Report: 2001 Anthrax Attacks Were Preventable

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The Army scientist believed to have caused the 2001 anthrax attacks that left five dead and paralyzed Capitol Hill and media organizations had severe psychological problems, was obsessed with a sorority and should never have been given security clearance or access to deadly pathogens, according to a newly released report.

An independent review of the psychiatric records of the alleged anthrax killer Dr. Bruce Ivins has revealed that the Army scientist, who committed suicide in 2008, should never have been given a security clearance or access to anthrax based on his psychological profile and diagnosable mental illness.

The report also found that Ivins allegedly carried out the attacks for revenge and redemption for questions about his work with the anthrax vaccine. The findings also delve further into his troubled relationships with women and an obsession he developed for a sorority that had a profound impact on his life.

"Information regarding his disqualifying behaviors was readily available in the medical record and accessible to personnel had it been pursued," the report concluded in its key findings.

The records were obtained by the Justice Department when they sought a court order to obtain Ivins' sealed psychiatric records. The findings were made by the Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel, ordered by a federal judge to review Ivins' sealed psychological records to determine if future acts of bioterrorism could be prevented.

Read the full report here.

Ivins worked at the U.S Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and committed suicide as FBI investigators, in 2008, zeroed in on him as the main suspect in the Fall 2001 anthrax attacks. The anthrax attacks left five people dead and sickened 17 others after mail containing the toxin arrived on Capitol Hill and at news organizations in Florida and New York.

"Dr. Ivins had a significant and lengthy history of psychological disturbance and diagnosable mental illness at the time he began working for USAMRIID in 1980 that would have disqualified him from a Secret level security clearance had this been known." said panel chairman Dr. Gregory Saathoff at a Tuesday press conference in Washington to announce the panel's findings. Dr. Saathoff is the executive director of the University of Virginia Critical Incident Analysis Group and associate professor of Research Psychiatry at the UVA medical school. He also worked as an FBI consultant during the investigation.

The report also found that Dr. Ivins omitted key information during his security clearance process and that Army investigators did not follow up on conflicting information or review additional medical records that were available despite Ivins signing waivers allowing access to those records.

Information released in the report notes that Ivins was first treated by a psychiatrist in 1978 when he was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The report concluded: "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."

The report makes note of several factors that may have played a role in his mental illness, noting a traumatic and damaging childhood with an abusive mother and an unnatural obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. The focus on the sorority originated when he attended the University of Cincinnati and a sorority member turned him down for a date. The report says this would later manifest itself in criminal acts.

During graduate school at the University of North Carolina, Ivins crossed path with another Kappa Kappa Gamma sister. He admitted to the FBI that he stole her research notebook for her dissertation and later stalked her, vandalizing her home and car when she lived near him in Gaithersburg, Md. Ivins also burglarized two Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority houses, including one at UNC. "Had those in positions of authority known of his criminal behaviors, Dr. Ivins should not have been given a security clearance," the report concluded.

The report also maintains that Ivins possibly suffered from borderline and paranoid personality disorder. "For years before the anthrax mailings and until the time of his death, Dr. Ivins met the diagnostic criteria for a number of psychiatric disorders."

The report made extensive use of materials from Ivins' own emails and self assessments that were reviewed by the panel. "He referred at times explicitly to depression, paranoia, and delusional thoughts; described a sense of observing himself from the outside (depersonalization); talked and wrote about there being two Bruces (dissociation); described being harmed by [sorority] members; and worried about becoming and being schizophrenic."

Ivins worked extensively on an anthrax vaccine in the late 1990s and apparently came under stress when questions about the safety of the vaccine began to emerge after the first Persian Gulf War. Ivins allegedly held animosity against NBC because the network had rejected his plan for a mini-series about Christa McAuliffe and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In referencing the letter that was sent to Tom Brokaw at NBC the report noted the rejection of his mini-series idea and that "more importantly, Brokaw had been the co-host of the Today Show with Jane Pauley, who was among the most famous alumnae of [the sorority] of her generation."

By carrying out the anthrax attacks Ivins, "showed that anthrax was a real threat and the vaccine he helped manage was necessary to protect the public," the report says. The panel notes that Ivins may also have been deeply affected by a female technician who left the Army lab in 1999 and that the attacks may have been a distorted attempt to urge her to return to work at the lab.

After the attacks Ivins initially assisted the FBI in its investigation but became a suspect several years later after investigators honed scientific techniques and eliminated leads and other suspects. About a month before Ivins killed himself, the Justice Department settled a long running lawsuit with Steven Hatfill for almost $6 million who had claimed that the government violated his privacy rights during the investigation. In August 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft named Hatfill as a person of interest in the mail attacks.

Ivins mental health deteriorated as he feared he would be indicted. This was most notable when he lashed out during a group therapy session in July 2008 that he planned to obtain a gun and kill people before the police would shoot him down. After this incident Ivins was involuntarily sent to a psychiatric ward. "Dr. Ivins' mental health professionals likely prevented a mass shooting and fulfillment of his promise to go out in a 'blaze of glory.'"

Two days after being released from the psychiatric evaluation, Ivins took a deadly overdose of acetaminophen and sedatives and died. Although there have been many questions about the attacks and the FBI's investigation, the report released Wednesday may provide more answers to families and individuals impacted by the deadly attacks and supports the Justice Department's conclusion that Ivins was responsible and may have acted alone.

 
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