Biological warfare came to America soon after the 9/11 attack. In Florida, a photo editor died of inhalation anthrax. At the time it was thought to be an isolated incident. But then anthrax was found in New York in the newsrooms of NBC and the New York Post, together with letters dated "09-11-2001" and warning: "Death to America Death to Israel Allah Is Great." These were followed by anthrax-laced letters, with a similar message, sent to Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, and Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The clouds of trillions of spores closed down Congress. In all, five people died from the killer anthrax, and more than a dozen required treatment.
It was quickly established that all the anthrax was from the deadly Ames strain. All the envelopes carried the same Trenton, N.J., postmark, but the FBI had little else to go on. There were no fingerprints, fibers or DNA traces on the envelopes, on the tape used to seal them or on the photocopied letters inside. After testing every mailbox that used that postmark, the FBI found one in Princeton, N.J., that tested positive; investigators found no witnesses to the mailings. Though the FBI eventually identified a few suspects and ultimately insisted that it had found its man, no one was ever prosecuted.
Now two excellent books give a thorough chronicle of the anthrax terror campaign and try to clarify what happened. "American Anthrax" is Jeanne Guillemin's brilliant examination of how America responded, while David Willman's "The Mirage Man" focuses more tightly on the FBI investigation, exposing the inner workings of one of the most extensive efforts in the bureau's history.
The report concluded that the FBI's key assertion—that its genetic fingerprinting showed that the killer anthrax could have only come from the flask in Ivins's custody—was flawed. "The scientific data alone do not support the strength of the government's repeated assertions that 'MR-1029 was conclusively identified as the parent material to the anthrax powder used in the mailings,' " the report stated. "It is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone." Without a scientific basis for tracing the killer anthrax to Ivins's lab, the FBI's case against him was reduced to inferences from his behavior.