It couldn't be Steve Hatfill. No way.
Stan Bedlington had known the guy for several years. They were drinking buddies who'd both been involved in anti-terrorism efforts long before the World Trade Center crumbled. Now, suddenly, people were saying that Hatfill could be responsible for the country's first case of domestic bioterrorism, a release of lethal anthrax through the mail that had left five people dead and 17 others infected in the fall of 2001. The FBI had just searched Hatfill's apartment in Frederick, looking for traces of anthrax spores or anything else that might tie the scientist to the attack.
Bedlington hadn't seen Hatfill for a while, but he still had vivid memories of him. They'd first met at a Baltimore bioterrorism conference. Bedlington, a retired CIA agent, had spent six years as a senior analyst with the CIA Counter-terrorism Center. Hatfill was working as a virology researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, where he'd begun making a name for himself preaching the dangers of a bioterror attack.
Soon they ran into each other again at Charley's Place in McLean, then a favorite hangout for the U.S. intelligence community. Agents and officials from the CIA and Pentagon mingled with private consultants and law enforcement agents. Most were cleared to handle classified information, but after long workdays and a few drinks, the conversation often veered to tales of dark intrigue and, occasionally, into drunken bluster.
Hatfill, who first showed up there with men whom Bedlington recognized as bodyguards for Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar bin Sultan, had plenty of stories to tell.
He bragged about being an ex-Green Beret. He walked with a slight limp and told people it was the result of being shot during combat. In a convincing British accent that he could turn on at will, he described parachute jumps and commando training he did under the direction of the British Special Air Service. He detailed his exploits as a member of the Selous Scouts, an elite counterinsurgency unit of Rhodesia's white supremacist army that became notorious for brutality during that country's civil war. He even recounted a devastating outbreak of anthrax poisoning in the Rhodesian bush in the late 1970s, an event later suspected to be part of an effort by the Selous Scouts to control guerrilla uprisings.
Hatfill was always a little over the top. He once brandished a photo Bedlington considered "a little bit weird" -- an image of Hatfill in a biohazard suit pretending to cook up germs in a saucepan. Hatfill also described how easy it would be for a terrorist to enter the Pentagon in a wheelchair and spray a biological agent. Even so, Bedlington was impressed by Hatfill. He considered him a "superpatriot" committed to improving U.S. preparedness for a biological attack. He mentioned Hatfill to a CIA recruiter as an ideal candidate for a clandestine operations job.
After Hatfill's name surfaced in the anthrax case in the summer of 2002, Bedlington kept wondering: Did he really know this man as well as he thought? Curious, Bedlington finally sat down in the den of his Arlington condominium, typed Hatfill's name into a computer search engine and found a copy of his resume.
Hatfill, it said, had graduated in 1984 from a medical school in Harare, Zimbabwe, the former Rhodesia. Which had no particular significance to Bedlington, until he did a bit more research and learned the campus bordered a suburb called Greendale. A fairly ordinary name, except for one jaw-dropping coincidence: The fictional return address on two of the anthrax letters read "Greendale School."
From the air, the pond was little more than a splotch on a canvas of verdant green, a fishing hole tucked among thick woods on the edge of the Catoctin Mountains. Situated along a remote country road, it could easily escape notice on a drizzly morning as a helicopter chugged through the hazy clouds blanketing the Frederick horizon. Yet for days this past June, the prospect of what this pond might contain had captivated much of America. At the tiny Frederick municipal airport, news photographers waited their turns to climb to 400 feet and capture images of the secretive law enforcement operation transpiring below.
The pond sat almost completely empty, sucked dry by pumps. Colors flashed from its banks -- yellow police tape, the fiery glow of a welder soldering a black box, and a dozen sour-faced men in orange reflective vests, surveying the pond like disgruntled husbands dispatched to bail out a flooded basement.
"That's it!" the helicopter pilot barked into his mouthpiece, dipping low. A small yellow earthmover sat stuck in the mud, going nowhere. A few trailers dotted a road, including one bearing the initials "FBI."
In a panoramic sweep, the scene below showed the extent to which the agency had gone in search of evidence tying Steven Hatfill to the anonymous anthrax mailings. Such moments of grand theater had punctuated the anthrax investigation -- dramatic raids with agents in hazmat suits carting away sealed plastic bags, reports of bloodhounds sniffing out a likely suspect, images of brave divers plunging into icy ponds to pursue a promising lead.
In a chase that had taken agents to the far corners of the world, more than 5,000 people had been interviewed and 20 laboratories used as consultants, according to U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr., who is overseeing the grand jury investigation of the case. The costs for scientific analysis alone had reached $13 million.
Still, after nearly two years, the criminal investigation seemed more stalled than the yellow earthmover. And as the months had dragged on, critics of the FBI's performance had begun to fear that the anthrax attacks might represent a "perfect crime," unsolvable not so much because of the killer's cunning but because of the FBI's inadequacies.
