Government Asserts Ivins Acted Alone

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Government officials asserted yesterday that a troubled bioweapons scientist acted alone to perpetrate a terrorism scheme that killed five people, a case that centered on a near-perfect match of anthrax spores in his custody and a record of his late-night laboratory work just before the toxic letters were mailed.

Federal investigators uncovered e-mail messages written by bacteriologist Bruce E. Ivins describing an al-Qaeda threat that echoed language in the handwritten letters mailed to Senate offices and media organizations in September and October 2001. Ivins, who worked in high-security labs at Fort Detrick, Md., had a motive because of his work validating a controversial anthrax vaccine that had been suspended from production, authorities said.

Even as Justice Department officials declared the worst act of bioterrorism in U.S. history all but solved, scientists and legal experts noted that the evidence is far from foolproof. Investigators were unable to place Ivins in Princeton, N.J., on the days when the letters were dropped into a Nassau Street mailbox. They did not try to match his crabbed handwriting with the distinctive block print on the 2001 letters. And they did not silence congressional critics who wondered yesterday whether one man could have carried out the elaborate attacks.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) called for a "full-blown accounting" of the $15 million investigation, which took nearly seven years and included multiple wrong turns. Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), from whose district the letters were mailed, called for hearings to address questions such as "why investigators are so certain that Ivins acted alone."

Other congressional sources said that the FBI case was compelling but that doubts lingered in part because of the bureau's lengthy and ultimately fruitless pursuit of former Fort Detrick researcher Steven J. Hatfill. In June, the Justice Department agreed to pay Hatfill a $5.8 million settlement to resolve his privacy lawsuit. The only veiled reference to the government's wrong focus came in a footnote in the documents, which said that tests to make a clear genetic link to a specific scientist did not exist in the early years of the investigation...

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