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Last Updated

20 Nov 2002

Source: New York Times, August 10, 2002.

Anthrax Inquiry Draws Protest From Scientist's Lawyers


This article was reported by William J. Broad, David Johnston and Kate Zernike and written by Mr. Broad.

A lawyer representing Steven J. Hatfill, a germ weapons expert, has protested to the Justice Department that the government is violating his client's rights in its search for the culprit in the anthrax attacks that killed five people last fall.

"We are very angry at the way they have treated this man, who has done nothing but cooperate fully with federal authorities," said Jonathan Shapiro, the criminal lawyer Dr. Hatfill hired to represent him after government inquiries about him intensified last week.

Mr. Shapiro would not describe how this anger had been conveyed to the Justice Department, except to say "we've made it clear."

Government officials say Dr. Hatfill is one of scores of scientists in and out of government who have been "persons of interest" in their investigation of the anthrax attacks. But their interest in him intensified recently. On Aug. 1, agents armed with a search warrant searched Dr. Hatfill's apartment complex in Frederick, Md., as a news helicopter beamed pictures of the hunt worldwide. Their search warrant, federal officials said, represented an escalation over a voluntary search conducted months earlier.

The next day, Dr. Hatfill was suspended with pay from a new job he was taking at Louisiana State University as associate director of the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, a program financed by the Justice Department that teaches police, firefighters, health professionals and federal agents how to handle germ attacks. Officials said they decided to suspend Dr. Hatfill after investigators' interest in him appeared to intensify.

Dr. Hatfill had already lost an earlier job at a federal contractor for reasons that are in dispute. In an interview in the spring, he said incessant questioning by reporters led to his dismissal. Company officials say publicly only that he was dismissed in March. Insiders at the company say he was let go because he lost security clearances after failing lie-detector tests last summer on matters unrelated to anthrax.

Senior law enforcement officials have disclosed the F.B.I.'s searches of Dr. Hatfill's home and related sites, even as they carefully avoided declaring him a suspect.

In interviews, Mr. Shapiro complained bitterly about this technique. He conceded that the government had no obligation to keep Dr. Hatfill's name secret and could not control the activities of journalists. But the result has severely damaged his client, Mr. Shapiro said. "Through innuendo in the public eye they have begun to destroy this man's life, his standing in the scientific community, his ability to make a living," he said. "That is absolutely wrong."

He also accused the government of leaking details from the affidavit submitted with the application for the search warrant, details that he said are supposed to be kept secret. "That is outrageous," he said.

The situation is particularly offensive, Mr. Shapiro added, because Dr. Hatfill has cooperated fully with the anthrax investigation.

Repeated efforts to reach Dr. Hatfill by telephone this week were unsuccessful.

Many of his colleagues describe Dr. Hatfill, a 48-year-old medical doctor, as a patriot, if at times abrasive, and law enforcement officials say they have found nothing but weak circumstantial evidence to tie him to the anthrax attacks.

In part, officials say, the F.B.I.'s investigative effort is intended to clear Dr. Hatfill of suspicion of the crime definitively. They say they are mindful of embarrassments like the deadly bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, when F.B.I. agents focused on Richard Jewell, a security guard, as their suspect but were later forced to acknowledge that they were after the wrong man.

They are quick to say that repeated searches of Dr. Hatfill's apartment and related locations have yielded no incriminating evidence. Agents have examined his home computer, looked through documents and even brought in bloodhounds to sniff his clothing. Borrowing investigative techniques used in espionage cases, they have compiled a minute-by-minute timeline of Dr. Hatfill's whereabouts on days when the anthrax-tainted letters were mailed.

They say Dr. Hatfill is among dozens of people whose backgrounds in science and bioterror research have attracted close attention, yet no one else in the case has been subjected to such scrutiny, or such wide publicity.

For more than six months, some biowarfare experts in and out of government have spoken quietly of him as fitting their profile of the anthrax attacker: a knowledgeable person worried enough about the nation's vulnerability to germ weapons to send anthrax spores to the news media and Senate as a warning. By this theory, the attacker's motivation was never to kill or hurt but rather to alert the nation to a looming threat.

Dr. Hatfill's emergence comes as the larger F.B.I. investigation into the baffling case seems to be going nowhere and the agency is under heavy pressure to make progress, especially as the anniversary of the mailings draws near.

In the spring interviews, Dr. Hatfill denied any role in the anthrax mailings and expressed contempt for those who raised questions publicly about him as a possible culprit.

Mr. Shapiro, a criminal lawyer in Alexandria, Va., who has represented such high-profile clients as Brian P. Regan, a retired Air Force master sergeant charged with trying to sell American secrets to foreign countries, said in an interview that the government's publicizing the case had seriously hurt his client.

"We're extremely angry at the course of this investigation and the way the United States has seen fit to trash Dr. Hatfill," he said, adding that he and Victor M. Glasberg, Dr. Hatfill's civil lawyer, formally complained about it this week.

For their part, government officials say their interest in Dr. Hatfill has grown for several reasons. He clearly had the skills and access necessary to obtain anthrax spores and turn them into a weapon. He has also long complained publicly that the government was paying too little attention to the bioterror threat. Finally, investigators have uncovered aspects of his past that raise suspicions and have discovered inconsistencies in his accounts of his life.