Although Attorney General John Ashcroft vowed just last month that the case would be solved, and FBI officials say they are still pursuing a short list of suspects, only one man has been subjected to intense public suspicion: Steven Jay Hatfill.
Before he was dubbed "a person of interest" in the case, Hatfill had been part of a tight circle of U.S. government officials and consultants working to counter the global bioterror threat.
He'd trained defense intelligence agents and soldiers in the elite Special Forces. He'd served as an adviser to the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service. He'd worked with the Pentagon, the CIA, even, ironically, with FBI agents, one of whom Hatfill recognized as a former student when his home was being searched.
For more than a year now, the FBI has monitored Hatfill's every move, following him so relentlessly that an agent drove over his right foot in a May incident on Wisconsin Avenue. Holed up in his girlfriend's luxury condominium near the Washington National Cathedral, Hatfill surfs the Internet and watches TV to stave off boredom. He's been unemployed for more than a year. A job interview he had fell apart when the FBI followed him to the restaurant where it was taking place and began videotaping.
His supporters compare him to Richard Jewell, the man falsely accused in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing case, one of the greatest embarrassments in the FBI's modern history.
Hatfill insists he is innocent and, in a lawsuit filed last month, accused Ashcroft and the FBI of engaging in a "patently illegal campaign of harassment" to cover up their own failure to solve the case. The violations of his civil rights and privacy, Hatfill contends in his 40-page lawsuit, "are not honest mistakes. They are the acts of government agents who long ago chose expedience over principle and abandoned any pretense of concern for the constitutional rights of an American citizen."
The FBI, the lawsuit charges, has wiretapped Hatfill's phones, made it impossible for him to work and leaked information about him to the news media "in a highly public campaign to accuse Dr. Hatfill without formally naming him a suspect or charging him with any wrongdoing."
Hatfill's wish is simple, his attorney Thomas G. Connolly said in a press conference announcing the suit. "He wants his life back."
Whether that's possible depends on how the FBI resolves a single question: Who is the real Steven Jay Hatfill? Is he the zealous patriot so expert at preparing U.S. troops and agents for biowarfare that agencies risked security breaches to use his services? Or is he a contemptuous "catch-me-if-you-can" criminal, whose offhand comments to an associate had sent agents in hard hats and knee boots scouring a Frederick mud pit, desperately searching for clues?
The first to die was Robert Stevens, a South Florida photo editor whose blood was swimming with a bacteria that most doctors had seen only in medical textbooks. Cause of death: inhalation anthrax, the most fatal and rare form of the diseases caused by B. anthracis, the anthrax bacteria.
Within two days of Stevens's death on October 5, 2001, doctors discovered a second inhalation anthrax case at a Miami hospital. The victim, Ernesto Blanco, turned out to be a mailroom worker and friend of Bob Stevens at the Boca Raton headquarters of American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer.
Although the letter that sickened them both was never found, Stevens's mail slot tested positive for anthrax contamination.
Soon letters laced with anthrax began turning up in other places, first at the offices of the New York Post and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, then, on October 15, at the Capitol Hill office of Sen. Tom Daschle. The letter to Daschle ended with the message: "Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is Great." At the time, the nation was still reeling from the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Many terrorism experts feared another attack, perhaps the release of a biological agent.
Now the country held its breath as others who had come into contact with the letters began to fall ill. The scope of the contamination was astonishing. The letter to Daschle and another to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy had rolled through high-speed sorting machines at huge East Coast postal centers, including the Brentwood distribution center in Northeast D.C., where two workers, Joseph P. Curseen and Thomas L. Morris Jr., died of inhalation anthrax. (Brentwood was shut down on October 21, 2001, and has yet to reopen.) Fine anthrax powder -- weaponized and lethal -- had rained over millions of pieces of mail. Spores surfaced at the U.S. Supreme Court, at Howard University, at the Stamp Fulfillment Services building in Kansas City, Mo., at the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, at an accounting firm in Mercerville, N.J., at the main post office in West Palm Beach, Fla.
No one felt entirely safe from one of the most deadly germs known to man.
The FBI first began to pursue the obvious, whether al Qaeda operatives were behind the anthrax release. Then investigators received the first DNA analysis of the anthrax spores found inside American Media's offices. The results were startling. The material bore the genetic mark of the Ames strain of anthrax, one of 89 known varieties, and one commonly used in U.S. military research. The evidence, as compelling as a human fingerprint, shifted suspicion away from al Qaeda and suggested another disturbing possibility: that the anthrax attacks were the work of an American bioweapons insider.
By now the case had spiraled beyond South Florida, to New York, New Jersey and Washington. A flurry of hoax letters and packages further complicated the trail. The FBI's field offices struggled to keep up.
With resources already stretched thin by the investigation into September 11, the FBI was slow in contacting scientists who might shed light on the anthrax attacks. Some old-timers in the disbanded U.S. offensive bioweapons program contacted the bureau on their own, only to wait weeks for a return phone call.
