MD. HOME SEARCHED IN PROBE OF ANTHRAX
22 Aug 2003
Source: Washington Post, August 2, 2002.
Md. Home Searched In Probe of Anthrax
Agents Revisit Former Army Researcher
By Tom Jackman and Dan Eggen, Washington Post Staff Writers
The FBI and the U.S. Postal Service conducted a second search yesterday of the Frederick apartment of a former Army researcher who specialized in helping the government devise responses to possible bioterrorism incidents such as anthrax attacks.
Federal authorities would not say why they obtained a search warrant and returned to the home of Steven J. Hatfill, who once worked at nearby Fort Detrick, the Pentagon's top biodefense research center. In February, FBI agents investigating last fall's anthrax mailings gave Hatfill a lie-detector test, which his attorney said he passed, and in June, Hatfill invited agents to search his Frederick apartment without a warrant, which they did.
One law enforcement source said yesterday that investigators' interest in Hatfill has heightened in recent weeks, but several officials declined to say what factors led to that interest.
"We're obviously doing things related to him that we're not doing with others," one law enforcement official said. "He is obviously of more interest to us than others on the list at this point."
The search took place one day after Hatfill agreed to meet with agents and repeated his willingness to cooperate with them, said his attorney, Victor M. Glasberg, who criticized investigators for obtaining a search warrant, which he said was unnecessary.
"It's not fair," Glasberg said. "If the United States wants to charge anybody with a crime, they should damn well go ahead and do it in a fair manner. But that's different from the kids' game of telephone, bandying about allegations that get more expansive every time they're repeated, so you can't tell fact from fiction."
Officials declined to respond to Glasberg's statement that Hatfill had been trying to arrange a meeting with FBI agents at the time of the search.
Law enforcement sources have previously characterized Hatfill as one among as many as 30 scientists and others who form an ever-changing list of potential suspects in the anthrax mailings, which killed five people and sickened at least 13 others.
But yesterday's search at the Detrick Plaza Apartments was conducted with a criminal search warrant, signaling the increasingly aggressive strategy of FBI agents investigating Hatfill. During the previous search of his apartment, agents removed computer components and bags of other items. Investigators also conducted anthrax swab tests in the apartment and in a rented storage unit in Florida; no traces of anthrax spores were detected, sources said.
Authorities have repeatedly stressed that neither Hatfill nor the other researchers on the FBI's internal list are considered suspects, a status that carries special legal meaning among FBI agents and federal prosecutors.
In the weeks after his name was publicly tied to the investigation, Hatfill took a job as associate director of Louisiana State University's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, which is funded by Justice Department grants. Gene Sands, an LSU spokesman, said Hatfill was developing hands-on training programs for emergency personnel facing possible bioterrorist attacks and is a salaried employee as of July 1.
In 1999, after a series of hoax anthrax mailings, Hatfill and another researcher commissioned a report on the possible consequences of an anthrax attack by mail. The report drew the FBI's attention after last fall's mailings. It also helped spawn widespread speculation among some scientists and others that Hatfill fit the profile of a possible suspect, particularly since he had had access to anthrax while working at Fort Detrick.
To help clear his name, Hatfill recently hired Glasberg. When Hatfill received a call from FBI Special Agent Bob Roth on Wednesday, seeking a meeting, Hatfill said he would be "happy to cooperate," Glasberg said. "He asked them [the FBI] to contact me to set it up."
Glasberg said that he did not get a call from Roth, so he phoned the agent and left a message suggesting a meeting early next week and offering Hatfill's complete cooperation. Glasberg said Hatfill wanted the interview to occur soon, because he is moving to Louisiana.
Instead, agents arrived at Hatfill's apartment complex shortly after 10 a.m., blockaded the entrances with unmarked cars and in the afternoon began carrying cardboard boxes from Hatfill's residence into a dark blue van. Agents began leaving at 3:30 p.m., and the FBI vacated the complex at 5 p.m.
Hatfill left the apartment when the FBI began its search and was not questioned, Glasberg said.
The lawyer said that after Hatfill told him of the FBI raid yesterday, he called Roth. He said Roth acknowledged receiving Glasberg's offer of a meeting but did not hear it as an offer of cooperation. Glasberg sent a letter of protest to the Justice Department.
"Steve was literally on the verge of, once again, making complete disclosure," Glasberg said. Now, with a criminal investigation occurring, Hatfill probably will hire a criminal lawyer and be more discreet, Glasberg said. Still, he said, "it's important to him to assist in the investigation. If the authorities think he has information, he's happy to share it."
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, appearing at an unrelated news conference, declined to comment on the search. He said the FBI has not changed its profile of the likely culprit as a lone domestic male with a scientific background and access to a laboratory.
"We're making progress in the case," Mueller said. "But beyond that, I can't comment."
Staff writers Guy Gugliotta, David Snyder and Annie Gowen contributed to this report.