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Context of 'August 8, 2008: Hatfill Officially Cleared of Any Involvement in Anthrax Attacks'

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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

Nicholas Kristof.Nicholas Kristof. [Source: Publicity photo]Columnist Nicholas Kristof writes a series of articles in the New York Times suggesting that Steven Hatfill could be responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). His columns start out vague. In his first column on the subject on May 24, 2002, he speaks of an unnamed “middle-aged American who has worked for the United States military bio-defense program and had access to the labs at Fort Detrick, Maryland. His anthrax vaccinations are up to date, he unquestionably had the ability to make first-rate anthrax, and he was upset at the United States government in the period preceding the anthrax attack.” [New York Times, 5/24/2002] Kristof writes in his next column: “Some in the biodefense community think they know a likely culprit, whom I’ll call Mr. Z. Although the bureau has polygraphed Mr. Z, searched his home twice and interviewed him four times, it has not placed him under surveillance or asked its outside handwriting expert to compare his writing to that on the anthrax letters.” [New York Times, 7/2/2002] His next column suggests Mr. Z could have been behind a fake anthrax scare in 1997 (see April 24, 1997). [New York Times, 7/12/2002] In his final column, he reveals that Mr. Z is in fact Steven Hatfill, the FBI’s prime suspect at the time. Kristof writes: “There is not a shred of traditional physical evidence linking him to the attacks. Still, Dr. Hatfill is wrong to suggest that the FBI has casually designated him the anthrax ‘fall guy.’ The authorities’ interest in Dr. Hatfill arises from a range of factors, including his expertise in dry biological warfare agents, his access to Fort Detrick labs where anthrax spores were kept (although he did not work with anthrax there) and the animus to some federal agencies that shows up in his private writings. He has also failed three successive polygraph examinations since January, and canceled plans for another polygraph exam two weeks ago.” [New York Times, 8/13/2002] Many of the allegations in Kristof’s articles will turn out to be incorrect. The US government will finally clear Hatfill of any connection to the anthrax attacks in 2008 (see August 8, 2008).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Nicholas Kristof

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

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

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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