James R.E. Smith, an octogenarian who had once worked with weaponized anthrax at Fort Detrick, says he became so upset that the FBI had not contacted him that he wrote to Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge. He offered a description of a potential prime suspect in the case -- his education, background and address. "This individual is me," Smith teased. The letter finally prompted an FBI visit.
The bureau knew it needed a more coordinated strategy. Director Robert Mueller decided that the Washington field office would head the probe, though it was also investigating the September 11 attack on the Pentagon. Thirty-five FBI agents and 15 inspectors from the U.S. Postal Service were assigned to the team. Eight agents boasted PhDs in the sciences, a virtual roundup of anyone in federal law enforcement with expertise advanced enough to match the presumed killer's. The others faced a "steep learning curve," Howard says, with many discussions revolving around obscure terms usually heard only at microbiology symposiums.
The man leading the investigation was Assistant FBI Director Van Harp, who had made his name busting the Mafia in Cleveland. He was decidedly "old school" FBI, a hard-nosed, "take-no-prisoners" interrogator used to squeezing information out of reluctant witnesses and holding clandestine meetings with nervous informers. Even in casual conversation, Harp's easy smile could evaporate and his eyes narrow into a piercing slit if he sensed duplicity.
Harp gave the anthrax investigation the code name "Amerithrax," coordinated the initial sweep of interviews and posted copies of the anthrax letters and envelopes on the Internet. The hope was that someone would recognize the creepy block lettering or offer insight into the letters' ominous texts or the phony return address on two of them: 4th grade, Greendale School, Franklin Park, N.J.
To run the anthrax case day to day, Harp turned to veteran agent Bob Roth, whose straightforward, meticulous style mirrored his own. Roth sometimes referred to himself as a cops-and-robbers kind of guy, best suited to pursuing the mobsters, embezzlers and kidnappers who had always been the FBI's bread and butter.
But this case posed an entirely new set of challenges, and Roth was willing to try almost anything to solve it. At one point, he held a meeting with Mark Smith, a veteran Maryland handwriting analyst, and two associates, who proposed setting up a computer sting operation in an effort to identify the killer. Smith would try to lure the perpetrator to two Web sites, handtomind.com and anthraxhunt.com, by making provocative comments about the killer's handwriting and publicizing the sites in interviews and on TV's "America's Most Wanted."
Roth encouraged the men to try the plan. If it worked, they might be eligible for the FBI reward for information leading to a conviction -- a sum that began at $1 million and eventually ballooned to the current $2.5 million. The sting operation lasted a few months and attracted at least two people on the bureau's watch list, but it apparently produced no breakthroughs.
Smith says the FBI's frustrations with the case were palpable. At one meeting at the Washington field office, agents talked candidly about the toll the long hours were exacting on their families. Roth vented, too, groaning to no one in particular, "Get me out of this!"
From the start, the anthrax case offered two concrete forms of evidence. The first was the anthrax itself, material that through genetic fingerprinting and other analysis might be pinned to a specific laboratory.
The Ames strain identification had focused intense attention on two labs in particular: Fort Detrick and the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. But much of the scientific analysis was beyond the capabilities of the FBI's own laboratory. Investigators had to rely heavily on 20 outside laboratories, including some in the United States that employed potential suspects and some abroad whose cutting-edge analytical techniques stretched the limits of what might be admissible in U.S. courts. Yet even after studying every conceivable trait of the spores with the help of eight different scientific panels, Howard says, prosecutors still cannot say with absolute certainty where the anthrax used in the letters originated.
The letters and envelopes, which were decontaminated so they could be safely handled, offered other clues. With distinctive printing in all capital letters, designed to mimic that of a schoolchild, they seemed the best hope of tying the case to a specific person.
FBI psychologists, handwriting analysts and forensic experts used the letters to produce an early behavioral profile of the perpetrator. The analysis took into account the words and phrases chosen by the writer, the style of punctuation and the selection of intended targets. The conclusion: The killer was most likely a middle-aged white male with scientific expertise who had some recent beef with the government and chose media and political targets for maximum visibility. It was likely, FBI analyst James Fitzgerald said, that the criminal had timed the letters to take advantage of the 9/11 panic and hoped to use them to draw attention to his special, as yet unknown cause.
Privately, agents shared other theories. The perpetrator might have an interest in an enterprise that could benefit from the hysteria surrounding a bioterror event. And almost certainly, agents hypothesized, the perpetrator had no idea what postal machines would do to a finely ground anthrax powder.
Within weeks of the attacks, Howard says, the team began drawing up a list of "literally thousands of potential suspects, [who] had to be eliminated one by one." At the core was a group of about 50 to 100 people, believed to have either access to anthrax or the scientific expertise to produce the refined material found in the Daschle and Leahy letters.
