Profile: Steven Hatfill
Steven Hatfill was a participant or observer in the following events:
USAMRIID logo. [Source: US Army]Steven Hatfill, later suspected of being behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), has a two-year contract working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, at Fort Detrick, Maryland. He has access to the most restricted Biosafety Level 4 laboratories, where scientists handle viruses in biohazard suits tethered to air supplies. There’s no evidence of him specifically working with anthrax at this time or any other time, however. His contract holds little meaning after February, when he had started working full time somewhere else. [Weekly Standard, 9/16/2002; Washington Post, 9/14/2003] It is later reported that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks could be no older than September 1999. [New York Times, 6/23/2002] While at USAMRIID, Hatfill also works on virology in a different building than where anthrax is studied, so the odds of Hatfill getting access to the type of anthrax used in the attacks at USAMRIID seems extremely small. [Weekly Standard, 9/16/2002] Although he is a relatively inexperienced scientist, he begins giving public and private lectures about the dangers of biological terrorist attacks, and gets some media coverage as a quoted bioweapons expert. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]
Ayaad Asaad. [Source: Public Domain]Dr. Ayaad Assaad, a scientist who has worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, since 1989, is unexpectedly laid off in March 1997, and serves his last day at USAMRIID on May 9, 1997. Assaad is a naturalized American citizen and was born in Egypt. He helped develop a ricin vaccine while working there, but had been harassed by a group of Caucasian colleagues at USAMRIID known as the “Camel Club” who make fun of his Middle Eastern ethnicity. Assaad soon gets a job at the Environmental Protection Agency. He also soon sues the US Army for discrimination and wrongful dismissal. Shortly before the 2001 anthrax attacks become publicly known, he will be the target of a letter that seems to set him up as the one responsible for the attacks (see October 2, 2001). Future anthrax suspect Steven Hatfill gets a job at USAMRIID this year, but not until after Assaad is gone. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] A couple members of the Camel Club lost their jobs in the early 1990s. However, it will later be reported that while Assaad loses his job at this time due to general industry-wide cutbacks, “many of those he accused [keep] theirs.” [Hartford Courant, 7/18/2003]
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]
A classified report discusses responses to an anthrax attack through the mail. The report, precipitated by a series of false anthrax mailings, is written by William Patrick, inventor of the US anthrax weaponization process, under a CIA contract. [New York Times, 12/3/2001] The report was commissioned by Steven Hatfill, a good friend of Patrick. [Baltimore Sun, 6/27/2002] The report describes what the US military could do and what a terrorist might be able to achieve. [New York Times, 12/3/2001] The similarities between what the report predicts and the anthrax attacks that eventually happen after 9/11 are startling (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The BBC later suggests the “possibility that there was a secret CIA project to investigate methods of sending anthrax through the mail which went madly out of control” and that the anthrax attacker knew of this study or took part in it. The CIA and William Patrick will deny the existence of this report, even though copies have been leaked to the media. [BBC, 3/14/2002; Baltimore Sun, 6/27/2002]
SAIC logo. [Source: SAIC]In 2000, the US begins a secret project to train its special forces how to detect and disarm mobile biological weapons factories. One real mobile biological weapons factory is built, but not actually used to make weapons. US Delta Force units will use this factory in their training in the months before the 2003 Iraq war. The designer of the factory is Steven Hatfill, who will later be named as a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) before being exonerated in 2008. Hatfill’s role in making the factory is one reason why he is later suspected in the anthrax attacks, even though there is no evidence the factory makes anthrax or any other kind of biological weapon, as the different components in it are never connected. Hatfill helps build 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 begins in September 2001, at a metalworking plant near Fort Detrick, Maryland. SAIC fires him in March 2002, after he fails to get a high-level security clearance and he comes under suspicion for the 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 (see Autumn 2002). The factory is commissioned in 2000 apparently because US intelligence chooses to believe the claims of an Iraqi defector named Curveball, who falsely claims that Iraq has such mobile weapons factories (see January 2000-September 2001). [New York Times, 7/2/2003]
Scientist Steven Hatfill, a future suspect in the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), loses his high-level Department of Defense security clearance. He had apparently misrepresented some things on his resume. He is working at a private company at this time (see 2000-2002), but no explanation is given to his employers. He is allegedly visibly angry over this. Some colleagues will later report suspicions about him to the FBI, thinking that his anger might have led him to send off the anthrax-laced letters. [Baltimore Sun, 7/18/2002; ABC News, 8/11/2002]
