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Suicide May Clarify Anthrax Mystery

An Army scientist named Bruce Ivins committed suicide this week as the Feds were preparing to indict him for the October 2001 anthrax attacks, according to news reports Friday. If Ivins’ guilt in the attacks is confirmed, it would mean that the bioterror scare, which whipped the country into hysteria and in doing so helped pave the way for the invasion of Iraq, was generated by a self-interested American (assuming Ivins did it, and was acting alone).

Ivins, 62, had worked in the development of anthrax vaccines and therapeutic drugs at Fort Detrick, Maryland, with publications going back to 1984. He had participated in 14 published studies on anthrax since the 2001 attacks; his latest paperwill be published Tuesday in the journal Vaccine.

Investigators have long suspected that a government scientist or contractor was responsible for the anthrax mailings to Democratic senators and the news media, which killed five people and crippled the postal service. After initial suspicions of a link to al-Qaeda or other foreign terrorists failed to materialize, the FBI focused on a former colleague of Ivins named Steven Hatfill. Those suspicions also did not pan out, and the government earlier this year paid Hatfill more than $5 million for damaging his reputation.

If, as suspected, Ivins mailed the anthrax spore-laden letters to raise the alarm and generate more resources for bioterrorism defense, his attack can only be considered a dramatic success. Billions have poured into industry contracts and government work aimed at preventing such attacks in the future. Some have speculated that the anthrax mailings were not meant to kill, but only to show how possible it was to send deadly anthrax spores through the mail.

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