Agents interviewed dozens of current and former infectious disease researchers at Fort Detrick, some of whom had left on bad terms. The FBI had received an anonymous letter not long before the attacks suggesting that one disgruntled former employee, who'd joined others in filing a discrimination lawsuit against Fort Detrick, might be planning a biological attack. That charge turned out to be bogus.
In Utah, an FBI agent who also was a microbiologist spent weeks questioning more than 100 employees at Dugway Proving Ground. For some time, the Army disclosed, Dugway researchers had been producing small quantities of anthrax powder, similar to the type found in the letters, for use in testing military equipment. This revelation raised the prospect that the powder used in the letters had simply been stolen from Dugway's supply.
As they conducted interviews, sifted through tips and searched homes and laboratories, agents asked one question over and over: Who could have done this? Several people offered up the same name: Steven Jay Hatfill.
As the FBI would learn, 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. Trained as a medical doctor in Africa, he'd spent two years at Fort Detrick as a virology researcher. After he left in 1999, he kept a modest apartment in Frederick just outside the laboratory's guarded gates.
He took a consulting job with the behemoth government contractor Science Applications International Corp., better known as SAIC. With a sprawling campus in McLean, it did work for a multitude of federal agencies. Many projects were classified, and SAIC's tight relationship with the CIA had led to a standing one-liner: "What is SAIC spelled backwards?"
At SAIC, Hatfill designed and taught bioterror preparedness courses, but his responsibilities also included "black," or classified, biowarfare projects. One of Hatfill's major roles was working with the Joint Special Operations Command, which handled U.S. military counterterrorism operations. At Fort Bragg, N.C., Hatfill led grueling training for Army commandos preparing for covert missions to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction, according to friends and former colleagues. He conducted counter-terrorism training for Defense Intelligence agents and did a "super job," says DIA spokesman Don Black.
Hatfill designed programs and training equipment for Navy SEALs, and SAIC colleagues say he often sat at his desk designing mock bioterror training devices, including a backpack that could be used by enemies to spray germs on the battlefield. He trained CIA agents in counter-proliferation, and shuttled to U.S. embassies abroad to teach bioterrorism preparedness.
In Hatfill, FBI agents found themselves pursuing a man who had government pull and connections.
Smith, the handwriting analyst, remembers sharing his theories about the perpetrator with Roth and other agents. Based on his study of the anthrax letters, he speculated that the likely suspect probably had worked for or had close ties to U.S. military intelligence or the CIA.
From around the table, the dark-suited agents stared at him. Finally, one offered, "We believe he still does."
The call of God brought Lena Eschtruth and her husband, Glenn, to a remote medical clinic in the Belgian Congo in 1960. Methodist missionaries from Michigan, they devoted their lives to ministering to patients who would "die in your arms for lack of medicine," she says.
They'd been living there for 13 years when an "idealistic kid" named Steve Hatfill showed up unannounced on the clinic's doorstep, wanting to help.
Hatfill had grown up in Mattoon, Ill., where his father was the president of an electrical supply company. The family also owned a thoroughbred horse farm in Ocala, Fla., and several Florida waterfront condominiums. At Mattoon High School, Hatfill wrestled, played tennis and belonged to the Latin club. After graduating in 1971, he enrolled at Southwestern College, a small Methodist-affiliated school in Winfield, Kan., and majored in biology, with plans to study medicine.
Lena Eschtruth has no idea what prompted Hatfill, at 19, to leave college for eight months to work as a hospital assistant in a country beset by civil strife. She doesn't remember him being particularly religious. "Nobody sent him," she says. "I don't even know how he knew about us. But you don't kick a kid out. You know how it is: When you're young, you can set the world on fire."
While he worked at the clinic, Hatfill fell in love with the Eschtruths' teenage daughter, Caroline, who was preparing to return to the United States to attend college. She and Hatfill were married in 1976. Six months later, in April 1977, the young couple received devastating news. Caroline's father had been seized by Soviet- and Cuban-backed mercenaries invading what was then called Zaire from Angola. For several tense weeks, no one knew Glenn Eschtruth's fate. Then his body was found in a shallow ditch.
Hatfill's marriage soured quickly after his father-in-law's death. He accompanied Caroline to a funeral service in Michigan, and that was the last time Lena Eschtruth saw him. He and Caroline divorced in 1978. He had no contact with his only child -- a daughter named Kamin, who was born shortly before the divorce -- until several years ago, Caroline Eschtruth says. Through most of Kamin's childhood, Hatfill was living in Africa, where he'd returned after his divorce to become a physician.
After receiving his medical degree, he continued his studies in South Africa, where he earned dual master's degrees in microbial genetics and radiobiology, completed his medical residency in hematology and pursued a PhD in molecular cell biology.
