Justice Department lawyers, defending a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of the first victim of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, won a judge's approval Friday to withdraw a court filing that seemed to undermine the FBI’s assertion that an Army researcher was the killer.
U.S. District Judge David Hurley of West Palm Beach, Fla., accepted a government attorney’s declaration that the FBI and federal prosecutors didn’t alert the government defense team to 10 errors in a statement of facts until after it had been filed in court on July 15.
The initial filing asserted flatly that the U.S. bioweapons facility that employed researcher Bruce Ivins, whom the FBI accused of manufacturing the anthrax, did not have “specialized equipment” needed to produce the deadly powder in the secure biocontainment lab where Ivins had a workspace.
The revised filing said that Ivins had access to a refrigerator-sized machine known as a lyophilizer, which can be used to dry solutions such as anthrax, at the facility in a less secure lab. In addition, it said that Ivins also had a smaller “speed-vac” that could be used for drying substances in his containment lab.
Ivins committed suicide on July 29, 2008, not long after federal prosecutors advised his attorney that they were on the verge of seeking his indictment on five capital murder counts.
Early last year, the Justice Department closed its eight-year, $100 million investigation into the case and officially declared that the career anthrax researcher had mailed the letters shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The letters were addressed to three media outlets and Democratic U.S. ...