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August 13, 2008

What the FBI Knows: For Bruce Ivins and For Us

By Elizabeth Ferrari

A response to the FBI


What the FBI Knows: For Bruce Ivins and for us

"I don't think the FBI knows what the FBI knows" – Richard Clark testifying before the 9/11 Commission

In the summer of 2001, two hijackers were renting lodgings from an FBI asset in San Diego, California. But the FBI couldn't be bothered to know in the same way that they ran off John O'Neill when he was "on fire" about Bin Laden and they couldn't be bothered to listen to him. The next thing you know, thousands of people are dead, John O'Neill is dead and there's a scar in the heart of Manhattan. In 2005, the FBI is sure, knows with cold institutional certainty that Steve Hatfill is the anthrax mailer and before you can turn around, they're paying out 5 million dollars for ruining the life of an innocent man and publicly, too, by pillorying him in the press. You'd think they'd have learned by now. You'd think they'd have a picture of Richard Jewell up in every single FBI office and a special promise to say silently every morning before sitting down to the day's work.

You'd think by now the FBI would have a long needed moment of ontological panic and ask themselves how they know what they know. In 2003, they mapped out every single minute of Steve Hatfill's life on the days surrounding the two anthrax mailings and they were not loathe to announce that to the New York Times. But in the last few weeks, when they were accusing Bruce Ivins in the press, they didn't seem to know that Ivins couldn't be in Frederick, Maryland at 4:30 and in Princeton, New Jersey at 5:00 p.m. on September 17th, 2001, although they seemed to know each fact separately. It's as if the FBI has had the membrane connecting the two lobes of its institutional brain slashed, isolating one working hemisphere from the other.

The FBI claims that new technology can trace DNA from the weapon to Dr. Ivins when the tech to map a genome was available in 1998 and while withholding the exact nature of that new technology. Do you believe in magic? They claim that Ivins was the sole custodian of that flask of anthrax but do not mention the origins of that anthrax at the Dugway Proving Ground and they also elide the fact that ten other researchers had access to that same anthrax at Fort Detrick alone. And that's without considering all the researchers and labs that obtained samples from Dr. Ivins over the years, or the fact that Ivins helped evaluate the letter sent to Tom Daschle. The FBI is dealing with a crime scene faceted over space and time as if it was a simple plane, or a projection, a Power Point presentation they can point to unambiguously. The FBI does not know what it knows. Richard Clarke was right.

I'd like to ask them if Bruce Ivins was so careful that he could drive weaponized anthrax two hundred miles and mail it without leaving any trace at all on his person, in his car or around his residence or, if he was so careless that he mailed anthrax to Pat Leahy and Tom Daschle and didn't know that postal machines would pound the deadly powder out into the public sphere long before the envelopes were delivered. Which is it?

The FBI has said Bruce Ivins was afraid his vaccine program would be canceled and that motivated him to mail the anthrax. How is that possible? Ivins had a new vaccine in the works. No matter what happened to the BioPort vaccine he had been hired to fix, Dr. Ivins would get work. Make no mistake about it. Even if BioPort's product went down in flames, Dr. Ivins had another vaccine in development and his expertise would be in demand. There is always work for skilled people like Bruce Ivins. As a consumer of the BioPort vaccine himself, Bruce was as motivated as anyone to get a better vaccine in place.

In 2001, the FBI knew the anthrax mailer was a loner
Source: Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2001.


WASHINGTON -- The FBI is increasingly convinced that the person behind the recent anthrax attacks is a lone wolf within the United States who has no links to terrorist groups but is an opportunist using the Sept. 11 hijackings to vent his rage, investigators said Friday.

The FBI is still pushing the idea that Ivins fits the "loner" description. But he doesn't. He was a married man with two adopted children, with mentees and colleagues and neighbors.

Fairfield resident recalls time at Fort Detrick; worked with suspected anthrax terrorist

While civilians like Battersby work at Fort Detrick, the site has military management, she said. And some people, such as those who want to advance their careers, have stayed quiet about their experience there, according to Battersby. (Emphasis added.)

But the few people not worried about talking about their experience with the government should talk, she said. "It's painful to me on a whole bunch of levels," Battersby said. "I feel like I should tell my story because I know I can." (Emphasis added.)

Are people who knew Bruce Ivins afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs if they disagree with what the FBI "knows"? Battersby seems to say exactly that.

The reality is that this case hinges not on what the FBI knows but what the American public can be made to fear. Again. When asked last week why the FBI didn't take Ivins into custody, a Defense Department spokesperson (spokes spinner?) said the FBI didn't want to compromise the investigation – when the whole neighborhood saw how Bruce could barely get around FBI vehicles to get into his own driveway. It's one of the few acts of solidarity seen lately between DoD and Justice. They haven't co-operated so well since the Justice Department came up with the rationale for torture and the Defense Department found the means to implement that policy. (And here there is a subtext of corruption so profound that you wonder how long, if ever, it will take to clean up the Justice Department and how long it will be before we can again believe the Defense Department deserves the respect our uniformed young people pay it by their service.)

To grease the hinge of this case, last week the FBI fronted Jean Duley, a low level mental health worker, in a much challenged recovery herself to be generous or just plain "wet" in the vernacular of alcohol rehab. She lit up the media like a Christmas tree. Instead of quietly seeking a restraining order in private, she chose to go to a public hearing and to do a very bad impression of the clinician she is not. She accused Ivins of being a revenge killer, of hating women, of being a homicidal sociopath as if that was a diagnosis in the DSM IV, which it is not.

It's worth mentioning that while Ms. Duley was making these serious accusations, Ivins had no criminal record at all but, she did.