It was serious science, though Hatfill didn't exactly fit the mold of a scholar. He was too flamboyant, too raunchy and too abrasive, according to former classmates, professors and friends, who decline to be quoted by name because they've been threatened with lawsuits by Hatfill or his attorneys. (Others have received the same threats. "By the time my attorneys are through with you, you will not have your position," Hatfill warned a few months ago in a voice-mail message left for a Washington Post reporter.) Many people who'd gone to school or worked with Hatfill in Africa were interviewed by reporters long before they were questioned by the FBI. A Johannesburg newspaper reported that Hatfill had carried a gun into South African medical laboratories and boasted to colleagues that he had trained bodyguards for white separatist Eugene Terre'Blanche. A British newspaper described a hallway tantrum when medical school grades were posted and Hatfill learned he would have to repeat a year.
In a recent interview with The Post, one former classmate recounted how Hatfill punched out a fellow student. "He is not someone I would ever want to cross," another classmate wrote in an e-mail.
Hatfill declined to be interviewed for this article. His friend Pat Clawson, a former CNN investigative reporter who served until last month as his spokesman, acknowledges that he is a larger-than-life character who has a temper, enjoys practical jokes and sometimes rubs people the wrong way. But, Clawson points out, that doesn't make him a bioterrorist. "He had nothing to do with the anthrax crimes," Clawson says. "Period."
An attack was coming. Again and again, Hatfill sounded the alarm about the looming danger of bioterrorism.
In 1997, after a stint at the National Institutes of Health, Hatfill had won a government grant to work with Fort Detrick scientists, who studied Ebola, smallpox and other deadly viruses. He had access to the most restricted Biosafety Level 4 laboratories, where scientists handle viruses in biohazard suits tethered to air supplies, and to the less dangerous Level 3 labs, where experiments with anthrax and other bacteria are conducted inside the protection of safety cabinets.
Hatfill used his time at Fort Detrick to develop a new specialty -- biological warfare. Bioterrorism was becoming an increasingly hot topic. Hoax letters purporting to contain anthrax had begun to show up around the country, and each episode set off a new round of panic.
With public interest on the rise, Hatfill began giving bioterror lectures at think tanks and offering up sound bites to reporters. A photograph published in Insight magazine in 1998 showed Hatfill dressed in mock biohazard regalia, purportedly cooking germs in a kitchen. It may have been the same photo he'd shown to Stan Bedlington. In an accompanying article, Hatfill warned that the hoaxes "could be a form of testing for a future terrorist attack, perhaps next time using anthrax."
Hatfill knew how to get people's attention. At a seminar in New York, he demonstrated one of his favorite bioterrorism scenarios: a terrorist using a wheelchair to sneak past White House security with a biological agent, says Jerome Hauer, then New York City's emergency preparedness director. Hauer was appalled. After the presentation, he says, he called Hatfill aside and told him he "had gone too far. It was too detailed, too specific to go into in a public forum." Hatfill listened, Hauer says, but shrugged it off.
Hatfill's sudden emergence amazed some scientists who had devoted lifetimes to the field of biowarfare and had never heard of him. But he was much in demand, as his lawyer made clear to a Fairfax County district court in 1999 after Hatfill had been arrested for public drunkenness at 4 a.m. in McLean.
Hatfill's attorney, Thomas Carter, wrote the court that Hatfill was a "medical doctor holding an extremely important position in government. He is on a government assignment in Cairo and Bangkok until 12/2/99." After several delays, prosecutors finally dropped the charges.
Hatfill entered the bioterror world's inner circle largely through a single connection: Bill Patrick, one of America's leading bioweaponeers and the holder of five classified patents for the weaponization of anthrax.
Patrick had come to Fort Detrick in 1951 to help create a biological weapons arsenal. The program, authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, flourished until President Richard Nixon disbanded it in 1969 in response to humanitarian pressures. As a result, Patrick and a legion of other specialists were sidelined after devoting their lives to a program that they considered vital to national security.
Patrick, who retired in 1986 and became a biowarfare consultant, lives a few miles from Fort Detrick in a sprawling rancher. He ushers a visitor down to his tidy basement office, where he pulls out a notebook labeled "Weaponization" in Magic Marker. Then he tucks it away on a shelf. The information inside is still classified and cannot be shared, he says.
A consultant whose business card bears an ominous illustration of a skull and bones, Patrick landed all sorts of government assignments, teaching jobs and private contracts. He became the man to call on any project requiring historical or technical knowledge of the U.S. bioweapons program or the challenges posed by specific biological agents.
As he entered his seventies, Patrick told associates he wanted a protege to carry on his work. When he met Hatfill, he found an enthusiastic learner. "He was so gung-ho," Patrick, now 76, recalls fondly.
The two struck up a friendship, "like father and son," says one bioterror expert who watched the ties develop. When Patrick's schedule was too full to attend a program or contribute to a study, he recommended Hatfill, who often did the work for free. Hatfill drove Patrick to consulting jobs at SAIC and traveled with him to professional conferences and classified briefings on the weaponization process. Hatfill was often a dinner guest at Patrick's home, where, Patrick says, he keeps the basic lab equipment needed to make bacteria into a finely ground powder. The legendary scientist's support helped Hatfill land his job at SAIC.
