In Anthrax Probe, Focus on Hatfill Relied on Informants
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Authorities probing the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks fixed on now-cleared scientist Steven J. Hatfill primarily because confidential informants said they had talked with him about his purported involvement in Rhodesian bioweapons initiatives, according to court documents released yesterday.
The documents cover searches of Hatfill's residence, his car, a rental storage facility in Florida and property owned by his then-girlfriend. But they are perhaps most notable for the sparseness of their details and for the lack of a direct connection between the scientist and the notorious crime.
After six years of fevered investigation, Hatfill was cleared from involvement by Justice Department officials, who branded another former Fort Detrick, Md., researcher as the sole culprit. In the summer, authorities agreed to pay Hatfill a settlement valued at nearly $6 million to resolve a lawsuit alleging that his privacy rights had been violated.
Weeks later, law enforcement officials said the mastermind behind the attacks, which killed five people and sickened 17, was Fort Detrick scientist Bruce E. Ivins, who committed suicide in July.
"Search warrant affidavits are designed to raise suspicion -- that is their express purpose," said Mark A. Grannis, an attorney for Hatfill, in a written statement. "But like so much of what has been written about Dr. Hatfill in the past seven years, the affidavits released today cite sources whose names are unknown and whose credibility cannot be tested. Our repeated experience has been that people make wild accusations in secret, only to retract them under public questioning. Whether or not it was right for the government to rely on this kind of information to obtain a search warrant in 2002, we know in 2008 that Steven Hatfill had nothing to do with the anthrax attacks. It will be unfortunate for all involved if the release of these documents misleads anyone into thinking otherwise."
The documents were ordered released by Chief U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in a lawsuit brought by two newspapers. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times sued the Justice Department seeking information on the government's investigation. Prosecutors opposed the documents' disclosure, but Lamberth ruled last week that the public had a right to review them.
The main sworn statement, by FBI Special Agent Mark Morin, cites a tip from a confidential informant about Hatfill's alleged activities in Rhodesia in the late 1970s. The informant told the FBI that Hatfill said he had consulted with rebels there about biological agents at a time when anthrax outbreaks spread in areas controlled by insurgents.
Hatfill also asserted, according to a person whose name is blacked out in the FBI affidavit, that anthrax spores were the most likely biological weapon that would be used in a terrorist attack within U.S. borders. Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic, would be the drug "of choice" to fend off anthrax infection, Hatfill allegedly told the informant.
Later, according to the documents, authorities searched pharmacy records and found that Hatfill had filled several prescriptions for the drug in September and October 2001, around the time of the anthrax-spore-laced mailings. Hatfill has said in court documents that he was taking Cipro because of sinus surgery.
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.