The fastest one can drive from Frederick, Maryland to Princeton, New Jersey is 3 hours, which would mean that Ivins would have had to have dropped the anthrax letters in the New Jersey mailbox on September 17 by 1 p.m. or — at the latest — 2 p.m. in order to be able to attend a 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. meeting back at Ft. Detrick. But had he dropped the letters in the mailbox before 5:00 p.m. on September 17, the letters would have borne a September 17 postmark, rather than the September 18 postmark they bore (letters picked up from that Princeton mailbox before 5 p.m. bear the postmark from that day; letters picked up after 5 p.m. bear the postmark of the next day).
Huh. The problem is that, so far as I can tell, the current weekday pickup time for the mailbox at the corner of Princeton’s Nassau and Bank Streets – which is where the anthrax spores were found – is 11:00 am. This means that any letter mailed after that time won’t be picked up until the next morning, and so will end up with a postmark for the next day. Hence unless the pickup schedule was different on 9/17/01, it seems entirely possible that Ivins could have mailed the anthrax letters in the late morning or early afternoon on that Monday and then returned to Ft. Detrick in time for his meeting. This does suggest that there might be something wrong with the “timeline” given on the Search Warrant Affidavit that Greenwald cites, but it seems clear that – assuming once again the current pickup schedule is the same as the old one – Ivins could very well have done at least this part of what the FBI is saying he did. Perhaps, though, there’s an aspect of Greenwald’s argument that I’m missing; but as it stands, I’m unconvinced.
P.S. I should add that I am intensely grateful that Greenwald has been pursuing these issues in the ways that he has been, and that I don’t want what I say here to suggest otherwise. But obviously it’s important for scrutiny to be applied from every direction, which is all that I’m trying to do.
[UPDATE: Greenwald e-mails to remind me that it was the FBI’s own timetable (pdf) that placed the window of opportunity for the mailing of the letters between 5:00 pm on 9/17 and noon the following day. This is certainly true, and if that calculation is accurate than Ivins would indeed have a pretty strong alibi, though of course the FBI could have settled on that window by way of factors other than the letters’ postmark dates and the scheduled pickup times for the mailbox where the anthrax spores were found. It is worth emphasizing that we would not have to be doing nearly this much guesswork if the government simply released more of the relevant information into the public eye.]