CNN Carries DOJ Water in Repeating Weak Amerithrax Accusations Against Ivins

In an article published on on Saturday and a program aired Sunday evening, CNN does their best to lend credence to DOJ’s shoddy work that resulted in the unsupported conclusion that Bruce Ivins acted alone in the anthrax attacks of 2001.  Remarkably, in their effort to shore up DOJ’s weak evidence, CNN chose to emphasize one of the weakest links used to tie Ivins to the attacks.

The article and program center on Ivins’ apparent fixation on the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.  One former object of Ivins’ attentions, researcher Nancy Haigwood, is relied upon almost exclusively for making the leap from Ivins’ obsession with the sorority to his role in the anthrax attacks.  The article relates the early interactions between Haigwood and Ivins:

Haigwood had met Bruce Ivins in the mid-1970s during graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She recalled his incessant questions about her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Having joined the sorority as an undergraduate, Haigwood stayed involved as the adult adviser at the UNC chapter. Ivins, she says, always asked her for information about Kappa Kappa Gamma.

“Every time I talked to him, nearly, he would mention it,” says Haigwood. “And finally I said, ‘You know, Bruce, that’s enough!'”

As time went on, Ivins continued to contact Haigwood and apparently submitted a false letter to the editor of a newspaper under her name and vandalized her car.  Haigwood began to suspect Ivins in the attacks because of an email he sent to her and others in November, 2001 highlighting his work with the anthrax isolated from the attacks.  In one a photo in the email, he is handling culture plates without gloves, a break of containment protocol for working with such dangerous material.  Haigwood felt that by sending out this photo, Ivins was emphasizing his immunity to anthrax because he had been vaccinated.

In January of 2002, the FBI emailed members of the American Society of Microbiology, asking for help in identifying suspects in the attack.  Only Haigwood replied to this request and she submitted Ivins’ name.

Once the FBI finally got around to concentrating on Ivins as their primary suspect, they had to undergo some very significant contortions in order to incorporate the Kappa Kappa Gamma obsession into the “evidence” of Ivins’ guilt:

Prosecutors were convinced they had solved a crucial aspect of the mystery: why the anthrax letters were mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. The nondescript but heavily contaminated drop box was on Nassau Street — across from Princeton University.

It had taken several years from the time Nancy Haigwood first contacted the FBI about Bruce Ivins for investigators to make what they believe to be the critical connection:

The mailbox on Nassau Street was just a few doors from a building that leased office space to a sorority: Kappa Kappa Gamma.

That’s it: according to the FBI, Ivins has to be the guilty party and his Kappa Kappa Gamma obsession led him to drive about three and a half hours from where he lived and worked, in order to mail the anthrax letters from a mailbox a few doors away from an office space rented by the sorority.

But this shaky claim already has been thoroughly destroyed.  In this post from August, 2008, Marcy showed that Ivins’ work records–from data released by the FBI–indicate that it would not have been possible for him to make the round trip to Princeton and put the letters in the mailbox with them getting the appropriate postmark:

It would not be possible for Ivins to have mailed the anthrax. According to my calculations above, the window during which Ivins could have put the letter in the mailbox on September 17 was from 10:25 to 1:35. But here’s what the FBI itself says about the window in which the letter was mailed:

The investigation examined Dr. Ivins’s laboratory activity immediately before and after the window of opportunity for the mailing of the Post and Brokaw letters to New York which began at 5:00 p.m. Monday, September 17,2001 and ended at noon on Tuesday, September 18, 2001. [my emphasis]

In other words, had he mailed the anthrax when they’re arguing he did, the letter would have been picked up at the 5:00 PM pick-up (if not an earlier one–often boxes have a mid-day pick-up as well), and post-marked on September 17, not on September 18.

When DOJ adjusted their claims on the mailing slightly, Marcy was able to point out that adjustment also was faulty.

Also not explained by DOJ or CNN is why Ivins chose to go all the way to Princeton and use a mailbox near an office (where there likely would have been employees of the sorority but few if any undergraduate members) when there are other Kappa Kappa Gamma chapters closer to where Ivins lived:

All of which ought to raise the stakes on the FBI’s really dubious explanation for why Ivins purportedly mailed the anthrax in Princeton. After all, there are Kappa Kappa Gamma chapters at George Washington in DC, at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and Washington and Lee in Lexington, VA–all much closer to Ft. Detrick than Princeton. So what’s the explanation for driving to Princeton (twice), when Ivins could have associated the anthrax mailing with KKG which much less effort if he had mailed it from any of a number of other schools.

