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Context of 'After August 1, 2002: FBI Director Mueller Prevents Criminal Probe of Media Leaks in Anthrax Attacks Investigation'

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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

Barbara Hatch Rosenberg.Barbara Hatch Rosenberg. [Source: Public domain]In February 2002, Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg claims in a public speech at Princeton University that she knows the identity of the killer behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Rosenberg is a professor of molecular biology at the State University of New York at Purchase, and a biological arms control expert. She states: “There are a number of insiders—government insiders—who know people in the anthrax field who have a common suspect. The FBI has questioned that person more than once… so it looks as though the FBI is taking that person very seriously.” She also claims that the FBI is not that interested in going after this suspect because “[t]his guy knows too much, and knows things the US isn’t very anxious to publicize” (see February 8, 2002). In June 2002, she puts out a paper that details her theory about this suspect. She states that “a number of inside experts (at least five that I know about) gave the FBI the name of one specific person as the most likely suspect.” That same month, she presents her ideas to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both of whom had been targeted in the anthrax attacks. She also is invited to brief the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee (see June 24, 2002). Immediately after this, the FBI searches Hatfill’s home while reporters watch, putting him in the public eye as a possible suspect (see June 25, 2002). Rosenberg later denies ever mentioning Hatfill by name. However, one reporter later claims that Rosenberg had specifically given Hatfill’s name as the lead suspect. Furthermore, the description of her suspect exactly matches Hatfill. Hatfill will later blame Rosenberg for the FBI’s interest in him. He will say: “She’s crazy. She caused it.” [Washington City Paper, 7/25/2003] In 2008, Hatfill will be officially cleared of any involvement in the anthrax attacks (see August 8, 2008).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Patrick J. Leahy, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

A curious Congressional briefing takes place on June 24, 2002. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor and biological arms control expert, has been publicly hinting that she knows who is behind the 2001 anthrax attacks. She has been describing a profile that perfectly matches Steven Hatfill without actually naming him or giving any other name (see February-June 2002). On this day, she takes part in a closed door meeting with congressional staffers from the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss her theories. Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s anthrax investigation, Robert Roth, a top manager of the investigation, and other FBI officials also attend the meeting. Rosenberg lays out her theories but fails to name her sources or give any hard evidence. At one point, Harp asks her in frustration: “Do you know who did this? Do you know?” She say she does not. Harp has a private conversation with Rosenberg after the meeting. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003] It is unknown what is said, but the next day, the FBI searches Hatfill’s apartment and tips off the media to the search, beginning a public focus on Hatfill as the FBI’s main suspect (see June 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Robert Roth, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill, Van Harp, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Brad Garrett.Brad Garrett. [Source: ABC News]The FBI search the home of a scientist who worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s biological laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. [Associated Press, 6/25/2002] This scientist remains anonymous in most stories, but some name him as Steven Hatfill. The search comes just one day after professor Barbara Hatch Rosenberg briefed a senate committee and FBI officials on her theory that Hatfill was responsible for the anthrax attacks (see February-June 2002 and June 24, 2002). The FBI announces that the search found nothing and Hatfill is not a suspect. In the wake of all these stories, one microbiologist states, “Their intent was clearly to put [Hatfill’s] name in the public eye. The only question is why.” [Hartford Courant, 6/27/2002]
Media Tip Off - The media is tipped off in advance to the search. Even as Hatfill is signing a search authorization, news helicopters are already seen flying towards his apartment. Within minutes, droves of reporters arrive. FBI agent Robert Roth, who is part of the search, will later admit in court that “probably several hundred” people knew in advance about the search. Hatfill will continue to cooperate with the FBI.
Tip Off Called Inappropriate - But FBI agent Brad Garrett, also involved in the search, will later comment, “I wouldn’t have spoken to us after that [media tip off].” Asked if it was appropriate to tip off the media beforehand, he will reply, “Absolutely not.…. [I]t’s clearly not appropriate or even responsible to do that in reference to the person you are searching. He’s not been charged. He has not gone to court.” Additionally, it could forewarn “people you are coming to search” and tip off accomplices. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Steven Hatfill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Brad Garrett, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Robert Roth

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

An FBI agent checking a dumpster near Steven Hatfill’s apartment.An FBI agent checking a dumpster near Steven Hatfill’s apartment. [Source: WUSA]In July 2002, anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill is put under 24-hour surveillance. The surveillance comes after bloodhounds allegedly link Hatfill to the anthrax letters at some point in July. (This bloodhound evidence will be quickly debunked by the media, but apparently this does not dissuade the FBI (see August 4, 2002)). [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] The surveillance is quite open and obvious at times. In December 2002, Hatfill alleges that a virtual caravan of unmarked vans and cars are keeping him under constant surveillance, following him on errands and to restaurants, and driving past his house with a video camera pointed out the window. He also believes that his telephone is being wiretapped. [United Press International, 12/23/2002] In May 2003, Hatfill walks up to one of the agents following him attempts to videotape him. The agent drives into Hatfill and runs over his foot. Remarkably, the driver is not punished but Hatfill gets a five-dollar ticket for “walking to create a hazard.” Mike Hayes, a retired 20-year FBI agent specializing in surveillance, says to a reporter regarding the FBI’s behavior with Hatfill, “What you’re describing—really obvious surveillance—doesn’t make a lot of sense.” [Baltimore Sun, 5/20/2003] Shortly after the incident, USA Today reports, “FBI officials believe they can’t risk the embarrassment of losing track of Hatfill, even for a few hours, and then being confronted with more anthrax attacks.” Privately, Hatfill’s lawyer suggests that Hatfill could be outfitted with a satellite-guided tracking device and allow an FBI agent to stay with him at all times, but the FBI rejects the offer. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008] The surveillance continues until late 2003 and is very intermittent after that. [Baltimore Sun, 7/21/2004] The FBI will later admit that this type of open surveillance of a suspect is against FBI guidelines. However, when the FBI’s focus turns to Bruce Ivins in 2007, they will use the same technique on him (see Autumn 2007-July 29, 2008).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill, Mike Hayes

