How Solid Is the Anthrax Evidence?
While the FBI waits to formally release its evidence against Bruce E. Ivins, the microbiologist it claims to have linked to the anthrax mailings seven years ago who killed himself on July 29, the public is getting a sneak peek — by way of federal leaks to the media. The leaks are piling up almost too fast to keep track of. Some seem damning, others perplexing, but the pause is creating a strange void — in which leaks are followed by rebuttals from Ivins' colleagues and his attorney (who steadfastly denies his client had any role in the attacks) and then followed by more leaks. The result leaves neither Ivins nor the FBI looking good.
Most notably, unnamed federal officials are telling media outlets that the FBI used new DNA technology to link the anthrax that killed five people in 2001 to anthrax handled by Ivins in his federal lab. But scientists who knew Ivins — and some who didn't — tell TIME this is not a simple matter, technically speaking.
For one thing, a group of people have access to the anthrax at any given lab. "What you can do with all those forensic techniques is trace the anthrax to a lab, but you can't trace it to a person," says Meryl Nass, a Maine doctor who studies the anthrax vaccine and was a professional acquaintance of Ivins for over 15 years. What's more, Nass adds, the link is not accurate with 100% certainty. "You can't convict someone with that evidence."