Dr. Ivins Takes The Fifth
Ed Lake
Original version: March 16, 2010
(Last revision: March 25, 2011)


An article in Wired Magazine dated March 25, 2011, says this about why Ivins took the Fifth:

Ivins offered all kinds of excuses. He hadn’t understood the submission guidelines. He hadn’t gotten how important RMR-1029 was. He even absurdly claimed he wasn’t really an expert on anthrax. Each lame explanation only frustrated the agents further. To rattle Ivins, the agents asked what they call a change-up question—a deliberately provocative non sequitur. Tell us about Nancy Haigwood’s husband, an agent said.

Ivins pushed away from the conference room table, crossed his arms and legs, and told the investigators he was taking the Fifth. He refused to respond to any further statements.

The article doesn't explain why the mention of Nancy Haigwood's husband would cause Ivins to "take the Fifth," but it may simply be that Ivins was getting tired of answering questions.

Whatever the reason, the facts now say that the hypothesis I describe below is wrong.

I'm just keeping this file on-line for historical purposes. 

While digging through the 2,700 pages of supplementary documents which the FBI and DOJ made public when they closed the Amerithrax investigation on February, 19, 2010, I came across an extremely interesting 6-page document which describes a November 1, 2007 interview with Dr. Bruce Ivins.  The FBI/DOJ's announcement of the closing the the Amerithrax case identifies the document as "BEI Section 4 (11/2007)- (234 pages)," but it's also file #847545.pdf.  The report is on pages 153-158 of that .pdf file.

It appears that the FBI approached Dr. Ivins as he was leaving work on that day.  They asked Dr. Ivins to come with them as they evidently went back into the building and used an office they had previously arranged to use for the interview.  Dr. Ivins' lawyer wasn't present, and when Dr. Ivins asked if his lawyer should be present, the FBI agents asked Dr. Ivins to just listen to what they had to say.  The FBI report says on its first page:

          Dr. IVINS was explained in great detail the current focus of the investigation and the circumstances surrounding the visit of the agents.  Dr. IVINS was informed that the investigation into his April 2002 FBI repository (FBIR) submission was completed.  The conclusion of the investigation, despite previous statements regarding his memory and his belief that others may have prepared the submission, was that it was he, Dr. IVINS, that prepared the submission and hand delivered it to the FBIR.  After being informed of this information, Dr. IVINS responded with an "okay" and did not contest the conclusion that he prepared his April 2002 FBIR submission.

          Dr. IVINS was then informed in great detail that now that the investigators knew who prepared the submission, there was confusion regarding how the submission was prepared, and why the submission did not appear to include a sample of RMR-1029.

          At one point, Dr. Ivins tried to explain that he was accustomed to performing single colony picks, and this may be why his submission did not genetically appear to be RMR-1029.

What Dr. Ivins was telling them was that he had used a swab to take a sample from flask RMR-1029 and wiped the swab across the growth medium in a Petri dish.  When the spores from the swab had turned to living bacteria and formed colonies, he then picked one specific colony to use to grow the sample he submitted to the FBI repository.  What this would mean, of course, is that any mutations in flask RMR-1029 would not be in the FBIR sample.  The single colony pick sampling technique would make sure of that.  The entire FBIR sample would, in effect, be bacteria grown from one normal spore taken from flask RMR-1029.  There would be no mutations except any which might by chance later result from the growth from that one spore.     

The FBI agents then proceeded to explain to Dr. Ivins why his response made no sense.

1.  Dr. Ivins knew that the FBI was looking for similarities between RMR-1029 and that attack anthrax.
2.  Dr. Ivins understood the importance of taking a representative sample from RMR-1029.
Based upon what Dr. Ivins knew, it made no sense that he would use the single colony pick method to create the  FBIR sample when that would make certain that it was not a representative sample from RMR-1029.

Dr. Ivins was also reminded the he had also prepared FBIR samples back in February of 2002 which had to be rejected because Dr. Ivins had failed to follow the specific protocol outlined in the subpoena.   Both the February and April FBIR samples were supposed to be from flask RMR-1029, yet they were "polar opposites with regard to their genetic results."

Dr. Ivins then proceeded to argue that maybe he used the single colony pick method because it was the method which best represented the majority of the spores in RMR-1029.  Or maybe, by some mistake, he didn't use RMR-1029 at all.  Or maybe it was some kind of mistake somewhere at the FBI's end of the sample testing.  He tried other arguments, too.

Then comes the really interesting part of the interview.   I'm going to put it in a box to highlight it.  XXXXX is a redacted name:

          During the middle of the interview with Dr. IVINS, and to change the direction of the conversation, Dr. IVINS was requested to identify who was XXXXX.  Upon hearing the name, Dr. IVINS immediately pushed away from the table, crossed his arms and legs, exerted what he claimed to be a Fifth Amendment privilege, and refused to discuss anything about the name.