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

A television film crew at Steven Hatfill’s apartment on August 1, 2002.A television film crew at Steven Hatfill’s apartment on August 1, 2002. [Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images]The FBI conducts a second search of Steven Hatfill’s apartment on the same day he is officially named a “person of interest” in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). FBI agents are seen investigating his trash. [Associated Press, 8/1/2002; London Times, 8/2/2002] As with the first search of his apartment in June (see June 25, 2002), the media is tipped off in advance. An FBI agent involved in the search, Brad Garrett, will later say, “Obviously, someone told them we were going to do that search.” FBI agent Robert Roth, also part of the search, will call the tip offs “just ridiculous.” The fact that the search is made with a court issued warrant is also leaked to the media, implying that Hatfill is no longer cooperating with investigators when in fact he still is. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Robert Roth, Brad Garrett, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

On June 25, 2002, and again on August 1, 2002, the FBI conducts searches of Steven Hatfill’s apartment, and the media is tipped off in advance. Some FBI agents are upset at the lax security allowing the leaks (see June 25, 2002 and August 1, 2002). At some point after the second search, an unnamed FBI official recommends a criminal probe of the leaks with mandatory polygraph tests. However, according to later court testimony by FBI agent Robert Roth, FBI Director Robert Mueller opposes the idea. Mueller says: “I don’t want to do that.… It’s bad for morale to go after these people.” Apparently, no action is taken and the leaks continue. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008] In at least one media leak in August 2002, it will later be found that one of the leakers was Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s anthrax investigation (see August 4, 2002).

Entity Tags: Robert Roth, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Steven Hatfill, Van Harp

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Roscoe Howard Jr.Roscoe Howard Jr. [Source: Associated Press]Newsweek reports that bloodhounds have recently been used in the search for the killer in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Supposedly, the dogs were presented with “scent packs” lifted from anthrax-tainted letters mailed the year before, even though the letters had long since been decontaminated. The dogs reportedly showed no reaction wherever they were sent, except when taken to the apartment of anthrax suspect Steven Hatfill, where the dogs reportedly become agitated and go “crazy.” It is said they showed similar reactions at the apartment of Hatfill’s girlfriend and a Denny’s restaurant in Louisiana where Hatfill had eaten the day before. [Newsweek, 8/4/2002] However, three days later, the Baltimore Sun reports that managers at all 12 of the Denny’s in Louisiana say they have not been visited by federal agents with bloodhounds. Furthermore, three veteran bloodhound handlers are interviewed and say they are skeptical that any useful scent could have remained on the letters after so much time, as well as after the decontamination. Former officer and bloodhound handler Weldon Wood says, “Anything is possible. But is it feasible, after this length of time and what the letters have been through? I would doubt it.” The Sun suggests, “the possibility exists that the story was a leak calculated to put pressure on Hatfill.” [Baltimore Sun, 8/8/2002] Investigators will later conclude that the dogs’ excitement is useless as evidence. Van Harp, the FBI official in charge of the anthrax investigation, and Roscoe Howard Jr., the US attorney for Washington, DC, will later admit they leaked the bloodhound story to Newsweek. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Van Harp, Steven Hatfill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Roscoe Howard Jr.

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

FBI investigators say they are building a “growing circumstantial evidence case” against anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill. Supposedly, “their secret weapon” is bloodhounds tying “scent extracted from anthrax letters” to Hatfill’s apartment. [ABC News, 10/22/2002] But the bloodhound story has already been reported and largely discredited (see August 4, 2002).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

At least 15 FBI investigators conduct a six-day search of Gambrill State Park (outside Frederick, Maryland) and Frederick Municipal Forest in connection with the anthrax investigation. Frederick Municipal Forest is located about four miles northwest of USAMRIID, the Army’s principal biodefense laboratory. In addition to a ground search and excavation of some areas, teams of divers search small lakes and ponds in the park. The search is based on suspicions that former USAMRIID government scientist Steven Hatfill may have disposed of laboratory equipment in one of the ponds near his former Maryland home (see February 1999, 1997-September 1999, August 1, 2002, and August 4, 2002). Details of the search are immediately leaked to the media. [ABC News, 12/12/2002; CNN, 12/13/2002; Washington Post, 12/13/2002; Baltimore Sun, 12/13/2002] But the search turns up nothing incriminating. [ABC News, 1/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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