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Bioterror in Context, Again

Documents released by the FBI point to a U.S. biodefense scientist as the one responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The FBI has released a set of documents to make its case that Bruce Ivins, a biodefense scientist who killed himself just as the Justice Department was about to file charges against him for the 2001 anthrax attacks, carried "sole responsibility" for the crimes that left five people dead and 17 infected.

Not everyone agrees: The Wall Street Journal, hardly a bastion of left-leaning conspiracy theorists, declared flatly on its opinion page that "Bruce Ivins Wasn't the Anthrax Culprit." Much of the suspicion regarding the FBI's announcement centers around the example of Steven Hatfill, the former Army scientist who was declared a "person of interest" by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002. The U.S. government agreed in June to pay Hatfill $5.8 million, after a federal judge had said there was not a "scintilla of evidence" linking him to the crimes despite years of 24-hour surveillance by the FBI. Meanwhile, researchers who worked with Ivins are mounting a vigorous defense of their late colleague; in particular, Dr. Meryl Nass, an expert on anthrax and bioterrorism who has testified repeatedly on Capitol Hill, has posted a clearheaded rebuttal to the evidence presented so far by the FBI.

One thing is for certain: The 2001 postal anthrax episode persuaded the U.S. government to invest heavily in precautions against another attack. Since then, more than $50 billion have been spent on several programs aimed at thwarting a similar outbreak. In May, Miller-McCune magazine spoke with William R. Clark, professor and chair emeritus of immunology at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose most recent book, Bracing For Armageddon?, decries the expensive countermeasures proposed by the bioterror defense industry and paid for by the federal government. At a time when the nation's attention is again drawn to the anthrax attacks and the government's response, Clark's perspective is worth considering.

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