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Reviews of Recounting the Anthrax Attacks:
"This is an eye opening account of all that goes into an investigation like this, one that is a threat to all of us. As ordinary citizens we never hear about the hard work that is done to protect us from things like the anthrax threat. Scott Decker did an excellent job both with the investigation and writing about it."
— Marilyn Meredith, author of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree and Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series; serves on the board of Public Safety Writers Association
"Decker provides a deep and detailed account of how the FBI and other federal agencies used the new field of microbial forensics as well as DNA analysis and other cutting-edge techniques to conduct one of the largest terrorism investigations in the nation's history. His inside knowledge offers something for sleuths and scientists alike."
— Ed Palattella, editor of Erie Times-News; author of Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America’s Most Shocking Bank Robbery and A History of Heists: Bank Robbery in America
"With a keen eye for detail, PhD scientist and former FBI agent, Scott Decker, takes the reader deep inside the government’s investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks."
— David Willman, author, The Mirage Man: Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks and America's Rush to War
A Synopsis of Recounting the Anthrax Attacks:
FBI agents race against terror and the ultimate insider threat— a decorated government scientist releasing powders of deadly anthrax. A true story due for publication, April 2018.
It was September 18, 2001, just seven days after al-Qaeda hijackers destroyed the Twin Towers. In the early morning darkness, a lone figure dropped several letters into a mailbox. Seventeen days later, on October 5, a Florida journalist died of inhalational anthrax. The death from the rare disease made world news. More deaths, crippling illness, and near chaos followed.
The anthrax attacks of 2001 marked the first time a sophisticated biological weapon was released in the United States. It killed five people, disfiguring at least 18 more, and launched the largest investigation in the FBI’s history. My book, Recounting the Anthrax Attacks: Terror, the Amerithrax Task Force and Evolution of Forensics in the FBI, will provide the first inside look at how the investigation was conducted, highlighting dramatic turning points as the case progressed. For six years, I worked on all aspects of the investigation—collecting evidence, delivering deadly bacteria by helicopter and private jet, analyzing forensic data, and interviewing the killer. I will relate from the FBI’s perspective how the investigation began, took shape, survived wrong turns, and was ultimately solved.
Recounting the Anthrax Attacks will draw on the investigative skills I learned as a senior FBI agent as I apply them to bringing to light facts previously undisclosed. The story of how the letter mailed to news anchor and author Tom Brokaw was recovered, lost, and recovered again has never been told. Indeed, few people, even within the FBI, know it. It will also be the first time the events leading up to locating the anthrax letter mailed to Senator Patrick Leahy will be disclosed and how FBI scientists realized that paper envelopes are riddled with invisible porosity.
Faced with a serial murderer using an almost untraceable weapon of biology, our squad of agent-scientists developed the new field of Microbial Forensics. The analysis of print defects was taken to new limits. For the first time, the story of how these defects allowed tracing the four attack envelopes—from a total production of 45 million—to a single post office, will be told. The book will also relate how forensic psychiatry resolved lingering questions of guilt or innocence. Recounting the Anthrax Attacks is a story of pioneering efforts. Readers will have a front-row seat as dozens of leads and initiatives are pursued, as our next moves and strong hunches are debated, as we finally catch the deranged killer we’d been seeking all along.
Excerpt from Recounting the Anthrax Attacks:
CHAPTER 20: CHANGE OF COMMAND
My AMX-2 squad filed into the small combination file and break room, sitting or standing where they could find room. Tom Dellafera and I followed and squeezed into the last empty chairs. Within minutes, Montooth and Lisi joined us. The two had been with AMERITHRAX in our cramped Tyson Corner office for three weeks. They had listened to how the polymerase chain reaction worked and the story of trips to MeadWestvaco and our collaboration with the Secret Service laboratory. How the tiny print defects in the inked spread eagle stamps had been identified and the controlled production run would validate the new forensics. They had looked over the list of laboratories around the world known to have possessed Ames strain anthrax before October 2001. Now we gathered to review the science pointing toward Dr. Bruce Ivins.
