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Death by Mail: The Anthrax Letters
Aired October 8, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is one week since the terror of September 11th. A deadly germ is unleashed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first two mailings by postmark are dated September 18th.
MAUREEN STEVENS, HUSBAND DIED IN ANTHRAX ATTACKS: He was wretching. Like a dry heave.
JOHNS: Trillions of microscopic spores. Seventeen people sick. Five others die.
STEVENS: She said, we have a diagnosis. She said it's anthrax.
JOHNS: The weapon was simple, silent and savage.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're dealing with evil people.
JOHNS: Who was behind the attacks? Was he hiding in plain sight? And could it happen again?
STEVENS: This was something that can be taken out of a lab. Put in the envelope. Dropped in a mailbox. And people would die.
JOHNS: Robert Stevens is the first to die.
STEVENS: You know, it doesn't say natural causes or accident on my husband's death certificate. It says homicide.
JOHNS: Originally from England, in the '70s Stevens and his wife Maureen had moved to Florida. He worked for American Media Incorporated. A tabloid publisher.
STEVENS: There's no one that can say they didn't like him. He was just full of life and he loved everybody.
JOHNS: In early October 2001, Stevens has what seems like the flu. Two days later, slurred speech. And a trip to the hospital.
STEVENS: She said it's anthrax. Now I'm getting shivers thinking about it. And she said, "The CDC had been informed, the FBI, and the president has been informed." And I was in shock.
JOHNS: Robert Stevens dies the next day. Anthrax had shut down his vital organs. STEVENS: He was just the perfect person for me and I do miss him. You know, my heart's still not in one piece yet.
JOHNS: Lab work reveals the type of anthrax that killed Stevens. It's called the aim strain. With terrifying implications.
DAVID WILLMAN, AUTHOR, THE MIRAGE MAN: The aim strain was a lab strain. It was not out there in the wild.
JOHNS: David Willman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, is the author of a recent book on the anthrax attacks.
WILLMAN: The fact that this is a laboratory strain told them that this is a bioterrorism event.
JOHNS: A week later anthrax-filled letters start showing up at major news organizations in New York.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anthrax. Another infection. This time at NBC News in Rockefeller Plaza.
JOHNS: The attack letters have a chilling message. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.
THOMAS DELLAFERA, POSTAL INSPECTOR TEAM LEADER: I was a postal inspector team leader during the case.
JOHNS: Former U.S. postal inspector Thomas Dellafera helped lead the investigation from the early days.
(On camera): I just want to ask for your instant reaction at the time.
DELLAFERA: Initial reaction, looks like another al Qaeda event. It's a follow on attack. Initially that's kind of where my head was.
JOHNS (voice-over): Three days after the NBC letter, Capitol Hill.
WILLMAN: The letter is addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. It's opened. The white powder spills out.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D), SOUTH DAKOTA: We don't know how many people came in contact with the letter. There were 40 people in my office at the time.
WILLMAN: A preliminary testing with portable devices in the Senate office building says it's anthrax. It was game on.
JOHNS (on camera): 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.
WILLMAN: You can't overstate the drama, the shock and awe power of that event. JOHNS (voice-over): A massive multiagency investigation called Amerithrax goes into full force. And another anthrax letter, this one addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont is found, unopened.
WILLMAN: But no one thought, whoa, any letter addressed to a member of Congress has to come through the Brentwood mail handling facility just a few blocks away in northeast Washington. So none of the postal workers were given the benefit of immediate nasal swabs or preemptive doses of an antibiotic.
JOHNS: Two postal workers, Joseph Curseen and Thomas Morris Jr. will die.
ED MONTOOTH, FBI INSPECTOR IN CHARGE: We had letters but we still couldn't prove, you know, where it was -- where it originated from.
JOHNS: The FBI's Ed Montooth, now retired, would eventually become lead agent.
MONTOOTH: Was it coming from al Qaeda? Was it coming from a foreign government? Was it, you know, a homegrown issue?
JOHNS: Whoever mailed the anthrax had covered his tracks.
