Bruce Ivins: The Movie

It sounds like a very bad made-for-television movie: a mad scientist – a violent sociopath, a "nerd with a dark side," who had already tried to kill several people, is obsessed with pornography, and is fixated on a particular college sorority – unleashes a strain of deadly anthrax through the U.S. mail, killing five, infecting 17 others, and terrorizing the country. His motive, aside from sheer antisocial vindictiveness: he holds the patent for an anthrax vaccine, and he also wants to direct the nation’s attention to the supposedly overlooked and underfunded problem of bio-terrorism. That’ll teach ’em!

It reads like some pretty execrable fiction, yet the FBI is peddling this farrago of shopworn clichés as the facts surrounding the alleged guilt of Bruce E. Ivins, whose suicide the other day ostensibly closes the 7-year-old anthrax terrorism case that has baffled investigators and shone a cruel light on the Bureau’s methods and standards of conduct.

The real topper has got to be the "sorority obsession" supposedly nursed by Ivins – a mild-mannered family man universally liked by his co-workers and neighbors. This is the sort of B-movie script beloved by Hollywood, wherein the upstanding bourgeois father of two and devoted husband is really a psychopathic slime-ball just beneath the surface, seething with resentment and even hatred of women who rejected his advances in the past – a male version of Carrie, who rises up in his true garb as the virtual incarnation of misanthropy to wreak vengeance on the female sex, and the world.

This passes muster in Hollywood, of course, since it embodies all the social prejudices so beloved by that temple of cultural corruption, yet in the real world one looks at it askance and wonders: are these guys kidding? Because this scenario has very little if anything to do with the known facts. The only connection the anthrax letters have to the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority is the fact that the New Jersey letters were mailed from a post office box not far from where the Princeton chapter keeps a storage locker. No kidding: that is the connection, in toto. So even if Ivins did indeed have an unusual interest in this sorority – supposedly because one of its members once rejected him back when he was a student at the University of Cincinnati – what this storage locker has to do with anything, including his alleged motives, is known only to those geniuses over at the FBI.

Clearly, the whole purpose of bringing this sorority angle up is to smear a dead man as a pervert and cast him in the sinister light suitable for the villain in this crude media narrative. The pornography angle serves the same purpose: Ivins apparently rented a mail box under another name, which he used to receive photos of blindfolded women, presumably in suggestive poses.

No, not very pretty – but so what? How does this make him the anthrax murderer?

Another element of this grade-B thriller is the "scientific" faux-Sherlock Holmes aspect of Ivins’ unmasking as the alleged killer. According to all those anonymous FBI and other government officials, who are leaking faster than they ever moved on this case, new scientific techniques that weren’t available during the Steven Hatfill fiasco have definitively traced the particular strain of anthrax used in the attacks back to a single flask in Ivins’ lab. We’re given all sorts of scientific-sounding gobbledygook to make the "evidence" sound convincing, but the fact remains that at least 12 other people at Ft. Detrick, not to mention other labs around the country, had access to the contents of that flask. For all the "genome tracing" and scientific detective work conducted by the FBI over a period of years, the reality is that they can trace the anthrax to a particular lab – but not, as several experts have pointed out, to a particular person. That would require real detective work of the gumshoe variety, as opposed to farming it out to scientists, many of whom are (or were) on the FBI’s suspect list. (Ivins himself was recruited to this task.)

Yet the FBI is not that concerned with the facts: what they’re after is a good story, one that the media – and therefore, they think, the public – will swallow without thinking about it too much. Oh yeah, that obsessive nut with the fixation on blindfolded sorority babes – obviously the sort to go a on rampage, and, unfortunately, he just happened to have access to the most horrific toxins known to mankind, courtesy of the U.S. government. They aren’t trying to convince a jury; after all, the guy is dead. The FBI and those in the administration who used the anthrax attacks to stoke up a war just want to convince the American public, a group they obviously hold in such low regard that they don’t bother with such niceties as logic and real evidence. Just tell them a story, and make it a good one – oh, and be sure to spice it up with sex. That’ll do the trick.

