EX-ARMY SCIENTIST DENIES ROLE IN ANTHRAX ATTACKS



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Last Updated

22 Aug 2003

Source: Washington Post, August 11, 2002.

Ex-Army Scientist Denies Role in Anthrax Attacks

'My Life Is Destroyed' by Probe, Media

By Tom Jackman, Washington Post Staff Writer

Reporters bang on Steven J. Hatfill's door at all hours. An Internet Web site labels him "Steven 'Mengele' Hatfill, Nazi swine." Cable talk shows routinely discuss whether he is last fall's anthrax mailer. And twice, the FBI has very publicly swept into Hatfill's Frederick apartment.

Hatfill was once a highly respected researcher and teacher of biological warfare. Now he is doing neither. Since February, he has lost one job and been suspended from another. He had seemingly dedicated his life to combating biological terrorism, but his has become the leading name in the investigation into the most dramatic act of bioterrorism that America has ever seen.

Speaking out for the first time since his name became public, Hatfill said he did not send the anthrax-laced envelopes that killed five people last fall.

"I went from being someone with pride in my work, pride in my profession, to being made into the biggest criminal of the 21st century, for something I never touched," Hatfill said. "What I've been trying to contribute, my work, is finished. My life is destroyed."

It is impossible to assess with certainty Hatfill's version of events. FBI officials have declined to say publicly why they have raided his home or discuss any other evidence.

Law enforcement officials have said privately that Hatfill is one of as many as 30 "persons of interest" in the investigation, all of whom are being examined because of potential access and expertise in handling anthrax. Authorities say Hatfill has attracted particular attention because of his work in the biological weapons program and his general level of expertise with biological agents. They have painted him as disgruntled and frustrated, with an inflated ego and résumé -- the kind of person who might wage such an attack.

But Hatfill's attorney, Victor M. Glasberg of Alexandria, said the reasons don't make sense. In fact, Glasberg said, when Hatfill worked at the Army bioresearch lab at Fort Detrick, "he did not do anthrax work. Steve has never worked with anthrax. He has never cultured anthrax. He has never handled anthrax."

Hatfill hasn't been charged. But even so, Glasberg said, "Steve's life has been devastated by a drumbeat of innuendo, implication and speculation. We have a frightening public attack on an individual who, guilty or not, should not be exposed to this type of public opprobrium based on speculation."

Glasberg said Hatfill had no motive to commit bioterror. He said Hatfill was not disgruntled or unhappy. "He was totally satisfied that this was an all-out effort to move the [bioterror] program forward," Glasberg said. "You're going to find no expression of frustration."

Hatfill was initially interviewed by investigators in January, and then given a lie-detector test as part of a wide-ranging FBI review of the scientific community. Hatfill was told he gave satisfactory answers on the test.

But his name kept resurfacing, both among scientists and on the Internet, and the FBI returned for a two-hour interview in March, and then a voluntary search of his apartment June 25.

The FBI search -- accompanied by reporters, cameras and hovering news helicopters -- thrust Hatfill into an international spotlight. When the attention died down, Hatfill decided to try to salvage his reputation, and Glasberg approached The Washington Post for an interview.

On Aug. 1, four days before the scheduled interview, the FBI raided Hatfill's apartment with a criminal search warrant, again accompanied by the media, which had been tipped to the raid.

"My friends are bombarded," Hatfill said. "Phone calls at night. Trespassing. Beating on my door. For the sheer purpose of selling newspapers and television."

Hatfill, 48, still wanted to tell his side of the story. But during an interview at Glasberg's office, Glasberg did most of the talking, saying it was for Hatfill's protection in case authorities decide to prosecute him. Hatfill sat next to Glasberg throughout the three-hour interview, sometimes trying to answer and being told by Glasberg to stop. Only when asked about the impact of the investigation did Glasberg allow Hatfill to answer.

