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Government Biotech News Science

Apparent Suicide In Anthrax Case 339

Posted by kdawson
from the tylenol-and-codeine dept.
penguin_dance passes along the news that a respected anthrax researcher, about to be indicted, has committed suicide. The FBI has been investigating the case since anthrax-contaminated letters were sent to the media and various politicians in 2001. The AP's coverage mentions that prosecutors intended to seek the death penalty. The suicide was not the one you might imagine if you've been following the story. "A top government scientist who helped the FBI analyze samples from the 2001 anthrax attacks has died in Maryland from an apparent suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the attacks, the Los Angeles Times has learned. Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who for the last 18 years worked at the government's elite biodefense research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md., had been informed of his impending prosecution... The extraordinary turn of events followed the government's payment in June of a settlement valued at $5.82 million to a former government scientist, Steven J. Hatfill, who was long targeted as the FBI's chief suspect despite a lack of any evidence that he had ever possessed anthrax."
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Apparent Suicide In Anthrax Case

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  • Riiight. (Score:2, Insightful)

    "Suicide", eh?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by AJWM (19027)

      "Suicide", eh?

      Yep, shot himself in the back of the head.

      (No, I have not read TFA.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Beat himself to death, with the blunt end of an axe?

      • by g0dsp33d (849253)
        You forgot the from 15ft away part ;).
      • Stabbed himself repeatedly. Again and again. About the head, neck, and shoulders. In the back, in the front, in the sides. It was an ugly scene.
        • by 4D6963 (933028)

          Stabbed himself repeatedly. Again and again. About the head, neck, and shoulders. In the back, in the front, in the sides. It was an ugly scene.

          *BOOM* The novelty of your joke just blew my mind. (Btw you forgot the part where he cuts himself into pieces and places his bits into several different closed trash bags)

      • by bwindle2 (519558)
        I figured it'd be from a self-inflicted knife-wound to the back [wikipedia.org].
    • by pluther (647209)

      It was either that, or he was shot trying to escape.

      The report took a while to make sure.

    • "Yes, suicide"

      "He was stabbed 16 times"

      "He was very determined"

      "IN THE BACK!"

      "He was also double-jointed"

    • by crhylove (205956)

      Let's not get everybody all riled up because of yet another government cover-up.

      I mean, you really want to start asking questions about JFK?!?

  • Oh, the irony (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sm62704 (957197) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:21PM (#24436535) Journal

    A suicidal man getting the death penalty. If I rob a bank will they give me double the amount of the cash I steal?

    When I die it will likely be a horrible death, like most people - cancer, heart disease, accident, violence, falling down in a nursing home, alzheimers, etc.

    But a murderer gets euthanized, like a beloved pet is put down.

    I want murderers to spend the rest of their lives horribly and end horribly, like most of us non criminals. I don't mind my tax money going to incarceration of violent people, but I do mind my government murdering in my name. We should join the civilized world and stop executing people.

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      Civilized people deserve civilized treatment. I guess that just about wraps it up.

      • Re:Oh, the irony (Score:5, Insightful)

        by arth1 (260657) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:46PM (#24436985) Homepage Journal

        Civilized people deserve civilized treatment. I guess that just about wraps it up.

        I think you mean "Civilized people give civilized treatment". Otherwise, what marks them as civilized? Anyone can treat their own well - it's also treating those who are different that makes us a civilization and not a tribe.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cdrguru (88047)

          Specifically, people that (as in example below) behead someone on a bus for laughs may not be fit for any society at all, even a highly restricted one in prison.

          A vital component of "humanity" is the ability to recognize that others exist apart from your own needs. When you have a person (?) that does not have the that functional capacity, is there really any point? Someone that places zero value on the lives of others is not going to be able to function in any society, especially ours. There are some pe

          • Re:Oh, the irony (Score:5, Insightful)

            by arth1 (260657) on Friday August 01, 2008 @03:21PM (#24440099) Homepage Journal

            Jeffery Dalhmer, for example. He couldn't function in prison either. What exactly do we do with people like that? It has nothing to do with the "expense" of a life sentance. It has everything to do with the safety and wellbeing of the fellow prisoners and guards.

