FBI’s E-Mail Evidence Against Ivins: Not Very Persuasive

The FBI’s “evidence” that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the anthrax killer is not very impressive.


“Authorities say that days before the 2001 anthrax attacks, Army scientist Bruce Ivins wrote an e-mail warning that Osama bin Laden had anthrax and had declared war on the United States and Israel.

Postal inspectors say the language in e-mails by scientist Bruce Ivins was similar to the words used in the anthrax letters that terrorized the nation in 2001.”

How persuasive is that evidence?

Consider the following:

  • Ivins alleged communication was an e-mail, while the anthrax letters were hand-written, so it is impossible to match handwriting
  • E-mails are notoriously easy to fake. We’ve all gotten spam which seems to be sent form our own address, since our email address has been “spoofed”. Has the government authenticated the emails by subpoenaing his internet service provider’s records and by having independent experts authenticate that Ivins in fact sent them?
  • Bin Laden supposedly declared war on the U.S. and Israel in 1996 (and again in 1998), years before Ivins’ alleged email, so his statement is not very incriminating (and see this).
  • Even if the language in the emails is similar to that in the anthrax letters (I haven’t seen the text from the e-mail), someone could have simply copied the style to frame Ivins.

Concerning the reference in Ivins’ email to Bin Laden’s possession of anthrax, Glenn Greenwald points out:

“In September, 2001, speculating about whether Osama bin Laden had anthrax was just as common — for any Americans, let alone an anthrax vaccine researcher as Ivins was. As but one of countless examples, here’s what Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times on September 26, 2001:

After all these finicky years of fighting everyday germs and inevitable mortality with fancy products, Americans are now confronted with the specter of terrorists in crop dusters and hazardous-waste trucks spreading really terrifying, deadly toxins like plague, smallpox, blister agents, nerve gas and botulism.

Women I know in New York and Washington debate whether to order Israeli vs. Marine Corps gas masks, half-hour lightweight gas masks vs. $400 eight-hour gas masks, baby gas masks and pet gas masks, with the same meticulous attention they gave to ordering no-foam-no-fat-no-whip lattes in more innocent days. They share information on which pharmacies still have Cipro, Zithromax and Doxycycline, all antibiotics that can be used for anthrax, the way they once traded tips on designer shoe bargains. They talk more now about real botulism than its trendy cosmetic derivative Botox.

I could spend the rest of the night listing all the examples of people in the media during that time talking about Osama bin Laden, bioterrorism, and anthrax specifically. The fact that Ivins was doing so — with a colleague in the field — is anything but surprising.”

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