The FBI declined to respond to Hatfill's or Glasberg's statements. "We've not confirmed anyone's identity," said Van A. Harp, head of the Washington field office, which is leading the investigation.

Hatfill began his career as a medical doctor, receiving his degree from a school in Zimbabwe and adding postgraduate degrees in microbial genetics, medical biochemistry and experimental pathology from colleges in South Africa. His 15 years in southern Africa, at a time when apartheid still existed, has raised eyebrows among Hatfill's accusers. Glasberg declined to discuss those years, saying it was irrelevant to the anthrax investigation, but noted that Hatfill developed his interest and specialty in viruses such as Ebola while in Africa.

Hatfill's résumé detailing those periods has created another storm. Hatfill claimed on a 1997 résumé that he served in the Army Special Forces. Army records show that he enlisted in the Reserve in 1975, served a year of active duty and attended -- but dropped out of -- Special Forces training. Glasberg declined to comment on Hatfill's military record.

In the mid-1990s, Hatfill's résumé listed a doctoral degree. Glasberg said Hatfill had submitted a thesis to Rhodes University in South Africa and thought he had received the degree but later learned it was never awarded. He amended the résumé in 1999 to "Ph.D. thesis."

Hatfill returned to the United States in the mid-1990s, working first as a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health. In September 1997, under a two-year grant from the National Research Council, he began working at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, the Pentagon's top center for investigating deadly pathogens.

At Fort Detrick, "there's bacteriology research and there's virology research," Glasberg said. "They each have their separate labs. They each have separate decontamination chambers. The lab Steve had access to dealt with viral diseases... . The two were separate and didn't mix... . He never worked with anthrax at Fort Detrick. He's a viral guy. That [anthrax] is a bacteria."

Chuck Dasey, a spokesman for Fort Detrick, confirmed Hatfill's work history. "It's true he didn't work on anthrax and was never issued vials of anthrax," Dasey said. He said Hatfill was assigned to the virology division as a research associate.

Before Hatfill's grant expired, he took a job with Science Applications International Corp., a defense contractor with an office in McLean. Glasberg said Hatfill became lead instructor for a course in national preparedness for weapons of mass destruction, developed a biological warfare curriculum for the State Department and helped the Air Force design a biological weapons defense program.

In 1999, Glasberg said, a series of hoax letters claiming to contain anthrax were mailed across the country. Hatfill realized that fire and police departments didn't know how to respond.

Hatfill commissioned William Patrick III, a biological weapons expert, to write a report on how to deal with anthrax sent through the mail. "It was a public service," Glasberg said, and Patrick was paid only $500. Hatfill and a colleague took Patrick's report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and submitted it to its bioterrorism preparation center. The CDC was working on the same project, Glasberg said, and produced the same findings and recommendations as Patrick.

The guidelines were distributed to fire and police departments, published on the Internet and remain unchanged today, Glasberg said. But the concept of a report on anthrax mail attacks -- two years before last October's mailings -- intrigued the FBI. In particular, Patrick's report discussed mailing 2.5 grams of anthrax powder, about the same amount contained in the deadly anthrax letters.

Glasberg said Patrick used 2.5 grams because that was the amount of talc he poured into an envelope, as a test, to see how much could pass unobtrusively through the mails. Some media reports have called Patrick's report a "blueprint" for the fatal mailings.

"That lacks any sense at all," Glasberg said. "There is zero data in the report. It shows you what you do after it happens."

Boris Lederer, who worked with Hatfill at Science Applications International, recalled his colleague's reaction when the anthrax mailings occurred. "It was just shock and complete disbelief that this was happening," Lederer said.

Because he had worked at Fort Detrick, Hatfill understood that he would be questioned by investigators. Glasberg said that after Hatfill took a lie-detector exam in January, the agent told him, "I'm satisfied. I believe you had nothing to do with the anthrax."

