The suicide last week of Fort Dietrich Bio Scientist Bruce Ivins has once more brought the 2001 Anthrax mailings to the forefront. What is not clear to me is if this is closure to the matter, or just another twist in a very strange story.
One of the perks (about the only one) of being a reviewer is my access to interesting people. Without doubt one of the most interesting when it comes to law and order is ex FBI wheel Terry Turchie. Terry was the lead investigator for the Unabomber. And as the saying goes, â€œHe got his manâ€. It was a 18 year hunt, but the culprit was found. Sure, a lot of shoe leather was consumed, a lot of people suffered from lack of sleep, and I am sure that there was a great deal of frustration all around. But Terry brought the investigation to a conclusion. Ted Kaczynski was brought to justice, he will bomb no one else. Terry’s great book Hunting The American Terrorist details the hunt.
For several decades the FBI have increasingly felt the pressure from those in the White House. Little by little the FBI have found their powers eroded. While we the public applaud the revealing of power corruption and coercion, at the highest level, each administration has snapped at the heels of the FBI to prevent these revelations. And each administration have done their best to muzzle this beast. Maybe the finest example is the current one. The Homeland Security initiative, or as some would call it Homeland Insecurity, does little to protect our borders, but it does wonders to protect the politicians from the prying eyes of the FBI. In my mind it started with Watergate, although Nixon was hardly the first corrupt politician, he was the first in the modern electronic era to get caught. How many ‘gates’ have we had since? The answer is ‘lots’, and they don’t seem to be slowing down.
In part one of this article I expressed my theories. Now I am pretty certain I was right in my conclusions, but it is always good practice to talk with the experts, and when it comes to all things FBI there is no better or more informed source than Terry Turchie. I had the opportunity to ask Terry about this latest development in the Anthrax case:
Hi Terry, it is always a pleasure to talk with you. I am sure that you have been following the Anthrax news. At least in my mind though, this is not a story with a great conclusion.
This is a terrible development. Even if the Department of Justice releases critical evidence tying him to the crimes, that isn’t the same as a jury trial and there will be a cascading trend of pundits creating an assortment of conspiracy and other theories casting doubt on the conclusions. The FBI will be caught in the middle.
I am hoping that the main evidence in the case involves an admission by the scientist to his therapist that he committed these crimes, supported by forensic evidence. It is highly unusual for a therapist to be called to a Federal Grand Jury for testimony but in this cased it has happened. That is very revealing. I have also noticed that the scientists’ brotherÂ has not had any contact with him for sometime and hasn’t had anything favorable to say to the press about his brother.
It seems to me that if this is indeed the end of the chase, the FBI is still going to get bashed.
Now, the media and all the Congressional types are immediately going to attack the FBI- it took seven years to solve the case, you at first went after the wrong man, now there is a serious question as to whether the man who committed suicide is the right man, will we ever know and on and on. These are interesting but they are the wrong questions and the wrong issues, obscuring the bigger (and brighter) picture:
One of the areas that the press is going to push is the amount of time it took to solve this case.
As opposed to the 18 year long Unabom matter, this case was solved in 7 years. Coming on the heels of the Eric Rudolph case, where he was identified in two years and arrested five years after a fugitive investigation trapped him in the woods of the North Carolina mountains where he couldn’t kill again, this is a promising trend.
The cases against Rudolph and Kaczynski were so solid that both men pleaded guilty without a trial saving the taxpayer millions of dollars and locking them up forever. Hopefully, the evidence here will be so overwhelming that we can all breath easy knowing the case is solved and that a “loner” was once again responsible. With any luck, the FBI conducted searches which would have definitely turned up information on the Unabomber because there is no doubt that Ivins copied his tactics and strategy.
There is a saying ‘Dead men tell no stories’ But that is not true, we have all watched CSI, where would you look?
Any documentary evidence (gas receipts, attendance at a conference or meeting, phone records, etc) that Ivins traveled to New Jersey and placed the anthrax letters in a particular mailbox/location.
Any letters that Ivins may have written to editors, elected representatives who were targeted by the anthrax killer, or media personalities where he expressed anger or disenchantment with them personally.
Statements by his brother indicating that he may have called the FBI to report his own suspicions about Ivins and his position as a scientist at Fort Dietrich (I have a feeling there could be a lot more here).
And of course the forensic evidence. The forensic evidence has the potential to be very important in this case and if there is good forensic evidence to corroborate admissions he may have made to some people, it is my hope that the would be critics will invoke their right to remain silent.
I have asked you this question before when I interviewed you about your last book Hunting The American Terrorist, but I will ask it again. You were convinced that the Anthrax attacks were the work of a lone wolf?
Of course. For seven years Kathy Puckett and I have been the only people who went public and called these attacks domestic. This is an important point because it gives tremendous credibility to all of the lessons learned and set forth in Hunting the American Terrorist. It also should set congressional critics on their heels because they want to purge the FBI “culture” of people like us- who actually developed the blueprint for handling these types of cases. On page 5 of Hunting, we write:
For those of us who were involved in the domestic terror campaigns of the 1990s, however, the anthrax mailings had all the ear marks of a lone wolf.
Some might argue that even although the case has supposedly been solved, it took too long.
The bigger point for critics upset about this taking seven years is this- many politicians and a former CIA Director were ready to unleash America’s military on Iraq because of the anthrax attacks. Still others were ready to blame al-Qaeda (convenient but like torture the wrong answer from a nation that exists through the rule of law). In Homeland Insecurity (written before the public disclosure about Ivins), we say:
The FBI provided no intelligence based on its own sources to the White House that Hussein and al-Qaeda might have conspired to commit 9/11 or the anthrax attacks the following week, because there was no evidence to indicate that and there never had been.
So for all of its mistakes in the anthrax case and the unfortunate abrupt ending, the FBI result is still superior to invading another country because of faulty political analysis and unending political emotion. We mustn’t forget this point and the fact that the rule of law has prevailed.
In some ways the public was excluded from developments. It is easy to understand the rationale, but it is also frustrating, is there a solution?
Throughout our two books and all of our public discussion, Kathy and I have maintained the significance of public support in solving these types of cases. I promise it will hold true in this one when all the facts are in. Additionally, it is clear that the FBI finally brought a more enlightened management team to this case and analyzed its way to the right answer. (I hope). We mustn’t forget this either.
Terry, I want to thank you for taking time to talk to us about this subject.
Is this story finally put to rest? To be honest with you, I am not sure.
There are still many unanswered questions in my mind. Maybe the most scary one is who reports to who? To quote John LeCarre â€œwho spies on the spiesâ€? Should the ruling party have control over the FBI? If they do, only bad things can happen.
I am sure that over the next few weeks we shall learn more.