It’s a real mystery why CNN chose to try to shore up DOJ’s weak case against Ivins.  In their defense, they do include these two paragraphs in the online story:

Ivins denied having anything to do with the anthrax letters. And investigators had no direct evidence linking Ivins to the crime: no DNA on the letters, no fingerprints, no eyewitness.

“How [the anthrax] was made, how it was prepared, where it was done, over what period of time — there’s a total void of evidence,” Ivins’ attorney, Paul Kemp, said in a recent CNN interview.

Those weaknesses, however, were simply brushed aside by CNN as they happily joined DOJ in making the leap from Ivins’ harassment of Haigwood to making the Kappa Kappa Gamma obsession a central part of their “proof” Ivins carried out the anthrax attacks entirely on his own.

Because DOJ has officially closed the Amerithrax investigation, it is highly unlikely that the true culprit or culprits in this attack will ever be known.  CNN, however, is doing its part to make sure the DOJ’s unsupported conclusion is cemented in the minds of the low information public.

21 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    cnn and the fbi – a marriage made in heaven:

    the fbi loves to acquire and use sex behavior info to manipulate or destroy.

    cnn loves to acquire and use sex behavior info to manipulate and make money.

    despite the importance of the attack and the ensuing fbi investigation(s),

    the only reason cnn would even run a program about anthrax, ivans, and the sorority is the sex/sex perversion angle.

    this is standard corporate-media money-making behavior –

    made necessary by the recent dearth of solid news stories involving murder of a spouse or murder by a parent of children.

  2. BoxTurtle says:

    I wonder why CNN brought this up now? It’s a long dead story for most of America. Which I have to believe is what ObamaLLP wants.

    The parts of America it’s NOT dead for are well informed and we’re not buying the DoJ sales job. And Atty General Schultz has to be smart enough to know that he’s not going to convince us without evidence.

    So what made ObamaLLP nervious enough to call in a favor from CNN?

    Boxturtle (Shiny object to distract from Executive authorized murders?)

  3. Bob Schacht says:

    @The Tim Channel: I agree that Cheney had a hand in it. Remember when this all happened: they began on Tuesday, September 18, 2001, one week after the September 11 attacks. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others. (Wikipedia)

    One week’s time is not really enough to hatch a plot. I think Cheney hatched this plot *before* 9/11 because he needed something to scare the American people into war, etc. So IMHO Cheney hatched the plot during summer, 2001 and decided to take advantage of 9/11 in order to create more fear and panic to launch his anthrax caper, all the better to advance his agendae.

    It is important to ask, as I’m sure someone has already, what labs were really in a position to pull off a stunt like this? And which might have been most vulnerable to interference from Cheney?

    Bob in AZ

  4. What constitution says:

    They must not have been able to find anyone willing to opine about the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor. I said MICHAEL JACKSON!!!!

    Maybe, instead, they could devote half an hour finding out what “government” people told Brian Ross that there was bentonite in the anthrax, indicating Iraqi origin…. Falsely.

  5. rugger9 says:

    @Bob Schacht:
    CNN has been trying to get ratings the old-fashioned way, with sleaze. It might backfire since the family might take exception to being slimed in the press by already-debunked accusations. I’ve been in the Darth/PNAC camp from the beginning on the true culprits, and observe that once the systemic change was completed that Darth wanted.

  6. pdaly says:

    I was looking at the printed writing on the anthrax letter pictured in the CNN article and was struck by a few things.

    The word choice of “afraid” as opposed to the word “scared” holds significance. I recall learning that in textual analysis one of those word signals a likely higher educational level than the other on the part of the letter writer. I just cannot remember which word signifies which level.

    I also just learned in the following FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit interpretation of a suicide note I found in pdf format (, that a high frequency of 6-letter words (and words longer than 6 letters) is also weakly tied to higher educational level on the part of the writer.

    You’ll see the word “cannot” in the anthrax letter is spelled as two separate 3-letter words. “CAN” and “NOT”.

    The FBI maintains a communication threat database ( and people to interpret letters, so surely the FBI analyzed the writing. The FBI would have to allege that Dr. Ivins, as the purported anthrax letter writer, was clued-in to these textual details –hiding not only his handwriting by using block lettering but also his education.

    How many of you would choose ‘scared’ over ‘afraid’ (or vice versa) if you were to write a hoax threat?