In mid-November 2001, a second anthrax letter appears in Senator Tom Daschle’s office. According to a later Washington Post article, “This [letter] had passed through irradiation equipment to kill anthrax spores, and the powdery material packed in the envelope tested benign.” Details about the letter are scanty, but it is known that it is postmarked in mid-November from London. The white powder apparently is harmless talc. The letter contains similar language to the real anthrax letters, except the phrase “Stop the bombing” is added. Scientist Steven Hatfill, who is already starting to come under suspicion for the anthrax attacks (see Late 2001), is in Britain at the time, attending a specialized training course to become a UN weapons inspector in Iraq. The course takes place about 70 miles from London. This increases suspicions on Hatfill and the FBI asks British police to help retrace his every move. But it is never shown that he had anything to do with the letter. It is unknown if the letter contains any writing or other clues that would match the deadly anthrax letters. [Associated Press, 1/4/2002; Washington Post, 9/14/2003]
After investigators discover in mid-October 2001 that the anthrax used in the anthrax attacks comes from the Ames strain (see October 10-11, 2001), the FBI investigation largely discards theories that al-Qaeda or Iraq was behind the attacks and begins to focus on domestic suspects. Within weeks, FBI investigators draw up lists of thousands of suspects who have access to anthrax or the scientific knowledge to work with it. Much of the initial investigation focuses on the US military’s bioweapons program, and especially the two US Army bioweapons laboratories, USAMRIID (in Maryland) and the Dugway Proving Ground (in Utah) which have heavily used the Ames strain. Mark Smith, a veteran handwriting analyst, studies the anthrax letters and speculates that the suspect has worked for or had close ties to US military intelligence or the CIA. An FBI agent who is also a microbiologist is sent to the Dugway Proving Ground and spends weeks questioning more than 100 employees there. Scientists there are repeatedly asked who they think could have committed the attacks. Several people suggest Steven Hatfill. There is no actual evidence against Hatfill, but he is a larger than life figure with a curious background. The Washington Post will later comment: “Hatfill was not some mild-mannered, white-coated researcher who’d spent his career quietly immersed in scientific minutiae. With his thick black mustache, intense eyes and muscular, stocky build, he looked—and behaved—more like a character in a Hollywood action flick.” He is a serious scientist, but colleagues call him “flamboyant,” “raunchy,” and “abrasive.” He has worked with a number of US agencies, including the CIA, FBI, DIA, and Defense Department, on classified bioweapons projects. He has a mysterious background working and studying in South Africa and Zimbabwe for a number of years. For instance, a South African newspaper will report that he carried a gun into South African medical laboratories and boasted to colleagues that he had trained bodyguards for a white separatist leader. He is one of a core group of about 50 to 100 people that the FBI begins focusing on. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]
Steven Hatfill, later to emerge as a suspect of the anthrax attacks, is interviewed by FBI investigators for the first time. He is then given a lie-detector test as part of a wide-ranging FBI review of the scientific community. Hatfill is later told he gave satisfactory answers on the test. The FBI returns for a two-hour interview in March. [Washington Post, 8/11/2002]
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).
Don Foster. [Source: Al Novak]October 12, 2001, the FBI contracted Don Foster to help with the newly formed anthrax attacks investigation. Foster is a professor of English literature at Vassar College who has been advising the FBI and other government agencies for years due to his expertise in writing analysis. He has sometimes correctly guessed the identities of anonymous authors by analyzing their word usage, not their handwriting styles. By studying news reports of hoax anthrax letters, Foster begins to get interested in Steven Hatfill as a potential suspect. Hatfill had appeared as an expert on biological attacks in some articles dating back to 1998, and he has a curious history while living in Zimbabwe and South Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time when the racist white government of Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) possibly launched an anthrax attack on their own black citizens. Foster will write in 2003, “When I lined up Hatfill’s known movements with the postmark locations of reported biothreats, those hoax anthrax attacks appeared to trail him like a vapor cloud.” Around February 2002, Foster suggests Hatfill’s name to FBI headquarters as a candidate suspect. But he is told that Hatfill has a good alibi. A month later, he puts forward Hatfill’s name again but is told that people in the Defense Department, State Department, and the CIA have vouched for Hatfill. William Patrick, one of the most respected bioterrorism experts, is Hatfill’s mentor and also vouches for him (see Early March 2002). In April 2002, Foster meets with Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor and biological arms control expert, who has been publicly putting forth theories on who she thinks is behind the anthrax attacks (see February-June 2002). He learns that she has independently come to the same conclusion, that Hatfill should be the prime suspect. Foster will later write that the FBI was “prodded publicly by Rosenberg and privately by myself” to investigate Hatfill more closely. Foster will apparently be eased out of the FBI’s anthrax investigation when he requests some documents to analyze and the FBI does not show them to him. He will write an article in Vanity Fair in 2003 that will strongly imply Hatfill could be behind the anthrax attacks. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]
William Patrick. [Source: Public domain]William Patrick is interviewed by the FBI in relation to the anthrax attacks. He is the inventor of the US anthrax weaponization process. He retired from decades of government employment in 1986, but continues with private consulting work. Patrick is surprised that the FBI did not interview him earlier. He is also a former superior to Steven Hatfill, who is emerging as the FBI’s prime suspect around this time (see February 1999). [BBC, 3/14/2002] Additionally, Hatfill is considered Patrick’s main protege. One bioterrorism expert says their close relationship is “like father and son.” [Washington Post, 9/14/2003] After passing a lie detector test, the FBI invites Patrick to join the inner circle of technical advisers to the anthrax investigation. [Baltimore Sun, 6/27/2002] Later in 2002, the FBI searches Patrick’s house with bloodhounds, but apparently fail to gain any leads. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003] It is later noted that “many of the experts the FBI has turned to for help are also, almost by definition, potential suspects. That has put FBI agents in the uncomfortable position of having to subject their scientist-consultants to polygraph tests, and then, afterward, ask those same experts to help analyze evidence.” [Hartford Courant, 9/7/2002]