            No, it doesn't. It has everything to do with the safety and wellbeing of the fellow prisoners, guards and Jeffrey Dahmer. Once you don't give him the same human rights as others, you're no longer acting civilized. Whether he himself has broken those rights is irrelevant -- our ability to not let that be a factor in how we treat him is what makes us civilized and unlike him.

            If you let who people are decide whether you treat them with respect, you will quickly polarize the society into "those like us" and "those unlike us", and you'll be back to a tribal society, not a civilization. We're on the path there, I'm afraid.

            • Re:Oh, the irony (Score:4, Interesting)

              by slew (2918) on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:01PM (#24443795)

              If you let who people are decide whether you treat them with respect, you will quickly polarize the society into "those like us" and "those unlike us", and you'll be back to a tribal society, not a civilization. We're on the path there, I'm afraid.

              Sadly, I doubt there is a society or a subset of society that ever existed which is civilized under your definition. Starting in kindergarden/gradeschool society, we are essentially taught that some people are worth treating with respect, and some are not (e.g., ones who follow rules are to be respected, ones that don't are shamed). Later on people who follow the rules are not respected, and the rule-breakers are admired. Then it's people who are good at sports, or math, or skateboard or use computers or have girlfriends or boyfriends or have a job, or have been on a cruise, or been to europe, or been to vietnam, or are married, or have kids or have grandkids or coloring your hair or just happen to be in the opposite set which are the complement of these things.

              Societies are generally always structured into the conforming and the non-conforming outsiders. Generally the non-conforming outsiders usually get no respect or in many cases no rights at all (for example that will most certainly date me, on early usenet, some sites didn't allow newbies to post at all). The "in" crowd makes the rules, generally to differentiate them from the "outsiders" and create the exclusion set. More often than not, the rules also make provisions for transitioning members from the inclusion set to the exclusion set (e.g., excommunication, shunning, banning, blocking, voting-out, etc).

              Although it's just a matter of degree, I doubt being 100% "civilized" by your definition would ever the goal of any actual society, lest they let the outsiders in and ruin it ;^)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sm62704 (957197)

        First, a murderer isn't civilized. Second, I never said "put him in a pound in the ass prison" like so many slashdotters do; I am appalled at the way US prisoners are treated (and I have one friend that was just released from Dwight Correctional last February). Prisons have guards, and there should NEVER be any crime whatever committed in a prison, period. If someone is raped in prison, some guard should have have severe disciplinary action taken against him.

        I notice that the GP comment (mine) went from +3

    • Re:Oh, the irony (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mpapet (761907) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:34PM (#24436769) Homepage

      I want murderers to spend the rest of their lives horribly and end horribly

      You conveniently ignore the fact that the law-enforcement system wrongly incarcerates many people, murderers included. We'll ignore your distopian ideal until they fix that glaring issue.

      Given the overall tone of your post, may I suggest making some changes in your life to introduce a bit more positive attitude?

      • by s.bots (1099921)

        You conveniently ignore the fact that the law-enforcement system wrongly incarcerates many people, murderers included. We'll ignore your distopian ideal until they fix that glaring issue.

        I'm guessing you conveniently ignored the rest of your parent's post, the part about how the death penalty is no good? If you are concerned about those wrongly convicted, wouldn't it be worse to slay them then to have them alive?

      • Wait... So you mean that it is better to kill innocent people then just locking them up for 15-20 years? Wow, at least you can repay someone for 20 years wasted, but its not like we have resurrection spells in the real world...
    • But a murderer gets euthanized, like a beloved pet is put down.

      I've long been an advocate of bringing back crucifixion.

      I want murderers to spend the rest of their lives horribly and end horribly.

      Me too!

  • by bsharma (577257) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:22PM (#24436553)
    "...injury is deliberately and gradually inflicted upon a person usually for gaining attention or some other benefit." He might have wanted his research to be better recognized and useful. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munchausen_syndrome_by_proxy [wikipedia.org]
  • by John Jorsett (171560) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:22PM (#24436557)

    I've grown increasingly cynical about government in recent years. I wonder, did the feds see that this guy knocked himself off and think, "Hey, here's a perfect target we can accuse and use to divert attention from the Hatfill mess and the fact that we haven't found anybody in 6 years."? Not saying that happened, but it's telling that it was the first thing that went through my mind when I heard this.