MONTOOTH: You're really hoping for a partial fingerprint at a minimum or some sort of DNA. And we had none of that. We had absolutely none.
JOHNS: The anthrax powder offered hints after being examined by one of the Pentagon's experts on biological weapons. A scientist named Bruce Ivins.
WILLMAN: There was no one who was really more experienced at growing, purifying and handling, preparing anthrax spores at Fort Detrick than Bruce Ivins.
JOHNS: Ivins reported his findings. Extremely pure. Extremely high concentration. These are not garage spores. In other words, the work of a pro.
MONTOOTH: It would be somebody that would be working with this for some, you know, reason. May it be research or vaccinations or advancement of some sort of scientific project.
JOHNS: Hints also in the wording. Allah is great. Would a real jihadi mix Arabic and English?
WILLMAN: The specialists at the FBI, they concluded in their profile -- you know within a couple months' period of time that they thought it was a domestic actor, not a foreign actor.
JOHNS (on camera): 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.
(Voice-over): 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 stand-offish. Out of 42,000 members, there is one response.
NANCY HAIGWOOD, MICROBIOLOGIST: I just thought, oh, no. I might actually know the person.
JOHNS: Nancy Haigwood. A microbiologist with a hunch.
HAIGWOOD: I also had conviction that I really needed to call the FBI.
JOHNS (on camera): Murder by mail?
HAIGWOOD: This was certainly murder by mail.
JOHNS (voice-over): When the anthrax letters hit in October 2001, Nancy Haigwood is an up and coming scientist in Seattle. Specializing in HIV. A few months after the attack, January 2002, the FBI e-mails the American Society of Microbiology's members. FBI profilers believe it is very likely that one or more of you know this individual.
HAIGWOOD: In my mind, it was as though something clicked.
JOHNS (on camera): Who did you think of?
HAIGWOOD: Bruce Ivins.
JOHNS (voice-over): Bruce Ivins. A scientist at USAMRIID. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, Maryland. This is the Pentagon's main lab for studying biological weapons. To develop protective vaccines.
Ivins is an expert on anthrax. In fact, he's supposedly helping federal agents.
WILLMAN: In January of 2002, Bruce Ivins was in the thick of it.
JOHNS: What the feds do not see is the hidden side of Bruce Ivins. E-mails where he says, "I am being eaten alive by paranoid, delusional thoughts."
WILLMAN: Bruce Ivins has led a double life.
JOHNS: Psychiatrists will later describe Ivins as a secretive, paranoid, resentful and rage-filled man.
WILLMAN: He was a guy who had a definite dark side to him that no one else knew about.
HAIGWOOD: I met Bruce in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
JOHNS: It was the mid-'70s. Nancy Haigwood was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina. Bruce Ivins was there, too. Ivins asked incessantly about Haigwood's sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma. He seemed obsessed.
HAIGWOOD: Every time I talked to him nearly he would mention it. Finally I said, you know, Bruce, that's enough.
JOHNS: As their careers took shape over the years, Ivins kept in touch. Shortly after the anthrax attacks, he e-mails these photos of himself with what he calls the now infamous aim strain of anthrax.
HAIGWOOD: He wanted his former colleagues and friends to know that he was doing important work.
JOHNS: One detail stands out.
HAIGWOOD: He said he was working in the containment lab. And he wasn't wearing gloves. And that is a biosafety hazard. We just don't ever do that. And what that is, is a, to me, a sign. I'm immune.
JOHNS: Haigwood has distrusted Ivins for years, beginning with a 1979 incident in grad school when her lab notebook, all her data, went missing.
HAIGWOOD: I mean it's absolutely critical. It's your only copy.
JOHNS (on camera): And it disappeared?
HAIGWOOD: And it disappeared. I came in one day and it wasn't there. And I -- I just panicked.
JOHNS (voice-over): The next day an anonymous letter telling her the notebook was in a mailbox.
HAIGWOOD: And so I called the police. We got the notebook back.
JOHNS (on camera): How would you characterize it? A very mean prank?
HAIGWOOD: It was a cruel joke, I would say. And I thought, the only person I could think of that would do something like this, this odd, might be Bruce.
