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Context of 'June 27, 2008: Former Anthrax Attacks Suspect Hatfill Exonerated; Paid Nearly $6 Million to Settle Suit against US Government'

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Steven Hatfill.Steven Hatfill. [Source: Baltimore Sun]In 1998, scientist Steven Hatfill writes and copyrights a novel depicting a biological terrorist attack on the US. This novel will be one reason why he will be suspected for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), before being eventually cleared of any role in those attacks after years of suspicion (see August 1, 2002 and June 27, 2008). The novel, entitled Emergence, depicts a bubonic plague attack by a Palestinian terrorist on the White House and Congress. The bacteria is released in the White House through sprayers installed in a wheelchair, sickening the US president and top Congressional leaders. The terrorist is said to be funded by the Iraqi government, and the novel ends with the US attacking Iraq and dropping a nuclear bomb on Baghdad in retaliation. Hatfill envisions the US media “whip[ping] the American public into a state of near total hysteria” over the attack. He apparently asks for help from friends to get the novel to a publisher or agent, but the help never materializes. The novel will remain on his computer until it is discovered in an FBI raid on his apartment in mid-2002. The FBI will leak details about it to the media in August 2002. [Associated Press, 8/14/2002] However, one detail will not be made public until an article in Vanity Fair one year later: in a short epilogue, a Russian mobster reveals that his own organization and not Iraq was responsible for the attack. The mobster says: “The reaction was as great as we had hoped for the entire focus of the American FBI has now shifted towards combating chemical / biological terrorism and this is allowing us to formulate the unprecedented expansion of our organization.” [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. [Source: Reuters and Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
bullet October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
bullet October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
bullet November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001; Associated Press, 8/7/2008] Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). [Observer, 10/14/2001; BBC, 10/16/2001] However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” [Washington Post, 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Iraq, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

In autumn 2002, US Delta Force units train on a mobile biological weapons factory to prepare them for dealing with mobile biological weapons factories in Iraq. The factory is just like the factories the US accuses the Iraqi government of having but which it does not have. The chief designer of the factory is Steven Hatfill, who is also the FBI’s main suspect at the time for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Hatfill began designing the factory while working for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a contractor for the US military and the CIA. He begins gathering parts to build it in 2000, and construction began in September 2001, at a metalworking plant near Fort Detrick, Maryland. SAIC fired him in March 2002, after he failed to get a high-level security clearance and he came under suspicion for the October 2001 anthrax attacks. But Hatfill continues to work on the half-built factory on his own, for no pay, until it is finished later that year. Once it is done, Hatfill continues to advise the US military about it, and sometimes supervises Delta Force training exercises on it at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. However, at the same time, the Justice Department and the FBI is heavily investigating Hatfill for the anthrax attacks, and there is a conflict between agencies over Hatfill’s continued role with the factory. The FBI wants to confiscate the factory, but the military will not give it up. Its equipment includes a fermenter, a centrifuge, and “a mill for grinding clumps of anthrax into the best size for penetrating human lungs,” according to experts familiar with it. However, its components are not connected and it is never used to make lethal germs. The FBI examines the unit but finds no anthrax spores or any other evidence linking it to the anthrax attacks. [New York Times, 7/2/2003] Hatfill will be cleared of any connection to the anthrax attacks in 2008 (see June 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Steven Hatfill, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Peter Jennings reports on ABC News’ World News Tonight, “The FBI tells ABC News it is very confident that it has found the person responsible” for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Reporter Brian Ross explains, “That’s right, Peter, Steven Hatfill. And while there’s no direct evidence, authorities say they are building what they describe as a growing case of circumstantial evidence.” [Salon, 8/10/2008] In 2008, Hatfill will be exonerated and given a large cash settlement after a federal judge states there “is not a scintilla of evidence” linking him to the anthrax attacks (see June 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Scientist Steven Hatfill files a lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Justice Department, and FBI, saying his constitutional rights have been violated. Hatfill has been named by the FBI as a “person of interest” in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), but has not been charged or officially declared a suspect. His attorneys claim the FBI deliberately tipped off the media to searches of his house to hide the fact that the anthrax investigation was making little progress. They say 24-hour surveillance and wiretaps violated his privacy (see July 2002-Late 2003). [CNN, 8/26/2003] In 2008, Hatfill will settle out of court and receive nearly $6 million in compensation from the government (see June 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, John Ashcroft, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill has sued the FBI and Justice Department for violating his privacy and other charges (see August 26, 2003), but the government has been trying to stall the court case, saying it would interfere with the FBI’s anthrax investigation. Responding to the latest request for a delay, US District Court Judge Reggie Walton says the government has stalled enough already. Walton says that Hatfill has “the right to vindicate himself, so he doesn’t have this taint hanging over his head.” He tells a federal prosecutor: “If you don’t have enough information to indict this man, you can’t keep dragging him through the mud. That’s not the type of country I want to be part of. It’s wrong!” Walton is a Republican appointed to the bench by the President Bush. [MSNBC, 10/7/2004] The FBI declared Hatfill a “person of interest” in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002) and will not officially clear him of any link to the attacks until August 2008 (see June 27, 2008 and August 8, 2008).

