tv CNN Presents CNN October 8, 2011 11:00pm-12:00am PDT
>> it's one week since the terror of september 11. a deadly germ is unleashed. >> the first two mailings are dated september 18. >> he was wretching like a dry heave. >> trillions of microscopic spores. 17 people sick, five others died. >> the diagnosis, he says it's anthrax. >> simple, silent, and evil. was he hiding in plain sight? and could it happen again? >> this is something that could
be taken out of a lab, put in an envelope, dropped in a mailbox, and people would die. >> robert stevens the first to die. >> natural cause or my husband's death certificate said homicide. >> originally from england, the '70s, stevens and his wife moved to florida. he worked for america media incorporated, a tabloid publisher. >> no one could say they didn't like him. it's full of life, he loved everybody. >> in early october, 2001, stevens has what seems like the flu. two days later, slurred speech and a trip to the hospital. >> it's anthrax. now i get shivers.
and then she said, the cdc the fbi, and the president has been informed. i was in shock. >> robert stevens dies the next day. anthrax had shut down his vital organs. >> he was just the perfect person to me. and i miss him. my heart is still not in one piece yet. >> labwork reveals the anthrax that killed stevens called the a strain. >> it was a lab strain. it was not out there in the wild. >> david wilman, a pulgtser prize-winning investigative reporter is the author of a recent book on the anthrax attacks.
>> the fact this is a laboratory strain told him this is a bioterrorism event. >> a week later, anthrax-filled letters start showing up at major news organizations in new york. >> anthrax -- another infection. this time at nbc news in rockefeller plaza. >> the attack letters have a chilling message, death to america, death to israel allah is great. >> i was a postal inspector team leader in the case. >> he helped lead the investigation from your early days. >> instant reaction at the time? >> instant reaction -- looks like an al qaeda event, it's a follow on attack. that's where my head but. >> three days after the nbc letter, capitol hill. >> the letter is addressed to tom daschle. it's open. the white powder spills out. >> we don't know how many people
came in contact with the letter. there were 40 people in my office at the time. >> a preliminary testing says it's anthrax. it was game on. >> i was covering the hill back then, and i can tell you, it felt surreal. congress and the supreme court shut down, and mail delivery to the white house was cut off. all three branches of government. >> you can't overstate the drama, the shock and awe power of that event. >> a massive multi-agency investigation called amerithrax goes to full force. another anthrax letter addressed to senator patrick leahy of vermont found unopened. >> no one thought, whoa, any letter in congress has to come through the brentwood mail handling facility just a few blocks away in northeast washington. so none of the postal worker were given the benefit of immediate nasal swabs or preemptive doses of an antibiotic.
>> two poes sal workers, joseph curseen and thomas morris jr. will die. >> letters but we couldn't prove, you know, where it was -- where it originated from. >> the fbi's ed montooth now retired would become lead agent. >> was it coming from al qaeda, was it coming from a foreign government. was it home grown issue? >> whoever mailed the anthrax had covered his tracks. >> hoping for a partial fingerprint at a minimum or some sort of dna. we had none of that. we had absolutely none. >> the anthrax powder offered hints after being examined by one of the pentagon's experts on biological weapons. a scientist named bruce ivans. >> there was no one who is more experienced at growing,
purifying, and handling, preparing anthrax spores at ft. dietrich than bruce ivans. >> ivans reported his findings, extremely pure, extremely high concentration. these are not garage spores. in other words, the work of a pro. >> it would be somebody that would be working with this first -- you know, for some reason. may it be research or vaccinations or advancement of some sort of scientific project. >> hints also in the wording -- allah is great. would a real jihadi mix arabic and english? >> the specialists in the fbi conclude in their profile within a couple of months' period of time they thought it was a domestic actor, not a foreign actor. >> the fbi thought the killer might be hiding in plain sight, so the fed sent this e-mail to the american society of
microbiologists asking its members, scientists, for help. it is very likely that one or more of you know this individual someone with legitimate access to dangerous germs and a high degree of technical knowledge. someone whose personality might be described as standoffish. out of 42,000 members, there is one response. >> i just thought, oh, no. i might actually know the person. >> nancy haigwood, a microbiologist with a hunch. >> i also had conviction that i really needed to call the fbi. >> murder by mail. >> this was certainly murder by mail. buddy. let's put some music on. [ woman ] welcome to learning spanish in the car. you've got to be kidding me. yeah, this is good. vamanos. vamanos. vamanos.
