Monday, September 22, 2008

Congressional probe more than warranted

Editorial from the The New York Post, reprinted in the Troy, NY Record:

The often-partisan Democratic-run Congress has found a worthy target for the legislative branch's constitutional oversight responsibilities: The FBI anthrax investigations.

The House Judiciary Committee notified FBI Director Robert Mueller that oversight hearings will focus on the bureau's investigation of Dr. Bruce Ivins - and the conclusion that he was solely responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five people and injured 17 others.

Ivins committed suicide this summer when his name surfaced.

After his death, the bureau held a press conference to discuss the evidence pointing to Ivins' guilt. Yet the press conference raised nearly as many questions as it answered - including the FBI's admission that the sample of a unique strain of anthrax that it got from Ivins back in 2002 was discarded because he hadn't followed proper protocol. It took the bureau another four years to obtain a duplicate sample.

Meanwhile, reports surfaced recently that, in April 2007, just as the FBI linked the mailed anthrax to samples in Ivins' labs, he was notified by prosecutors that he was "not a target" of the investigation.

Hovering over all this, of course, is the recent FBI history of misidentifying individuals in high-profile cases. Indeed, another scientist in the same laboratory - Stephen Hatfill - was previously identified by the FBI and remained under a cloud for nearly five years. The government finally paid Hatfill $5.8 million this year as compensation for smearing his name.

That, in turn, was reminiscent of what occurred to Richard Jewell (wrongly identified as the Atlanta Olympic Park bomber in 1996) and scientist Wen Ho Lee (falsely accused of selling technology secrets to the Chinese).

Had Hatfill snapped from the pressure of FBI suspicion and taken his life, would the FBI have been crowing over how "sure" they were that that he was the guy thus eliminating the need for further investigation? Hard to say.

But a congressional probe is more than warranted. After years of sloppiness, the FBI has lost any benefit of the doubt.

The American people deserve to have Congress take an independent look a the entire anthrax investigations - if only to render an objective assurance that the real culprit actually was identified.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't even think it's warranted to conclude that Ivins "snapped" and (parrot the phrase) "committed suicide." He may -- earlier posts here, I think, have addressed this scenario -- have accidentally overdosed with prescription Tylenol, the overdose made worse by his having taken up drinking again, and then failed to get rapid and thorough emergency medical attention (stomach pumping etc.).
It could be that the FBI, possibly by interrupting the normal progression of emergency medical response, is complicit in Ivins's accidental death.
Remember, there was no suicide note, from a guy, described as "meticulous," who, we now know, had already thought so much about his hereafter that he conditioned the disposal of his assests based on a conscientious follow-through of the disposal of his ashes.
I say we challenge the indiscriminate and possibly misleading use of the phrase "Ivins's committed suicide . . .".
Any oversight hearings ought to examine the timeline of treatment Ivins received after the overdose.

Elizabeth Ferrari/ San Francisco said...

I wonder if it would be more effective to focus an investigation on the source of these problems -- rather than on one case. In other words, at some point Congress will be forced to deal with the massive corruption in DoJ. Why not now?

Why look piecemeal and case by case instead of at the overarching permissive environment that allowed Gov. Don Siegelman to be targeted and imprisoned on false charges, at the obstruction in the Abramof case, at the junk case against Bruce Ivins? They all spring from the same source.

The advantages of such an investigation are at least two: DoJ would begin to be cleaned up and also the victims of these political predations could find strength in numbers.

For example, the hearing on Pentagon mishandling which included both Jessica Lynch AND Pat Tillman's family got more focus, more coverage and more action than either of those cases would have gotten alone.

It's too easy for any one of these cases to get what Mr. Conyers called "a dog and pony show". If Robert Mueller can sit there and smirk about Justice approving panelists, we have to know what is proposed will not work. A different strategy is needed here, imho.