Not long after he got there in 1999, Hatfill and SAIC Vice President Joseph Soukup hired Patrick to study the potential dangers of anthrax sent through the mail.
Patrick calculated what would happen if anthrax were to be stuffed into a standard-size envelope. He based his findings on filling an envelope with 2.5 grams of Bacillus globigii, an anthrax simulant.
Patrick, who was polygraphed by the FBI for three hours last year, says he was under the impression the research would be used in preparedness training. But the study received no attention until 2002, when the FBI unearthed it and tried to determine whether it had served as a template for the anthrax mailings.
Among the many intriguing statements on Steven Hatfill's resume was a striking claim that he had extensive knowledge of U.S. bioweapons production and working knowledge of both "wet and dry" biological agents. This placed him in exclusive company.
Experts have estimated that no more than 50 to 100 Americans could claim such knowledge.
Hatfill's claim was not questioned as he moved into increasingly sensitive roles, but it was generally assumed by his colleagues that he could have gotten such knowledge only through his relationship with Patrick.
In the summer of 2001, Hatfill applied for a heightened "top secret" security clearance to work with the CIA, which required that he pass a polygraph. But his polygraph apparently raised concerns at the CIA. In August 2001, Hatfill received a terse letter from the CIA denying upgraded clearance. The letter, which Hatfill angrily showed a few colleagues, put his sensitive job in jeopardy. Hatfill appealed the ruling, but the CIA held firm. Soon, the Department of Defense suspended his regular security clearance, making it difficult for SAIC to keep him on the job.
Nevertheless, sometime before 9/11, Hatfill began a classified SAIC project to design a mock mobile biological production laboratory. The idea was to train Special Forces troops before deployment to the Middle East, familiarizing them with what a lab might look like and how to safely destroy it. Hatfill hired a Frederick welding firm to construct the lab on an 18-wheel trailer and outfitted it with discarded laboratory equipment. Clawson calls the lab an elaborate and harmless "stage prop." Eventually, agents examined it to see if it could have somehow been geared up to use for anthrax production. They found no evidence of anthrax spores.
In early November 2001, with his job in trouble and the anthrax attacks still dominating the news, Hatfill led two weeks of counterterrorism training for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Its agents were about to head to Afghanistan to look for weapons of mass destruction. Dressed in camouflage, Hatfill used role-playing exercises to teach agents how to negotiate with tribal leaders. At the DIA, Hatfill was regarded as indispensable, a trainer whose war games came as close to the reality of a hostile situation as anyone could fashion. Esteban Rodriguez, a division chief in the DIA's Office of Human Intelligence Management, called him the "ultimate biological weapons expert."
DIA officials thought so highly of Hatfill that they appealed to SAIC in March 2002 to let him train another group of intelligence agents bound for Afghanistan. SAIC had just fired Hatfill, who was coming under increasing scrutiny from the FBI. But the company agreed to let him stay on as a volunteer to run the course, which included a mock bioterror attack staged in an old West Virginia highway tunnel. At night, he camped under the stars.
Investigators were chasing someone who had been careful to leave no tracks. The envelopes used in the mailings were pre-stamped; thus there was no saliva to test for DNA. The letters bore no fingerprints.
Some of the letters, however, were creased in a special manner used by pharmacists to ship medications, with the corners folded inward. All had been photocopied by the sender, obscuring some details and sending agents on a mad scramble to identify and locate the signature patterns of specific copiers. Agents, sometimes disguised as Xerox repairmen, looked at thousands of copiers and finally isolated one that could produce the unique smears seen on the letters, but haven't disclosed its location. They microscopically examined the paper, even the strips of Scotch tape used to reinforce the seal on the backs of all the letters. All of the tape appeared to come from a single roll, according to a source familiar with the study.
On Capitol Hill, weeks after the scare over the initial Daschle letter had abated, a second letter appeared in Daschle's office. This one had passed through irradiation equipment to kill anthrax spores, and the powdery material packed in the envelope tested benign.
The most curious thing was the letter's postmark. It had been mailed in mid-November from London. The FBI knew that Hatfill had been in Swindon, England -- about 70 miles from London -- at that time for specialized training to become a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. Agents determined through rental car receipts that he was the only trainee to hire a car, telling others that he planned to visit old friends. The FBI asked British police to help retrace his every move.
It also sought help from police in Kuala Lumpur after a hoax package arrived at a Nevada Microsoft office bearing a Malaysian postmark. For several years, Hatfill had been involved with a Malaysian-born woman who had come to the United States from Kuala Lumpur and worked at a financial consulting firm. Now the FBI began to ponder whether this widowed mother of two had had a role, witting or not, in the anthrax mailings.
Last summer, according to a complaint filed by a Hatfill lawyer, agents showed up at the woman's Northwest condominium with a search warrant and tore the place apart. They told her that Hatfill had "killed five people," the complaint alleges. By the time they were finished, her home "looked like a war zone."
