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Last Updated

09 Dec 2002

Source: Baltimore Sun, August 8, 2002.

Security clearance with faulty resume

Anthrax: Errors in his file suggest a researcher was hired and given access to deadly materials without effective scrutiny.

By Scott Shane, Sun Staff

Contrary to claims he made on his resume, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, now under scrutiny in the FBI's anthrax investigation, did not earn a doctoral degree and never served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, according to academic and military officials and records.

But the apparent fabrications did not prevent him from getting hired in 1995 by the National Institutes of Health and in 1997 by the Army's biological defense research center at Fort Detrick. The Defense Department also apparently failed to check his credentials thoroughly before granting him "secret" security clearance in 1999.

Because no one discovered the problems, Hatfill was granted access to the world's deadliest pathogens in his research at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, where he worked from 1997 to 1999. While at the institute, and afterward at Science Applications International Corp., a defense contractor, Hatfill briefed officials at the CIA, FBI and the Pentagon about bioterrorism.

The job history of Hatfill, 48, raises questions about the federal government's hiring procedures for sensitive jobs, particularly in the field of biological defense.

"Obviously, if this is true, he was not adequately vetted by the U.S. government to work with dangerous pathogens," said Elisa D. Harris, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland who is studying how to regulate biological programs, including possible licensing of scientists to work with dangerous organisms.

The revelations about Hatfill's resume shed no light on whether he had anything to do with the anthrax mailings that killed five people last fall. He and his attorneys have adamantly denied any connection, saying that only his expertise placed him, with other scientists, on the list of potential suspects.

One of his attorneys, Victor M. Glasberg, yesterday declined to comment about the resume.

In the resume obtained by The Sun that appears to date from 1997 and in documents submitted to NIH, Hatfill claimed he earned a doctorate in "Molecular Cell Biology/Biochemistry" from Rhodes University in South Africa.

In fact, according to Rhodes University Registrar Stephen Fourie, he was registered as a doctoral candidate from 1992 to 1994 and submitted a thesis, but he was never given the degree.

An NIH official, who declined to be named, said last night the agency has what appears to be a photocopy of a doctoral degree from Rhodes bearing Hatfill's name, certified as authentic by a British law firm. In a 1999 resume, the reference has changed from "Ph.D. Degree" to "Ph.D. Thesis."

In the 1997 resume, Hatfill states that he "served with U.S. Army Special Forces" and that he was a member of 7th Special Forces Group.

Army records show he began special forces training at Fort Bragg on Jan. 23, 1976, but was "academically dropped" a month later and never completed the training, said Walt Sokalski, an Army spokesman. Without completing the training, he could not have joined the 7th Special Forces Group, Sokalski said, and his military record shows no such service.

In the 1999 resume, Hatfill dropped the reference to the 7th Special Forces Group, saying only that he had "served with the U.S. Army Institute for Military Assistance" - the name of the training school at Fort Bragg where he flunked out.

While Hatfill was first questioned by the FBI at least seven months ago, he drew wide news media coverage when search teams visited his apartment in Frederick on June 25 with his permission and again Aug. 1, this time with a search warrant. The FBI, which has given Hatfill a polygraph test, is not known to have found any evidence linking him to the mailings.

In the meantime, Hatfill has drawn attention from publications and broadcast news shows around the world, and he has been placed on leave from his job doing bioterrorism training for Louisiana State University under a Justice Department grant. The latest report came from Newsweek, which reported this week that the FBI used bloodhounds to sniff out an alleged connection between him and the anthrax letters.

According to Newsweek, bloodhounds trained to recognize the scent of the decontaminated anthrax envelopes reacted strongly to Hatfill's apartment, his girlfriend's apartment and a Denny's restaurant in Louisiana where he had eaten.

But there are doubts about the significance of the report, and the possibility exists that the story was a leak calculated to put pressure on Hatfill.

Three veteran bloodhound handlers interviewed by The Sun were skeptical that a useful scent of the anthrax mailer would have remained on the letters months after they were mailed, rubbed against other letters and then decontaminated to kill the anthrax.

"Anything is possible," said Weldon L. Wood, a retired Maryland law officer and former president of the National Police Bloodhound Association. "But is it feasible, after this length of time and what the letters have been through? I would doubt it."

Managers at the 12 Denny's in Louisiana said they have not been visited by federal agents with bloodhounds.

Investigators and news media organizations have not forgotten the story of Richard Jewell, the man wrongly targeted as a suspect in the bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics, in which two people died in Atlanta.

Jewell, a security guard who noticed the knapsack containing the bomb and warned people away from it, spent 88 days under intense public scrutiny as the FBI searched his mother's home and the media reported alleged personal quirks. Authorities cleared him, and NBC, CNN and other news organizations paid an estimated $2 million to settle his libel claims.

"The problem in the Jewell case had mostly to do with the tone and proportion of the coverage," said Robert M. Steele, who teaches journalistic ethics at the Poynter Institute in Florida. "Individuals may be heavily scrutinized by law enforcement officials, but that does not indicate they're guilty."

The attention to Hatfill follows a long dearth of information on progress in the anthrax investigation. FBI officials have revealed little, but investigators are under intense pressure to solve the case.

Into the vacuum of information has fallen the colorful history of Hatfill. Raised in Illinois and educated at a small Kansas college, he lived in southern Africa for 16 years, completing medical training in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and doing a medical residency and conducting research in South Africa. He also has claimed he served with two special forces units of the white Rhodesian government in its civil war against black rebels in the late 1970s.

After leaving South Africa in 1994, he spent a year doing research at Oxford University before coming to the National Institutes of Health. He then moved to Fort Detrick, where he worked on such organisms as Ebola and Marburg viruses before joining the contractor.

His security clearance, granted by the Defense Department in January 1999, was suspended in August last year for reasons that were never explained to Science Applications International. The company dismissed him in March because the clearance had not been restored, officials say.

Hatfill was hired July 1 by the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training at LSU, but after last week's search in Frederick, LSU put him on leave. Stephen L. Guillot Jr., Hatfill's boss at LSU, declined to comment on Hatfill's resume.

Chuck Dasey, a spokesman for the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, said Hatfill was a National Research Council fellow, and that primary responsibility for checking his credentials rested with the NRC, part of the National Academy of Sciences. An NRC spokesman could not be reached for comment last night.