Scientists unable to find source of anthrax used in 2001 attacks

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 By


The National Academy of Sciences has found some flaws in the FBI's investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Image of anthrax infection from Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists and investigators have been unable to determine the source of the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks. The anthrax spores used in the attacks are similar to a strain grown in the laboratory of Bruce Ivins but not completely identical. Ivins committed suicide before he could be prosecuted.

National Academy of Sciences contradicts FBI anthrax findings

Though the official investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks is functionally over, the National Academy of Sciences has just released a report that calls findings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation into question, according to USA Today. The National Research Council conducted its own review of the FBI investigation and found some disparities that existed between what the FBI and the review panel concluded. In the initial investigation, some genetic similarities were discovered between the spores of anthrax used in the attacks and those at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease in a flask belonging to Dr. Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist who worked for the Army. However, the NAS concluded that despite similarities, it was not confirmed that the strain cultivated by Dr. Ivins was the same as the strain used.

Ivins not cleared

The National Academy of Sciences report did not address whether Dr. Ivins was the culprit and dealt only with the science, according to the New York Times. The NAS did conclude that the similarities were “consistent with and supports” the two strains being related. However, the panel took the FBI to task for failing to use newer and more accurate methods to identify the strain of anthrax. Dr. Bruce Ivins committed suicide in 2008 before he could be prosecuted, and the FBI closed its case.

Anthrax attacks remain a mystery

The investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks led to the founding of the new science of microbial forensics — tracing the origins of infectious agents. The report also applauds the use of vigorous scientific techniques by the FBI, according to the Washington Post. The anthrax attacks of 2001 killed five people and sickened 17 with Bacillus Anthracis spores, which causes the dangerous and often fatal disease anthrax.


USA Today

New York Times

Washington Post

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