Medical records point to doctor in anthrax attacks, report says

Image: Bruce E. Ivins
Bruce E. Ivins, a biodefense researcher, is seen in 2003 at Fort Detrick, Md. Sam Yu / AP file
/ Source: NBC News

Medical records of Dr. Bruce Ivins, blamed by the FBI for the deadly 2001 anthrax mail attacks, "support the Justice Department's determination that he was responsible," a panel of behavioral experts and psychiatrists contended in a newly released report.

"Dr. Ivins was psychologically disposed to undertake the mailings, his behavioral history demonstrated his potential for carrying them out, and he had the motivation and the means," they said in a report made public Wednesday.

Letters containing powdered anthrax were sent to news organizations and two US senators in late 2001, infecting 22 people who received or handled them, five of whom died. Ivins, a civilian researcher at the US Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland, committed suicide in July 2008 as the FBI was preparing to accuse him of preparing and mailing the letters. He was never charged.

Dr. Ivins displayed behavioral problems that should have led his Army employers to look closer at his medical history, the report contended. Such an examination should have prevented him from obtaining the security clearances needed to work with such a dangerous material as anthrax, the panel members said.

Their report was requested in secret by a federal judge, Royce Lamberth of Washington DC, who asked for an examination detailing "the mental health issues of Dr. Bruce Ivins and what lessons can be learned from that analysis that may be useful in preventing future bioterrorism attacks." The findings were filed last fall under seal.

Though many of his co-workers at the bioweapons lab in Maryland have disputed the FBI's findings, the panel found that Ivins "cultivated a persona of benign eccentricity that masked his obsessions and criminal thoughts."

Dr. Gregory Saathoff of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, the panel's chairman, said the medical records "document behavior he claimed he undertook and provide an indication of a strong component of revenge, including graphic plans to engage in violent behavior."

But even though Ivins repeatedly waived confidentiality and gave Army background investigators permission to obtain his medical records, such a step was never taken, panel members said. "Had these records been obtained, they would have shown a longstanding pattern of disturbed thinking in response to stress," the report said.

** FILE ** In this Nov. 30, 2001 file photo, a decontamination crew dressed in hazmat suits stands together as an investigator takes photographs outside Ottilie Lundgren's home in Oxford, Conn., after the house was declared a crime scene. Federal and state officials returned to the home to conduct a more thorough examination. Lundgren, 94, died of inhalation anthrax on Nov. 21. Federal prosecutors were planning to indict a government scientist in connection with the anthrax deaths, but the man, Bruce E. Ivins, 62, apparently committed suicide. He died July 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Steve Miller, File)Steve Miller / AP

In one example, in 1987, Ivins placed question marks next to a check list of items on a medical history report that included "memory change, trouble with decisions, hallucinations, improbable beliefs, and anxiety."

A spokesman at the Army lab in Maryland declined to comment, citing privacy laws.

As for his motives, the report says he acted out of a desire for revenge against his critics, "a desperate need for personal validation," and a hope that the response to the attacks would revive the government's efforts to develop an anthrax vaccine — a program on which he was a key researcher.

The scientists and doctors who studied the records emphasized what they said was an obsession Ivins had with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, which began when a member of the sorority turned him down for a date while he was a graduate student. Shortly after the first anthrax letters were mailed, but before they were discovered, he wrote an e-mail to another KKG sister he had known as a student. In the e-mail, he referred to bio-warfare and anxiety.

"The e-mail would soon cast him in her eyes, he appears to have hoped, as a prophet and as a defender of the nation," the report said.

Briefing reporters on their findings, panel members also said they found no reason to question the FBI's findings that Dr. Ivins acted alone in carrying out the anthrax attacks.

The FBI's findings, blaming Ivins for the attack, have been criticized by one of the US senators who was sent an anthrax letter, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and by the lawyer who represented Ivins before his death.

In a written statement, the FBI said Wednesday that the panel's conclusions "provide important insight that will further contribute to the public's understanding of the investigation into the deadly anthrax mailings. The report also provides valuable perspectives that may be useful in preventing future attacks."