Except it won’t. The deceased scientist’s colleagues and friends are rising to his defense, and the truth about how the FBI persecuted Ivins – and effectively drove him to suicide, in my view quite deliberately – is now coming out. They gave Ivins the full Hatfill treatment: agents followed him everywhere, abusing him, giving him the finger, and intruding on his private space to an extent that seems almost inconceivable. Yet apparently it’s all perfectly legal in this era of the PATRIOT Act, a brazen assault on the constitutional rights of all Americans made possible in large part by the anthrax attacks and the atmosphere of hysterical fear they engendered.

Now I want to venture into some territory that is wild, to be sure, but no wilder than the anthrax letters themselves. I want to emphasize that this is just pure speculation on my part, or, more accurately, an interesting angle that could have significance – yet I hope not.

A number of the recent articles on the anthrax attacks have remarked on how the various targets seem curiously unrelated: the phrase "little in common" is often employed. And yet – and yet…

To begin with, targets Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy aren’t just any old U.S. senators. They’re Democrats, and, what’s more, they are – or, in Daschle’s case, were – leaders of the congressional Democratic caucus. Daschle was leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate, and Leahy was – and is – head of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, a post he used to his party’s maximum advantage.

Both of these men, in addition, were major obstacles to the passage of the PATRIOT Act, with Daschle refusing to grant the administration the unlimited power it sought. Together with Leahy, Daschle led the opposition to the original version of the bill, which had no expiration date. The Democrats, particularly Daschle and Leahy, argued in favor of a two-year expiration date, but after their Senate offices were targeted by the anthrax killer, both thought better of it and compromised on a four-year extension.

Far from having "little in common," as the conventional media spinmeisters would have it, these two men shared their staunch opposition to the Bush administration’s brazen attempt to trample the Constitution underfoot and seize power for themselves.

Yes, but what about the anthrax killers’ media targets? NBC one could arguably describe as either centrist, or mildly liberal, but what about the New York Post and the National Enquirer, one a rightist daily owned by Rupert Murdoch and the other an iconic gossip sheet whose name is a synonym for journalism of the yellowest sort? These two targets seem to have nothing in common, aside from a certain tabloid flair.

Yet they do, indeed, share a certain focus, at least when it comes to one very particular subject, and I owe this insight to the anonymous "Allie," posting on the Web site. The Enquirer has published a lot of photos of celebrities caught-in-the-act, so to speak, and one of these was of Jenna Bush, falling-down drunk and rolling around on the floor with another female for the delectation of the attending fraternity boys. The New York Post was another source for this specialized genre. As "Allie" puts it: "If you go to their search page and do a search for Jenna what you come up with is a plethora of articles on the Boozing Bush Twins. More and worse than anything published in The National Enquirer."

"Allie" then goes on to list the Post‘s prolific output of bad-girl-Jenna pieces, with such lurid titles as "Busted Bush Babes Make Different Booze Pleas," "Double Shot: Bush Twins Both Nailed," "Jenna Comes ‘Clean’: Beer Bush Babe Faces Garbage Duty," and a little editorial comment to stick the knife in all the way: "Reign in These Bush Leaguers," by Linda Stasi.

As "Allie" shows, all of the intended targets of the anthrax attacks did indeed have one thing in common: in some manner or other, they had crossed the Bush family, either in a very personal way (the first victims at the Enquirer and the Post), or else politically, in the cases of Daschle and Leahy. As far as the latter two are concerned, it wasn’t just their status as Democratic Party leaders, but their active opposition to the Bush agenda during the PATRIOT Act debate, that mattered.

As for Tom Brokaw, "Allie" points out that, prior to receiving the deadly anthrax-laden missive, and as the country was still reeling from the impact of 9/11, Brokaw had been approached by administration insiders not to run an interview with Bill Clinton, but he went ahead and did it anyway, thus incurring the Bushies’ wrath.

