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Last Updated

03 Jul 2003

Source: Washington Post, July 3, 2003

Anthrax Suspect Trained U.S. Team on Bioweapons

Hatfill Had Lost His Security Clearance

By Marilyn W. Thompson, Washington Post Staff Writer

Months after Steven J. Hatfill came under FBI scrutiny in the anthrax investigation and lost his government security clearance, he played an important role in training U.S. intelligence agents and Special Forces for covert missions abroad to search for weapons of mass destruction and was involved in planning security at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, according to documents and interviews with government officials and Hatfill's associates.

Hatfill trained an elite team from the Defense Intelligence Agency on ways to search for biological weapons, worked on secret projects with the Army's Delta Force and sat in on at least one State Department meeting on embassy security in postwar Afghanistan, according to the sources and documents. He secured letters of commendation for his work from officials at the DIA, which gathers military intelligence, and the State Department, which was trying to add protections to safeguard U.S. diplomats.

The disclosure of Hatfill's work on secret bioweapons projects casts new light on the government's investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five people and sickened 17 others. Hatfill, 49, has been labeled a "person of interest" in the anthrax case by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, though the scientist and his supporters have strenuously denied that he had any involvement in the case.

Hatfill was among an exclusive group of biological weapons experts whose skills attracted the attention of the Pentagon, which needed instructors as it began to focus seriously on the hunt for bioweapons in Iraq, and the FBI, which was looking for people able to carry out the anthrax attacks. Hatfill's involvement with the Pentagon as the anthrax investigation intensified created tension between the FBI and the Defense Department, sources close to the investigation said.

Hatfill, who has not been charged, remains under 24-hour FBI surveillance. Pat Clawson, his friend and spokesman, said yesterday that he cannot discuss many aspects of Hatfill's government work because they are secret. But he said many agencies viewed Hatfill as a preeminent bioweapons expert.

"If the facts were known, most Americans would be deeply grateful to Dr. Hatfill for his service to our nation," he said. "Steve Hatfill knows nothing about the anthrax attacks. He is a loyal American and patriot who loves his country."

Hatfill, who once conducted research at the Army labs at Fort Detrick, Md., played an intimate role in U.S. preparations for the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, designing special equipment and countermeasures that U.S. teams could use in hostile situations. In one top-secret project, he even helped design a replica of the mobile biological weapons production laboratories that the Pentagon believed troops might encounter in Iraq.

Hatfill's work on the mock mobile lab was first revealed in yesterday's editions of the New York Times.

In March 2002, as the FBI's interest in him intensified, Hatfill led a training session for the DIA's Chemical and Biological Intelligence Support Team at Camp Dawson, W.Va., DIA spokesman Don Black said. The agency was preparing small numbers of agents to be sent to Afghanistan to relieve agents in the field. It was also training them for possible deployment to Iraq and other nations suspected of having chemical and biological stockpiles.

DIA and CIA agents assigned to the weapons hunt work with the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which searched for weapons in Iraq in recent months.

To facilitate Hatfill's involvement in the training program, the DIA had to appeal to its training contractor, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), to allow the bioweapons expert, who had been stripped of his security clearance, to participate, Black said.

A week before the session began, the SAIC had fired Hatfill amid mounting concern over the FBI's scrutiny of him. But after the DIA's request, the SAIC agreed to allow Hatfill to volunteer in the training program, a Hatfill associate said.

The DIA was so pleased by Hatfill's performance in the specialized training that division leader Esteban Rodriguez wrote a letter of commendation on his behalf to managers at the SAIC. In the letter, dated May 1, 2002, Rodriguez said that Hatfill "consistently displayed unsurpassed technical expertise, unique resourcefulness, total dedication and consummate professionalism. I wish to express my most sincere gratitude to this ultimate biological weapons expert."

Hatfill also secured a letter praising his work for the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service. That letter referred to a "counter-measures program" Hatfill developed for State Department personnel who might encounter biological weapons threats. In another effort with the State Department, Hatfill sat in on one meeting about embassy security in the spring of 2002 but was not sent to Afghanistan on an official mission, said a spokesman for the Diplomatic Security Service.

Black said that "there is nothing to indicate that the FBI objected" to Hatfill's role in the secret training course. FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman said the bureau would not comment on Hatfill's work for government agencies.

But other sources said the Pentagon's insistence on using Hatfill as an instructor even as the FBI intensified its investigation of him angered and puzzled some agents on the case. In the summer of 2002, when it was ready for delivery to Fort Bragg, N.C., the FBI demanded to search the mock mobile laboratory for evidence that it could have been used to prepare the anthrax used in the mailings. The searches found nothing, sources familiar with the events said.

While instructing government agents, Hatfill also was undergoing his own specialized training to go to Iraq as a biological weapons inspector for the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). A medical doctor who once conducted virology research at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Hatfill was on the U.N. inspection roster but was never deployed to participate in the weapons hunt.

As an employee of the SAIC, stationed in McLean and in Joppa, Md., Hatfill worked partly as a bioweapons and counterterrorism trainer who designed realistic scenarios that could be used to prepare troops, government inspectors and first responders for encounters with biological and chemical agents. A more sensitive part of his job was working with defense and intelligence agencies to design equipment and countermeasures that could be used in an encounter with weapons of mass destruction.

One of Hatfill's most intriguing projects at the SAIC was his design of the mock mobile lab, which was assembled for training of the Delta Force, a commando unit of the U.S. Special Forces based at Fort Bragg. The nonfunctional lab was built on an 18-wheel trailer and fitted with a fermenter and other specialized equipment.

Hatfill planned the equipment, designed the interior layout and stored construction materials in a warehouse before building began, said a source who has seen the vehicle.

In its investigation, the FBI has traced all of the materials ordered for the lab by Hatfill and others at the SAIC, the source said.

The trailer, known at the SAIC as the "can," was under construction in late 2001 at a shop in Frederick, where Hatfill once lived in an apartment near Fort Detrick.

The FBI recently completed a search of a one-acre pond in that area, where it had previously found equipment that some investigators believe could have been used to prepare the letters containing the anthrax bacteria.

Col. Bill Darley, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, said that Hatfill also designed a fixed or "static" nonfunctional bioweapons lab for use in training Special Forces in an unspecified location in the western United States.

Darley said he could not discuss details of how these labs have been used in training. The programs, he said, are at the heart of the "dark tactics, techniques and procedures" used to prepare troops for missions abroad.

Staff writer Tom Jackman contributed to this report.