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Last Updated

19 Jan 2003

Source: Baltimore Sun, July 18, 2002.

Boss says Md. doctor isn't anthrax suspect

By Scott Shane, Sun Staff

FBI agents searched bioweapons expert's Frederick home in June

Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, whose Frederick apartment was searched June 25 in the anthrax investigation, has a new employer who says the FBI told him the bioweapons expert is "not a suspect and not on any list" of suspects in the case.

Hatfill started July 1 as associate director of Louisiana State University's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, which is supported by grants from the Justice Department to train emergency personnel to handle bioterrorist attacks.

Stephen L. Guillot Jr., director of the center, said he was contacted by the FBI a few days after agents searched Hatfill's apartment near Fort Detrick and a storage unit he had rented in Ocala, Fla.

"They told me Steve was not a suspect and was not on any list," Guillot said. He said he was satisfied that Hatfill had been cleared of any role in the anthrax mailings.

Hatfill is one of a number of scientists whose knowledge of and access to anthrax brought him to the attention of the FBI in its 9-month-old investigation of the anthrax-laced letters, which killed five people last fall.

He was first questioned and given a polygraph exam by FBI agents about six months ago, when a brief search of his apartment was conducted. After that, investigators appeared to lose interest in Hatfill until they showed up last month with a rented truck and several cars and spent hours carrying items out of his apartment.

The search was carried out with Hatfill's permission and without a warrant. An acquaintance of Hatfill said yesterday he had been assured by the FBI that the search would be done discreetly, but the agents quickly drew the attention of neighbors, who alerted news organizations. Television crews rushed to the scene and circled the site in helicopters.

Chris Murray, a spokesman for the FBI's Washington Field Office, which is heading the anthrax investigation, refused to comment on Hatfill's status or to confirm Guillot's statements.

Guillot declined to provide Hatfill's phone number, and he could not be reached for comment yesterday. His lawyer, Thomas C. Carter, of Alexandria, Va., did not return repeated phone calls.

Hatfill, who was raised in Illinois and earned medical and doctoral degrees in Zimbabwe and South Africa, worked with Ebola and other viruses at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick from 1997 to 1999. He did not work with anthrax but had access to labs containing the Ames strain of anthrax used in the attacks, according to former colleagues.

In 1999, he was granted a "secret" clearance by the Defense Department and went to work for Science Applications International Corp., a large defense and intelligence contractor. He spoke widely on bioterrorism, trained medical and police "first responders" who deal with emergencies and helped create a mock bioterrorist laboratory for the U.S. Special Operations Command.

In August 2001, Hatfill's security clearance was suspended by the Defense Department, according to sources at Science Applications International Corp. who said the company was not told the reason. In March, because the clearance had not been restored, the company dismissed Hatfill, the sources said.

Guillot said he does not know why the clearance was suspended. "He's not working on any secure programs for us," he said.

Guillot called Hatfill "a patriot. ... He's a guy who will go out of his way to make sure the lives of first responders are protected." He noted that Hatfill is one of many American biodefense experts who have been questioned and polygraphed by the FBI, but "he's the only one that got blasted in the news."

LSU officials said Hatfill's salary is $150,000 a year. He has not yet relocated to its Baton Rouge campus but is working on developing courses for first responders, they said.

In a 1999 resume that may have drawn the FBI's attention, Hatfill stated that he had "working knowledge" of "wet and dry BW [biological warfare] agents," as well as of how to produce Bacillus globigii, a nontoxic anthrax simulant.

While at SAIC, he commissioned a study by biodefense veteran William C. Patrick III that included a scenario of an anthrax-laced envelope being opened in an office. While most of the report did not deal with mail attacks, it described an experiment to test how much Bacillus globigii powder could fit in an envelope.