News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Anthrax and unsolved suspicious deaths

The FBI has given a thorough accounting of its investigation into the anthrax attacks of 2001. It has not explained how it wrongfully accused one scientist and hounded him, and finally had to pay him $4 million for the damages it did to him. Once the agency thought it found the real perpetrator, Dr. Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide when the FBI was closing in on him the agency provided a comprehensive account which covered the essentials of the crime--means, motive, opportunity.

The FBI has briefed victims and family members of victims of the anthrax attack. It also released scientists from secrecy to give the press an account of the sicence created and applied to solve the case. The New York Times has the fascinating story.

Scientists involved have declined to comment or speculate on the charges the FBI was developing against Bruce Ivins, but people involved in briefings, such as Sen. Tom Daschle, have said the ece was coompelling, even though some questions remain unanswered.

The FBI's forthrightness stands in contrast to the way such incidents and investigations are handled in South Dakota. That's why the death of Prof. Morgan Lewis on the campus of Northern State University on Nov. 1, 2004, remaiins a puzzle. The Police Department declared the death a suicide and claimed to have reached its conclusion with the help of experts. It neither identified or explained the information given by those experts, and it has never given an accounting of its own investigation.

Once a case is closed, the records should be made available for public examination and review. On the anthrax case, the FBI has met the requirements of open government. In South Dakota, much of government operation is closed to the public. In the public mind, the Morgan Lewis cse remains unsolved. It has no notion of how or why the investigation was done.

The open government laws in South Dakota are farcical. And some proposed laws are even more absurd. To become an open democracy, the state needs to open up all records, except for investigative cases in progress, needs a sunshine law that makes all records available after a period of time, and needs a freedom of information law that guarantees access to public records and provides a process for getting them.

South Dakota has a long way to go to catch up with the free world on government responsibility and accountability.

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