Entity Tags: Reggie B. Walton, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Steven Hatfill

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

A judge says that the FBI has no evidence against Steven Hatfill, who has been the only publicly named suspect so far in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Reggie Walton, the federal judge presiding over a lawsuit brought by Hatfill against the Justice Department and the FBI for damaging his reputation, says in court, “There is not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with [the anthrax attacks].” Walton has reviewed four still secret FBI memos about the status of the anthrax investigation. [Los Angeles Times, 6/28/2008] Later in the year, Hatfill will settle with the government and will be awarded $6 million (see June 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Reggie B. Walton, Steven Hatfill, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Steven Hatfill in 2008.Steven Hatfill in 2008. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Hatfill, who was called a “person of interest” in the FBI’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), agrees to a $5.82 million payment from the government to settle his legal claim that the Justice Department and the FBI ruined his career and invaded his privacy. Hatfill was the main focus of the anthrax investigation for several years, but was never arrested or charged. A federal judge presiding over his lawsuit recently said there “is not a scintilla of evidence” linking him to the attacks. The government does not formally admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, but the payout is widely viewed as an exoneration for Hatfill. For instance, the Los Angeles Times calls Hatfill “all but exonerated.” No witnesses or physical evidence were ever produced to link Hatfill to the attacks. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the government’s payout to Hatfill confirms that the anthrax investigation “was botched from the very beginning.… The FBI did a poor job of collecting evidence, and then inappropriately focused on one individual as a suspect for too long, developing an erroneous ‘theory of the case’ that has led to this very expensive dead end.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/28/2008; Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill, US Department of Justice, Rush Holt

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In an interview with CNN, FBI Director Robert Mueller gives an upbeat assessment of the FBI’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), despite the exoneration of Steven Hatfill, the only publicly named suspect, the month before (see June 27, 2008). Mueller says: “I’m confident in the course of the investigation.… And I’m confident that it will be resolved.… I tell you, we’ve made great progress in the investigation. It’s in no way dormant. It’s active.… In some sense there have been breakthroughs, yes.” [CNN, 7/24/2008] Just days after these comments, Bruce Ivins, the FBI’s top unpublicized suspect at the time, will die of an apparent suicide (see July 29, 2008).

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Steven Hatfill, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The Justice Department formally clears Steven Hatfill of any involvement in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The department sends a letter to Hatfill’s lawyer, stating: “We have concluded, based on lab access records, witness accounts, and other information, that Dr. Hatfill did not have access to the particular anthrax used in the attacks, and that he was not involved in the anthrax mailings.” [MSNBC, 8/8/2008] Hatfill won $5.8 million from the government in a settlement in June 2008, but the government admitted no wrongdoing and did not make any statement officially clearing him (see June 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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