Willman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, offers a nuanced account of the bungled FBI investigation into the "anthrax attacks" as the Bush administration strove to use the public panic to strengthen their case to go to war, while the culprit was, in all likelihood, a military microbiologist named Bruce Ivins. Willman traces Ivins's unhappy life, how he endured childhood abuse and privation to become a successful scientist only to find his life unraveling as a result of his bizarre obsessions and fixations with women—from co-workers to a reality TV star and members of a local campus sorority. Willman pivots to focus on the flawed investigation—how the FBI targeted terrorist groups and, later, the wrong scientist, Steven Hatfill—and how, perversely, Ivins benefited both financially and professionally from the public paranoia about anthrax as his research into an anthrax vaccine became a national priority. Willman makes the case against Ivins—and against the political uses of the case—with admirable fair-mindedness and narrative flair. (July)
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
Willman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Los Angeles Times reporting on the anthrax attacks, here provides a highly detailed account of the federal government's investigation of the series of letters laced with deadly anthrax spores that were sent out just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The contents of the letters killed five people and injured many more. After years of focusing the investigation on a scientist who was eventually cleared of all charges, the FBI, Willman believes, finally got its man. But the chief suspect, Bruce Ivins, a government anthrax expert who worked for the U.S. Army in Maryland, committed suicide before he was brought to trial. Willman presents a strong case of circumstantial evidence that Ivins was indeed the anthrax killer. But, he concedes, some doubt remains. More important, the book reveals serious shortcomings in the nation's law enforcement and national security bureaucracy. VERDICT Willman has produced an impressive piece of investigative journalism that will be of interest to all Americans but particularly to those involved in national security, law enforcement, and civil liberties.—Robert Bruce Slater, Stroudsburg, PA
An investigative journalist provides an in-depth exploration of the post-9/11 anthrax attacks, finding that quite a few people did not acquit themselves well.
In his first book, Pulitzer Prize–winning Los Angeles Times reporter Willman painstakingly recounts the mysterious mailings of anthrax spores to various media and political figures in the weeks after 9/11. When news of the attacks came to light, they seemed to represent a piece of a larger plot by still-undefined enemies. Willman focuses on Bruce Ivins, an obscure scientist working on developing anthrax vaccines in a military lab in Maryland. On the surface, Ivins appeared to be quirky and socially awkward. But there were disturbing currents running beneath the surface—he suffered from mental-health issues and had longstanding obsessions with institutions such as a national college sorority, whose members he stalked and harassed. Much of the narrative reads like a brief for the prosecution, but in the process of trying to get to the bottom of the anthrax attacks, Willman makes clear that many involved in the investigation acted incompetently, maliciously or irresponsibly, including cocksure but ignorant members of the national media and FBI officials, who seem to have settled on the guilt of another obscure scientist, thus doing harm to the investigation by limiting its purview. Willman also examines another consequence of the anthrax attacks: They helped clear the way for the Bush administration's war in Iraq. Though less successful in this argument, the author offers 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.