Washington Post Editorial, September 19, 2008
“Anthrax Suspicions: Why an independent look at the FBI probe is essential”
THERE’S NO better proof of the need for an independent review of the FBI’s anthrax investigation than the words of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.)… Mr. Leahy rejected the agency’s assertion that government scientist Bruce E. Ivins acted alone in creating and dispensing the deadly spores that killed five people and sickened 17 others.
“I believe there are others involved, either as accessories before or accessories after the fact,” Mr. Leahy said. “I believe there are others who can be charged with murder.” Mr. Leahy’s skepticism was echoed by GOP Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Charles E. Grassley (Iowa)…
Even if the FBI got the science right, it still must explain how and why it eliminated from suspicion some 100 other people who had access to the vial… Serious missteps throughout the investigation — including the original identification of a different Fort Detrick scientist as the FBI’s top suspect — demand that all of the bureau’s work be examined by an independent commission or the Justice Department’s inspector general.
As an editorial in the journal Nature observed (“Case not closed,” August 21, 2008)
A group of independent experts needs to look hard at the F.B.I.’s technical analysis and detective work that combined to convince investigators that the mailed anthrax must have come from Dr. Bruce Ivins.
… Although this openness about the techniques is commendable, neither the conclusions drawn from the scientific analysis, nor such crucial legal elements as the veracity of the provenance and handling of samples, have been tested in court. So far only one side of the story has been heard: that of the prosecution…
The FBI should explain why it thinks the scientific evidence implicates Ivins himself, and not just the flask. As Kemp aptly puts it: “In this country, we prosecute people, not beakers.”
… presumably the bureau would welcome a full congressional or independent enquiry into this case, as has been called for by Senator Chuck Grassley (Republican, Iowa) and several other lawmakers. It is essential that such an enquiry takes place.
A New York Times editorial (“Too little information,” August 19, 2008) noted:
A group of independent experts needs to look hard at the F.B.I.’s technical analysis and detective work that combined to convince investigators that the mailed anthrax must have come from Dr. Bruce Ivins…
None of this circumstantial evidence has been subjected to close outside scrutiny. Congress should be sure to examine it closely. And given the overriding importance of the laboratory work in tracing the anthrax to Dr. Ivins’s batches, it is distressing that the F.B.I. has not released more details from its scientific investigation so that independent experts can evaluate it.
Now that Dr. Ivins’s suicide has precluded a court trial, there needs to be an independent evaluation of whether the F.B.I. has found the right man. For that, the ever-secretive agency is going to have to share more information.