Dr. Steven Hatfill may or may not be the killer who sent anthrax
through the mail last year. But something smells about the way the FBI is
handling this matter.
Without arresting him, a researcher who never worked with
anthrax, and even without calling him a suspect -- merely one of 20 "persons
of interest" -- the FBI apparently tipped off the press when it made a
scheduled search of Hatfill's apartment.
When the FBI agents arrived, they were accompanied by satellite
trucks and news helicopters buzzing overhead. What if they are wrong? Will
the press ever correct with the same vigor that it misreports? Almost
never -- the Richard Jewell case being the only exception that leaps to
mind, and he had to sue. More often, the unjustly accused have no recourse.
In the immortal words of Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan's secretary of labor who
was acquitted of corruption charges in a court of law after a prolonged
trial by media, "Where do I go to get my reputation back?"
A spokesman for the FBI denies tipping the press, but those
helicopters and news trucks did not arrive due to clairvoyance. Not only
does it look like the FBI was fingering a man against whom it has very
little evidence in order to obscure the FBI's lack of progress in finding
the anthrax terrorist or terrorists, it further looks like the FBI has
bull-headedly followed only one possible scenario -- the lone American
scientist -- in its search.
The Weekly Standard's David Tell has waged a lonely battle to
challenge the FBI on this. In a series of detailed articles (see The Weekly
Standard, April 29, 2002), Tell has examined the FBI's peculiar reliance on
a research professor at the State University of New York (Purchase) named
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg. She has apparently encouraged the FBI to believe
that a disgruntled American scientist loosed anthrax on the political and
media elite last year.
Her views sound a bit loopy to the dispassionate observer. She
apparently told the BBC that the FBI has known the true identity of the
anthrax mailer for some time but won't arrest him because "he knows too
much." Well, let Tell tell: "Last fall, you see, the man's Langley masters
supposedly decided they'd like to field-test what would happen if billions
of lethal anthrax spores were sent through the regular mail, and it was
'left to him to decide exactly how to carry it out.' The loosely supervised
madman then used his assignment to launch an attack on the media and Senate
'for his own motives.' And, this truth being obviously too hot to handle,
the FBI is now trying hard not to discover it." Okaaaay.
Then there is the matter of Syed Athar Abbas, a Pakistani picked
up for defrauding two banks out of $100,000 and running a sophisticated
check-kiting scheme. Tell reports that when the FBI checked him out, it
discovered that he had purchased a "fine food particulate mixer" (the sort
that might be used for making biological weapons) for about $100,000 in
cash. Was the FBI interested, or was it too busy chasing Hatfill?
To read Hatfill's statement is to suspect very strongly that the
man is innocent. If I were wrongly accused, I think I'd write a statement
like his. Some excerpts: "I've devoted much of my professional career to
safeguarding men, women and children from the scourge of different types of
disease, from leukemia to infectious disease. ... I am appalled at the
terrible acts of biological terrorism that have caused death, disease and
havoc in the great country starting last fall. ... I wish the authorities
Godspeed in catching the culprit or culprits. I do not object to being
considered a subject of interest by the authorities because of my knowledge
and background in the field of biological warfare defense. ... This does
not, however, give them the right to smear me and gratuitously make a
wasteland of my life. ... If I am a subject of interest, I'm also a human
being. I need to earn a living (he's been fired from two jobs due to this
investigation). I have a family, and until recently, I had a reputation and
a bright professional future."
If the FBI has screwed this up, heads should roll, starting with
Director Robert Mueller's.