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Bruce Ivins, US government scientist, and anthrax terrorist?

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When Bruce Ivins, presumed psycho amateur juggler/church keyboardist/government scientist/bioterrorist, committed suicide by drug overdose, taking two days to die, everyone was taken by surprise by an FBI effort notable for almost complete information secrecy until the shoe was about to drop. In early July, many had commented, including this writer, on the huge payout to Steven Hatfill, a former "person of interest" in the anthrax investigation, assuming it meant that the case was all screwed up. Apparently, just the opposite!

Since 2006, the agency had refocused its investigation on Ivins. The story, broken by the Los Angeles Times, was a major scoop. It outlined how the feds had placed the 62-year-old Ivins in an investigative vice, one which led to him being kicked out of the US Army's biodefense research facility at Fort Detrick for threatening to kill co-workers and himself. Ivins was then briefly admitted to a local psychiatric unit, where he continued to menace people. With a grand jury hearing witnesses and scientists sworn to secrecy, the government had notified Ivins' lawyer, Paul Kemp, that charges were coming down.

Stranger still, a peace order lodged against Ivins in the quiet town of Frederick, MD, the home to many of Fort Detrick's scientists, had put the information into the open on July 24.

Jean Duley, a therapist, had filed a petition requesting Ivins be compelled to stay clear of her. Ivins, Duley wrote, had been undergoing counseling and had been judged homicidal by his psychiatrist and "sociopathic with clear intentions." Duley continued that she had testified in a case involving Ivins and that he would "be charged with five capital murders." Anyone looking over the document at the courthouse on July 24 and noting that Ivins' place of employment was "Ft. Dietrick" [sic] would have immediately concluded that the Amerithraxer, whose mailings had killed five in October 2001, was about to be arrested. (A weekend report added that Duley testified that Ivins had attempted to poison people as early as 2000. How she knew this was not disclosed.)

At this point, we'll note that Ivins' lawyer, alongside some scientists at Fort Detrick, maintains Ivins' innocence, pointing out that it was pressure from the FBI and humiliation at being kicked out of the biodefense lab that led to his suicide.

Anthrax vaccine boffin

Ivins had worked at the facility for 18 years. Vexingly, the boffin's research was on an improved anthrax vaccine. The Los Angeles Times informed that Ivins' held patents on it. Farmed out to the the private sector, inefficiency and struggle wrapped production of it in failure, most notably at a San Francisco company named VaxGen, which never delivered on orders. Ivins, although entered into a royalty sharing agreement on future sales, had subsequently not made money off it. Various parties pointed out that even if the vaccine had gone into rapid production, the scientist, while possibly gaining some tens of thousands of dollars, would not have become fabulously wealthy through it. In 2003, Ivins had also received the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, the highest award the military can award to a civilian employee, for helping to solve problems in the manufacture of the vaccine.

After the anthrax mailings, Ivins was also part of a team of scientists at Fort Detrick who consulted to the FBI while the facility was analyzing contaminated mail and the original powders. Readers are left to imagine the dilemma faced by the bureau, its agents working to map a scientific maze in which a sophisticated psychopath is tapped into the analysis of his own work.

Ivins also represents a major practical dilemma.

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