Mr. Glasberg said yesterday that the focus of the legal work was on the government's investigation, not Dr. Hatfill's résumé. "Our hands are full," he said, "we have not been concerned to address matters going back 25 years. We are focusing on what's happening today."

Dr. Hatfill was born in St. Louis and grew up in Illinois. In 1975, he graduated from Southwestern College, in Winfield, Kan., where he studied biology and took time off to work in Zaire on rural health care.

After that, his career is the subject of some dispute. Résumés he has produced at various times assert that he served with the Army Special Forces after college, from June 1975 to June 1977, but an Army spokesman says he "was never part of the Special Forces."

He moved to Rhodesia, joining the military there in 1978 and saying he had "combat experience" during the guerrilla war against white rule. In 1979 and 1980, while he was in Rhodesia, thousands of black tribesmen became infected with anthrax. Some analysts call it the first modern case of germ warfare. Dr. Hatfill has never been linked to the outbreaks.

He remained in Rhodesia after blacks won majority rule and the country was renamed Zimbabwe, graduating in 1984 from the Godfred Huggins School of Medicine in Salisbury, now Harare, with the British equivalent of an M.D. degree, his résumé says. One fact about his time in Zimbabwe later caught the eye of investigators: he lived near a neighborhood called Greendale, and a nonexistent "Greendale School" was the return address on the anthrax envelopes sent to Senators Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont last fall.

After leaving Zimbabwe, Dr. Hatfill practiced medicine in South Africa. At times he has listed on his résumé a Ph.D. in molecular cell biology from Rhodes University in South Africa. But Stephen Fourie, the university's registrar said, "Rhodes did not, repeat, did not award a Ph.D. to Hatfill."

As a medical doctor, Dr. Hatfill published more than a dozen scientific papers, many on his African research. One tracked untreated disease in rural Zimbabwe. Others focused on leukemia, H.I.V. and the Ebola virus.

He moved to England in 1994, according to his résumés, working at an Oxford University hospital as a clinical research scientist. At least one of his résumés says he was a member of the Royal Society of Medicine, but a spokeswoman for the society said it had no records of his ever being a member.

Dr. Hatfill returned to the United States in 1995, when he went to work for the National Institutes of Health. From September 1997 to September 1999, he worked at the Army's biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., home of the nation's abandoned program to make germ weapons.

In this time, he became a protégé of an expert on germ warfare, William C. Patrick III. In the 1950's and 1960's, Mr. Patrick made germ weapons for the American military and, after the program was shut down, became a private consultant. In this period, Dr. Hatfill would say on a résumé, he gained "a working knowledge" of wet and dry biological warfare agents, their chemical additives, spray disseminators and designs for germ weapons.

In the late 1990's, Dr. Hatfill became known around Washington as an outspoken advocate of bolstering germ defenses. In late 1998, he began working at Science Applications International Corporation, a contractor for the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency that specializes in developing germ defenses.

In 2000, Dr. Hatfill trained in France to become a United Nations inspector ready to hunt for germ weapons in Iraq, said Ewen Buchanan, a United Nations spokesman. He never went there because the government refused to let inspectors in.

Dr. Hatfill suffered a major setback at Science Applications last summer, federal officials and former colleagues said, when his application for a high-level federal intelligence clearance was rejected after he failed a lie-detector test. They added that he then lost his regular clearance as well.

Last fall, after the anthrax attacks killed five people and sickened more than a dozen others, Dr. Hatfill found himself among those questioned by federal authorities who administered more lie-detector tests, officials said.

As no clear suspects emerged, private experts began to argue that the culprit was probably a federal insider who meant to warn of terrorist dangers. As evidence of the mailer's benign intent, such analyses noted that the seams on the tainted envelopes were sealed with tape, presumably to keep spores from leaking out. In addition, the letters warned of anthrax and suggested that openers of the envelopes take antibiotics.

A main proponent of the insider view was Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, an expert on biological weapons at the State University of New York at Purchase. Publicly, Dr. Rosenberg never named any suspects. But Dr. Hatfill's name circulated on the scientific grapevine.

In an interview, Dr. Hatfill said he lost his Science Applications job in March after a reporter questioned senior managers about him. A spokesman said the company could say nothing about Dr. Hatfill's career except when he was employed and his job title, staff physician. Company officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Dr. Hatfill was fired because the loss of his clearance hindered his work.

Dr. Hatfill spoke to a reporter for The New York Times in late May and early June, before his name emerged publicly in the anthrax case. By turns, he was conciliatory, angry and acerbic. Protesting his innocence, he bristled at the private experts who had pursued him as a suspect, and belittled F.B.I. agents as having little or no "idea what they're doing."

Still, he claimed that the bureau had exonerated him. "I've got a letter from the F.B.I. that says I'm not a suspect and never was," he said in an interview in May. "I just got caught up in the normal screening they were doing, because of the nature of my job."

In June, he declined to show a reporter the F.B.I. letter. "Why should I?" he snapped. "My reputation is intact. I was caught up in the first round" of the federal investigation. "So what?"

In an interview this week, Dr. Stephen L. Guillot, director of the biomedical research center at L.S.U., said Dr. Hatfill had impressed him as a "technically very competent individual" but not in anthrax. "Steve's expertise is Ebola," Dr. Guillot said.

In recent weeks, some critics have faulted the F.B.I. investigation as well as the insider thesis as too narrow. Such approaches to the anthrax case, they argue, have too quickly ruled out foreign terrorists or hostile states like Iraq.