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Questions Linger in Ivins Anthrax Investigation

Bruce Ivins (Credit: AP Photo)Attention has largely faded from Bruce Ivins and the anthrax investigation. But that doesn't mean the case is closed. In fact, according to the New York Times, it's very much alive.

Yesterday's Times offered up "new details about the investigation," which raise "questions about when the bureau focused on Dr. Ivins as the likely perpetrator and how solid its evidence" is.

In April of 2007, prosecutors sent Ivins a grand jury subpoena that said he was "not a target of the investigation." This happened after the FBI had gathered much of its evidence against Ivins, including genetically matching the anthrax used in the attacks to the strain Ivins worked with.

The Times also got a hold of laboratory records showing that from 1997 to 2001 the anthrax strain used in the attacks wasn't stored in Ivins' lab but instead in a different building nearby. Citing "former colleagues," the Times says that might mean the FBI's estimate of 100 people with access to the strain was "two or three times too low." (Though the Times doesn't mention it, when the Ivins story first broke, the Times and other papers reported via anonymous sources that only about 10 people could have had access to the anthrax used in the attacks.)

And for whatever reason, the Justice Department itself hasn't formally closed the case. That was expected to happen within days after Ivins committed suicide and the FBI presented its case. The Times says the case is "now likely to remain open for three to six more months."

The FBI says doubts will be put to rest after it publishes technical details on the case, which the Times says the FBI plans on doing, well, "over the next year or more."

Whether that will be enough for skeptics is of course an open question. "For a lot of the scientific community, the word would be agnostic," one scientist told the Times. "They still don't feel they have enough information to judge whether the case has been solved."

We may get a bit more information soon. The House Judiciary Committee sent a letter (PDF) to the FBI last week with various queries about the investigation. As the letter notes, the committee is planning to hold a hearing on the case Sept. 16.

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