JOHNS: Why you, though?
HAIGWOOD: You know, it's funny. Because I felt like I was one of the few people who was friendly to Bruce.
JOHNS (voice-over): Three years later, 1982, Haigwood with her PhD was working in suburban Washington. By coincidence, she lived in the same neighborhood where Bruce Ivins had just moved from. One day Haigwood came home to find her house vandalized.
HAIGWOOD: The sidewalk, the fence and the car were sprayed with red spray paint.
JOHNS (voice-over): Even after she whitewashed it, you could see Kappa Kappa Gamma.
HAIGWOOD: Because of the Kappa connection immediately thought of Bruce Ivins.
JOHNS: Five months later this letter to the editor of the local "Frederick News Post." A response to an article about abusive hazing at colleges. As a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, the author is incensed at vitriolic attacks on hazing. Hazing strengthens the mettle of pledges. It builds loyalty and the all-important weeding out process. Signed Nancy Haigwood. There was just one problem.
HAIGWOOD: I didn't write this letter.
JOHNS (on camera): Do you believe in hazing?
JOHNS (on camera): Certainly not.
JOHNS (voice-over): After calling the newspaper to disavow the letter, she called Ivins.
HAIGWOOD: And I said, this can only be you and you have to stop.
JOHNS (on camera): What did he say?
HAIGWOOD: He said he didn't do it. But, of course, then I knew he was lying.
JOHNS: Did you think he was obsessed with you?
HAIGWOOD: Clearly he was obsessed with me. Yes.
JOHNS (voice-over): Four years later, 1987, Ivins filled out a medical history form at USAMRIID. Asked about memory change. Trouble with decisions. Hallucinations. Improbable beliefs and anxiety. Ivins put a question mark.
WILLMAN: There was no follow-up. At no point did the Army ever evaluate Bruce Ivins' mental fitness to handle anthrax. The approach was just to defer to his status as a PH.D. scientist, a trustworthy individual in their estimation. Everybody knows that he wouldn't harm a flea.
JOHNS: 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.
HAIGWOOD: I just thought, I just need to tell these people and they need -- they need to look into this.
JOHNS (on camera): That there was a creepy side to Bruce Ivins?
HAIGWOOD: Yes. A deceptive side.
JOHNS (voice-over): But for the next 4 1/2 years, her tip is low priority.
DELLAFERA: 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. JOHNS (on camera): A few months later, the FBI is making some progress. The anthrax letters, all with the same postmark, are traced back to a mailbox here in Princeton, New Jersey. It's contaminated with spores.
(Voice-over): But why here? Across the street from an Ivy League university? Did the killer use the travel agency? Rent from one of the real estate companies? Or eat at the Red Onion Delicatessen?
WILLMAN: All that was documented was the mailbox with the spores is at 10 Nassau Street.
JOHNS: No one paid attention to a small office a few doors down. The office for a sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
JOHNS (voice-over): Anthrax is odorless. Tasteless. And the fatal dose is so small, you can't even see it. So to protect against terrorists or rogue nations, scientists at USAMRIID, the Army's biodefense tech lab, work on vaccines. And it's here that federal investigators turn for help. To the hot suites with the world's deadliest germs.
DELLAFERA: Obviously we're going to need to use people in the community to help us analyze our materials.
JOHNS: But the scientists with the expertise to solve the crime may also have the expertise to commit it.
DELLAFERA: So we did an expedited background investigation on them and offered them polygraphs to say if you want to work on our evidence, we're going to need you to do this.
JOHNS: Bruce Ivins seems to pass, though experts will later question those results.
DELLAFERA: It was essentially a set of three questions that was, do you know who did this, were you involved in it, or did you provide the anthrax that was used in the mailings?
JOHNS: One of USAMRIID's anthrax specialists, Ivins holds two patents on what he hopes will be a new, genetically engineered vaccine.
WILLMAN: The bringing online of the next generation anthrax vaccine would have been the ultimate validation of his scientific expertise.
JOHNS: Colleagues say Ivins 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.
