The FBI yesterday released a 104-page report laying out its case the the 2001 anthrax attacks were committed by a US Army bioweapons researcher, Dr. Bruce Ivans. Some are arguing that this report isn't conclusive and that the FBI is closing the case prematurely. I can't speak to that, at least in any informed way, but if the FBI is correct, you've got a chilling, classic evil scientist scenario:

According to his e-mails and statements to friends, in the months leading up to the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001, Dr. Ivins was under intense personal and professional pressure. The anthrax vaccine program to which he had devoted his entire career of more than 20 years was failing. The anthrax vaccines were receiving criticism in several scientific circles, because of both potency problems and allegations that the anthrax vaccine contributed to Gulf War Syndrome. Short of some major breakthrough or intervention, he feared that the vaccine research program was going to be discontinued. Following the anthrax attacks, however, his program was suddenly rejuvenated.

(The quote is taken from p. 8 of the report put out by the FBI.)

What's even more bizarre about the Ivins case, something which again, seems to fall right into the classic Hollywood evil scientist stereotype, is that the text of the antrhax containing letters contained a hidden message based on the genetic code. In the one sent to the NY Post, various A's and T's were written in bold, giving the following DNA letter sequence: TTTAATTAT

If you break that into codons and look at the amino acid sequence this would code for, you get Phenylalanine, Asparagine, Tyrosine. Using the single-letter convention for representing amino acids, this is: F N Y - which the FBI reads as 'Fuck New York'. The alternate reading, if you instead use the three-letter abbreviation for referring to amino acids is Phe Asn Tyr, the first letters of which spell PAT - the name of a female colleague that Ivins had harassed.

The FBI caught Ivins trying to get rid of evidence of his obsession with codes: was was spotted taking out his copy of the classic book on DNA and coded information, Gödel, Escher Bach, to the trash at 1 am.

It hasn't been a good month for scientists when you add this to the Alabama shootings. Obviously scientists generally don't turn into vicious killers just because they're denied tenure or getting their research program axed; you've got to have some serious mental health problems thrown into the mix.

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