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a few months after the attack, january, 2002, the fbi e-mails the american society of microbiology's members. fbi profilers believe it's very likely that one or more of you know this individual. >> in my mind, it was as though something clicked. >> who did you think of? >> bruce ivans. >> bruce ivans, a scientist at usamrid, the research institute for infectious diseases, ft. dietrich, maryland. this is the pentagon's main lab for studying biological weapons, for detecting vaccines. ivans is an expert on anthrax and in fact he's supposedly helping federal agents. >> in january of 2002, he's in the thick of it. >> what the feds do not see is the hidden side of bruce ivans, e-mails where he says i've been
eaten alive by paranoid delusional thoughts. >> bruce ivans led a double life. >> psychiatrists will later describe ivans as a secretive, paranoid, resentful, and rage-filled man. >> he's a guy who had a definite dark side to him that no one else knew about. >> i met bruce in chapel hill, north carolina. >> it was the mid '70s, nancy haigwood was a graduate student at the university of north carolina. bruce ivan was there too. ivans asked incessantly about her sorority, kappa kappa gamma. he seems obsessed. >> every time i talked to him, he mentioned it. i said, bruce, that's enough. >> as their careers took shape over the years, ivans kept in touch. shortly after the anthrax attacks, wille e-mails these photos of himself with what he calls the now infamous strain o
amthrax. >> he wans his colleagues to know he's doing important work. >> one detail leaks out. >> he says he was working in the containment lab and he wasn't wearing gloves. that's a biosafety hazard, we don't do that. to me that's a sign, i'm immune. >> haigwood distrusted ivans for years beginning with a 1979 incident in grad school when her lab notebook, all herda at a, went missing. >> it's absolutely critical and it's your only copy. >> disappeared. >> disappeared. i came in, it wasn't there. i panicked. >> the next day, an anonymous letter telling her the notebook was in mailbox. >> so i called the police, we got the notebook back. >> how would you characterize
it? a very mean prank. >> it's a cruel joke, i would say. and i thought, oh, the only person that would do something like this this odd might be bruce. >> why you, though? >> you know, it's funny, because i felt like i was one of the few people that was friendly to bruce. >> three years later, 1982, haigwood with her phd. was working in suburban washington. by coincidence, she live in the name neighborhood where bruce ivans had just moved from. one morning, haigwood walked out to find her house vandalized. >> the sidewalk, the fence, and the car were sprayed with red spray paint. >> even after she whitewashed it, you could see, kappa kappa gamma. >> because of the kappa connection, i thought of bruce ivans. >> five months later, the letter to the editor of the local "frederick news post" on a response of the use of hazing at colleges.
as a member of kappa kappa gamma, they're incensed at the vitriolic attacks of hazing. it makes loyalty and the weeding out process. signed, nancy haigwood. there was just one problem. >> i didn't write this letter. >> do you believe in hazing? >> certainly not. >> after calling the newspaper to disavow the letter, she called ivans. >> i said this can only be you and you have to stop. what did he say? he said he didn't do it. but, of course, then i knew he was lying. >> did you think he was obsessed with you? >> clearly he was obsessed with me. yes. >> four years later, 1987, ivans filled out a medical history form at usamrid, asked about memory change, trouble with decisions, hallucinations,
improbable beliefs, anxiety. ivans put a question mark. >> there was no follow-up, no point did the army ever evaluate his mental fitness to handle anthrax. the approach was just to defer to his status as a phd. scientist as a trustworthy individual in their estimation. >> everybody knows that he wouldn't harm a flea. >> nancy haigwood isn't so sure. the stolen notebook, the vandalism, and the phony letter to the editor, it's enough for her to contact the fbi. >> i just thought, i just need to tell these people and they need to look into this. >> that there was a creepy side to bruce ivans? >> yes. a deceptive side.
>> but for the next 4 1/2 years, her tip is low priority. >> we didn't know how to put it in any context. we had nothing to bring it together with. so at that time, it sort of was tabled, if you will. >> a few months later, the fbi is making some progress. the anthrax letters all within the same postmark are traced back to a mailbox here in princeton, new jersey. it's contaminated with spores. but why here? across the street from an ivy league university? did the killer use the travel agency? ripped from one of the real estate companies? or eat at the red onion delicatessen? >> all that was documented was the mailbox with spores is 10 nassau street. >> no one paid attention to a small office a few doors down, the office for a sorority, kappa
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lab worked on vaccines. and it's here that federal investigators turn for help, to the hot suites with the world's deadliest germs. >> we're going to need these people in the community to help us analyze our materials. >> but the scientists with the expertise to solve the crime may also have the expertise to commit it. >> we did an expedited background check on them and said if you wan to work on our evidence, we need you to do this. >> bruce ivans seems to pass though they'll question the results. >> a set of three questions, do you know who did this? were you involved in it? or did you provide the anthrax that was use in the mailings? >> one of usamrid's anthrax
specialist, ivans holds two patents on what he hopes would be a new genetically engineered vaccine. >> the bringing on-line of the next generation anthrax vaccine would have opinion the ultimate validation of his scientific expertise. >> colleagues say ivans is hard-working and dedicated. he volunteers for the red cross, others describe him as socially awkward, craving acceptance. he's the guy who writes clever poems for the office parties. he juggles. >> and there's the expression that took hold among colleagues and friends. yeah, he's odd, he's quirky, but it's bruce being bruce. >> but he's not just quirky. in e-mails he writes about two bruces. i'm a little dream self, short and stout. i'm the other half of bruce when he lets me out. when i get all steamed up, i don't pout, i push bruce aside,
then i'm free to run about. >> if he becomes offended and believes an concludes they've done him wrong in some way, he will go after them. >> from the beginning, ivans implicates current and former colleagues. >> and said you need to investigate this person because he has the skill, he has the ability, he has access to everything he needs to do this. and oh by the way, he happens to live up in the area where the mailbox was used for the mailing. >> the tips from ivans go nowhere. but the investigation focuses on a former usamrid scientist named steven hatfield who worked here in the 1990s, eight people flagged hatfield to the fbi. >> i want to look my fellow americans directly in the eye
and declare to them, i am not the anthrax killer! >> his resume, hatfield claims a working knowledge of the america's former biological weapons programs. the fbi says a witness reports hatfield claimed to have prepare and used anthrax as a weapon in the late 1970s while studying in southern africa. >> i have never, ever worked with anthrax in my life. >> the suspicion is filled by hatfield's job at saic. he works on biologic weapons defense. one with the anthrax sent through the mail has power point presentations about a single letter being sent to government agencies and news agencies. >> that was very interesting to us, right, that it is what happened.
it's training for doctors and medics on how to handle biological threats. >> it became a challenge for us to sort out why are they here? are they legitimately for the -- for the biopreparedness, the preparednd work, or is it something more nefarious. >> raising the stakes, he had pripgs for cipro, the drug of choice to treat anthrax. >> it's fair for us to be looking at him. >> reporters are also looking at hatfie. when federal agents search his apartment, the press choppers in thanks to leaks from inside the investigation. >> they were quite, i think, anxious to get that word out to demonstrate that we're on top of this. >> but investigators find
nothing that connects hatfield to the crime. so, a few weeks later, the fbi comes back with bloodhounds hoping to find the scent of anthrax on hatfield 11 months after the crime. >> sure, why not. let's give it a shot, right? >> we didn't have much going at the time. >> we were struggling, right? >> two problems with the bloodhounds, first, they can be unreliable. one with tinker bell got an innocent man in california charged with serial rape. >> tinker bell got the wrong guy. she was brought to maryland and she was alerting on and fingering steven hatfield as the anthrax killer. >> second, the blood hound search was leaked to the media, quoting a source, "newsweek" says the dogs bounded up to him. the dogs went crazy.
everything the dogs pointed to including a lake the fbi drained looking for evidence turns up empty. >> at some point, it didn't add up and it backed off. >> turning up the heat, john ashcroft outs him to the media. >> mr. hatfield is a person of interest to the department of justice. >> hatfield is put under 24-hour surveillance and will be under the government's sights for several years. >> if i'm a subject of interest, i'm a human being. >> with his career in ruins, hatfield sues the department of justice for the press leaks. >> the government will pay him $6 million and acknowledge for years they were focused on an innocent man.
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>> five years after the attack, american investigators were nowhere near an arrest. >> i wouldn't say stuck but there are a lot of long days trying to get to the potential subjects. >> hatfield seduced the top brass, but in a rank and file, not everyone buys it. >> some of the investigators helped turn the tide in the investigation, they were working on their own time. >> working on old leads, including the man nancy haigwood flagged years earlier, bruce ivans.
