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Last Updated

20 Nov 2002

Source: Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2002.


FBI Again Searches the Home Of Former Army Researcher


WASHINGTON -- Last week, Dr. Steven Hatfill was teaching FBI agents and others at his college class that is subsidized by the Justice Department how to cope with biological attacks. Thursday, FBI agents investigating last fall's anthrax attacks were searching Dr. Hatfill's apartment and trash, for the second time.

Agents spent the day at the Frederick, Md., apartment of the microbiologist and government consultant, who has worked at labs where anthrax is studied and has warned of the dangers of bioterrorism. He also is the subject, although not by name, of an unusual campaign by another microbiologist who has pressed the FBI to arrest a suspect in the case.

Dr. Hatfill has been cooperating with the investigation, and submitted on June 25 to the first search of his apartment and a storage bin he rented in Florida, in what his lawyer said was an effort to clear himself. Agents said they found no evidence then to link him to the anthrax attacks that killed five people last fall.

But Thursday, agents had a warrant for the second search. They also searched his girlfriend's home, but didn't identify her.

It was unclear whether agents returned to Dr. Hatfill's apartment because of suspicions about possible new evidence or to assure themselves that he wasn't behind the mailings. FBI officials have said they have conducted dozens of similar searches of other subjects who, like Dr. Hatfill, at one time had access to anthrax .

But the renewed attention comes weeks after FBI officials had already once briefed Congressional staffs that they had thoroughly investigated Dr. Hatfill, said those who attended the meeting. And it comes after the relentless campaign by State University of New York professor Barbara Hatch-Rosenberg to get investigators to focus their efforts on Dr. Hatfill.

Dr. Rosenberg, the chair of the prominent disarmament group Federation of American Scientists, has become a thorn in the bureau's side. She has compiled and distributed detailed profiles that appear to match those of Dr. Hatfill's history and whereabouts, without naming him. She contended his work history and a number of coincidences with the anthrax case made him an "obvious" suspect. The first search of Dr. Hatfill's apartment took place days after she met with FBI officials and Senate Judiciary Committee staff about her six-page memo on the case.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday he thought investigators were "making progress," but he wouldn't comment on what was happening at Dr. Hatfill's home. Dr. Hatfill's Virginia-based attorney, Thomas Carter, didn't return numerous phone calls seeking comment.

The FBI has been under enormous pressure, including from Capitol Hill and the scientific community, to solve the case. It is uncertain whether Thursday's developments were a sign of true progress or, as some skeptics speculated, an attempt by the bureau to show that it is continuing to pursue leads.

Dr. Hatfill's employment history in antibioterror research forms much of the basis for the case Dr. Rosenberg makes. She theorized that a prime suspect in the anthrax mailings would be someone with a government background and access to anthrax trying to demonstrate the perils of bioterrorism.

Dr. Hatfill began working July 1 at Louisiana State University's Division of Continuing Education, in a bioterror instructional program partly funded by the Justice Department. The director of the center, Dr. Stephen L. Guillot Jr., said he was assured by the FBI following the June searches that the microbiologist wasn't a suspect.

He said Dr. Hatfill, who is in the process of relocating to Baton Rouge, La., from Frederick, reiterated to him Thursday that he is innocent and wants his name cleared. Although he declined to say where Dr. Hatfill is, he said the FBI has access to him.

Dr. Hatfill's class last week, which Dr. Guillot said included FBI agents as students, was called Surveying and Forensic Sampling for Biological Incidents. "The guy is doing good work for the country," Dr. Guillot said. The State Department also has employed Dr. Hatfill for bioterrorism training of diplomatic and other overseas staff.

A medical doctor, he has worked at the National Institutes of Health and at Fort Detrick, Md., which is home of the U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Disease -- the military's main study facility for deadly germs. He was quoted in newspaper articles several years ago warning about the dangers of a bio-attack and urging a strong defense.

Trained in microbiology and bioterrorism response, Dr. Hatfill most recently was employed by closely held military contractor SAIC Corp., where he began working in early 1999 in the biomedical-sciences group as a specialist in emergency bioterrorism response. The group provides technical support to government agencies, including at Fort Detrick, in working with anthrax and other potential biological weapons.

According a SAIC, Dr. Hatfill and a colleague commissioned a study that described possible responses to and consequences of an anthrax-by-mail attack. The study was carried out by William C. Patrick III, a member of the U.S.'s now-discontinued biological weapons program and who is considered a leading expert on anthrax production.

On March 4, SAIC terminated its employment agreement with Dr. Hatfill. The company declined to say why, saying it couldn't comment on personnel issues. A co-worker said Dr. Hatfill's security clearance had been suspended and he was no longer able to work on secret projects.

In June, Dr. Rosenberg wrote to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both of whose offices had received anthrax-laced letters. She included her analysis of what she called uninvestigated leads. She then met with staff members of the two senators and high level FBI officials including the bureau's top anthrax investigator, Van Harp.

According to Congressional staffers present at the meeting, Mr. Harp said that Dr. Hatfill had been looked at "very, very closely" since he first came across investigators' radar screens soon after the mail attacks started in October. One federal investigator said agents had first interviewed Dr. Hatfill in December. But a week after the meeting, they conducted the first search.

Dr. Rosenberg has fought for years against proliferation of biological weapons, leading some to see a political color to her theories. In July 2001, the Bush Administration handed the biological doves a major defeat by refusing to back a verification protocol under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, citing the necessity to protect U.S. defensive work. She calls secrecy of such programs "the greatest danger" of all. The eventual discovery that the mailed anthrax was genetically identical to supplies maintained by the U.S. Army added grist to her argument.

Dr. Rosenberg said in a recent interview in New York City that she is trying to make sure "that this crime does not go unpunished. That would be a terrible, terrible precedent."

Dr. Rosenberg started posting information she received on the FAS Web site -- including, she says, information from several government insiders distressed at the slow pace of the probe. "People knew and trusted her, and when it seemed the FBI was doing nothing, people went to her and told her their stories," said Meryl Nass, a Maine physician and biological-threat expert.

Dr. Rosenberg's profile of a hypothetical anthrax mailer grew steadily more detailed as time passed, seeming to narrow on a description that would fit Dr. Hatfill. But Dr. Rosenberg had known Dr. Hatfill's name for months; she was gradually releasing details about her anonymous suspect to put pressure on the FBI.