The media lit up like Macy's on Christmas Eve when the Salvation Army bell is ringing loudest over the heads of hassled shoppers. In particular, there was a pair at the Associated Press that could not recycle these outlandish claims often enough and without a shred of skepticism. From that venerable fount, these claims were spammed all over the American press and the cable channels. The fact that Ms. Duley was only recently out of house detention for her own problems or that she had no degree in psychology or that she had only seen Ivins a handful of times over the period of six months or that she was firmly in the hands of the FBI while making these claims, never seemed to make it into even the fifth paragraph of any of these cloned stories.

Predictably, the resulting spam from the AP hit pieces wind up reducing Bruce Ivins into a stereotype at Wikipedia, where as late as last night he is described as a "conservative Catholic". Bruce Ivins was not a conservative. His letters to the Frederick News-Press are the letters of a curious, left-leaning, inclusive writer. A person with a quiet and persistent sense of humor that is often turned on himself. A thoughtful person who believes women should be included in the priesthood, that people are indeed born gay, that all people deserve the respect of their fellows. Someone who cared deeply about his community. These are not the letters of a hidebound ideologue or an abortion clinic bomber. But, like those iconographic portraits of Renaissance monarchs, Bruce Ivins the person is becoming indistinguishable from the FBI Bruce Ivins caricature at Wikipedia, illustrated but not represented.

Contrast this public misrepresentation with the issue of coerced silence brought up by Battersby who remembers the actual man. The best example of that silence may be the hundreds of people attending Ivins' two memorials last week in Frederick, ironically one private and one public, their very attendance a rejection of the official story in favor of honoring the man they knew who juggled with their children and wrote songs to celebrate their promotions.

In the middle of the Ivins tragedy and in the middle of the FBI claiming to know more than they know and more than they will tell the public, the Department of Health and Human Services took new bids for the national stockpile of anthrax vaccines from contractors in Maryland. The news item stuck in my mind because July 31st is my son's birthday.

I need to get this clear for my son, in the way that mothers always need to get danger real clear. The anthrax attacks were terrorism, not discrete attacks on individuals. Whoever mailed that anthrax meant to terrorize, not to attack specific targets. Those envelopes were all mailed to executives and anyone sophisticated enough to mail that substance was sophisticated enough to know that executives don't open their own mail. So, when the FBI makes claims about Ivins' motives regarding the addressees, it just makes them look impotently disconnected from their own purpose. Ivins had no motive to send those envelopes to those people. No one did. That mail was sent to frighten a people, not to attack anyone in particular.

And as for Dr. Ivins in particular, there is nothing in his mountain of writings that demonstrates he ever imagined hurting other people in particular or in general. When his relapse was pounding him, he drank, he wrote to his friends and he went to his doctor. He made up silly jingles about his symptoms in the way that optimists deploy humor against danger. But there is not one sentence anywhere that indicates he even considered harming another as a solution to his distress. The FBI cannot place him at the scene of the crime – not physically and not in imagination. If there is more, we haven't seen it.

This has been the the biggest investigation the FBI has taken on in its entire history second only to 9/11. What a spectacular failure. And how identically twinned that failure has been by our media's failure to interrogate, at every point and over and over, the shoddy media circus that has passed for crime solving.

Rush Holt and Pat Leahy are rumbling about Congressional hearings but as well intentioned as they are, there is no reason to have confidence that our Congress will resolve this crime against the American people, against Ivins, his family, or the Fort Detrick community just there is no reason to have confidence that appointing an independent investigative panel will mend our broken justice system. How sad is it that we cannot rely on our institutions to take care of us in this most basic way.

We have slipped so far down the rabbit hole of unaccountability, I only hope that the next time someone decides to send vectors into the public sphere, the deaths will not be too terrible and the fear will be more mercifully short. At some point, though, you have to wonder who our media believes will consume its product if we are rightfully unwilling to handle our own mail.

The anthrax attacks were deadly and we can never forget those terrible losses. It's equally true that the Bush Justice Department and its shameful media gaggle have been more destructive than the person who deliberately put that deadly substance into our mail. Between them, they misled us into bombing an innocent people – enabling hundreds of thousands of deaths, the displacing of millions and the irresolution of this case which speaks to the foundation of any government: the safety of its citizenry. There is no reason to have confidence in either the remains of the Justice Department or in the remains of our news media.

And in the meanwhile, Bruce Ivins was driven to suicide. How can anyone feel all right with that when there is not only a "reasonable doubt" of his guilt, but a doubt so big that the Grand Canyon could safely use it for a pit stop?

Who can feel safer today knowing Dr. Ivins is dead and will not get a day in court? Without that process, who can trust that this case has been closed against future harm to the American people? Some wise guy said, "Trust but verify". When did verifying the most basic elements of our system of justice become so impossible in our country? I don't trust the FBI to know what it knows. I don't see our media checking behind them. To quote Mr. Poe of Texas, "And that's just how it is".

"Gerard P. Andrews, another of Dr. Ivins' former colleagues, said he knew that Dr. Ivins was frustrated, but that he doubted that Dr. Ivins would consider such a step."

I'm with you, Mr. Andrews. A lot of us are frustrated. I don't know if Bruce Ivins did the crime that he has been convicted of in the press. I sincerely doubt it. That we allowed him to be so convicted is more destructive than the original crime.

If the civil, peaceful and private expression of frustration is now a terrorist activity by implication, rumor or assertion, and without resort to a court of law, then the attacks on us, on the American people are ongoing, no matter what the FBI believes it knows or refuses to know, and no matter how cheerfully this doubtful "knowledge" is broadcast by a contaminated press.

Submitters Bio:
Elizabeth Ferrari is a San Francisco author and activist.