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg was getting impatient.
From her office at the State University of New York at Purchase, where she teaches environmental science, she'd been keeping close tabs on the anthrax investigation. Since 1989, she'd led a volunteer effort within the Federation of American Scientists to strengthen enforcement of an international biological weapons ban.
Rosenberg knew a lot of biological weapons experts, including some at SAIC. Many of them had offered the FBI names of individuals whose work or comments seemed suspicious -- information they shared with her as well. But as months passed with no apparent FBI follow-up, frustration mounted.
At the beginning of 2002, Rosenberg began writing long, detailed analyses of the existing anthrax evidence -- some of it based on her own confidential sources and reporting -- and posting them on the Internet. Her comments infuriated Van Harp, who warned her that she risked compromising the investigation. She ignored him.
The perpetrator, she wrote in February, "must be angry at some biodefense agency . . . and he is driven to demonstrate, in a spectacular way, his capabilities and the government's inability to respond." She had never met Steven Hatfill and insists that she never divulged his name to anyone. But by the spring of 2002, she issued another broadside that did everything but name him.
"Early in the investigation," she wrote, "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 person fits the FBI profile in most respects." She went on to describe the suspect's background, insider status in the bioweapons community, anger at the government and connection to the United Nations.
Rosenberg's specificity caused a stir at the Senate Judiciary Committee, then chaired by Patrick Leahy, the target of an anthrax letter. Committee staffers invited Rosenberg to a closed meeting to discuss her theories. Harp, Roth and several other FBI officials were invited, too.
The agents glared at Rosenberg as she talked, again declining to name her sources or offer anything more than what the bureau considered circumstantial clues. At one point in the Senate conference room, Harp leaned across the table and demanded of Rosenberg: "Do you know who did this? Do you know?" Rosenberg said she did not.
Afterward, a staffer suggested to Harp that his tough-guy tactics might not be the best way to elicit information from a well-connected scientist. Harp had another, more private conversation with Rosenberg.
Hatfill contends in his lawsuit that until then, the FBI did not consider him a suspect. The next day, June 25, everything changed. Agents went to Hatfill's Frederick apartment, and, with his permission, searched the premises.
Steven Hatfill's life was imploding.
He'd lost his job at SAIC. A $150,000-a-year training post at Louisiana State University was yanked away by the Justice Department, which was funding the bioterrorism position. Hatfill had even gotten pulled over by D.C. police while driving along Wisconsin Avenue on May 9, 2002. Hatfill, who smelled of alcohol and didn't have a driver's license, refused to take a sobriety test, according to the police report, and "responded to all further questioning with 'F- - - you.'" He eventually pleaded guilty to driving while impaired and was sentenced to 11 months of supervised probation.
By then, the FBI was tracking his every move, and his credentials were falling apart under the merciless scrutiny of the press.
Hatfill had frequently described himself as an ex-Green Beret. Military records show he did enlist in the Army in 1975 and entered the rigorous Special Forces Qualification Course at Fort Bragg in 1976. But he didn't last long there. After a few weeks, he was discharged from active duty and wound up in the Army National Guard.
Hatfill's resume also claimed that he'd served as a Selous Scout, though his time in the Rhodesian military overlapped with his time in the U.S. Army. Rhodesian military records have been hard to find, but Selous Scouts veterans told reporters they'd never heard of Hatfill. The true circumstances of his connection with the unit, if any, remain unclear.
Then there was the question of Hatfill's PhD from Rhodes University. Hatfill had presented a doctoral certificate from the South African school to win federal research grants. But he didn't actually have a PhD. His dissertation on new ways to treat leukemia had run into problems with a Rhodes review committee. After the committee raised questions about his methodology, it declined to award him a doctorate in 1995.
New revelations about Hatfill seemed to trickle out almost every day. Stan Bedlington wasn't the only person to make the Greendale connection. There was growing buzz about it by the time the former CIA agent mentioned it during a CNN interview.
Hatfill, investigators learned, had obtained a prescription for the antibiotic Cipro, which could be used to fight anthrax infection, not long before the attacks. Agents also had gotten a positive identification from bloodhounds sniffing through Hatfill's apartment after smelling the decontaminated anthrax letters, law enforcement sources told reporters.
Finally, a second search of Hatfill's apartment -- this one conducted with a warrant -- turned up a bioterror novel he had written. Titled "Emergence," the unpublished story revolves around a terrorist using a wheelchair to sneak into the White House and release a germ that causes bubonic plague, which later spreads to the U.S. Capitol. In the story, a clueless government manned by incompetent bureaucrats has to rely on a brilliant scientist, Steve Roberts, to solve the case and save the day.
On August 25, 2002, Steven Hatfill stepped out of an attorney's office in Alexandria to plead his innocence in the anthrax case. Dressed in a conservative business suit, his mustache newly shaved, Hatfill squinted into the bright sun and described the life of a man declared a "person of interest."
