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Last Updated

16 Sep 2003

Source: Trentonian (New Jersey), September 15, 2003

VANITY FARCE? Hatfill lawyer rips mag's anthrax article

LAURA PELNER , Staff Writer

Ask Steven Hatfill's lawyer about the new October issue of Vanity Fair magazine, and you'll hear a little chuckle.

It's not that Thomas Connolly dislikes George Clooney, who graces the cover. What really irks him is the small headline next to Clooney's arm, the one about missed anthrax clues.

The story is about Connolly's client, Hatfill, who was named the lead "person of interest" in the deadly anthrax outbreak in 2001.

Within the story's 11 glossy pages in Vanity Fair, the author tells a compelling tale about Hatfill. One that implicates the virologist in an evil plot to gain recognition for his passion -- biological weapons and weapons of mass destruction -- by any means, including launching a home-grown attack in the U.S. so people realize how important his work is.

The author, Don Foster, is considered a linguistics expert by many people. In addition to teaching at Vassar College, he's credited with pioneering the field of textual analysis, which involves studying written works to determine their author.

Even before the anthrax outbreak in 2001, Foster had worked on high-profile cases that involved a literary angle, such as the Unibomber and the JonBenet Ramsey murder.

And after the terrorist attacks, he was sought after to study the anthrax-laced letters that killed a handful of Americans and crippled the U.S. Postal Service. According to his Vanity Fair article, the government hoped Foster would be able to determine who sent the letters.

It's this notion of Foster as a super-sleuth that makes Connolly laugh, especially after reading the Vanity Fair piece.

"It's impossible for me to comment," Connolly told The Trentonian. "The article is ripe with so many errors. The real story is what a fraud (Foster) actually is."

The lawyer said he could not squeeze his rebuttal to the magazine piece into a short enough format for print. Though he did say the team working for Hatfill would respond to the article somehow.

And, he added, he was "absolutely" upset that Vanity Fair ran the piece as it did.

"I don't care to offer an opinion on it, we'll deal with Mr. Foster when we have to," Connolly explained. "I'm going to take action. You've got a guy who claims he's got this incredible skill, textual analysis, but when you read the article you think, where is the evidence that Steven (Hatfill) authored these letters. There's nothing there."

What is in the article is a frightening take on the anthrax fiasco. Foster talks about the anthrax letters and discusses his interpretation of their meaning.

For example, Foster says the misspellings "penacilin" and "unthinkabel," (written with backwards N's) in the letters were deliberate and used to throw off investigators.

"That 'penacilin' was the offender's way of saying, 'Look, I don't know much about antibiotics. I don't even know how to spell penicillin. So don't start thinking that I'm an American scientist. I'm just a semi-literate foreign fanatic,'" Foster says in the article.

The literary expert goes on to discuss the geography of the letters -- where they were sent and what their return addresses mean. The "Franklin Park, NJ 08852," tag was another hoax, he said, to lead authorities in the wrong direction.

In reality, the 08852 zip code is from Monmouth Junction, not Franklin Park. So, Foster reasons, whoever sent the letters must be familiar with the area, and he probably wanted police to go to those towns.

Hatfill doesn't become a major player in the Vanity Fair piece until Foster links the government scientist to the Zimbabwe anthrax outbreak in the late 1970's, in which more than 10,000 people died.

Foster says Hatfill was in Zimbabwe studying for his M.D. at the time and that the virologist bragged in writings about supporting a zealous militia group in the country.

"When I lined up Hatfill's known movements with the postmark locations of reported biothreats, those hoax anthrax attacks appeared to trail him like a vapor cloud," Foster wrote in Vanity Fair.

In his article, Foster writes that the government became increasingly less helpful as it became more apparent Hatfill might be dangerous. At one point, when Foster mentioned Hatfill as a potential suspect, the literary expert says officials told him he was "spending too much time on this" and that Hatfill had a good alibi.

The Vanity Fair piece also links Hatfill to the Maryland Pond that was drained and searched for bioweapons and Foster charges the manfabricated his resume and literally created his Ph.D. on the computer.

"It is not my job to indict or to try my own suspect for the anthrax murders," Foster says in Vanity Fair. "And even if the FBI should find hard evidence linking Hatfill to a crime, he will remain innocent until proved guilty. But all Americans have a right to know more about the system that allowed Steven Hatfill to become one of the nation's leading bioterror experts."