WILLMAN: There's an expression that took hold among colleagues and friends. Yes, he's odd. He's quirky. But that's just Bruce being Bruce. JOHNS: 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."
WILLMAN: If he becomes offended by someone and believes and concludes that they have done him wrong in some way, he will go after them.
JOHNS: From the beginning, Ivins implicates current and former colleagues.
MONTOOTH: And said, you know, 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.
JOHNS (on camera): The tips from Ivins go nowhere. But the federal investigation does focus on a former USAMRIID scientist named Steven Hatfill. He had worked here in the late '90s. Investigators say eight people flagged Hatfield to the FBI.
STEVEN HATFILL, FORMER USAMRIID SCIENTIST: I want to look my fellow Americans directly in the eye and declare to them, I am not the anthrax killer.
JOHNS (voice-over): On his resume, Hatfill claims a working knowledge of America's former biological weapons programs. The FBI says a witness reports Hatfill claimed to have prepared and used anthrax as a weapon in the late 1970s while studying in southern Africa.
HATFILL: I have never, ever worked with anthrax in my life.
JOHNS: The suspicion is fueled by Hatfill's job at SAIC, a government contractor. He works on biological weapons defense. One project Hatfill proposed on the risk of anthrax sent through the mail has PowerPoint presentations about a single letter being sent to government agencies and news agencies.
DELLAFERA: So that was very interesting to us right that it is what happened. Almost prescient right.
JOHNS: Hatfill says it's all for training first responders, doctors and army medics on how to handle biological threats.
DELLAFERA: So it became a challenge for us to sort out why are they here? Are they -- are they legitimately for the -- his bio preparedness, his emergency preparedness work, or is this something more nefarious.
JOHNS: Raising the stakes, Hatfill had several prescriptions for Cipro, the drug of choice to treat anthrax. Just a sinus infection, Hatfill said.
DELLAFERA: All things being equal, it was certainly fair for us to be looking at him. JOHNS: Reporters are also looking at Hatfill. When federal agents search his apartment, the press choppers in, thanks to leaks from inside the investigation.
WILLMAN: They were quite, I think, anxious to get that word out to demonstrate that we're on top of this.
JOHNS (on camera): But investigators find nothing that connects Hatfill to the crime. So a few weeks later, the FBI comes back with bloodhounds, hoping to find the scent of anthrax on Hatfill 11 months after the crime.
DELLAFERA: We saw it as, sure, why not? Let's give it a shot, right?
JOHNS (on camera): Because you didn't have much going at the time?
DELLAFERA: Well, we were struggling, right?
JOHNS (voice-over): Two problems with the bloodhounds. First, they can be unreliable. One of the dogs named Tinkerbell had helped get an innocent man in California charged with serial rape.
WILLMAN: Tinkerbell got the wrong guy. And then Tinkerbell was brought to Maryland and Tinkerbell was alerting on and essentially fingering Steven Hatfill as the anthrax killer.
JOHNS: Second, the bloodhound search was leaked to the media. Quoting an unnamed source, "Newsweek" says, "One of the dogs bounded right up to him." The dogs, "they went crazy." But everything the dogs point to, including a lake the FBI drained looking for evidence, turns up empty.
DELLAFERA: At some point, it didn't add up. And we backed off the use of the dogs.
JOHNS: Turning up the heat on Hatfill, Attorney General John Ashcroft outs him to the media.
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Hatfill is a person of interest to the Department of Justice.
JOHNS: Hatfill is put under 24-hour surveillance. And will be in the government's sights for several years.
HATFILL: If I am a subject of interest, I'm also a human being.
JOHNS: With his career in ruins, Hatfill sues the Department of Justice for the press leaks.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can your reputation ever be repaired?
JOHNS: The government will eventually pay him nearly $6 million and acknowledge that for years they were focused on an innocent man.
