Anthrax investigation too narrow, congressman says

N.J. Democrat Rush Holt tells an expert panel looking into the 2001 postal attacks that he still questions the FBI version of events. The bureau said a now-deceased Maryland scientist acted alone.

Washington Post August 1, 2009


Washington -- A key congressional critic of the FBI's investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks called Friday for a broader inquiry into the government's handling of the case, saying he remained deeply skeptical of the bureau's assertion that a Maryland scientist acted alone in carrying out the country's worst bioterrorism attack.

"Our government -- and specifically, the FBI -- suffers from a credibility gap on this issue," Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) told an expert panel that convened in Washington this week to begin reviewing the scientific methods the FBI used to link the attacks to Bruce E. Ivins, a microbiologist who worked in the Army's chief biodefense lab at Ft. Detrick, Md.

The 15-member panel was appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, at the FBI's request, to provide an independent review of the high-tech genetic analysis that ultimately led investigators to Ivins. The review is expected to last as long as 18 months.

The start of the panel's work coincided with the first anniversary of Ivins' July 28 suicide. He had been the FBI's prime suspect.

Friends and colleagues of the scientist and some independent experts have criticized the bureau's handling of the seven-year investigation, which for years focused on another Army scientist. The FBI later said that scientist was innocent.

Holt, whose district includes postal facilities that were used to mail some of the letters containing anthrax bacteria, said the panel's focus was too narrow.

"I'd like to be able to assure my constituents in New Jersey that there is no longer a murderer at large, and that we're prepared to deal with the next bioterrorist attack," Holt said in an interview.

Five people died and 17 others were sickened when anthrax bacteria were sent in 2001 through the mail to media companies and U.S. Senate offices.