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Profile: Van Harp

Van Harp was a participant or observer in the following events:

Van Harp.Van Harp. [Source: US Department of Defense]Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s Washington, DC, field office, is away from the capital in South Carolina for his summer vacation, and has to be flown back to Washington in an FBI plane to help respond to the terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C45, C47 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 pdf file] Harp took command of the Washington field office (WFO) as its new assistant director in charge in July this year. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010] But on this day he is in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on vacation with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He learned of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center when his secretary, Donna Cummings, paged him shortly after the attack occurred. Harp then called Cummings and she told him what had happened. He switched on the television in time to see the second plane crashing into the WTC, and had known then that he needed to return to Washington.
FBI Granted Permission to Send Plane to Collect Harp - Because all planes have been grounded across the US (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the FBI initially arranged for state troopers in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to drive Harp back to Washington. But the bureau was then able to get special permission from the FAA to send an aircraft to fly Harp home. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C47 pdf file] The FBI therefore sent one of its aircraft to collect Harp from Hilton Head Airport. The small, single-engine plane received clearance to take off from Manassas Regional Airport, 30 miles west of Washington, at around 2:30 p.m. The time when it lands in Hilton Head is unstated, as is the time when it lands back at the Manassas airport. From the Manassas airport, Harp drives to an FBI command post at Washington Dulles International Airport and then arrives at the WFO sometime later in the afternoon. He will stay at the field office until 2:20 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-2, S-41 pdf file]
Three of Office's Four Leaders Absent - The WFO is the second largest of the FBI’s 56 field offices in terms of staffing. It comprises 657 agents and 650 professional support staff. Serving under Harp, three special agents in charge (SACs) direct the office’s administrative and technical, criminal investigations, and national security divisions. However, of the WFO’s four senior leaders, only SAC Arthur Eberhart, the head of the administrative and technical division, was present at the office when the terrorist attacks took place. SAC Ellen Knowlton, who headed the criminal investigative division, was recently reassigned to FBI headquarters, and so her position is currently vacant. SAC Timothy Bereznay was only recently appointed to head the national security division, and so he has not yet reported to the WFO. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C3, C45 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/6/2006] The WFO will be one of the key FBI offices involved in the fight against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003]

Entity Tags: FBI Washington Field Office, Arthur Eberhart, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Donna Cummings, Timothy Bereznay, Van Harp, Ellen Knowlton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

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

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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

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

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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

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

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

On October 15, 2001, FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed Van Harp, a 32-year FBI veteran, head of the anthrax attacks investigation. By late 2002, Harp is ready for retirement and senior FBI agent Richard Lambert takes over as the new head. However, like Harp, Lambert seems focused on suspect Steven Hatfill and little interested in other potential suspects. Eventually, some FBI agents will seek a review of Lambert’s administration. One agent will later say: “There were complaints about him. Did he take energy away from looking at other people? The answer is yes.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008] The FBI will finally drop its interest in Hatfill in late 2006, when Lambert is replaced (see Autumn 2006).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Lambert, Robert S. Mueller III, Van Harp

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

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