"A person of interest," he said, "is someone who comes into being when the government is under intense political pressure to solve a crime but can't do so, either because the crime is too difficult to solve or because the authorities are proceeding in what can mildly be called a wrongheaded manner . . . Every misstatement, every minuscule wrong step, every wrinkle I've ever made in my life has become public, and I'm pilloried for it."
It was Hatfill's second press conference in less than a month, part of an aggressive campaign to dispel the growing perception that the FBI had found its man.
The Greendale connection was a myth, Hatfill and one of his attorneys, Victor Glasberg, said. Sure, Hatfill had lived in Harare, but he had never resided in Greendale, and there was, in fact, no Greendale School located there.
The Cipro prescription was for a lingering sinus infection, Hatfill explained. He insisted that he had never worked with anthrax, and that his research at Fort Detrick had focused solely on viruses. The positive identification by the bloodhounds amounted to one dog's friendly reaction when Hatfill reached down to pet him.
The claim of a PhD was due to a simple misunderstanding, Hatfill said. He left Rhodes University thinking his dissertation was about to be approved, put it on his resume and only learned later that the approval had not come through.
He produced SAIC timecards that, he said, would show he was putting in long hours in McLean on the day the two most lethal letters were mailed from New Jersey. Throughout the FBI's investigation, he noted, he had been completely cooperative. He took a polygraph in early 2002 and said the examiner assured him he had passed it -- a contention that FBI sources later challenged. He let the FBI search his home and was stunned when agents returned weeks later with a search warrant to examine it again. He gave a blood sample to prove he had had no exposure to anthrax, and offered to give the FBI fresh samples of his handwriting, which investigators said they didn't need.
During the press conference, Hatfill spoke for about 20 minutes, surrounded by dozens of microphones and television cameras. When he was finished, he took no questions. Fighting tears, he turned to embrace his friend Pat Clawson.
The FBI investigation was in overdrive. After hundreds of tests of New Jersey postal boxes, agents had determined that the Daschle and Leahy letters had been mailed around October 8 from a street box in Princeton that still showed anthrax contamination. A team fanned out along quaint Nassau Street, showing Princeton shopkeepers Hatfill's photo and asking if they remembered seeing him. (In his lawsuit, Hatfill charges that the agents violated proper investigative procedures by showing only his photograph rather than an array of pictures -- evidence that they were unfairly targeting him. Hatfill claims that, despite the way the search was conducted, no one in Princeton provided the FBI with a credible identification of him.)
Bloodhounds sniffed through Bill Patrick's home; the scientist says he doesn't know what, if anything, they found.
Investigators tracked Hatfill's Cipro prescription back to John Urbanetti, Richard Nixon's former personal physician. (Urbanetti, who knew Hatfill through bioterror courses, declined to be interviewed for this article.) They talked to Stan Bedlington and everyone else they could find who had known Hatfill over the years.
Then, as 2002 came to a close, the FBI learned from a Hatfill business associate that he'd once talked hypothetically about how a smart person might dispose of materials contaminated with anthrax by throwing them in a body of water. The tip was specific enough to lead a team to the Frederick Municipal Forest and a network of ponds, then solidly frozen. Agents sealed off bucolic country roads with crime scene tape. Then, expert divers plunged in.
Over the course of several frigid weeks, divers pulled up a collection of intriguing items. The most promising was a plastic or Plexiglas box that appeared to be fashioned into a crude scientific glove box, with holes cut in the sides to allow for gloved hands to work within it.
Hatfill's defenders said the box could have been thrown into the pond by a fisherman or a drug trafficker, but investigators were left wondering: Could this pond in the middle of nowhere have served as a staging ground for the anthrax attacks, where the criminal might have worked with powdered anthrax without leaving a trail of evidence or risking personal contamination? Could more tools of the crime -- perhaps even a container of anthrax spores -- be buried in the depths of the muck?
A rusted bike. A discarded gun. A street sign.
The $250,000 pond expedition hadn't produced a breakthrough. Soil samples scraped from the bottom of the pond showed no sign of anthrax, though investigators hadn't really expected them to because the pond is part of a spring-fed system with constantly moving water.
Hatfill's attorney questioned how the government could justify such an expense and called on Ashcroft to clear his client. The lawsuit went further, demanding unspecified damages and back pay as well as an end to the FBI's relentless pursuit of Hatfill.
Meanwhile, the FBI continues to slog through one of the most complicated, high-profile cases it has ever faced. Members of the anthrax team recently reinterviewed Ernesto Blanco, who almost died from breathing in anthrax nearly two years ago. With no arrest imminent, they decided it might be wise to go back to the beginning.
Marilyn W. Thompson, a Post investigative reporter, is the author of The Killer Strain: Anthrax and a Government Exposed. She will be fielding questions and comments about this article at 1 p.m. Monday on www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline. Staff writers Allan Lengel and Tom Jackman and researchers Alice Crites, Margot Williams and Bobbye Pratt contributed to this article.