    • by rpillala (583965) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:42PM (#24436929)

      This doesn't directly address your question, but there's a great deal more to this story: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/08/01/anthrax/index.html [salon.com]

    • While I agree a lot of deaths are a bit too convenient, I have a feeling this wasn't one. Reason being, it's a lot less effective to point at a dead guy and say 'We think he did it.'

      For someone to be an effective patsy, a strawman enemy to make you look like the hero, you need them to be alive, really. A dead enemy isn't a very effective manipulative tool; or at least, not as effective as a living one.

    • by demachina (71715) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:29PM (#24438973)

      You also have to worry that he was involved but that he had co-conspirators and his suicide may prevent the investigation from getting to them.

      There is also the possibility the co-conspirators stood with a gun to his head and forced him to swallow the over dose so he would be the fall guy and would have no chance to expose them in exchange for a plea deal.

      You hate to think your government would have perpetrated the Anthrax attacks on purpose to amplify the fear after 9/11 and insure the country would support invading Iraq, but everything that's been unveiled about the Bush Administration in the last few years you KNOW they are ruthless enough and may well have been willing to do such a thing to get their way, and seem to have a pretty low regard for the rule of law or the value of human life. Addington in Cheney's office in particular seem to be capable of just about any kind of atrocity. It appears he almost single handedly pushed the U.S. in to torturing people.

      I find it a little odd the FBI would have been quite as blatant as they were in tipping their hand to him that he was going to be charged, going to be charged with murder and he might get the death penalty. Its kind of like they were trying to force him to either flee or kill himself.

  • by jgarra23 (1109651) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:24PM (#24436587)

    Shouldn't they confirm through investigative work that he did in fact commit these crimes rather than just assume since they were about to file charges & that he "committed suicide" that he did it? IT seems like poor reasoning on anyone's part to just assume this is the logical conclusion just because he offed himself before shit hit the fan. What if the suicide was for some completely different reason? Lots of people commit suicide for reasons other than legal troubles.

    • by topham (32406) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:35PM (#24436779) Homepage

      What? You mean it might be possible that a depressed individual, accused of a crime, might commit suicide because of the pressure of the situation, and not guilt over getting caught? What!?

      The FBI has obviously repeatedly targeted people without sufficient evidence in this case. Obviously the guys life would be ruined, guilt or innocence be damned.

    • Well, the article does say that their last suspect had just gotten 5 mil for being falsely charged, when there was no evidence he ever had any anthrax.

      So... yes, they should do some investigative work. It's been almost 7 years, you would think they could have found some time to actually work rather than just say "Hey, you're a microbiologist, you probably did it."

      Hopefully I won't get charged, I did have a microbiology class at some point, and since they apperantly don't use evidence, that puts me on a lis

      • by jgarra23 (1109651)


        Hopefully I won't get charged, I did have a microbiology class at some point, and since they apperantly don't use evidence, that puts me on a list probably.

        I'm a big fan of the band Anthrax... hopefully myself & other fans won't be considered "persons of interest".

    • What if the suicide was for some completely different reason?

      Or maybe whomever mailed the anthrax ( obviously not too concerned with other people's lives )offed him to take pressure off of them?

    • I'd bet because those involved have been doing this a while and are tired and getting lazy. They want to do something else.

  • by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:25PM (#24436601) Homepage Journal
    He just accidentally mixed up his crack and his research material.
  • by IronChef (164482) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:25PM (#24436609)

    Maybe this guy is innocent and when he saw the hell that Hatfill went through, he decided he'd rather check out instead.

    Just kidding! ... but not really.

  • As I sit here with my tin foil hat on - looking for the conspiracy theory that can explain this. So far the usual suspects don't have anything good. I'm quite sure some ex high level government intelligence agent that wants to do good is here on Slashdot. PLEASE - give us your best conspiracy theory and if you don't have one make one up! This story is RIPE for a good conspiracy theory and I bored.

