Monday, August 4, 2008

Ivins Held Onto His Clearance Long After It Should Have Been Taken Away

I have to admit it--I was skeptical that anyone in the media would pick up on the fact that Dr. Bruce Ivins should have had his clearance denied, suspended, or taken away from him years ago. Today, the Washington Post comes out with a powerful story that should force many into retirement, if not into having their own clearances suspended and their careers ended.

As an FBI investigation increasingly focused on him as a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks, Fort Detrick scientist Bruce E. Ivins enjoyed a security clearance that allowed him to work in the facility's most dangerous laboratories, to handle deadly biological agents, and to take part in broad discussions about the Pentagon's defenses against germ warfare.

On July 10, the day he was taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation, for example, Ivins spent part of the afternoon at a sensitive briefing on a new bubonic plague vaccine under development at the Army's elite biological weapons testing center, according to a former colleague who talked with him there.

Does it get any crazier than that? They knew this man was a serious threat for years--years--and they never cut off his access.

The only thing that seems to be a constant is the confusion, the incompetence, and the "cover your ass" mentality that persists throughout our government. It's not just the political appointees that are to blame. The bureaucrats and the career people failed to protect our country by tolerating and allowing Ivins to hold a clearance.

Colleagues question how Ivins could have maintained his security credentials if the FBI suspected him in the anthrax case. "Even back in the old days, there was a screening process for people who work in those laboratories," Adamovicz said.

Caree Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for USAMRIID, said government rules bar her from discussing the security clearance of a specific employee.

"There are time-honored procedures to examine security clearances on a regular basis, to verify information provided by the security-clearance holder, and traditional steps to ensure that only the appropriate level of security access is granted, largely based on the nature of the person's government job," she said in an e-mail. It would not have been "unusual" for a scientist of Ivins's standing to attend a briefing on the unclassified plague-vaccine research program, she added.

Ivins himself had questioned the effectiveness of the fort's security procedures in interviews with reporters as long as six years ago. At the time of the anthrax attacks, only senior managers at USAMRIID were routinely required to obtain top-secret-level security clearances. Most scientists of Ivins's rank would be required to undergo a background check and would be cleared to see classified documents on a need-to-know basis, according to a former senior official at the lab.

Therein lies the problem. Why was the briefing unclassified? Was it held in an unclassified lab? Meaning, could any citizen have walked into that briefing and attended? Not if it was in a sensitive laboratory on Fort Detrick, Maryland. Was this briefing determined to be "unclassified" after it was known Ivins had attended it? If so, who can answer for the fact that it took until July 10 to get Ivins some medical help?

Tom Daschle was right to question whether the FBI got its man. The real criminals are the ones who let Ivins have access to classified materials after he was known to be a threat. Depending on who you believe, someone has known for years that a man with access to materials that could kill untold numbers of Americans was a psychopath bent on revenge.

All I can say to the situation is this--cover your ass, people. If the Washington Post is smart enough to ask these questions, perhaps someone else will be asking them as well.

No comments: