Monday, August 4, 2008

F.B.I. Botches Anthrax Investigation; Competent Enough to Protect America?

Forget about the politicization of 9/11 and the scare tactics thrown around the past seven years. The one thing that you should be afraid of is the absolute ineptitude of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. In a New York Times article today, the story of Dr. Bruce E. Ivins - the Army scientist who killed himself as the media reported that the feds were "closing in" on him in the anthrax investigation - shows some serious flaws in the society of G-Men.

To begin with, the media's assertion that the F.B.I. was closing in on Ivins is false. That term conjures up dramatic images of a SWAT team surrounding a house as the suspect kills himself right before they break down the door. In reality, Ivins was weeks away (at least) from an arrest, as it is now reported that the grand jury who was hearing evidence for the case still had weeks to go before coming to any type of conclusion (and that conclusion could have possibly been not to indict). But not as many people are going to read a story without copious amounts of ex nihilo drama.

Back to the Times article: a source who claims to know a lot about the investigation has said that the evidence that was being rounded up against Ivins was circumstantial (such as he and 10 other people had access to the anthrax spores that were used in the attacks, prosecutors had no proof that he was even in the same town as the mailboxes from which the anthrax letters were sent, etc.). In other words, the prosecutor would have to be very charasmatic to win a case if this was the best evidence that the government could come up with.

Now many would say, "But they had evidence that he may have done it, and if the almost 7 year investigation turned this up, then the guy had to have done it; they must have ruled out all other suspects." If this were the first life that the F.B.I. ruined in this investigation, I would be inclined to lean in the direction that Ivins was guilty. The fact of the matter is, however, that the government really screwed up this investigation from day one. The original focus of the investigation - Dr. Steven Hatfill - has not only been cleared in the case (a federal judge who oversaw Hatfill's civil complaint against the government stated that there was not "a scintilla of evidence" linking Hatfill to the crimes) was given $2.82 million up front and receives another $105,000 a year until 2028 (paid for, by the way, by you the taxpayer). If they were so wrong about Hatfill, why should we believe them about Ivins?

Additionally, many people close to the investigation have criticized it since Ivins' death. Tom Daschle has said "Given the fact that they already paid someone else $5 million for the mistakes they must have made gives you some indication of the overall caliber and quality of the investigation." Other aspects - specfically the gathering of evidence and the constant surveillance of Dr. Ivins - have been criticized as well.

All of this brings up a very important question: if the feds cannot even solve a case involving American citizens who work for the Army allegedly sending out anthrax through the USPS, how are they supposed to prevent terror attacks? This investigation has lasted 7 years and is one of the costliest in the Bureau's history, and all they have to show for it is a $5.82 million civil settlement, a doctor who killed himself, and circumstantial evidence linking anyone to the crime. Are these really the people defending our nation from global terrorism?

This whole case is sad: it is sad for victims of the anthrax and their families , for Dr. Hatfill and his family, and for Dr. Ivins and his family. It is also sad that the F.B.I. wanted to pin someone down for this so badly that they threw out detective work and went on one false hunch and another potential (and fatal) false hunch. If this is the agency charged with preventing a terror attack on domestic soil, I certainly hope they get their act together. Peace.

Photos - Dr. Bruce E. Ivins (, Dr. Steven Hatfill, the man the feds first "closed in" on (, An anthrax clean-up demonstration on Capitol Hill (

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