    - cluge

  • by chaffed (672859) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:29PM (#24436667) Homepage

    What's the best way to maintain plausible deniability [wikipedia.org]? Kill the person who actually committed the crime. Your patsy does the dirty work, then you dispose of them.

  • by wherrera (235520) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:29PM (#24436669) Journal

    Unfortunately unless he wrote a confession note it's possible that he was simply depressed and the news of being prosecuted as his co-worker was acted as a last impetus to suicide. TIme will tell I suppose.

  • He also worked at Detrick for a while, but got canned after being busted for harassing a co-worker who was from Egypt. Considering he still had access to the bio labs after he stopped working there, he sure had the means and motive to smuggle out some anthrax for later use.

    Guess I was wrong.

  • Terrorism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mattpm (1135875) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:35PM (#24436789)
    But Dubya told me the terrorists were in Iraq!?!
    • We're fighting in Iraq so we don't have to fight the terrorists here! This guy did the anthrax attacks before we invaded Iraq; once we invaded Iraq, he stopped the attacks. It's pretty obvious that invading Iraq stopped him from further anthrax attacks. My logic is impeccable.

  • by dlgeek (1065796) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:36PM (#24436811)
    Apparently he helped the FBI in analyzing the samples in the initial investigation. TFA says the investigation shifted focus in 2006 and

    Moreover, significant progress was made in analyzing genetic properties of the anthrax powder recovered from letters addressed to two senators.

    I wonder if he faked his analysis and used it to frame Hatfill (the guy the Government had announced as a person of interest, sued the NYTimes and the Justice Dept. for libel and got a big settlement from the later) Also from TFA:

    Soon after the government's settlement with Hatfill was announced June 27, Ivins began showing signs of serious strain.

    Maybe he knew they were closing in on him?

  • by Jeff1946 (944062) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:38PM (#24436853) Journal

    Salon has a updated story today http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/08/01/anthrax/ [salon.com]
    relating to false information provided to ABC news early on about the investigation. Really makes you wonder what was going on here.

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:47PM (#24437007) Homepage
    The media and the FBI are a combination made in hell for law and order and justice. Just ask Hatfill and Richard Jewell [wikipedia.org] among many others. There's nothing quite like getting convicted in the court of public opinion thanks to the media for making the FBI's job easier, and there's nothing like a high profile FBI investigation to make a story for the media...
  • Clueless FBI (Score:5, Insightful)

    by philspear (1142299) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:52PM (#24437111)

    The article was, predictably, poor in science, but it sounds like the reason the FBI suspected him was that there was an anthrax contamination that he bleached but didn't report and didn't recheck to be sure nothing survived.

    While that would have been a good step to take, anthrax microbes by themselves aren't harmful, in order to be a weapon it needs to be processed. Purified anthrax spores are what will send you to the hospital. I don't know how that's done, but the point is that anthrax growing on your lab bench is not the same as having plutonium all over your lab bench. Anthrax bacterial contamination in a fume hood would be an annoyance, not a serious safety issue.

    Furthermore, bleach is a heavy duty sterilizing agent. You douse your bench in bleach and you really don't have to worry about residual contamination in most cases. Reswabbing is easy to do and would have been the right thing to do, but it's understandable that he didn't: it's kind of like checking for a pulse in someone you just burned at the stake.

    We're of course not getting the full story, and it's more suspicious that his house was in the area the letters were coming from, but from what the article is saying, it sounds like the FBI may have harassed a man into suicide over "evidence" that would have been dismissed as unimportant if it were put into context.

    • Re:Clueless FBI (Score:4, Interesting)

      by R2.0 (532027) on Friday August 01, 2008 @01:26PM (#24437661)

      Yes, but an "accidental" contamination is a good cover for an intentional removal of samples to weaponize elsewhere. So they find spores outside of containment in your lab? "Oh, I had an accidental release a month ago - I got it right away with bleach, so I didn't botehr reporting it. Must have missed some."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @01:07PM (#24437335)

    Before everyone runs off and drinks yet some more governmental press release kool aid, apply some normal flatfoot 101 to this situation, use a clean slate.

