FBI: Anthrax suspect Ivins obsessed with Kappa
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian on Aug. 7, attorney Paul Kemp confirmed that Ivins had a fixation with the sorority but said that Ivins did not have anything to do with the deadly letters mailed from the Princeton mailbox at the corner of Bank St. and Nassau St., just feet from where the University’s Kappa chapter keeps its rush paraphernalia, initiation robes and other materials.
“The only thing that exists at 20 Nassau Street is a business office,” said Kemp, an attorney at Venable LLP. “They don’t have sorority offices. There is no sorority house. If the idea of this salacious report is that he went because there were girls ... there aren’t any girls at 20 [Nassau Street]. It’s bullshit.”
A recent Kappa alumna, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the press, confirmed that the sorority was using the building space in 2001.
“I’m sure there was no contact,” Kemp said of any potential interaction between Ivins and Kappa members at the University. Kemp, who has represented Ivins for more than a year, added that it “doesn’t make any sense” for Ivins to have chosen Princeton because there are actual sorority houses at schools closer to his laboratory in Maryland.
“All I can say is: Where’s the evidence of a crime?” Kemp added. “There is evidence of eccentric behavior and psychological unbalance, but I don’t see a crime. I hope that doesn’t constitute evidence of a crime in this country.”
Kemp said that Ivins’ fixation dates back to his years at the University of Cincinnati, when he was rebuffed by a member of the Kappa chapter there. He also said Ivins had at times visited the chapter houses at the universities of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland, but had no contact with any members of the sorority or their chapter houses since 1981.
Kemp also said that Ivins, whose father graduated from the University in 1928, had admitted his obsession to investigators two years ago. They were also aware of his unstable mental condition.
Ivins died July 29 from a codeine overdose. His death came shortly after he learned that federal prosecutors were preparing to indict him on capital murder charges.
Officials hoped the sorority link will help explain why the letters were mailed from Princeton, nearly 200 miles from the Fort Detrick lab in Frederick, Md., where Ivins worked and where officials believe the anthrax was stolen.
Kemp said that the federal prosecutors don’t have a case beyond the fact that Ivins had the access, opportunity and knowledge to commit the crime, which the defense has never disputed.
“Then what’s the next thing?” Kemp asked. “That he was troubled? Had psychological problems? What about the crime? People get charged with crimes, not with being psychologically disturbed.”
While they admit that there is no evidence to suggest that Ivins was focused on any one Kappa member or any University student, officials told The Associated Press that Ivins’ e-mails and other documents illustrate his longtime obsession with the organization.
Authorities had planned to argue that Ivins could have made the seven-hour round trip from Frederick to Princeton in the evening after work. One official told the AP that investigators were working off the assumption Ivins mailed the letters from near Kappa’s Princeton chapter to confuse authorities were he to emerge as a suspect.
Katherine Breckinridge, a Kappa alumna and adviser to the University’s chapter, told the AP on Aug. 4 that she had been interviewed by FBI investigators “over the last couple of years” regarding the case. She did not provide any details because she signed an FBI nondisclosure form but did say there was no indication any sorority members had anything to do with Ivins.
“Nothing odd went on,” she told the AP.
Police officials with Princeton Borough and Township told the AP Ivins’ name was not found in a search of incident reports and restraining orders. University spokeswoman Emily Aronson told the ‘Prince’ that Public Safety has no record of any incidents involving someone named Bruce Ivins. Aronson referred further questions about the investigation to the FBI.
The FBI’s media office and the Kappa press office did not respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), whose congressional district includes Princeton, said in a statement on Aug. 6 he was “pleased the FBI finally has begun to answer the questions that the families of the victims have had for nearly seven years.”
Closing the investigation
On Aug. 6, the Department of Justice released documents from its seven-year investigation into Ivins. The hundreds of pages were unsealed just before FBI Director Robert Mueller ’66 briefed relatives of the five people killed and the 17 others sickened by the anthrax attacks.
FBI officials declared that the case had been solved and that Ivins acted alone.
Given this, Kemp said at the time that there is not much more to be done. “I think there is a possibility, although slim, of a congressional hearing,” Kemp said, adding that a civil suit is possible as well.
On Sept. 5, leading Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Mueller asking for more evidence, expressing doubt that the bureau had conclusively solved the case, The New York Times reported.
Though the case was slated to be formally closed soon after the unsealing of the documents, the Justice Department will now keep the case open for a few months as investigation continues, the Times article added.
The documents released by the Justice Department reveal that at the time of the attacks, Ivins had been the “sole custodian” of a “large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that possess certain genetic mutations identical to the anthrax used in the attacks” since its creation in 1997.
But Kemp said that more than 100 people on the base had access to the material.
“They make this statement that he was the sole custodian like the thing was locked up, which is not true,” Kemp said. “Anyone who wanted it could go in and get it and leave. There were no restrictions, no surveillance, no security guard. It’s sort of an amazing situation for a pathogen lab containing multiple kinds of stuff, all of which is totally toxic and poisonous.”
The documents allege that Ivins sought to mislead investigators, claiming the anthrax used in the attacks was different from the batch maintained in his laboratory and giving them false samples of anthrax from his laboratory. They also say Ivins had mental health issues and sent a suspicious e-mail a few days before the anthrax attacks with similar wording to the laced letters.
But Kemp said it is actually government officials who are making misleading statements and failing to mention that Ivins passed two polygraph tests in 2002.
“He submitted proper samples in February,” he said. “The government lost one, and the other was sent to a lab in New Mexico, and the government can trace it right back to his lab.”
The documents also show Ivins logged long evening shifts in mid-September 2001 and early October 2001. The anthrax letters were postmarked Sept. 18, 2001 and Oct. 9, 2001. The documents say Ivins was unable to provide investigators with an “adequate explanation for his late night laboratory work hours around the time.”
Investigators also determined the envelopes that held the letters were bought from a post office in Maryland or Virginia. Of the 16 laboratories in the country that had virulent anthrax strains like the ones in the mailings, Ivins’ lab was the only one located in either state.
Kemp countered that “millions of people” could have bought those envelopes all over Maryland and Virginia.
During a July search of Ivins’ home, Kemp said officials did not recover a “single thing” except for unmailed letters to members of Congress and a copy of the book “The Plague” by Albert Camus.
They also recovered some ammunition, but Kemp said they had also seen that ammunition during a November search of the home and decided to leave it. Kemp said they found no traces of anthrax and nothing incriminating on any of Ivins’ four computers.
Kemp emphasized the lack of physical evidence. “All they’ve found is unmailed letters and a book,” he said. “I really hope that’s not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
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