    I know this is not much of an analysis, but since the timeline doesn’t work so well for Ivins to be the letter sender, maybe we should generate a list of people who would be familiar with textual analysis or have access to people who would be familiar.

  7. al75 says:

    The sense that Bruce Ivins was scapegoated and driven to suicide by the FBI bothered me a great deal – until I read “Mirage Man” by David Willman.

    Ivin’s decades-long obsession with Haigwood (he stole her crucial lab notebooks when they worked together, published letters in the newspaper in her name, vandalized her car)is just one aspect of the weirdness of this tortured man. He burglarized at least two sorority houses, traveling hundreds of miles to do so.

    Ivins owned a variety of weapons. He complained of symptoms of multiple personality disorder, and at one point was reported to the police by his therapist due to his murderous fantasies.

    Ivins had spent years of his life developing an anthrax vaccine, only to see interest in the project dim. The ‘amerithrax’ attacks immediately catapulted Ivins to prominence, and re-ignited the prospects of wealth for this relatively impoverished, obscure government scientist.

    Willman’s book is no whitewash of the FBI. He catalogues the Bush admin’s effort to attribute the anthrax attacks to Saddam Hussein in 2002-2003; and Robert Mueller’s massive, politicized, ham-fisted investigation that publicly demonized Mark Hatfill. It was only when a new investigator took over in 2006 that the investigation started over from the beginning.

    If we know one thing for certain, it is that the events and public record leading up to the Iraq invasion of 2003, and sustained through the rest of the Bush administration, are a tissue of lies. But the date that Ivins became a suspect – 2006 – e.g. after Katrina, after growing awareness of the depth of the Iraq debacle, is for me one significant.

    I can’t say I know Bruce Ivins was guilty – but Willman’s fact-filled account lead me to a 180 degree turn in my assessment of the matter.

    One subtext of the story for me: inadequate mental health care. Ivins repeatedly sought psychotherapy and psychiatric care, and was psychiatrically hospitalized twice. The quality of the care he received is adequate by today’s standards – plenty of drugs, and sessions with a well-intentioned, seemingly trained social worker. Better than what many Americans have access to.

    But from my reading of Willman’s book, the care seems to have been superficial and grossly ineffective, seemingly never engaging Ivins complaints of different personalities, seemingly never returning to the fact that Ivins had been reported to the police by a different therapist at the same clinic (though Willman doesn’t engage this in detail).

    Like Jarad Loughner’s murderous attack in Tuscon, Ivin’s protracted decline into murderous mental illness seems to me an indictment of our health care system.

    Willman makes one more good point: the Amerithrax attacks occurred bcause US DEFENSE personnel had access to anthrax. The aftermath led to the creation of thousands of new employees with similar access.

    Are we safer now, or less safe?

  8. Watchmaker says:

    To al75. Willman’s main source that Ivins was a predator was his first counselor – Judith McClean. Judith McClean is, to put it mildly, on the fringes of mental illness herself.
    David Willman relies extensively upon Dr. Ivins’ first therapist, Judith M. McLean, who writes of how she acquired her psychic abilities in her book available for sale on — from a being from another planet
    NOTE: Mr. Willman interviewed Judith M. McLean on

    April 30 and May 3, 2010, and January 9, 2011,

    long after she published her book and had been promoting

    and explaining its content online.

  9. Katie Jensen says:

    There is no doubt a problem with our mental health care system that relies far too heavily on a medical model of drugs first therapy second. Given that most research now indicates that for mild to moderate depression, ocd, ptsd, and host of other mental illnesses cognitive therapy has been found to be more effective that medicine. We have bought hook line and sinker the idea that meds are the first line of treatment for mental illness.

    However, there is much evident to dispute the fact that Ivin’s was a sick as they suggest. With a history of teaching sunday school for years, interviews of his wife and daughter, I am highly suspicious of the reports that he was as sick as described by these accounts. First of all, multiple personality disorder doesn’t exist. Now it’s referred to as a dissociative disorder because we know that people do not change personality, they dissociate from reality.

    If he were behaving in the manner described all of his co workers, wife and children would know this. You can’t hide this kind of mental illness and just act “sane” when you want too. That’s the nature of mental illness.

    I think it’s quite possible that he was being drugged in the last few months of his life. People can have a love obsession that works much like an addiction and those folks can act fairly normal. In fact, lots of us have gone to farther lengths than we should have over “love”. He could defintely have some ocd symptoms. But I don’t buy the rest because his wife, who lived with him, didn’t agree with the analysis. Nor did his daughters and colleagues.

