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Last Updated

13 Jan 2003

Source: Washington Post, June 28, 2002.

Biological Warfare Experts Questioned in Anthrax Probe

More Than Two Dozen Homes Searched by FBI

By Guy Gugliotta and Dan Eggen, Washington Post Staff Writers

The FBI said yesterday it is focusing on about 30 U.S.-based biological warfare experts in its investigation of last year's anthrax attacks, and has searched the homes of more than two dozen in recent months -- always with the owner's consent.

The FBI said that former Army researcher Steven J. Hatfill, whose Frederick apartment was searched Tuesday, was on the floating short list of "persons of interest," but noted both publicly and in private meetings last week that Hatfill is not a suspect in the case.

Ben Haddad, spokesman for the San Diego-based defense contractor Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), confirmed that Hatfill was a full-time SAIC employee in 1999 when he and collaborator Joseph Soukup commissioned a report investigating the consequences of a hypothetical anthrax attack by mail.

But although the report, first reported in yesterday's Baltimore Sun, eerily foreshadowed the mail-borne attacks that killed five people last fall, Haddad said that commissioning the report "in general, would not be an out-of-the-norm sort of request." He said Soukup still worked at SAIC and Hatfill left the firm on March 4.

The author of the report was William J. Patrick, a former product development chief in the U.S. offensive biological weapons program that was abandoned in the 1970s, Haddad said. Hatfill and Soukup commissioned the report internally -- there was no outside client, Haddad added.

Despite devoting massive resources to the anthrax investigation, the FBI has been largely stymied, and officials stressed that the agency's "persons of interest" list is always evolving and changing as leads are exhausted.

The FBI is administering polygraph tests to more than 200 current and former employees of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, at Maryland's Fort Detrick -- the Pentagon's top biodefense research center -- and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Both facilities have stores of anthrax spores, and the FBI since the early days of the probe has focused on locating a domestic suspect with scientific expertise.

One item that prompted interest in Hatfill, a virologist who had worked at the National Institutes of Health and at Fort Detrick before moving to SAIC, was his security clearance, One official said it lapsed earlier this year after not being renewed as required last August.

"Obviously, he is somebody who had access to anthrax and scientific capability," one FBI official said. "That is why we want to look at him -- to either remove him from a list of potentials or add him to a list of potentials.... Are we saying he's the guy, or even a suspect? No, we're not."

Another law enforcement official said, "We're a long way from working through all this. I would advise caution in drawing any conclusions."

Last Tuesday, Hatfill invited the FBI to search his Frederick apartment, in the shadow of the Fort Detrick labs. The FBI said it found nothing suspicious, although swab tests from the apartment were still pending. Hatfill could not be reached to comment yesterday.