U.S. Reps. Roscoe Bartlett and Rush Holt moved Thursday to launch an investigation of the FBI's handling of the 2001 Amerithrax case, asking whether investigators overlooked the possibility of a foreign connection to the attacks.
Bartlett, a Republican who represents Western Maryland, said the attacks have "been devastating to my constituents and the scientists at Fort Detrick."
Holt, a Democrat, represents the central New Jersey district from which the anthrax letters were mailed.
The two congressmen proposed an amendment to the fiscal 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, calling for the inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to review all available information and determine whether any of it links a foreign entity to the anthrax attacks. The amendment and the Intelligence Authorization Act both passed in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"Given that samples of the strain of anthrax that was used in the attacks may have been supplied to foreign laboratories, it is important to examine whether or not evidence of a potential foreign connection to the attacks was overlooked, ignored or simply not passed along to the FBI," Holt said in a news release Thursday.
According to FBI documents released to The Frederick News-Post through the Freedom of Information Act, Fort Detrick researcher Bruce Ivins told investigators that Porton Down military research center in Great Britain had samples of his strain of anthrax bacteria. He also told agents that he suspected his anthrax had been shared with other domestic and international labs without his permission, and that Iraq had attempted to obtain that anthrax from Great Britain.
The FBI's final report on the Amerithrax case concludes that Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the mailings that killed five and sickened 17. Ivins died in July 2008 in an apparent suicide, one week before the FBI released its initial finding that he was the lone suspect in the attacks.
The inspector general's investigation would produce an unclassified report with a classified annex that would be available to several congressional committees.
Holt has long criticized the FBI's investigation and seeks a congressional review of the FBI's handling of the case.
"The FBI botched this case from the very beginning, and now they have arbitrarily closed the investigation because they are sure they have their man -- just as they were sure they had their first man, who they had to pay $6 million for false arrest," Holt said in a news release.
The FBI first named Steven Hatfill, a researcher at Fort Detrick and later at SAIC, as a "person of interest" before eventually clearing his name.
While introducing the amendment, Holt repeated the need for a full review but said this was a good first step.
"(Ivins') colleagues said he would not have done it. The FBI said early on he could not have done it," Bartlett said. "This case needs to be brought to a proper close."
The Intelligence Authorization Act still needs to pass in the full House of Representatives, and the Senate would need to agree to the amendment before the investigation could take place. Though the Senate hasn't discussed the intelligence review, several senators in both parties have expressed interest in looking into the Amerithrax investigation in the past, said Zach Goldberg, Holt's spokesman.