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The armchair analyst: Ed Lake has spent nine years tracking the anthrax investigation

The armchair analyst: Ed Lake has spent nine years tracking the anthrax investigation

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Ed Lake
Ed Lake, photographed at his home Wednesday May 26, 2010, has been following and analyzing the 2001 anthrax attacks since they happened. He has collected articles on a website, and hosts a forum where people hash over the investigation./ Mark Hertzberg Buy this photo at

MOUNT PLEASANT - For nine years Ed Lake has kept track of the investigation into 2001's anthrax attacks. 

Each day, he sits in front of the computer and tracks "the anthrax traveling circus." Bookshelves line the walls, and more often than not, jazz is the soundtrack to his work analyzing the attacks.

He follows the circus from website to website, reading people's arguments, their assertions that this person couldn't have sent the spores in the mail or that this person must have, or that the government was behind it all. Then, he shoots them down.

Lake, 73, was pitching screenplays at the Austin Film Festival in Austin, Texas when planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. When Lake got back home, he saw an episode of "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" that talked about the anthrax attacks.

He was hooked.

A retired systems analyst, Lake found plenty of information online about the attacks, where people got sick and died from anthrax spores inside letters mailed to newsrooms and politicians' offices. Most of the information wasn't reliable, he said, and it was hard to keep track of the articles he trusted.

"Everyone has an opinion but no one has the facts," Lake said. "After a while I decided to create a website, and put these things there so I didn't have to go looking for them all the time."

Lake looked for facts. That's all he was interested in. What really happened, what was really known, and how did it all fit together.

In 2002, Lake called the FBI to give them a suggestion. He'd read just about everything he could find on the attacks, and had developed his own suspect.

"I wasn't investigating the case, I was trying to figure out what the FBI was doing," he said.

Ultimately, Lake's theory about who had mailed the anthrax was wrong. But that didn't put him off the case.

For a while, Lake said, he exchanged e-mails with FBI investigators working on the anthrax case.

"They know I'm not hostile to their cause," he said. "I'm only interested in the facts."

He said scientists from universities and national labs have contacted him with relevant scientific research papers and to help him understand the intricacies of the science behind the crime.

Now, Lake spends much of his anthrax time debunking theories posed by people he groups into two classes, the "true believers" and the "conspiracy theorists."

A true believer, he said, is someone who is convinced his or her theory is right, no matter what evidence exists to the contrary. A conspiracy theorist, Lake said, believes the government was behind it or at least knew the attacks were coming, yet did nothing.

"There were all these arguments I was getting into," he said. "They refused to look at the facts. They said it was al-Qaida or by some government conspiracy. The facts didn't show that."

He said he talked with them, wrote back and forth on online bulletin boards, but "you can never penetrate their arguments. They just chop down the real facts."

That's continued, Lake said, even since the FBI's August 2008 announcement that the late Bruce E. Ivins, a Maryland researcher who worked with anthrax was behind the attacks. Lake completely believes the FBI got it right.

It's still going on - even in some official-sounding channels. The FBI officially closed the case on Feb. 19. In April, a scientist who worked with Ivins came out and said there is no way Ivins sent the anthrax.

Lake got a little upset at that.

"He doesn't have any idea what was going on," Lake said. "(The other scientist) just cannot believe Ivins could have done that while he (the other scientist) was in charge. The people working for Ivins were making spores for Ivins and didn't know what was happening with them."

For Lake, the end will come when the National Academy of Sciences releases its review of the science behind the anthrax investigation. He said that will likely put to rest any questions about how the investigation was conducted. The people he spars with online say that will be the end, too, Lake said, though for a different reason.

"The conspiracy theorists and true believers say that'll be the end because (the NAS will) say the FBI is wrong," Lake said. "There's a zillion to one chance of that happening."

No matter what opinion comes out next, Lake will be there, facts at the ready.

What's your story? is an occasional series highlighting the stories of people in Racine County. If you know someone whose story should be featured, write us at or What's Your Story?; Local Editor Rob Golub; The Journal Times; 212 Fourth St.; Racine, WI 53403.



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September-October 2001: Letters containing anthrax were mailed to news outlets and to Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. More …

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