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Stanford bioterrorism expert comments on new review of anthrax case

Think back and you’ll remember the terror in 2001. A few weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center, anthrax-laced letters mailed from a Princeton, N.J. mailbox killed five people and sickened at least 17 others. Were these part of a coordinated bioterrorism campaign or the work of a sole madman?

Today’s New York Times details the exhaustive investigation to find the perpetrator:

The F.B.I. and the Postal Inspection Service devoted 600,000 work hours in the investigation, which involved 10,000 witness interviews, 80 searches and 5,750 grand jury subpoenas, according to the F.B.I., which declined to estimate the total cost.

Bruce Ivins, PhD, an Army microbiologist, emerged as the prime suspect, and shortly before he was to be formally charged with federal crimes, the Maryland-based scientist committed suicide.

Now, in a report released today, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences charged with reviewing the scientific approaches used by the F.B.I. is raising questions about the government's work. Also from the Times:

The academy’s report faults the F.B.I. for failing to take advantage of new scientific methods developed between the mailings in 2001 and its conclusion after Dr. Ivin’s suicide in 2008 that he was the sole perpetrator.

Stanford professor David Relman, MD, is vice chairman of the oversight committee, and he talks more about the findings in an interesting Q&A with science writer Bruce Goldman today.

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