Overcoming Anthrax Doubts: Panel that will review government investigation of attacks must be independent (September 20, 2008)
The FBI, the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., and postal inspectors did not convince everyone last month when they laid out their case against the late Army microbiologist Dr. Bruce Ivins.
Ivins, they said with surety, committed the anthrax attacks that took place in September and October 2001. The attacks killed five people, injured 17 and spread fear that terrorists responsible for 9/11 were branching out into biological warfare.
But not everyone was sold on the federal officials’ presentation, which followed Ivins’ apparent suicide ["apparent" as there was no autopsy--Nass] July 29 as federal agents were finalizing their largely circumstantial case against him.
Skeptics include members of Congress, who are still expressing concern that the case, which for years focused on another Army microbiologist, has not been fully solved.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told FBI Director Robert Mueller at a hearing Wednesday that he believes the anthrax attacks involved more than one person.
One of the anthrax letters was addressed to Leahy. That letter, which never reached the senator, was the likely source of an anthrax infection contracted by a government mail worker.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee who today is its ranking Republican, also expressed doubts. He was rebuffed when he demanded that some of the scientists who will do an independent review of the Ivins investigation be selected by the Judiciary Committee.
Mueller had announced Tuesday that, partly owing to pressure from members of Congress, he will ask the National Academy of Sciences to conduct the review.
Responding to Specter, Mueller said he would consider his request, but the academy and the Justice Department would likely have to agree to it.
Specter responded: “What’s there to consider, Director Mueller? We’d like ... to name some people there to be sure of its objectivity. We’re not interlopers. This is an oversight matter.”
Specter is right. To help prevent doubt from lingering forever, the public — and Congress — must be assured the review panel is indeed independent.