The Justice Department has now publicly released its key documents - search warrants, search warrant returns, and affidavits - in the case against the late Dr. Bruce Ivins, the U.S Army bio-weapons scientist who is being posthumously accused of committing the anthrax mailings in 2001. So far as I can see, the evidence against Ivins doesn't live up to the sensational FBI press leaks that have been going on ever since Ivins killed himself on the eve of being arrested.
The Washington Post stories today (here, and here) have been decidedly uncritical of the FBI's theory of the case. Much better stories were at salon.com and the New York Times. My sentiments were expressed by today's Foreign Policy Blog post, Hey, FBI: Put up or shut up.
Skepticism is warranted about any attempt to clear this extremely high-profile case off the FBI's books without solid evidence of guilt, especially in view of the bureau's hounding of another Army bio-weapons scientist, Dr. Steven Hatfill, who for more than five years played the role of Great White Whale to the FBI's Ahab. That monomaniacal pursuit ended only one month ago when Hatfill won a public exoneration and a $5.8 million settlement from the U.S Justice Department in a law suit he filed in 2003. When you read the leaks today about the FBI's suspicions of Ivin's behavior as long ago as 2001, remember that for most of the time they were confidently insisting - off the record, of course - that Hatfill did it.
And, there's the FBI's deplorable track record of making erroneous accusations in other high-profile cases, often based on its behavioral profiling. Richard Jewell is Exhibit A for the damage done by misguided profiling, but just as outrageous is the FBI's "equivocal death analysis" of Clayton Hartwig, the young sailor posthumously accused of causing the 1989 explosion in a gun turret on the USS Iowa. The FBI's famous profilers unequivocally pronounced that Hartwig was both suicidal and homicidal, and he must have caused the explosion in a fit of gay jealousy. Eventually, and only at the insistence of the U.S. Congress, forensic investigations were conducted by Sandia Labs and the Naval Weapons Systems Center that attributed the explosion to overpressure from the propellant used in the gun barrel, and not to sabotage. Hartwig was publicly exonerated by the Navy in 1991.
Finally, there's the fact that the first anthrax letters were mailed on September 18, just seven days after the 9/11 attacks. According to the leaks, Ivins' motive was to cause a public panic about Islamic bio-terrorism in order to create demand for his anthrax vaccine. If we believe that motive, then we have to also believe that either (1) Ivins came up with the whole idea on September 11th and did all the preparation of the anthrax spores in the next six days, then drove to Princeton, New Jersey, to mail them on the following day, or else (2) he had prepared the spores earlier and just had the great good luck to piggyback his anthrax mailings on the biggest act of Islamic terrorism to ever strike the USA. The first option is way too fast, the second is way too big a coincidence. If I were on a jury hearing this case, that alone would raise a reasonable doubt in my mind.