I am often involved in assessing workplace threats. I was recently involved in a fascinating project that concerned a serious act of violence arising in the workplace, one with national security implications. In 2010, I was appointed to the Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel for the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks, referred to as Amerithrax. As you may recall, shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, media outlets and members of Congress received letters containing anthrax spores. Ultimately, 5 people died and 17 were sickened due to exposure to the spores, with an estimated cleanup costs for U.S. Postal Service facilities and government buildings in excess of $1 billion. The attacks gave rise to the largest investigation in FBI history, and the Department of Justice ultimately concluded that the perpetrator was Dr. Bruce Ivins, an anthrax researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, who committed suicide in July of 2008, before a planned indictment was announced. Conspiracy theorists, and some former colleagues of Dr. Ivins who cannot bring themselves to believe that the person they knew could have done such a thing, continue to challenge the conclusion that he was the perpetrator.
Our panel was authorized by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to review the investigative materials, including the previously sealed psychiatric records of Dr. Ivins, for the purpose of “determining what lessons can be learned…and may be useful in preventing future bioterrorism attacks.” The panel was given access to the entire investigative file and the investigators themselves. We submitted our report to Chief Judge Lamberth in August 2010 and he authorized its public release, with redactions of confidential medical information, in March 2011.
Our analysis of the materials revealed that Dr. Ivins had a history of problematic behaviors that should have prevented him from obtaining a security clearance and working in that setting. In the report, we identified a number of problems with the existing biosafety and biosecurity procedures that allowed him, and potentially others who presented security risks, to work with dangerous pathogens in a secure setting. We offered recommendations for correcting those problems and have since been involved in a number of discussions and presentations addressing issues associated with “insider threats.”
While unique in terms of the events, their consequences, and their implications, the Amerithrax case demonstrates the importance of behavioral health issues in the workplace. Those issues are a large part of the work that I do, whether they involve threats arising from outside or inside an organization or, more commonly, the overall health, safety and welfare of the workplace.