The Mirage Man
Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America's Rush to War
By David Willman
(Bantam, Hardcover, 9780553807752, 464pp.)
Publication Date: June 7, 2011
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For the first time, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Willman tells the whole gripping story of the hunt for the anthrax killer who terrorized the country in the dark days that followed the September 11th attacks. Letters sent surreptitiously from a mailbox in New Jersey to media and political figures in New York, Florida, and Washington D.C. killed five people and infected seventeen others. For years, the case remained officially unsolved—and it consumed the FBI and became a rallying point for launching the Iraq War. Far from Baghdad, at Fort Detrick, Maryland, stood Bruce Ivins: an accomplished microbiologist at work on patenting a next-generation anthrax vaccine. Ivins, it turned out, also was a man the FBI consulted frequently to learn the science behind the attacks.
The Mirage Man reveals how this seemingly harmless if eccentric scientist hid a sinister secret life from his closest associates and family, and how the trail of genetic and circumstantial evidence led inexorably to him. Along the way, Willman exposes the faulty investigative work that led to the public smearing of the wrong man, Steven Hatfill, a scientist specializing in biowarfare preparedness whose life was upended by media stakeouts and op-ed-page witch hunts.
Engrossing and unsparing, The Mirage Man is a portrait of a deeply troubled scientist who for more than twenty years had unlimited access to the U.S. Army’s stocks of deadly anthrax. It is also the story of a struggle for control within the FBI investigation, the missteps of an overzealous press, and how a cadre of government officials disregarded scientific data while spinning the letter attacks into a basis for war. As The Mirage Man makes clear, America must, at last, come to terms with the lessons to be learned from what Bruce Ivins wrought. The nation’s security depends on it.
David Willman is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist whose reporting for the Los Angeles Times brought to light the pivotal developments surrounding the 2001 anthrax letter attacks.
Advance praise for The Mirage Man
“Finely drawn sketches of the individuals and forensics involved in a case that vexed investigators, politicians and the general public. A well-told true-crime story with vast ramifications.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Willman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, offers a nuanced account of the bungled FBI investigation…Willman makes the case against Ivins—and against the political uses of the case—with admirable fair-mindedness and narrative flair.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The Mirage Man is a mystery story about murder committed on the national stage. The characters include an innocent man hounded by investigators and the press, politicians fixated on justifying a foreign invasion, a mixed bag of FBI agents, and scientists who try to crack the code. And, at the story’s heart, we have a twisted villain whose secret life is laid utterly bare. Unlike most mysteries, this one is literally true, carefully documented and skillfully told by one of America’s finest investigative journalists.”—John S. Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times
“This is a book of alternative history and alternative truth about one of the most misrepresented incidents of our 9/11 trauma. David Willman has set a grand standard for investigative reporting—and investigative history—in his account of America’s anthrax scare. There are few heroes in this story of psychosis, official dithering, and political scaremongering, but it is uplifting nonetheless. It is simply fun to read someone at the top of his craft.”—Seymour M. Hersh, author of Chain of Command:The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib
“Peering through David Willman’s magnifying glass into the anthrax-laced heart and soul of Bruce Ivins is chilling. Willman’s investigative chops and skilled yarn-weaving make for a compelling read. Most strikingly, Willman shows how this emotionally warped man pumped the bellows that fanned the flames of war with Iraq. It’s a haunting and heartbreaking tale.’’—Mark Thompson, national security correspondent, Time