          Dr. IVINS was informed that the investigators were unaware of any case connections between the name and the mailing of the anthrax letters.  Again, Dr. IVINS stated that he would not comment on the name in question.

Whose name could that possibly be?   Whose name could cause Dr. Ivins to react that way?

"Taking the Fifth" means that Dr. Ivins could incriminate himself if he said anything.  The Fifth Amendment says that a person cannot be required to testify against himself.  So, anything he said about the named person - even acknowledging that he knew the person - would somehow be incriminating for Dr. Ivins.

But, of course, by taking the Fifth, he also acknowledged that he knew the person.

I can think of only one name that fits.  It would be a name that Dr. Ivins could not mention without generating a lot of questions from the FBI.  It's the name of a witness to his crime.

The FBI's question was designed to get a reaction if it didn't get an answer.  It got a reaction.  

I'd be most interesting in any thoughts from anyone else regarding who this person might be - particularly if those thoughts are accompanied by some facts.

Responses as of March 17, 2010: 

(1) Someone suggested that the name was some false name that Ivins used on the Internet or elsewhere.  But there's nothing incriminating in any of that, and it doesn't fit with the comment by the FBI that they saw no connection between the name and the mailing of the letters.

(2) Someone suggested that the name was the name of the KKG sorority.  It appears that Dr. Ivins "took the Fifth" when asked about his interest in sororities by a grand jury in May of 2007.  But if the name was the name of a sorority, the FBI wouldn't have asked who was XXXXX. 

Maybe it's totally unrelated, but I also stumbled across something in the 8 page "off the record" interview with Dr. Ivins that took place on June 9, 2008, just under 2 months before he committed suicide.  Because the interview was "off the record," it has since been deleted from the FBI's 2,700 pages of supplemental material.  But here are a couple paragraphs from the copy I downloaded and saved on February 19, 2010.  The first is from page 5 of the report:

          IVINS was provided a copy of the anthrax-laden letter which was mailed to the New York Post and Tom Brokaw and asked if anything stood out to him.  IVINS said the writer "can't make R's," has a "problem with T's," and "can't spell penicillin."  It was his opinion the writing looks like that of a second grader, and he questioned the need for writing "09-11-01" at the top of the letter.

And at the bottom of page 7 and into page 8:

With regard to parental rights, IVINS believes state agencies should intervene in cases of child abuse or neglect.  He volunteered that he is not in favor of corporal punishment.  Rather, privileges should be taken from children as punishment.  IVINS understands there could be justifiable reasons for a state agency to interview a child without the presence of a parent, but he would have to see the specific case before offering an opinion.  IVINS does not recall ever expressing an opinion on this topic.

I recall getting some emails from someone who discussed Dr. Ivins views on matters of this kind.  The views were in emails Dr. Ivins had sent someone.  But, I'll have to dig to see I can find them.  I have nearly 43,000 emails in my archives.  I'll update this page if I find more information.

Finally, on the last page of the FBI report about the November 1, 2007 meeting, there's another attempt by Dr. Ivins seemingly intended to throw off the investigators:

During additional conversations with Dr. IVINS, a reference was made regarding Dr. IVINS' being an "expert" in the field of studies of Bacillus anthracis.  Dr. IVINS took defense to the statement claiming that he was not an "expert."  Dr. IVINS was told his claim was unrealistic based upon his accomplishments, at which Dr. IVINS sat at his seat shaking his head in disagreement with the statement

If Dr. Ivins didn't consider himself to be an "expert" in the field of studies of Bacillus anthracis after making it his life's work, who would qualify as such an expert?

After the interview

When the interview was concluded, Dr. Ivins was told that the FBI couldn't allow Dr. Ivins to return home because his home, his vehicles and his office space at work were going to be searched that evening.  Dr. Ivins was offered the use of a hotel room and provided with transportation, meals, a telephone, toiletries and anything else he would need while waiting for the searches to be completed.

It was probably clear to the FBI investigators that Dr. Ivins' evasiveness and absurd answers during the interview described above pointed to Dr. Ivins as being the anthrax killer.  Ivins had not only tried to mislead the FBI by submitting invalid samples from flask RMR-1029 in February and April of 2002, he also gave multiple explanations as a way of telling the FBI that they couldn't prove in court that he did it on purpose.

It was these searches on the evening of November 1, 2007, which resulted in Dr. Ivins one week later throwing out the code books used to encode the "hidden message" in the media letters.  That act of attempting to destroy evidence provided the FBI with the "smoking gun" to remove any doubt about Dr. Ivins' guilt.

Log of revisions:

March 17, 2010 - Added responses (1) and (2) to my request for suggestions of whose name may have caused Ivins to take the Fifth.
March 17, 2010 - Added everything at the end of the page starting with the subtitle "After the Interview."
March 25, 2011 - Added note at the top showing that everything I thought about why Ivins took the Fifth was wrong.

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