HATFILL: They're in a rough place. If the FBI does not have me as a person of interest, then what does it have? JOHNS: The real killer is still out there.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon. Live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
The "Occupy Wall Street" protests that began in lower Manhattan two weeks ago has now spread to other American cities. Among them, Denver, Albuquerque and Seattle. Despite the lack of leadership or a coherent message, the protests keep going day after day. The primary message is a general discontent with the U.S. financial system, which many protesters say favors the rich over the poor.
The National Park Service has halted work assessing earthquake damage to the Washington monument. The National Park Service is waiting for high winds to subside after a gust Friday blew Eric Sahn about 30 feet while he was hanging from a rope at the top of the monument.
Sahn is part of the engineering team evaluating the building. He's fine, but the park service says it will be Monday at the earliest before teams can get to work again.
Those are your headlines this hour. I'm Don Lemon. Now back to "CNN PRESENTS." the special, "DEATH BY MAIL: THE ANTHRAX LETTERS." I'll see you at 10:00 p.m.
JOHNS (voice-over): Five years after the attack, Amerithrax investigators are nowhere near an arrest.
MONTOOTH: I wouldn't say stuck. What I would say is it just meant there would be a lot of long days trying to get through all the potential subjects.
JOHNS: The focus on Steven Hatfill had seduced the top brass. But in the rank and file, not everyone buys it.
WILLMAN: Some of the investigators who really, I believe, helped turn the tide in the investigation, they were working on their own time.
JOHNS: Working on old leads. Including the man Nancy Haigwood had flagged years earlier. Bruce Ivins.
HAIGWOOD: That was years between 2001 and 2004, 2005. He was not an apparent suspect. And then the vice started to squeeze.
DELLAFERA: We looked at his e-mails. They boom boomed. He starts to become very interesting to us.
JOHNS: The e-mails to former colleagues where Ivins reveals psychological problems. June 2000, he's taking Celexa for depression. But what is really scary is the paranoia.
MONTOOTH: We just kept gathering more and more e-mails because he was somebody that needed more and more scrutiny.
JOHNS: July 2000, "My symptoms may not be those of depression or bipolar disorder. They may be paranoid personality disorder."
MONTOOTH: And yet he is -- he's somebody that is working with, you know, some of the most deadly pathogens that we have.
JOHNS: 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."
MONTOOTH: Which then makes you call into question if he's thinking that, was he -- was he capable of carrying out the anthrax attack?
JOHNS (on camera): As investigators look hard at Bruce Ivins, some secret scientific research is about to pay off. Research that actually began at USAMRIID. Next door to Ivins' lab.
MONTOOTH: To some degree it was luck. And there's nothing wrong with that. Some people would rather be lucky than good.
JOHNS (voice-over): The luck was actually an oversight. A 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.
MONTOOTH: 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 involved in this mailing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are liquid handling robots that would have taken the DNA.
JOHNS: The FBI hires a private lab where David Rasco and Jaque Rovel will decode the anthrax DNA.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It had never been done before. Sequence like tens of thousands of those little well.
JOHNS: It is comparable to hunting down a single typographical error in a book with 5.2 million letters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had about 125 of those machines sitting up in a big warehouse. We had three shifts. Twenty-four hours, eight-hour shifts. People were running this machine constantly, constantly.
JOHNS: It takes a year. And the results are startling. The four mutations in the anthrax letters match the anthrax in a one-liter flask at USAMRIID labeled RMR 1029.
MONTOOTH: To our investigators, it was huge. It completely changed -- in my mind it changed the playing field of where we had to look.
JOHNS: Who is in charge of RMR 1029?
WILLMAN: The parent, the custodian, is Bruce Ivins.
JOHNS: Investigators are increasingly suspicious about Ivins because he worked nights and weekends in the hot suite, just before the anthrax attacks.
RACHEL LIEBER, FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So it really is never before, never again did he have this extraordinary excess of hours. And you know, 10, 20, 30 excess hours.
JOHNS (on camera): By himself?
LIEBER: By myself. Alone. 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 at night. In those very critical times leading up to both of the mailings.
JOHNS (voice-over): But if Ivins 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.
WILLMAN: In the words of Major General Stevens Reeves who was in charge of all chemical biowarfare preparedness and defense, the next generation anthrax vaccine, Bruce's baby, was, quote, "beyond the back burner," unquote.