    Look at who got the mailings, and when they got the mailings, and what was coincidently in the news at the same time, to establish a probable motive. Also note the "cover letters" which were meant to cast blame on "islamic terrorists", with a lot of death to the infidels and america and israel, etc nonsense written in pidgin misspelled english.

    who = news media sources, and two *important* high ranking Dem senators. The first news media source, the tabloid writer in florida, who was infected and later died, is a wildcard, no ties whatsoever with the others for any apparent motive, except one. He was working on a story that dealt with a leadership position in a tangential way, something that would have embarrassed some powerful people. The other newsies were top dogs in their fields, meaning they have huge propaganda influence. Some of the letters were mailed, some hand delivered, but no one is saying by whom, this has never been publicly determined.

    when and what = right before debate on the Patriot Act. How coincidental. congress gets shut down, hysteria in the news headlines, anthrax mailings happen, made to look like Abdul J. Jihad did it, patriot act passed easily, despite overwhelming and clearly just plain wrong big brother aspects to it.

    So maybe he did it, maybe not, but there are some juicy bits there to think about. Maybe he was meant to be a patsy and fall guy, after first getting his cooperation by enlisiting his sense of "patriotism" and telling him "sometimes you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet" or call it "unfortunate collateral damage, but the strike had to be done". Maybe he was a manchurian brainwashed asset, maybe....but the timing and targets will remain highly suspicious, especially because of the obvious attempt at misdirection and the tremendous political and economic gains to be had by changing the direction of the US in a huge way. And there's your few trillion dollars in motive, along with control of the most powerful government on the planet, and the direction of mideast geopolitical and energy ppolicy, and increasing daily.

    Next question: Who profits? Add it up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lenski (96498)

      Whatever the actual story is, the person who knows best is no longer in a position to say much about motivation, intent, process, or context.

      The two senators intended to receive the toxic envelopes were, at the time, significant players in the politics of the day. Whether Ivins intended to implicate "Islamic terrorists" or merely encourage the raging paranoia of the U.S. political power players at the time, those anthrax letters likely had an effect on the politics relating to the passage of the U.S. PATRIO

  • just a repost of the link: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/08/01/anthrax/ [salon.com]

    What's really interesting is the link between Ivins and his strong christian / anti-islamic beliefs that they outline via the letters to the editor he sent in to the Fredrick News Post. http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/news/display.htm?StoryID=78274 [fredericknewspost.com]

  • ... what can most easily be explained by human greed and selfishness.

    In other words, the smart money's always on the lone gunman.

    This guy could have been the patsy of a vast government conspiracy to terrorize the public by release of anthrax, yes.

    But how's this for an alternative? Expert in bioweapons realizes that bioweapons are a serious terrorist threat. Wants to make sure the U.S. takes the threat seriously. Oh and by the way, "taking the threat seriously" happens to provide him with some serious job

  • I can relate... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Joseph Hayes (982018) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:26PM (#24438895)
    As someone that got his dick caught in a door by some cops using very very shady maneuvers.... The government zealously threatening to ruin your life as you know it can easily lead you to thoughts of suicide. I went as far as carrying a bottle of carbon monoxide and mask around in the spare tire compartment of my car in case things went south quickly during the legal process. I was not about to become someone's bitch for something I didn't even do, and apparently neither was Dr. Ivin. I honestly can't blame him. When I was in that situation suicide seemed like the wisest thing TO do considering how my life would be after going thru the prison system. I kept thinking that if I didn't kill myself now, I'd be sitting in prison, innocent!, and wishing I had. Luckily, I guess you could say, I was able to pay a lawyer THOUSANDS of dollars to eventually get the case thrown out on entrapment (after a year and a half of HELL). When you are a good person and get in a sticky situation with the chips stacked against you.... you mental health turns to the dark side rather quickly. May he rest in peace.

I don't have any use for bodyguards, but I do have a specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants. -- Elvis Presley

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