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Last Updated

22 Aug 2003

Source: Newsday, August 2, 2002.

Third FBI search of researcherís apartment

By Laurie Garrett, Staff Writer

For the third time in seven months, the FBI yesterday searched the Maryland home of Dr. Steven Hatfill, a bioterrorism researcher, as part of its anthrax investigation.

Though news helicopters and reporters converged on the apartment building in Frederick, and the FBI presented an expanded search warrant that indicated probable cause, FBI sources insisted that Hatfill, 48, is not a suspect. Top federal officials close to the investigation said they knew of nothing special about the searches, nor did the FBI appear to be closing in on a final suspect or arrest.

The Detrick Plaza Apartments is adjacent to Fort Detrick, which houses the Army's top-security biological research laboratory, USAMRIID (the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases), where Hatfill used to work. For several hours a large law enforcement team scoured the apartment and trash bins outside the complex, loading numerous bundles into vans.

More than 200 people, including dozens of present and former government scientists, have undergone FBI polygraph tests and been subjected to searches as part of the bureau's investigation into last fall's anthrax mailings, which killed five people. Only Hatfill, as far as is known, has faced three rounds of searches. The FBI has searched not only Hatfill's residence, but also a refrigerator container he leases in Ocala, Fla., and a small cabin he owns in Maryland.

Hatfill voluntarily submitted to past searches and polygraphs, but FBI sources said yesterday's search was not voluntary. It could not be determined whether Hatfill, now working at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, was present to grant the search. Sources at LSU's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, where the scientist now works, said he was not there yesterday.

Because of his background and experience in labs that contained anthrax samples, Hatfill has become the most public of a long list of scientists to whom the FBI is paying special attention.

Born in St. Louis, Hatfill studied medicine and biology in what was then known as Salisbury, Rhodesia -- now Harare, Zimbabwe -- and in South Africa, obtaining a medical degree and a doctorate in biology. In Rhodesia, Hatfill worked with the Selous Scouts, which fought to protect white rule.

During Hatfill's final year of service, anthrax broke out in Rhodesia, an unusually large epidemic that sickened about 10,000 people, killing nearly 200. Though there have been dark hints that the outbreak was the result of a Rhodesian biowarfare effort, anthrax bacilli are indigenous to Zimbabwean soils, and the final war year completely disrupted medical and public health systems there. Hatfill has repeatedly insisted the outbreak was a natural one.

Another coincidence investigators noted involves the return address used on the anthrax-laced envelopes mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) last fall. In Salisbury, Hatfill lived in the suburb of Greendale. The fake return address on the envelopes was Greendale School, Franklin Park, N.J.

Hatfill worked at the Fort Detrick facility on a National Research Council fellowship from 1997 to 1999. He did Ebola virus research, primarily, working in the Biohazard Level 4 laboratory -- the highest-security facility. Though there were some samples of the Ames strain of anthrax in the facility at the time, a spokesman for the Army research institute, Chuck Dasey, said yesterday, Hatfill is not known to have had any contact with the bacteria, nor to have conducted bacteriological research.

After leaving Fort Detrick, Hatfill worked on bioterrorism policy issues at Science Applications International, a private contractor for the CIA and Defense Department. He had a top-security clearance and commissioned reports on topics including how to clean up after an area was contaminated with anthrax.

The FBI first searched Hatfill's residence in late February. After a Baltimore Sun description of the investigation, the scientist lost his Science Applications job. His home was searched again June 25, after which he apparently stopped giving media interviews.

Staff writers Tom Brune and Isaac Baker contributed to this story.