JOHNS: The anthrax letters brought the issue of protective vaccines to a full boil. Now, nearly six years later, Bruce Ivins is feeling the heat.
JOHNS (voice-over): It's the fall of 2007. Six years after the attack. The Amerithrax investigation finally has a genetic link between the letters and this flask at the Army's USAMRIID lab.
By the FBI's count, as many as 420 people in several labs had access to spores from RMR 1029 or their offspring. Any one of them could be the killer.
MONTOOTH: We were looking at everybody. So we could rule them out. And move on to the next person.
JOHNS: To the feds, everyone seems to lack the expertise or has a credible alibi. Everyone except Bruce Ivins. The man who had worked in the lab alone at night before the attacks.
MONTOOTH: I was thinking, now we're -- now we're getting somewhere.
JOHNS: The feds have a warrant to search Ivins' house. When they ask him if there's anything dangerous inside, Ivins, embarrassed, brings up women's clothing.
DELLAFERA: It was a question of what we would think if we saw that kind of material in his house. JOHNS (on camera): He was talking about it in the context of him wearing them?
JOHNS (voice-over): The search does not find a direct link to the anthrax letters. But three pistols and two stun guns are cause for concern.
LIEBER: This is somebody who we know -- who we are becoming increasingly convinced was the anthrax mailer, who is showing increasing signs of mental health difficulties.
JOHNS: When the agents interview Ivins after the search, he freely discusses the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. And his former grad school colleague, Nancy Haigwood.
HAIGWOOD: I think he was in a corner. This is someone who never, ever thought he would get caught.
JOHNS: Meeting with the FBI, Ivins admits stealing Haigwood's lab notes. Vandalizing her house. And sending the phony letter to the editor.
MONTOOTH: That was a way of torturing or really having control and power over her.
JOHNS: Ivins also acknowledges compiling a list of KKG houses, cruising their locations at the universities of Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia. He broke into two of them to steal information on KKG's secret rituals.
(On camera): What does that tell you if this guy breaks into sorority houses?
LIEBER: It shows us somebody who is bold. Unafraid. He said, in one of our interviews, that gave him power. That gave him a sense of power.
MONTOOTH: We asked him about his -- his interests. And he said it's more than an interest in KKG. It's an obsession.
JOHNS (voice-over): But why? Ivins says it may have begun in college 40 years ago.
WILLMAN: It goes back to him being rejected for a date by a woman at the University of Cincinnati. He never could get over it. And he attributed her rejection of him to her membership in that sorority.
JOHNS: To investigators, it now makes sense. The Princeton, New Jersey, mailbox. A few doors down from the KKG office.
MONTOOTH: His obsession helps, in my mind explain, how the mailbox that was used was chosen.
JOHNS: Meeting for coffee with an acquaintance who is wired for the FBI, Ivins denies being the anthrax killer.
BRUCE IVINS: I have no clue how to -- how to make a bioweapon and I don't want to know.
JOHNS: But at the same time, he admits to memory loss. Ivins is falling apart. Abusing prescription drugs and alcohol.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911, what's your emergency?
JOHNS: March 19th, 2008. Ivins' wife calls paramedics when he collapses at home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not sure how long he's been like that?
MRS. IVINS: I know he was online about 45 minutes ago with a friend.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Do you know what he said in that conversation?
MRS. IVINS: It was too disjointed to read.
JOHNS: Ivins expects he will be charged with five counts of murder with a weapon of mass destruction.
PAUL KEMP, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It could have been a death penalty case.
JOHNS: Ivins' defense attorney, Paul Kemp.
KEMP: I thought they were going to try and prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and I did tell him that.
JOHNS (on camera): How close were you to charging him?
JOHNS: Weeks? Days?
JOHNS (voice-over): July 2008. At a group therapy session, Ivins has a meltdown.
JEAN DULEY, ADDICTION COUNSELOR: He was just talking loud.
JOHNS: Addiction counselor Jean Duley.
DULEY: And the look on his face was something I'd never seen before.
