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Context of 'October 7, 2004: Federal Judge Lambasts FBI for Leaving Anthrax Attacks Suspect Hatfill’s Status in Limbo'

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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

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

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

In an article titled, “Anthrax: the Noose Widens,” Time magazine reports, “Despite recent claims by some in the bioterrorism community that the investigation should be homing in on one particular American bioweapons expert, the FBI appears to be moving in the opposite direction. US government officials say the investigation is still ranging far and wide and that the FBI has not ruled out a foreign connection.” [Time, 7/21/2002] The unnamed expert is a clear reference to Steven Hatfill. The FBI will name him a “person of interest” in the investigation days later (see August 1, 2002).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The FBI names Steven Hatfill as a “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), the first person to be so named. The same day, the FBI conductis a second search of his house after tipping the media off in advance (see August 1, 2002). [Associated Press, 8/1/2002; London Times, 8/2/2002] CBS News initially reports: “Federal law enforcement sources told CBS News that Dr. Steven Hatfill was ‘the chief guy we’re looking at’ in the probe. The sources were careful not to use the word suspect, but said they were ‘zeroing in on this guy’ and that he is ‘the focus of the investigation.’” But later in the day their story is changed and that text is removed. Instead, Hatfill is referred to as “a bio-defense scientist on the FBI’s radar screen for months who’s now emerged as a central figure in the anthrax investigation.” [CBS News, 8/1/2002] On the same day, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, one of the world’s top anthrax specialists, is interviewed by FBI agents who ask her whether a team of government scientists could be trying to frame Hatfill. Rosenberg has been very publicly critical of the FBI investigation. [Washington Times, 8/3/2002] She actually appears to be a key figure in getting the FBI to focus on Hatfill in the first place (see February-June 2002). Newsweek follows with a lengthy article purporting to detail the entire anthrax investigation, but it focuses entirely on Hatfill and fails to mention others involved in suspicious activities. [Newsweek, 8/4/2002] The Washington Post does a similar story focusing on Hatfill only, and even claims the US biowarfare program ended decades ago, despite revelations in late 2001 that it is still continuing. [Washington Post, 8/4/2002] Attorney General John Ashcroft calls Hatfill a “person of interest” on August 6. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, John Ashcroft, Steven Hatfill, Philip Zack, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

After the FBI publicly names Steven Hatfill as a “person of interest” in the anthrax investigation on August 1, 2002 (see August 1, 2002), FBI leaders become increasingly fixated on him and fail to follow up on other leads. One anonymous FBI agent involved in the case will later say: “They exhausted a tremendous amount of time and energy on him… I’m still convinced that whatever seemed interesting or worth pursuing was just basically nullified in the months or year following when ‘person of interest’ came out about Hatfill.” Other possibilities are neglected because it is assumed in the FBI that “sooner or later they’ll have this guy nailed.” Another anonymous FBI investigator will say: “Particular management people felt, ‘He is the right guy. If we only put this amount of energy into him, we’ll get to the end of the rainbow.’ Did it take energy away? It had to have. Because you can’t pull up another hundred agents and say, ‘You go work these leads [that] these guys can’t because they’re just focused on Hatfill.’” The Los Angeles Times will later comment, “The preoccupation with Hatfill persisted for years, long after investigators failed to turn up any evidence linking him to the mailings.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

It is reported on ABC World News Tonight that Steven Hatfill is “known as a person who has worked around anthrax experts, although the FBI concedes he could not himself make anthrax, does not have what they call ‘the bench skills’ to make it.” Hatfill is the FBI’s only publicly named suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks at this time (see October 5-November 21, 2001 and August 1, 2002). [ABC News, 8/11/2002] But despite this, the FBI will continue to focus on Hatfill for years and apparently will not even consider the possibility of accomplices.

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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

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

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

Michael Mason.Michael Mason. [Source: Washington Post]Beginning August 1, 2002, the FBI started routinely calling Steven Hatfill a “person of interest,” and even Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly used the term (see August 1, 2002). Some in the FBI were concerned about the use of the term. Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s anthrax attacks investigation, will later claim that he viewed the label “improper,” but he did not mention this to others at the time. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008] But on September 29, 2003, FBI Executive Assistant Director Michael Mason tells reporters: “In my mind, there is absolutely zero value to coming forward with names or definitions of persons of interest.… It’s very hard to take that back if you’re wrong.” He says people should only be publicly identified when they are formal suspects. He also regrets that the investigation had been “beset by leaks” about Hatfill. [Washington Post, 9/29/2003] Afterwards, FBI Deputy Director Bruce Gebhardt privately rebukes Mason and says his comments “did not go over well in the front office.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Gebhardt, Michael Mason, Steven Hatfill, Van Harp, Federal Bureau of Investigation

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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