We will never know for certain whether Bruce Ivins, the Army scientist who committed suicide last week, was solely responsible for the anthrax attacks that killed five people in 2001. Though the evidence against him is compelling, much of it is circumstantial. It is just as likely that a good defense could have convinced a jury that he was innocent as it is likely that the prosecution could have convinced a jury that Ivins was guilty.
So let’s set aside his guilt or innocence and concentrate on a more chilling aspect of this case.
By all accounts, Ivins was a brilliant but deeply troubled scientist. According to one affidavit, he said, “He was not going to face the death penalty, but instead had a plan to kill co-workers and other individuals who had wronged him.” In e-mails to colleagues, he described a feeling of dual personalities. According to another affidavit Ivins told an unnamed co-worker "that he had `incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times” and “feared that he might not be able to control his behavior.” A mental health worker who was involved in treating Ivins disclosed last week that she was so concerned about his behavior that she recently sought a court order to keep him away from her.
So we have a very troubled Army scientist who has sole custody of highly purified anthrax spores. When confronted with the possibility of being charged with the anthrax murders he checks himself into a mental health facility. Then he checks himself out and shortly afterward commits suicide.
And as Ivins was exhibiting this increasingly bizarre behavior and may have posed a danger to himself and to others, the FBI chose not to arrest him and not to place him in protective custody. Thus assuring that he will never be brought to trial or that we will never know for certain that the FBI had actually identified the perpetrator of what the prosecutor called, “the worst case of bioterror in the nation's history.”