GAO to review FBI's Ivins investigation

Bruce Ivins is shown in 2003.

The Government Accountability Office has launched an investigation into the scientific methods used by the FBI to determine that Fort Detrick researcher Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, who represents the New Jersey district from which the letters were mailed, requested GAO's involvement as early as 2007, but renewed his efforts after the FBI announced it had closed its Amerithrax investigation last February.

Holt and four other lawmakers originally proposed a list of 10 questions for GAO to help answer, including how the anthrax spores used in the attacks compared to anthrax produced in this country and in locations around the world, what amount of time and material would go into creating the quantity of anthrax spores used in the attacks, and why the FBI had not yet been able to close the case.

The FBI questioned Ivins, a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, throughout the entire investigation, but named him as the suspect only after he committed suicide in July 2008.

Many of Ivins' former co-workers and several lawmakers -- including Sen. Chuck Grassley, one of the four who helped Holt pursue the GAO investigation and who has been a vocal critic of the FBI's work on the case -- are still not convinced the FBI adequately proved Ivins' guilt.

"The American people need credible answers to many questions raised by the original attacks and the subsequent FBI handling of the case," Holt said in a news release. "I'm pleased the GAO has responded to our request and will look into the scientific methods used by the FBI."

Specifically, the GAO investigation will seek to answer three main questions:

n What forensic methods did the FBI use to conclude Ivins was the sole perpetrator, and how reliable are those methods?

n What scientific concerns and uncertainties still remain regarding the FBI's conclusion?

n What agencies monitor foreign containment labs, and how do they monitor those labs?

Holt had also requested that several House of Representatives committees question the FBI's methods and results, and he has called for a commission similar to the one that looked into the government's response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Neither effort has made much progress thus far.

"It's still a priority for him," said Holt spokesman Zach Goldberg. "He continues to get supporters for it, but it hasn't gotten traction in the larger Congress, which is certainly disappointing. He still feels that this is something that needs to be looked at for a variety of reasons -- that the families deserve answers to a myriad of questions."

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who represents Western Maryland, was not part of the group that signed the letter to GAO but has been working to get more answers since the FBI closed the Amerithrax case.

"I welcome the forthcoming investigation by the Congress' General Accounting Office of a series of important unanswered questions about the FBI's investigation," Bartlett said.

"These questions have undermined the credibility of the FBI's conclusions."

The GAO investigation will be the first congressionally directed review of the FBI's case; another review, done by the National Academy of Sciences, was requested by the FBI itself two years ago.

The NAS investigation is scheduled to wrap up by the end of the year. In GAO's letter to Holt confirming it would look into the FBI investigation, Ralph Dawn Jr., GAO managing director of congressional relations, wrote that to avoid any overlap between the two groups' investigations, they would first review the NAS study before determining the scope of the GAO one.

Goldberg said the GAO would start its investigation soon, if it hadn't begun already. He said the GAO hadn't announced a timeline for its investigation but said that Holt wasn't worried about rushing things along.

"Of course (Holt) wants it to be comprehensive and not rushed in any way," Goldberg said. "The important thing is that the questions get addressed."

LOOK BACK

Documents

Read more coverage of the FBI's case against on Ivins: The 30 PDFs below contain more than 2,500 pages related to the case, as obtained through a Freedom of Information Act.

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