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).
Steven Hatfill, the FBI’s prime suspect in the anthrax attacks at the time, has an unnamed Malaysian-born girlfriend that he has been involved with for several years. According to a complaint by Hatfill’s lawyer, in the summer of 2002 the FBI shows up at her Pacific Northerwest condominium with a search warrant and tells her that Hatfill has “killed five people.” They reportedly tear her home apart, leaving it “look[ing] like a war zone.” [Washington Post, 9/14/2003] These tactics will closely parallel how the FBI will pressure relatives of anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins several years later. In early 2007, FBI agents will reportedly confront Ivins’s wife and son in public and ask his wife, “Do you know he killed people” (see March 2008)?
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).
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]
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).
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]
A Justice Department grants administrator sends an e-mail to Louisiana State University’s biomedical research and training center, telling it to “immediately cease and desist” from employing researcher and 2001 anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill on department-funded programs. The next day Hatfill is placed on administrative leave. [CNN, 9/5/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008] On September 4, he is fired. [Associated Press, 9/4/2002] A day after that, the person who hired him is fired as well. [Associated Press, 9/5/2002] The LSU center relies on funding from the Justice Department for 97 percent of its money. [Weekly Standard, 9/16/2002] The New York Times will later report that “several senior law enforcement officials expressed embarrassment over the e-mail incident, saying the domestic preparedness office acted improperly because Mr. Hatfill has never been charged with any wrongdoing and has not been [officially] identified as a suspect.” [New York Times, 9/5/2002] Attorney General John Ashcroft and five FBI officials will later testify that they knew of no other instance in which the government had forced an investigative target out of a non-governmental job. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]
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]
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]
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).
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]
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.
Hatfill holding a press conference on August 11, 2002. [Source: Associated Press / Rick Bowner]Anthrax suspect Steven Hatfill defends himself in a public speech and Washington Post interview. He claims that he is being set up as the “fall guy” for the anthrax attacks. He says his life “has been completely and utterly destroyed,” and he has twice lost a job due to the allegations. His lawyer also accuses the FBI of leaking documents to the press and conducting searches of Hatfill’s residence in a highly visible way when a more discreet method could have been arranged. [Washington Post, 8/11/2002; Fox News, 8/12/2002]
Trace elements of anthrax have been found in a post office box across the street from Princeton University in New Jersey. [MSNBC, 8/12/2002] The FBI declares Steven Hatfill has not “received any more attention than any other person of interest in the investigation.” [Fox News, 8/12/2002] Yet Hatfill is the only named “person of interest,” and his photo is the only one being shown by the FBI to residents of the neighborhood near the mailbox. [Associated Press, 8/15/2002] The New York Times will later report, “Criminologists said that only by showing photos of a number of people could investigators have confidence in an eyewitness identification of Dr. Hatfill or any other suspect.” [New York Times, 8/4/2008] Several months later, a law enforcement official admits to the Los Angeles Times that, “to be honest, we don’t have anybody that is real good [as a possible anthrax suspect]. That is why so much energy has gone into Hatfill—because we didn’t have anybody else.” [Weekly Standard, 9/16/2002]
A Washington Post editorial blasts the FBI’s treatment of anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill. “Each slipshod case whittles away our collective liberties, our self-respect, our confidence in the legal system.” The Post also blasts the media’s coverage: “Wittingly or unwittingly, reporters and government investigators may collude, creating the appearance of a posse mentality that discredits them both.” [Washington Post, 8/18/2002]
A picture of Steven Hatfill’s apartment after the FBI went through it. [Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images]Anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) suspect Steven Hatfill releases photos he claims show that the FBI “trashed” his girlfriend’s apartment. The photos “evoked an uneasy sense of recognition among law enforcement experts,” who have seen these kinds of strong armed tactics when the FBI is desperate for a conviction. “Veteran FBI-watchers suggest the Bureau, looking at Steven Hatfill off and on for nearly a year, does not have the goods on him. Law enforcement sources confirm he passed a polygraph test administered by the FBI last fall… Apparent absence of evidence suggests either incompetence at the level of false accusations in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park bombing—or something worse.” [New York Post, 8/3/2002]
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).
