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FBI formally closes anthrax investigation

/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

Bruce Ivins, seen in this photograph taken during an award ceremony at a Pentagon ceremony March 14, 2003 where Ivins was awarded the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, which is equivalent to the Distinguished Service Medal for military service, took an overdose of painkillers and died on July 29, 2008 in an apparent suicide. Ivins, 62, who worked for the last 18 years at government biodefense research laboratories at Fort Detrick, Maryland, was close to being charged in connection with a series of deadly anthrax attacks in 2001, according to federal law enforcement officials. REUTERS/USAMRIID/Handout (UNITED STATES)X80001

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.