Nightly News   |  February 19, 2010

Feds close case in 2001 anthrax attacks

More than eight years after the nation was terrorized by a deadly anthrax attack made through the U.S. Mail just after 9/11, the FBI revealed new details from the investigation it concluded on Friday. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> 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