JOHNS: The tirade is about revenge against colleagues he thinks betrayed him.
DULEY: He was getting a gun the next day from his son. He had all the ammunition in his house stockpiled. He'd made a bulletproof vest. He had very specific targets.
JOHNS (on camera): He was going to shoot them? DULEY: Well, he said he was going out in a blaze of glory. Those were exact words. "I'm going out in a blaze of glory."
JOHNS (voice-over): Duley knows she has to call the police. She hopes it's not too late.
DULEY: He's talking mass murder. And I'm thinking, you know, holy crap.
JOHNS (voice-over): After Bruce Ivins' homicidal threats, addiction counselor Jean Duley calls the police.
(On camera): By this time you thought he was dangerous?
DULEY: Yes. Oh, yes, I knew he was dangerous.
DULEY: Ivins is taken by ambulance for a psychiatric evaluation. Then hospitalized.
BRUCE IVINS, USAMRIID SCIENTIST: Jean, this is Bruce Ivins.
JOHNS: He phones Duley saying he's read the rules for involuntary commitments.
IVINS: 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 others. OK. Agree with that.
JOHNS: But there was no need to call authorities, Ivins says, because he would have gone voluntarily.
IVINS: Not only did the information go to the police, it also went to the FBI. And now they're all over me.
JOHNS: Federal agents again search Ivins' house. This time they find 250 rounds of ammunition and a bulletproof vest.
DULEY: I just remember how scared I was.
JOHNS (on camera): How scared you were?
IVINS: I just want to tell you how -- how just disappointed and betrayed I feel.
JOHNS (voice-over): Two weeks later, Ivins is to be released.
LIEBER: I thought, this is a very bad idea.
JOHNS (on camera): What did you do? LIEBER: 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.
JOHNS (voice-over): 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.
KEMP: Not one shred of evidence puts him in Princeton, New Jersey. Not direct. Not circumstantial. Nothing.
JOHNS (on camera): The FBI's genetic evidence was also challenged by the National Research Council. After an independent review, its report earlier this year questioned the link between the anthrax in the letters and Bruce Ivins' flask, RMR 1029.
(Voice-over): Microbiologist Nancy Connell, one of the authors, says the mutations could in theory have evolved in other labs that work with anthrax.
NANCY CONNELL, UMDNJ-NEW JERSEY MEDICAL SCHOOL: RMR 1029 is consistent with the possibility of its being the parent flask. But the opinion of the committee was that that was not shown definitively.
JOHNS: And many of Ivins' colleagues say he could not make that much dried anthrax without being detected.
KEMP: How it was made, how it was prepared, where it was done, over what period of time. There's a total void of evidence.
JOHNS: Not true, say government officials. Their evidence is circumstantial. And enough to prove Bruce Ivins had the means, motive and opportunity.
MONTOOTH: We wanted our day in court so that we could -- we could prove -- let a jury and a judge make that final decision in what we would say is the American process.
JOHNS: 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.
REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY: 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.
JOHNS (on camera): Today, 10 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.
(Voice-over): By the government's count, there are now twice as many scientists and technicians handling germs like Ebola, plague and anthrax. Fifteen thousand. What if one of them is a rogue scientist?
WILLMAN: The question needs to be asked, certainly, is do we have enough controls on all these new scientists we're bringing in to be confident that we don't have another insidious insider in our midst?
JOHNS: The FBI now checks for felonies and ties to terror groups. But other reforms like psychological screening or 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 reasons sound hollow.
STEVENS: Well, it depends what comes first. Whether it's the safety or money.
JOHNS: She's suing the government, seeking $50 million for the wrongful death of her husband. The government says it was not reasonably foreseeable. But Maureen Stevens says his death might have been prevented if USAMRIID had psychological screening and a rule requiring two people in the lab.
STEVENS: If any of those things, maybe they're not perfect, if any of those or all of them had been working, my husband might be alive.
JOHNS: Bruce Ivins dreamed of his own legacy. A new and improved anthrax vaccine. The one he helped invent. It is still being tested.
(On camera): 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.