of Steven Hatfill
By Marilyn W.
Sunday, September 14, 2003;
He says he's a patriot, and some on the front lines of
the war against terror sing his praises. But his provocative life
and career have kept him at the center of the FBI's frustrating hunt
for the anthrax killer.
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
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
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
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 résumé.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
résumé 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
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
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
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
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
By then, the FBI was tracking his every move, and his
credentials were falling apart under the merciless scrutiny of the
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
Hatfill's résumé 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
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 résumé 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
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
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
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.
© 2003 The Washington Post