FBI investigates anthrax scientist

Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
Friday June 28, 2002
The Guardian

FBI agents investigating the anthrax attacks that killed five people have searched the Maryland home of a former US military scientist who commissioned a study into similar attacks three years ago.

The scientist, who claims that he is the victim of a witch-hunt, once studied close to a school which bears the same name as the bogus address on the envelopes containing the fatal doses of anthrax.

Dr Steven J Hatfill, 48, is a bio-defence researcher whose home in Fort Detrick, Maryland, was searched by FBI agents earlier this week.

He has been the focus of media inquiries for several weeks and claims that his career has been ruined as a result. He is one of a small group of scientists who have complained that one week they are treated as experts and the next as suspects.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Dr Hatfill commissioned a study in 1999 into a hypothetical anthrax attack by mail while he was working in McLean, Virginia, for the defence contractor Science Applications International.

In a further twist to the investigation, ABC News reported that Dr Hatfill attended a medical school in Zimbabwe where he lived near a school called the Greendale elementary school. The bogus return address used by the sender of the fatal anthrax letters was also a Greendale school.

The FBI is thought to have been put under pressure by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, the head of a biological weapons working group at the Federation of American Scientists. In a briefing to the US Senate staff last week she claimed that the FBI had a "likely suspect" they should have pursued more aggressively.

Ms Rosenberg was not available for comment yesterday.

The FBI said that nothing was removed from Dr Hatfill's home and agents are said to be annoyed that his name has surfaced. They are anxious to avoid a repetition of the investigation into the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in which the security guard initially identified as a suspect turned out to be innocent.

Dr Hatfill, who worked in the virology division of the US army medical institute of infectious disease at Fort Detrick, has strenuously denied any involvement and volunteered to have his home searched to clear his name.

He had complained that his career has now been ruined by media inquiries into his background which started earlier this year.

Dr Hatfill was quoted in the press after September 11 saying how easy a bio-terrorism attack would be to carry out.

"I've been in this field for a number of years, working until three in the morning, trying to counter this type of weapon of mass destruction, and, sir, my career is over at this time," Dr Hatfill told the Baltimore Sun.

The study commissioned by Dr Hatfill describes placing 2.5 grams of bacillus globigii, an anthrax simulant, in a standard business envelope, according to the report.

Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002
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