But as the investigation ground to a halt, accusations about Hatfill were relayed to investigators, which Hatfill rebutted in a two-hour meeting in March. Among those allegations:

• That he had unfettered access to the Army bioresearch lab at Fort Detrick after his grant ended in 1999. He did not, Glasberg said. "After he stopped working there, he had to be escorted, like everybody," Glasberg said. Dasey confirmed that.

• That he had been given a booster vaccine for anthrax. He did not, Glasberg said. His last anthrax vaccination was in December 1998, and he has not received a shot since then, making him as vulnerable as anyone else, Glasberg said.

• That he removed cabinets from Fort Detrick that could be used to culture anthrax. The cabinets, weighing more than 350 pounds, were moved by truck to a training site for a military exercise and then blown up, Glasberg said.

• That the "Greendale School" listed as a return address on the anthrax mailings is in Harare, Zimbabwe, near Hatfill's medical school. "To the best of our knowledge, there isn't any Greendale School," Glasberg said. "There is a subdivision near Harare called Greendale, but there are Greendales everywhere."

• That Hatfill was disgruntled at losing his security clearance. At Fort Detrick, Hatfill never had nor needed security clearance, Glasberg and Dasey said. Once at Science Applications International, he got low-level security clearance for one project. When he was detailed to work for the CIA on another project, a CIA lie-detector test was ambiguous when he was asked about his days in Africa, Glasberg said. His clearance was revoked pending an appeal.

Virtually none of Hatfill's work at Science Applications International required a clearance, Glasberg said, but the company used its revocation as a reason to fire Hatfill in February. He said the company has since offered Hatfill settlement payments, which he rejected, and more work, which he accepted.

In May, Esteban Rodriguez, a supervisor at the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote a letter lauding Hatfill's "unsurpassed technical expertise, unique resourcefulness, total dedication and consummate professionalism" in helping the military prepare for possible biowarfare in Afghanistan.

In June, still with no anthrax suspect in sight, scientist Barbara Hatch Rosenberg met with the staff of Sens. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Rosenberg is a biological weapons expert from the Federation of American Scientists and had published two scathing letters attacking the FBI's lack of results. Rosenberg said she has been careful never to mention Hatfill's name, but several media reported that his name was raised in the meeting, which the FBI also attended.

Several days later, agents asked for and received Hatfill's permission to search his apartment. "They cart out 23 bags of stuff from his apartment," Glasberg said. "They swab the walls for anthrax. And if they came up with something, we don't know about it. The agent in charge told Steve, 'This is on instruction from on high.' "

Next, the agents asked Hatfill to take a second lie-detector test. Glasberg wanted to know why, and advised against it. He said the FBI called Hatfill on July 31 and wanted to talk. Glasberg called the agent and left a message offering to schedule a meeting. The next day, the second search occurred.

Glasberg said Hatfill's father received a phone call from a reporter the night before the search, warning him that "something significant" was about to happen. The day of the search, Hatfill hired another Alexandria lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro. Shapiro called Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Kohl to introduce himself, Glasberg said, and not long after, Shapiro received a call from a reporter.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said his office was not speaking to reporters about Hatfill. Glasberg said, "It's just absolutely clear this stuff is being leaked to the press for the purpose of giving their investigation high profile, to demonstrate the FBI is on the case, without any regard to the consequences to this man."

Hatfill found a new job at Louisiana State University, teaching federal agents and police how to handle bioterror for $150,000 annually. But after the second search, LSU put him on paid leave for 30 days.

At both Science Applications International and LSU, Glasberg said, Hatfill has been laid off because they were in "the difficult position of having to contend with unproved, defamatory allegations against someone who's becoming increasingly visible."

Glasberg compared the case to that of Richard Jewell, the Atlanta security guard who was a suspect in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing and who became a household name even though he had done nothing wrong. "One would think that incidents like Richard Jewell," Glasberg said, "would alert the authorities to the importance of proceeding fairly and discreetly in these investigations."

Staff writers Guy Gugliotta, Susan Schmidt and Dan Eggen contributed to this report.