The documents also show ties between Ivins and the American Family Affiliation, a conservative Christian group known for threatening boycotts against companies that do things like support gay rights, and with pro-life groups.

He was a regular user of pseudonyms and multiple email addresses.

The documents show that he was clearly a very disturbed individual.


UPDATE (August 9, 2008): Ivins' coworker Meryl Nass lays out the case for reasonable doubt about Ivins' involvement at her blog.

Hume's Ghost points out in the comments that the anthrax attacks were used to help justify the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that the anthrax apparently originated there. One of the Glenn Greenwald articles Hume's Ghost alludes to, about false claims that the anthrax contained bentonite which tied it to Iraq, may be found here. A nice quote from that article:

Critically, ABC News never retracted its story (they merely noted, as they had done from the start, that the White House denied the reports). And thus, the linkage between Saddam and the anthrax attacks -- every bit as false as the linkage between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks -- persisted.

We now know -- we knew even before news of Ivins' suicide last night, and know especially in light of it -- that the anthrax attacks didn't come from Iraq or any foreign government at all. It came from our own Government's scientist, from the top Army bioweapons research laboratory. More significantly, the false reports linking anthrax to Iraq also came from the U.S. Government -- from people with some type of significant links to the same facility responsible for the attacks themselves.

Surely the question of who generated those false Iraq-anthrax reports is one of the most significant and explosive stories of the last decade. The motive to fabricate reports of bentonite and a link to Saddam is glaring. Those fabrications played some significant role -- I'd argue a very major role -- in propagandizing the American public to perceive of Saddam as a threat, and further, propagandized the public to believe that our country was sufficiently threatened by foreign elements that a whole series of radical policies that the neoconservatives both within and outside of the Bush administration wanted to pursue -- including an attack an Iraq and a whole array of assaults on our basic constitutional framework -- were justified and even necessary in order to survive.

ABC News already knows the answers to these questions. They know who concocted the false bentonite story and who passed it on to them with the specific intent of having them broadcast those false claims to the world, in order to link Saddam to the anthrax attacks and -- as importantly -- to conceal the real culprit(s) (apparently within the U.S. government) who were behind the attacks. And yet, unbelievably, they are keeping the story to themselves, refusing to disclose who did all of this. They're allegedly a news organization, in possession of one of the most significant news stories of the last decade, and they are concealing it from the public, even years later.

They're not protecting "sources." The people who fed them the bentonite story aren't "sources." They're fabricators and liars who purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public an extremely consequential and damaging falsehood. But by protecting the wrongdoers, ABC News has made itself complicit in this fraud perpetrated on the public, rather than a news organization uncovering such frauds. That is why this is one of the most extreme journalistic scandals that exists, and it deserves a lot more debate and attention than it has received thus far.
Greenwald goes on, in a series of updates, to point out that several of the pieces of evidence of Ivins' unusual behavior that is now pointed to as evidence of his guilt were already published in newspapers in 2004.

In a followup, Greenwald writes about whether journalists should expose sources who lie to them. I think I good case can be made that they should, in cases where the source is lying as opposed to being used as a dupe, and the journalist has good evidence to that effect. Being exposed for such lies would act as a disincentive for such lying to take place.

UPDATE (July 30, 2009): The New York Times reports that the National Academy of Sciences has assembled a 15-member panel to review the scientific work done by the FBI to identify Ivins as the culprit. The process is expected to take a year and a half to complete.

UPDATE (November 27, 2009): Glenn Greenwald argues that the case on Ivins shouldn't be closed, and cites various mainstream sources that agree.


Eamon Knight said...

....which doesn't mean he was guilty, of course: he might just have become a target because we was weird.

OTOH, the more I hear anout him, the more I think he might very well be the perp. We may never know for sure.

Jim Lippard said...

I think the four genetic markers that show that the strain of weaponized anthrax that was mailed out came out of a single flask under Ivins' control is the most damning evidence.

If it wasn't him, it was somebody else who had access to his lab.

Eamon Knight said...

Ah, I hadn't heard about that part. I think the first thing I heard was an interview with his lawyer claiming, no he didn't have the required expertise or access etc, etc. So I'm sort of working my way back from that as a starting point.

Hume's Ghost said...

Glenn Greenwald has been doing extensive blogging about the anthrax attacks. He's been particularly focused on who the sources were that told Brian Ross of ABC News that the anthrax came from Iraq.

Give the role Ross's reporting played in misleading America into a disastrous war, you would think he'd be less sanguine about it.

Jim Lippard said...


Apparently although the vial in question belonged to Ivins, there were "as many as 100 people" who might have had access to it, according to Ivins' coworker Meryl Nass, as reported by Farhad Manjoo at Slate.