>> it was years between 2001, between 2004 and 2009, he was not an apparent suspect. and then the vice started to squeeze. >> we look at his e-mails. they boom, boom. he starts to become very interesting to us. >> e-mails to former colleagues where ivans reveals psychological problems. june, 2000, he's taking selexa for depression, but what's scary is the paranoia. >> we kept gathering more and more e-mails because he was somebody who needed more and more scrutiny. >> july, 2000, my symptoms may not be those of depression or bipolar disorder, they may be paranoid personality disorder. >> and, yet, he is -- he is somebody working with some of the most deadly pathogens that we have. >> august 2000, 13 months before the anthrax letters. i wish i could control the
thoughts in my mind, it's hard enough sometimes controlling my behavior. >> which then makes you call into question if he's thinking that, what was he capable of carrying out the anthrax attack. >> as investigators look hard at bruce ivans, some secret scientific research is about to pay off, research that began at usamrid, next door to ivan's lab. >> to some degree, it was luck. and there's nothing wrong with that. some people would rather be lucky than good. >> the luck is an oversight, the lab technician growing anthrax from one of the letters left the spores on a petri dish longer than usual. she was used to seeing anthrax colonies that grew like this. but with the extra growing time, there's a new shape, and another colony with a different texture
and two others with odd colors. if these are mutations unique to the attack anthrax, there may be a way to trace the location of the murder weapon with a genetic fingerprint. >> it's one that while it's not unique to an individual, it's unique to where it came from. and someone at that location was involve in this mailing. >> the robots taken the dna. >> the fbi hires a private lab where david rasco and jacques rovell will decode the anthrax dna. >> it never had been done before. we sequence tens and thousands of those. >> it is comparable to hunting down a single typographical error in a book with 5.2 million letters. >> we had machines sitting in a ware house.
we had three shifts, 24 hours, eight-hour shift. people were running the machine constantly, constantly. >> it takes a year. the results are startling. the four mutations in the anthrax letters match the anthrax in a one-liter flask at usamrid labeled rmr 1029. >> to investigators, it was huge. it completely changed in my mind, it changed the playing field of where we had to look. >> who was in charge of rmr 1029? >> the parent -- the custodian -- is bruce ivans. >> investigators are increasingly suspicious about ivans because he worked nights and weekends in the hot suite just before the anthrax attacks. >> so it really is never before never again did he have this extraordinary access of hours and ten, 20, 30 access hours. >> by himself.
>> by himself alone 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 at night in the critical times that he had the mailings. >> if he mailed the letters, what possibly could be the motive? why terrorize the country? one theory? he wanted to boost interest and funding for the new anthrax vaccine he had helped to invent which he apparently feared had become a low priority. >> in the words of major general steven reeves in charge of all chemical, biowarfare preparedness and defense, the next generation anthrax vaccine, bruce's baby, was, quote, beyond the back burner, end quote. >> the anthrax letters brought the issue of protective vaccines to a full boil. but now, nearly six years later, bruce ivans is feeling the heat.
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access to spores from rmr 1029 or their offspring. any one of them could be the killer. >> we were looking at everybody to rule them out and move on to the next person. >> to the feds, everyone seems to lack the expertise and has a credible alibi. everyone except bruce ivans, the man who worked in the lab alone at night before the attacks. >> i was thinking now we're getting somewhere. the feds have a warrant to search ivans house. when asked if he had anything dangerous inside, ivans, embarrassed, brings up women's clothing. >> it brings up the question we saw if we saw that kind of material in his house. >> he was talking about in
context of himself wearing it. >> right. >> it does not find a direct link to the anthrax letters, but three pistols and two stun guns are cause for concern. >> this is somebody we know -- are becoming increasingly convinced was the anthrax mailer who was showing increasing signs of mental health difficulties. >> when the agents interview ivans after the search, he discusses the sorority, kappa kappa gamma and nancy haigwood. >> i think he was in a corner. this is someone who never thought he would get caught. >> meeting with the fbi, ivans admits steeling haigwood's lab notes, vandalizing her house, and sending the phony letter to the editor. >> that was the way of torturing or really having control and power over her.
>> ivans also acknowledges compiling a list of kkt houses, cruising locations of virginia, maryland, tennessee, north carolina, and west virginia. he broke into two of them to steal information on kkg's secret rituals. >> what does that tell you? if this guy breaks into sorority houses? >> it shows us somebody who is bold. unafraid. he said in one of the interviews, that gave him power, that gave him a sense of power. >> we asked him about the interest. he said it's more than interest in kkg, it's an obsession. >> but why? ivans said it may have begun in college, 40 years ago.
>> it goes back to him being rejected for a date by a woman at the university of cincinnati. he couldn't get over it. he attributed her rejection of him to her membership in that sorority. >> to investigators, it now makes sense. the prince ton, new jersey mailbox, a few doors down from the kkg office. >> his obsession helps in my mind explain how the mailbox that was used was chosen. >> meeting for coffee with an acquaintance wired with the fbi, ivans denies being the anthrax killer. >> i have no clue how to make a bioweapon and i don't want to know. >> but at the same time, he admits to memory loss, ivans is falling apart, abusing prescription drugs and alcohol. >> 911, what's the nature of your emergency.