  10. bmaz says:

    @Watchmaker: Let us also not forget that wacked out therapist, Jean Duley, who filed the illiterate affidavit in a local justice court. I admit I have not read Willman’s book. But the extended excerpts I read looked like regurgitated garbage.

  11. cliff rowland says:

    So what made ObamaLLP nervious enough to call in a favor from CNN?

    Boxturtle (Shiny object to distract from Executive authorized murders?)

    We have met the enemy and they are us. Send in the drones. Hellfire or Damnation…The USG reminds us it has many ways to express its displeasure with those who irritate it. Change we can die for ’12.

  12. Jeff Kaye says:

    The government uses claims of mental illness, and even more devastating to the victim, claims of sexual deviancy, to discredit those they choose for reasons of their own. The psychological assassination of Ivins was part of the setup to have him be the fall-guy for the anthrax attacks. The blatant politicization of this process was shown in my article “Psychologizing Bruce Ivins: Who are the Amerithrax Behavioral Analysis Experts?”

    Another example of how the government uses therapists to discredit opponents or setup people was the case of General Thomas Fiscus. He was the top AF JAG, and he opposed the Bush administration and Pentagon’s implementation of torture in 2002. As a result, he was framed up by DoD opponents, who had a military psychologist look at some emails the prosecution produced, and without ever interviewing either Fiscus or the women involved, in fact, without any psychological examination at all, concluded Fiscus was a “sexual predator.” Fiscus was drummed out of the JAG corps, his career ruined. Only later did the Arizona Board of Psychology censure the psychologist for her unprofessional work. From what I can tell, the charges were all lies, and to this day, no woman has ever filed any complaint against Fiscus.

    In any case, for those interested, Fiscus posted a lot of the documentation around his case online. But the administration and Rumsfeld succeeded in sidelining a major DoD legal opponent at a crucial time in the implementation of the torture program.

    I know of other cases where internal critics, particularly in the military, have been silenced by having charges of mental illness and forced treatment or assessments foisted upon them. Consider the case of U.S. Army counterintelligence agent Greg Ford, who was allegedly was diagnosed by psychiatrist Captain Angelina Madera, after Ford’s MI Company Commander intervened because Ford was whistleblowing on abuse of Iraqi detainees. Madera, who earlier had pronounced Ford fit, now pronounced him as delusional and had him sent to Landruhl. Dave DeBatto wrote about this some years ago, along with some other cases.

    Character assassination is a real art practiced by the government. Why they dredged it up right now in the Ivins case, I can’t know. But they haven’t really convinced on Ivins, and I think they are simply trying to bury the entire thing under innuendo and slander. Dead men can’t fight back.

    Thanks for the continuing coverage, Jim.

  13. watchmaker says:

    To bmaz: Of course Jean Duley was the second counsleor – she was totally compromised by the FBI. She was under house arrest for drug and DUI charges when she filed the restraining order against Ivins.
    She pathetically appears on the CNN documentary crying fake tears saying she was “so afraid” of Bruce Ivins.
    Dr. Ivins wasn’t lucky with his counselors. As I mention above the first counsleor , Judith McClean, is a nut job.
    In her book on Amazon she also describes how she would often see parasitic demons clinging to her therapy clients.
    It is a disgrace that David Willman failed to disclose Ms. McCleans serious mental issues – and instead used her as his main source of Ivins being a “predator”.

  14. Bob Schacht says:


    …Willman’s book is no whitewash of the FBI. He catalogues the Bush admin’s effort to attribute the anthrax attacks to Saddam Hussein in 2002-2003…

    This is one of the reasons that I think Cheney was involved.

    Bob in AZ

    • bmaz says:

      Saying Willman was fair and “no whitewash” because he discussed the effort to attribute to Sadaam is silly. That completely belies the fact that Willman tries to sell the current horse manure story of the DOJ.

  15. Govt Mule says:

    @al75: Even if you accept at face value, all the circumstantial evidence about Ivins, the FBI theory about how the anthrax was made is junk science at its worst. There is no way that Ivins manufactured that anthrax. And IMO most of the circumstantial evidence you cited is pretty weak, including the report by an uncertified “mental health specialist” who was more like an intern or a grad student doing work study. There are myriad unanswered questions about the anthrax investigation and nothing the FBI has done gives me any confidence in the validity of Ivins’ conviction.

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