THE ANTHRAX FILES
22 Aug 2003
Source: New York Times, August 13, 2002.
The Anthrax Files
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
It's time for me to come clean on "Mr. Z."
Since May, I've written periodically about a former U.S. Army scientist who, authorities say privately, has become the overwhelming focus of the investigation into the anthrax attacks last fall. I didn't name him.
But over the weekend, Mr. Z named himself: He is Steven J. Hatfill, 48, a prominent germ warfare specialist who formerly worked in the Army labs at Fort Detrick, Md. Dr. Hatfill made a televised statement on Sunday, describing himself as "a loyal American" and attacking the authorities and the media for trying "to smear me and gratuitously make a wasteland of my life."
The first thing to say is that the presumption of innocence has already been maimed since 9/11 for foreign Muslims, and it should not be similarly cheapened with respect to Dr. Hatfill. It must be a genuine assumption that he is an innocent man caught in a nightmare. There is not a shred of traditional physical evidence linking him to the attacks.
Still, Dr. Hatfill is wrong to suggest that the F.B.I. has casually designated him the anthrax "fall guy." The authorities' interest in Dr. Hatfill arises from a range of factors, including his expertise in dry biological warfare agents, his access to Fort Detrick labs where anthrax spores were kept (although he did not work with anthrax there) and the animus to some federal agencies that shows up in his private writings. He has also failed three successive polygraph examinations since January, and canceled plans for another polygraph exam two weeks ago.
So far, the only physical evidence is obscure: smell. Specially trained bloodhounds were given scent packets preserved from the anthrax letters and were introduced to a variety of people and locations. This month, they responded strongly to Dr. Hatfill, to his apartment, to his girlfriend's apartment and even to his former girlfriend's apartment, as well as to restaurants that he had recently entered (he is under constant surveillance). The dogs did not respond to other people, apartments or restaurants.
Putting aside the question of Dr. Hatfill and the anthrax, there are two larger issues.
First is the F.B.I.'s initial slowness in carrying out the anthrax investigation. Why did it take nine months to call in the bloodhounds, or to read Dr. Hatfill's unpublished novel, "Emergence," which has been sitting in the copyright office since 1998 and draws on his experiences in South Africa and Antarctica to recount a biological warfare attack on Congress?
Second is the need for much greater care within the U.S. biodefense program. Dr. Hatfill's résumé made claims (a Ph.D. degree, work with the U.S. Special Forces, membership in Britain's Royal Society of Medicine) that appear false, but these were never checked.
Moreover, what was a man like Dr. Hatfill who had served in the armed forces of two white racist governments (Rhodesia and South Africa) doing in a U.S. Army lab working with Ebola? With a new wave of funding for smallpox and anthrax research, we must be doubly careful that the spread of pathogens to new labs solves problems rather than creates them.
The White House is putting strong pressure on the F.B.I. to solve the anthrax murders. Top administration officials would love to find an Iraqi connection, but would settle for solving the case. The F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller, is pushing back, saying that nothing would be worse for the bureau than a premature prosecution that would fizzle in court.
To its credit, in the last few months, the bureau has finally picked up its pace. Its experts in Quantico are belatedly examining anthrax hoax letters sent in 1997 and 1999 that bear fascinating resemblance to the real anthrax letters. Investigators are looking at another hoax letter with intriguing parallels to the real one; that hoax was sent to Senator Tom Daschle from London in mid-November, when Dr. Hatfill was visiting a biodefense center in England.
Partly because of the newfound energy, the F.B.I. has lately been enjoying genuine progress in its anthrax investigation. People very close to Dr. Hatfill are now cooperating with the authorities, information has been presented to a grand jury, and there is reason to hope that the bureau may soon be able to end this unseemly limbo by either exculpating Dr. Hatfill or arresting him.