>> march 19, 2008. ivans' wife calls paramedics when he collapses at home. >> so you're not sure how long he's been like that. >> i know he was on-line 45 minutes ago with a friend. >> okay. do you know what he said in that conversation? >> it was too disjointed to read. >> ivans expects he will be charged with five counts of murder with weapons of mass destruction. >> could have been a death penalty case. >> his defense attorney, paul kemp. >> they're going to try to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. >> how close were you to charging him? >> extremely. >> weeks, days? >> weeks. >> july, 2008. at a group therapy session, ivans has a meltdown. >> he was just talking loud.
>> counselor jean do hooe. >> and the look on his face was something i'd never seen before. >> the tirade is about revenge against colleagues he thinks betrayed him. >> he was getting a gun the next day from his son. he had all of the ammunition in his house stock piled. he made a bulletproof vest. he had very specific targets. >> he was going to shoot him. >> he said he was going out in a blaze of glory. those were the exact words. i'm going out in a blaze of glory. >> dooley knows he has to call the police. she hopes it's not too late. >> he's talking mass murder. and i'm thinking, you know, holy crap. sponsibilities.
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>> this time you thought he was dangerous. >> oh, yeah, i knew he was dangerous. >> ivans is taken by ambulance for a psychiatric evaluation. then -- hospitalized. >> jean, this is bruce ivins. >> he phones dooley saying he's read the rules for involuntary commitments. >> and it says you must have a mental illness. that's true. you must need inpatient care treatment, that's true. you must present a danger to yourself or ohs. okay. agree with that. >> but there's no need to call authorities, ivins said, because he would have gone voluntarily. >> not only did the information go to the police it also went to the fbi and now they're all over me. >> federal agents, again, searc ivins's house. this time they find 250 rounds of ammunition and a bulletproof vest.
>> i just remember how scared i was. >> how scared you were? >> yeah. >> i just want to tell you how, how just disappointed and betrayed i feel. >> two weeks later, ivins is to be released. >> i thought this is a very bad idea. >> what did you do? >> i called the hospital and said i really don't think that he -- you should let him out. and they made a decision to release him. >> two days after going home, ivins takes an overdose of a painkiller. it's fatal. today, paul kemp, ivins' attorney says he could have won the case. there was no dna on the letter, no fingerprint, and no eyewitness. >> not one shred of evidence puts him in princeton, new jersey, not direct, not circumstantial nothing. >> the genetic evidence was challenged.
after an independent review questioned the link between the anthrax in the letters and bruce ivins' flask, rmr 1029. microbiologist nancy connell, one of the authors, says the knew taegues could, in theory, have evolved in other labs that work with anthrax. >> rmr 1029 is skip with the possibility that's being in the flask but the opinion of the committee was that it was not shown to fit in there. >> and many of ivins' colleagues say he could not have made that much dried anthrax without being detected. >> how it was made, prepared, where it was done, over what period of time? there's a total void of evidence. >> not true say government officials. their evidence is circumstantial and enough to prove bruce ivins add the means, motive, and opportunity.
>> we wanted our day in court so we could prove -- let a jury and a judge make that final decision and what we will say is the american process. >> without a smoking gun, the case does not seem to end. congressman rush holt, the letters were mailed from his district, wants an independent commission to review the events from beginning to end. >> not only to understand the flaws in the investigation, but to see whether there are things we should do to be better prepared for the next time. >> today, ten years later, what is the legacy of the anthrax letters? the federal government has spent $19 billion to fight the threat of another biological attack that has meant new labs looking for vaccines and treatments. but it has also meant something else. by the government's count, there are now twice as many scientists and technicians handling germs
lik ebola, plague, and anthrax. 15,000. what if one of them is a rogue scientist. >> the question needs to be asked certainly do we have enough control on all of the new scientists we're bringing in to be confident we don't have another insidious insider in our midst. >> the fbi checks for felonies and ties to terror groups. but other reforms like psychological screening are requiring two people in the lab have gone nowhere. intrusive, expensive, and impractical said a panel of scientists reviewing the issue. but to maureen stevens whose husband robert was the first anthrax victim, the reason sounds hollow. >> it depends on what comes first, whether safety or money. >> she's suing the government seeking $50 million for the wrongful death of her husband.
the government said it was not reasonably foreseeable. but maureen stevens says his death might have been prevented if usamrid had psychological screening and a rule requiring two people in the lab. >> if any of those things, maybe not perfect, if any of those or all had been working, my husband might be alive. >> bruce ivins dreamed of his own legacy, a new and improved anthrax vaccine, the one he helped invent. it is still being tested. but bruce ivins' real legacy is a darker one. his name is forever tied to the threat of an unstable scientist handling dangerous germs, launching a silent deadly attack. i'm joe johns.