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Last Updated

25 Aug 2003

Source: New York Times, September 6, 2002.


In Second Move, Germ Attack Training Center Fires Director


The director of one of the nation's top programs for training civilian authorities in handling germ attacks was fired on Wednesday, a day after the dismissal of the scientist named by the F.B.I. as a "person of interest" in its anthrax investigation.

Officials at Louisiana State University, home of the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, said yesterday that Chancellor Mark A. Emmert had now fired both of the center's top officials: the director, Stephen L. Guillot Jr., and the recently appointed associate director, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill.

Dr. Hatfill is a germ-weapons expert whose apartment the Federal Bureau of Investigation has searched twice for evidence in last fall's anthrax attacks. He has strongly denied that he had any role in the tainted letters. The F.B.I. has repeatedly said that Dr. Hatfill is not a suspect in the investigation, even while focusing intently on his past and current activities.

Gene Sands, an L.S.U. spokesman, declined to discuss why Mr. Guillot had been fired from his $83,000-a-year job, saying it was a personnel matter. Mr. Guillot did not reply to several phone messages seeking comment. His dismissal was reported yesterday in The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La.

Mr. Sands said yesterday that Chancellor Emmert had ordered a "top-to-bottom management review" of the training program, which is largely financed by the Justice Department. The program trains police officers, firefighters, medical personnel, government officials and other emergency workers how to deal with public health crises caused mainly by germ attacks.

L.S.U. officials said Mr. Guillot had received an e-mail message from the Justice Department on Aug. 1 directing the university to "cease and desist" from using Dr. Hatfill on "all Department of Justice-funded programs."

The university placed Dr. Hatfill on administrative leave the following day, but officials said Mr. Guillot did not alert them to the e-mail message until Tuesday, when Dr. Hatfill was fired from his $150,000-a-year post. They added that the decisions to put Dr. Hatfill on administrative leave and fire him were unrelated to the Justice Department's request.

The Louisiana center seems likely to remain a major part of the nation's antiterrorism efforts. Since 1998, its financing has grown to $15 million a year, from $1 million, and Congress has proposed about $35 million for the coming fiscal year.

The university was chosen to house the center because of its medical facilities and veterinary school. Germ weapons are often based on animal diseases like anthrax, so veterinarians have an advantage in understanding how the diseases affect people and how to deal with them.

Since its founding in 1996, the center has trained about 35,000 people, Mr. Guillot said in an interview last month. After last fall's attacks, he said, its roster of students expanded from firefighters and police officers to include doctors, elected officials and emergency managers.

Though its administrative offices are at Louisiana State, the center uses mobile training teams of germ and chemical experts from around the country. Mostly, the teams are sent out to various cities and states to do the training.

Mr. Guillot said that as of last spring, about 125 trainers worked for the center, including Dr. Hatfill, who was hired as an associate director on July 1. He did his work from home at his apartment in Maryland, developing courses meant to train the trainers in the subtleties of dealing with germ weapons.

Among the topics were how to keep deadly germs from spreading, how to take samples for forensic analysis and how to deal with the heat stress and other problems that people in protective gear face.

Greg Vincent, the university's vice provost for academic affairs, who is leading the management review, said yesterday that Doreen Maxcy, an associate dean at L.S.U., had been appointed interim director of the center.

"We're going to have as seamless a transition as possible, making sure we continue our relationship with the Department of Justice," Mr. Vincent said.

"It's unfortunate we had to take these actions," he added. "But everybody is ready to step up to the plate to administer the program and fulfill our obligations."