The FBI searches Steven Hatfill’s house for anthrax residue for a third time. Hatfill had moved out several weeks earlier. He is the FBI’s main suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
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).
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).
Bruce Ivins working as a Red Cross volunteer in 2003. [Source: Associated Press]During a several day search of a pond near Frederick, Maryland, by FBI investigators for clues to the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), Scientist Bruce Ivins is there with the investigators, working as a Red Cross volunteer. Ivins will commit suicide in 2008 after coming under scrutiny as the FBI’s main suspect in the anthrax attacks (see July 29, 2008). The pond search is highly publicized at the time, and is an unsuccessful effort to find evidence connecting the attacks to Steven Hatfill, the FBI’s main suspect at the time (see December 12-17, 2002). The pond is near USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory where Ivins works and Hatfill used to work. As a Red Cross volunteer, Ivins serves coffee, donuts, and snacks to FBI agents and other investigators in a military tent. He is eventually removed after officials realize he is an anthrax researcher who could compromise the investigation. Apparently, Ivins is a regular Red Cross volunteer at the time. Miriam Fleming, another Red Cross volunteer working at the pond search, will later recall that Ivins “was kind of goofy, but he was always in a good mood. He seemed so normal.” [New York Times, 8/7/2008]
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]
The pond drained by investigators. [Source: Tom Fedor / Maryland Gazette]From June 9 until June 28, 2003, the FBI conducts a highly public search of a pond near Frederick, Maryland. Investigators completely drain 1.45 million gallons of water from the pond and then search in the mud for clues. This search is said to be based on a comment by anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill, who once spoke hypothetically about how he might dispose of contaminated materials in water. The pond is located about eight miles from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, where Hatfill worked in the late 1990s. Once the search is over, the FBI admits that nothing of interest was found in the pond. Investigators say they knew the search was a long shot, but did it just to be thorough. The pond search is expected to cost about $250,000. [Washington Post, 6/29/2003; Washington Post, 8/1/2003] The Washington Post will comment later in the year, “[F]or days this past June, the prospect of what this pond might contain had captivated much of America.” But the pond search is the end of the FBI’s high profile activity targeting Hatfill. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]
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).
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]
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).
An aerial view of USAMRIID in 2005. [Source: Sam Yu / Frederick News-Post]By the end of March 2005, the FBI clearly suspects Bruce Ivins for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and his lab was raided by the FBI to find Ivins’ anthrax samples (see July 16, 2004). He has been questioned about suspicious behavior around the time of the attacks and since (see March 31, 2005). Yet Ivins is still allowed to work with anthrax and other deadly germs at USAMRIID. McClatchy Newspapers will report in August 2008, “[A] mystery is why Ivins wasn’t escorted from [USAMRIID] until last month when the FBI had discovered by 2005 that he’d failed to turn over samples of all the anthrax in his lab, as agents had requested three years earlier.” In 2003, USAMRIID implemented a biosurety program that required all scientists working there to undergo regular intrusive background checks, which includes disclosure of mental health issues. They also have to undergo periodic FBI background checks to retain their security clearances. Jeffrey Adamovicz, head of USAMRIID’s bacteriology division in 2003 and 2004, will later say that USAMRIID officials knew at least by late 2006 that Ivins was a suspect, yet he maintained his lab access and security clearances until July 10, 2008, shortly before his suicide later that month (see July 10, 2008 and July 29, 2008). Adamovicz will say, “It’s hard to understand if there was all this negative information out there on Bruce, why wasn’t it picked up in the biosurety program or by law enforcement.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008] By contrast, anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill lost his security clearance in 2001 after it was discovered he had misrepresented some items on his resume (see August 23, 2001).
