Key senators dispute FBI's anthrax case against Bruce Ivins

The FBI director faces emphatic doubts about his claims that the anthrax attacker has been identified.

Published September 17, 2008 2:25PM (EDT)

(updated below)

I'll have more to write about it when it is over, but the Senate Judiciary Committee today -- following the House Judiciary Committee yesterday -- is conducting an "oversight" hearing of the FBI at which FBI Director Robert Mueller is testifying. That hearing can be viewed here.

Already, after 30 minutes or so, the two ranking members of the Committee have both told Mueller that, in essence, they do not accept or believe the FBI's accusations against Bruce Ivins. The Democratic Chairman of the Committee, Pat Leahy (who was a target of the anthrax attacks) told Mueller categorically that he simply does not believe that Ivins was the prime culprit if he was a participant at all, and said he is absolutely convinced that there were others involved in the preparation and mailing of the anthrax. Leahy began the hearing by identifying the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Ground and the private CIA contractor Battelle Corporation -- but not Fort Detrick -- as the only two institutions in the U.S. capable of producing anthrax of the strain that was sent to him and Sen. Daschele. Leahy asked Mueller whether he was aware of any other institutions capable of producing the anthrax, and when Mueller -- amazingly though unsurprisingly -- claimed he couldn't answer, Leahy demanded that he obtain the answer during a break and tell the Committee today what the answer is.

GOP Senator and former prosecutor Arlen Specter was just as emphatic in telling Mueller that the FBI's case plainly fell short of what could have been used to convict Ivins in a criminal trial. He said he had grave doubts about the FBI's case, and demanded Mueller's consent to allow an independent body to review the FBI's evidence (though Specter, as usual, is either confused or being deliberately obtuse because Mueller keeps committing to having outside scientists review the FBI's scientific methods but not the entire case against Ivins -- a distinction which GOP Sen. Charles Grassley, one of the key skeptics in the Senate regarding the FBI's case, just highlighted and objected to).

Grassley sent a letter to the FBI a month ago demanding answers to a whole slew of questions, and as he is asking them, Mueller -- as he did yesterday -- continues to say that he doesn't have the answers and will obtain them at some point. The Senators are indignant over this, but don't appear to intend to do anything (just as was true for the House members yesterday), though Leahy is at least demanding that Mueller obtain these answers not at some point in the indefinite future, but today, during the breaks.

The bottom line is that it is quite extraordinary that the FBI has claimed it has identified with certainty the sole culprit in the anthrax attacks, but so many key Senators, from both parties, simply don't believe it, and are saying so explicitly. Leahy's rather dark suggestion that there were others involved in these attacks -- likely at a U.S. Army facility or key private CIA contractor -- is particularly notable. It has been crystal clear from the beginning that the FBI's case is filled with glaring holes, that their thuggish behavior towards their only suspect drove him to commit suicide and thus is unable to defend himself, and yet, to this day, the FBI continues to conceal the evidence in its possession and is stonewalling any and all efforts to scrutinize its claims.

It takes a lot for Senators from both parties to so openly and explicitly say they don't believe the FBI's definitive accusations in such a high-profile case. Perhaps that will be understood as a reflection of how dubious the FBI's case here is. Given what far-reaching impact these attacks had, and given that these attacks were -- as our own Government claims -- ones that originated from U.S. Army facilities and perpetrated by U.S. Government employees, it ought to be understood as exactly that.

UPDATE: This blogger offers some well-reasoned defenses of the FBI's most recent claims -- or, more accurately, some well-reasoned criticism of some of the claims from FBI critics, including me. I don't entirely agree with several of his points, but his analysis is worth reading.

The crucial point, at least from my perspective, isn't that the FBI's accusations against Bruce Ivins are demonstrably false, and it's not that Bruce Ivins had no role in the anthrax attacks -- there is ample grounds for believing both propositions to be true, but I'm not at all suggesting one can reach a definitive conclusion based on what is known. Rather, the point is that the accusations that the FBI has outlined and the evidentiary case it has disclosed are so full of substantial holes that the FBI ought to disclose all of the evidence in its possession -- scientific and non-scientific -- and fully cooperate with a real, independent review of all of that evidence by an investigative body possessing subpoena power and whose mandate is both to examine the anthrax attacks and the FBI's case from scratch.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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