Yes, there were many more victims of the anthrax attacks, with five killed and 17 injured. Leahy and Daschle were unharmed, as was Brokaw, but the Enquirer was hit hard, and – given "Allie’s" thesis – right on target.

In any case, a certain pattern of the intended targets emerges. I can’t paraphrase the passion behind Allie’s analysis, so I’ll let him speak for himself:

"Who had a motive? Who had a grudge against The Enquirer and the New York Post? Who had a grudge against Brokaw? Who wanted to frighten or manipulate Congress? First to get it to adjourn indefinitely, leaving Bush with the power of the purse. Second to get the PATRIOT Act passed in all its fascist glory, without even being read. Who?

"It’s as plain as the nose on your face. Why is the major media pussyfooting around it? Are they still terrified?"

I have to say I don’t see any real evidence for any of this, beyond the wildly circumstantial – and, in that respect, the basis of "Allie’s" thesis is no different from the "evidence" marshaled by the FBI against Dr. Ivins. Except that, of the two narratives, the FBI’s tale of a porn-obsessed sorority-house lurker and mad scientist is a lot less believable.

What is all too believable, however, is the abuse endured by Ivins and his family, as related by the New York Times:

"They had even intensively questioned his adopted children, Andrew and Amanda, now both 24, with the authorities telling his son that he might be able to collect the $2.5 million reward for solving the case and buy a sports car, and showing his daughter gruesome photographs of victims of the anthrax letters and telling her, ‘Your father did this,’ according to the account Dr. Ivins gave a close friend.

"As the investigation wore on, some colleagues thought the FBI’s methods were increasingly coercive, as the agency tried to turn Army scientists against one another and reinterviewed family members.

"One former colleague, Dr. W. Russell Byrne, said the agents pressed Dr. Ivins’ daughter repeatedly to acknowledge that her father was involved in the attacks.

‘"It was not an interview,’ Dr. Byrne said. ‘It was a frank attempt at intimidation.’

"Dr. Byrne said he believed Dr. Ivins was singled out partly because of his personal weaknesses. ‘They figured he was the weakest link,’ Dr. Byrne said. ‘If they had real evidence on him, why did they not just arrest him?’"

Well, they didn’t arrest him because there wasn’t enough evidence. So they drove him to suicide, as the only alternative to confessing to a crime he didn’t commit. The kind of treatment Ivins had to endure at the hands of the FBI and other government agencies would have broken anyone, and, by all accounts, he was truly broken at the end, crying at his desk, suffering at least two breakdowns, and finally giving up the life that, in his view, had become hardly worth living. Why they wanted him dead, or in jail, is the core of the mystery at the center of this horrific episode in the annals of "law enforcement." It’s hard to believe this would be done merely to show that the FBI is on the job, protecting the nation from terrorists and other evildoers: their monumental incompetence, which some have interpreted as having more sinister implications, had practically ruined their reputation. Yet why pick on Ivins? It had to be more than just the "weak link" thesis put forward by his friend Dr. Byrne.

As I wrote on Monday, the longevity of Ivins’ career at Ft. Detrick – 36 years – gave him a bird’s-eye view of that troubled facility’s deepest and darkest secrets, including the series of events that took place in the 1990s, when all sorts of pathogens were apparently spirited out of the place and unauthorized experiments were carried out by freelancers employed by USAMRIID.

Did they drive Ivins to suicide because he knew too much? I don’t rule out some degree of involvement by Ivins, perhaps amounting only to knowledge of whom the perpetrators might be. However, in my view, he’s taking the fall for those who planned and executed the first biological attack on American soil. Surely a lone nut could not have carried out this technically difficult and logistically complicated scheme to terrorize an entire nation on the eve of such momentous events. That isn’t "conspiracism" – it’s common sense. With the exoneration of Steven Hatfill and the posthumous demonization of an apparently innocent man, the country is waking up to the importance of the previously nearly forgotten anthrax story – which, I might add, we’ve pursued in this space with some regularity year after year.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].