The Washington Post reports that four years after the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), the FBI investigation is growing cold. [Washington Post, 9/16/2005] A New York Times article from the same day also concludes the investigation has stalled. The FBI has found itself on the defensive amid claims that they publicly smeared Steven Hatfill when lacking other viable suspects. [New York Times, 9/16/2005]
According to a later report by the Los Angeles Times, the FBI’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) remains “fixated” on suspect Steven Hatfill into late 2006. Senior FBI agent Richard Lambert took over as head of the investigation in late 2002 (see Late 2002), and kept the focus on Hatfill. The change in focus comes just after August 25, 2006, when Lambert is removed as head of the investigation and reassigned to be the head of an FBI field office instead. The Times will later reveal that some FBI agents were frustrated with Lambert’s single-minded focus on Hatfill and sought a review of Lambert by the FBI’s Inspection Division. One agent will later say: “There were complaints about him. Did he take energy away from looking at other people? The answer is yes.” But Lambert was not alone; the Times will also report, “The fixation on Hatfill ran broadly through FBI leadership.” An FBI agent later says: “They exhausted a tremendous amount of time and energy on [Hatfill].… 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.” Another 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.’” [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008] In October 2006, NBC News reports: “the FBI recently installed a new team of top investigators to head up the anthrax case. Sources familiar with the case tell NBC News that the new managers are looking anew at all possible suspects, with a much broader focus than before. The sources say that the previous head of the case, inspector Richard Lambert, was moved to a new position within the FBI, in part because he had focused too much on Hatfill.” [MSNBC, 10/24/2006]
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) tells 60 Minutes that he has looked into the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), and has concluded that there was leaking by top government officials—not to shut down the sole publicly named suspect, Steven Hatfill, but to disguise a lack of progress in the investigation. Asked if he has any evidence that government officials knowingly planted false information in the press, Grassley replies, “I believe the extent to which they wanted the public to believe that they were making great progress in this case, and the enormous pressure they had after a few years to show that, yes, that they was very much misleading the public.” He adds that the leaking hurt the investigation: “Because it gave people an indication of where the FBI was headed for. And if you knew what that road map was, that if you were a guilty person you would be able to take action to avoid FBI.” [CBS News, 3/11/2007]
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).
Fox News reports that the FBI has narrowed its focus to “about four” suspects in its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). At least three of them are said to be scientists linked to USAMRIID, the US Army’s bioweapons lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland. One is said to be a former deputy commander, another is a leading anthrax scientist, and another is a microbiologist. None of them are said to be Steven Hatfill, a scientist who once worked at USAMRIID and was previously suspected. Fox News reports that the attacks came from a USAMRIID scientist or scientists, and, “A law enforcement source said the FBI is essentially engaged in a process of elimination.” Fox News also claims to have obtained an e-mail of USAMRIID scientists discussing how the anthrax powder they had been asked to analyze after the attacks was nearly identical to that made by one of their colleagues. The undated e-mail reads: “Then he said he had to look at a lot of samples that the FBI had prepared… to duplicate the letter material. Then the bombshell. He said that the best duplication of the material was the stuff made by [name redacted]. He said that it was almost exactly the same… his knees got shaky and he sputtered, ‘But I told the general we didn’t make spore powder!’” [Fox News, 3/28/2008] In August 2008, one of the authors of the Fox News story will say that one of the four suspects was Bruce Ivins, and the e-mail was from 2005 and forwarded by Ivins, but not written by him. [Fox News, 8/4/2008]
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]
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).
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).
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof apologizes to Steven Hatfill, the person he suggested could be responsible for the anthrax attacks in a series of 2002 columns (see May 24-August 13, 2002): “I owe an apology to Dr. Hatfill. In retrospect, I was right to prod the FBI and to urge tighter scrutiny of Fort Detrick, but the job of the news media is supposed to be to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Instead, I managed to afflict the afflicted.” He points out that Hatfill sued him and the Times, but the suit was eventually dismissed. “[Y]et even if I don’t have a legal obligation, I do feel a moral one to express regret for any added distress from my columns.” Kristof also comments on the FBI’s recent allegation that Bruce Ivins was responsible for the anthrax attacks: “Some of [Ivins’s] friends and family are convinced of his innocence and believe the FBI hounded him to death. And the evidence against him, while interesting, is circumstantial. Shouldn’t a presumption of innocence continue when a person is dead and can no longer defend himself?” [New York Times, 8/27/2008]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.