I began the meeting, “Ed, we have ten matches to the evidence, the mutation we call A1, the A3 mutation and we just finished screening the repository for a third—the D mutation. Eight samples have all three. They all trace back to a single source, Ivins’ spores. He calls them RMR-1029, the spores he contracted mostly from Dugway in 1997. Hatfill never had access to the Dugway spores and Ivins always kept the flask in his walk-in cold room, inside the B3 hot lab. Not many people had access.”
Dellafera took over, “Ivins spent a lot of time alone in his lab just before the mailings. He rarely worked at night, but then started at the end of August and three nights straight just before each mailing.”
An AMX-2 agent added, “The first match we got when we started screening the repository was one of the samples Darin took from Ivins in December of ’03. Ivins had almost three-dozen Ames samples he never gave to us under the subpoena.”
Steele continued, “And it looks like he obstructed justice when he submitted the four samples in April 2002.
“What do you mean?” Montooth said.
“The four samples he gave us for the repository in April; none of them matched the evidence. One of the samples was from the Dugway spores, RMR-1029. When I took RMR-1029 and submitted a sample to the repository, it matched all three markers when we tested it, A1, A3 and D.”
“I thought I heard that Ivins gave samples earlier, but something was wrong with them?”
“He did, Ed. The same four as in April. It was in February, but he hurried and didn’t follow the protocol, so we asked him to do it again.”
“Too bad we can’t test the February samples,” Montooth said.
Steele jumped in, “We did. I had Keim send the duplicates back to us. He still had them stored with his duplicate set of repository samples in Flagstaff.”
“CBI just finished them. The Dugway spore sample from February ‘02 has all three mutations. Ivins’ repeat submission in April has none.”
Montooth and Lisi looked up and stared at each other, then back down at the notes and diagrams lying on the table, a photograph of the flask labeled RMR-1029 in black marker, the list of eight matching samples of Ames, the bar graph of late night entries for Ivins into the B3 laboratory.
“So, what happened between February and April?”
Dellafera continued, “We think it was because of a meeting we had at the end of March, in the Commander’s office with Pat Worsham and a few other USAMRIID scientists. Ivins was there. The meeting was to get them moving and finish submitting samples they owed to the repository.”
“Some of them were dragging their feet, Ivins one of them. Pat described the variants she was finding in the mailed spores and then the protocol to be used prepping samples for submission. We think that Ivins had one of his technicians submit the February samples. They didn’t follow the protocol. He never resubmitted. Then we think Ivins prepared the submissions in April himself. Based on the handwriting on the tubes—I take pictures of each submission and store them with the FedEx shipping labels when they arrive. Ivins handed me the tubes himself, personally, in April,” Steele added.
Montooth looked up and around the table, studying each face, one at a time. “So, is it Ivins?”
Silence. No one spoke, hesitating, knowing we still had no direct proof, no latent fingerprints matching Ivins, no human DNA linking him to the letters or envelopes, no fiber, ink, handwriting or other commonly used forensics—no smoking gun. The lack of evidence against Hatfill stood fresh in our minds, and the fruitless investigation into his past and present that had consumed three years, and especially the trailing bloodhounds. The case of Richard Jewell, the falsely accused bomber of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta went through my mind. Similar to Hatfill’s situation, Jewell had been widely reported by news media as a person of interest until being cleared three months later by the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. The FBI placed the real bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph, on its Ten Most Wanted list in 1998. Rudolph had watched Jewell, a security guard at the time, inspect the backpack containing Rudolph’s black powder pipe bomb coated with masonry nails. Jewell then evacuated people from the area before the deadly explosion, saving dozens, maybe hundreds of lives. Rudolph eventually admitted to the Olympic Park bombing and abortion clinic bombings, where he planted secondary explosive devices to injure first responders. He now serves consecutive life sentences in Colorado’s federal Supermax prison. Jewell went on to become a sworn and respected law enforcement officer. The aggressiveness I had developed while investigating bank and armored car robberies had tempered during the recent years. Being wrong in a major case and seeing it leaked in the press could be devastating to all involved.
Montooth asked one more time, looking straight at me, louder now—decibels higher, his frustration clear, “Well, Scott. Did Ivins do it!?”