Video: Feds close case in 2001 anthrax attacks

  1. Closed captioning of: Feds close case in 2001 anthrax attacks

    >> from florida tonight. thanks.

    >>> it's been over eight years since a terrorist started sending anthrax through the mail in the united states . it happened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. our country was still hurting and offbalance and it was an awful time. some of the anthrax was sent to nbc news, some to the "new york post." tonight the fbi is revealing new details about its investigation as it closes the book on this case. our own pete williams with us with that from our washington newsroom tonight. pete, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, formally shutting this investigation down, the fbi explained in riveting new detail what it did and why agents concluded that an army micro biologist named bruce ivans carried out the mailings attacks. the attacks alarmed the nation and baffled the fbi . who mailed the letters sent to two newspapers, two u.s. senators and nbc's tom brokaw , containing anthrax spores so potent that they killed five people and sickened 17 others? identifying the type of anthrax helped only a little. the fbi disclosed that agents actually scrutinized more than 1,000 scientists and lab workers once considered suspects. the breakthrough came six years into the investigation at a u.s. army laboratory in maryland. a new form of genetic testing created for this case revealed that the spores came from a single lab there, and in fact, from this very flask of highly-purified anthrax, created and maintained by dr. bruce ivins , and army anthrax specialist. his after-hours use of the lab spiked in september and october 2001 , just before each of the anthrax mailings. the letters were placed in a mail box in princeton, new jersey, near the office of a sorority kappa kappa gamma that they say he had a 40-year obsession. agents believe the letter sent to tom brokaw and "the new york post" contained a hidden code. in both, nine "a" and t" were highlighted. when combined in sequence as they appear in the anthrax letters , they stand for chemicals whose common appreciations are p-a-t. pat was the name of a colleague of ivins , someone they say he was obsessed with. a week after agents first searched his house, he threw out a book about codes that discussed using bolded letters to embed messages. the document says he stayed up the night his garbage was to be collected and at 1:00 a.m . came out in his long underwear, making sure the trash, including the book about codes was hauled away.

    >> the evidence in the case amassed in the course of this exhaustive investigation points to him and him only.

    >> reporter: as for motive, the fbi says the anthrax vaccine program he devoted his life to was failing, blamed for causing illness in veterans of the first gulf war . after the mailings, the program was rejuvenated. as the government prepared to charge ivins two years ago he committed suicide. his lawyer insisted the only way to determine guilt is through a trial, and that ivins would have been found not guilty, brian.

    >> what an unbelievable story, unbelievable investigation. pete williams with the story for us from washington tonight. pete, thanks.

    >>> now we move to the

updated 2/19/2010 2:43:53 PM ET 2010-02-19T19:43:53

After seven frustrating years probing the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings, FBI officials formally closed the case Friday after concluding a government researcher acted alone in the attacks.

The anthrax letters were sent to lawmakers and news organizations as the nation reeled in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The FBI and Justice Department announced the decision while disclosing reams of evidence collected in the case. Officials also released a nearly 100-page summary of their findings.

The anthrax case was one of the most vexing and costly investigations in U.S. history until officials announced in 2008 that the lone suspect was Dr. Bruce Ivins, who killed himself as authorities prepared to indict him. The move Friday seals that preliminary investigative conclusion.

Authorities had been on the verge of closing the case last year but government lawyers decided to conduct a further review of what evidence could be shared with the public, according to several people familiar with the case.

Officials were hesitant about releasing some information because of concerns about violating privacy rights and grand jury secrecy, said those familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Five killed
Laced with anthrax, the letters were sent with childish, blocky handwriting and chilling scientific expertise.

The spores killed five people: Two postal workers in Washington, D.C., a New York City hospital worker, a Florida photo editor and a 94-year-old Connecticut woman who had no known contact with any of the poisoned letters. Seventeen other people were sickened.

Image: Bruce Ivins
USAMRIID via Reuters
Bruce Ivins in 2003.
For years, the FBI chased leads.

Authorities tried to build a case against biowarfare expert Steven Hatfill, but ultimately had to pay him a multimillion-dollar settlement.

In 2008, they announced that the mystery had been solved, but the suspect was dead.

Authorities said that in the days before the mailings, Ivins had logged unusual hours alone in his lab at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. They also say he threw investigators off his trail by supplying false leads as he ostensibly tried to help them find the killer.

Drug overdose
As the FBI closed in on Ivins, the 62-year-old microbiologist took a fatal overdose of Tylenol, dying on July 29, 2008. After Ivins' suicide, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the investigation found Ivins was the culprit, and prosecutors said they were confident he acted alone.

Skeptics — including prominent lawmakers — pointed to the bureau's long, misguided pursuit of Hatfill, and noted there was no evidence suggesting Ivins was ever in New Jersey when the letters were mailed there.

At the urging of lawmakers, the National Academy of Sciences has launched a formal review of the FBI's scientific methods in tracing the particular strain of anthrax used in the mailings to samples Ivins had at his Fort Detrick lab.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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