My late uncle was admittedly addicted to news, and television programmers could hold him in thrall as long as they fed him a steady diet of current events. Me, I can take it or leave it, and can hardly take it at that, but I have to consume large quantities of the stuff for a living. So while you folks can gad about on your little weekends with your little barbecues and your little recreational activities in your little neighborhoods, I am out here faithfully wrestling with those big stories.
No weekend story has been bigger lately than the odd saga of the anthrax probable-killer cheating the possible-hangman by taking enough Tylenol to make all of life’s headaches go away. After government biologist Bruce Ivins took his own life, the FBI rushed to proclaim that they had prepared a case against him in the murderous anthrax mailings of late 2001. The leaks quickly escalated into a cascade of information tending to suggest Mr. Ivins was indeed the long-sought guilty party.
Too darned much information, in fact. Turns out the guy was such a fruitcake his psychiatric social worker asked for a restraining order after he laid out a detailed plot to murder all his coworkers. Turns out the guy was such a wack-a-doodle that he had been obsessively stalking branches of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority for forty years, presumably since one sister spurned his advances back in college days.
So why the hey was the FBI prodding this guy into high dudgeon instead of a low dungeon, testing his endurance awhile instead of placing him in durance vile? Why have they once again been using their subtle investigative technique of parking right across the street from the suspect’s house 24/7? Why have they been closely casing him instead of closing his case? Could it be because, oops, they have no evidence placing him anywhere near the mailbox in Princeton whence the mischief ensued? We leave these questions to the wisdom of the duly constituted authorities and hope like heck that they know what they are doing. And we would like to believe the matter can now be laid to rest and there will not be a hundred books about the second powderer on the grassy knoll.
The part that strikes me as offensive is the insider trading. No, there were no civil servants going long on anthrax futures or short on Efrem Zimbalist Jr. memorabilia. But what they did to Steven Hatfill was insider trading just the same.
Consider. Hatfill was the Richard Jewell of the anthrax case, the guy the investigators fixed — and fixated — on early. Something about his surly demeanor set off one of his interrogators, and a scientific paper he had published had been eerily prescient in projecting how such an attack might be prosecuted. Before you know it, prosecutors were attacking him, including the Attorney General of the United States, John Ashcroft, who held a wildly premature press conference declaring him a “person of interest.”
The public implication that he should be wearing a jumpsuit made Hatfill jump to bring suit against the powers that be talkin’ too much. His claim dragged on for years and years until it was suddenly settled for $5.8 million a month ago. Before the ink on the deal was dry, we were treated to the Ivins escapade where the FBI looks either heroic or bungling or a little of both. It does not take much to connect the dots on the dotted line. It is a fair inference that the newfound pliancy on the part of DOJ attorneys was based in their knowledge that Hatfill was about to be definitively exonerated.
This is a form of insider trading, government style. It represents an abuse of power which is of a piece with the rest of the ham-handed and high-handed handling of this case. Hatfill’s claim was about to multiply in value many times over by virtue of his finally gaining proof of innocence. After torturing the guy for years as long as they had a glimmer of hope that he may yet be proved guilty, they offered a deal and scampered for the hills just as the big bad news was about to hit.
I have argued here in the past that suing the government is an absurd anomaly that should be excised from our jurisprudence. Still, that check-and-balance remains in place and should be honored. For the government to use its classified knowledge to thwart, or temper, a citizen’s claim is unjust. If I had a gavel in my hand in place of this darned computer mouse, I would give Hatfill the right to reopen his case and get a check with a bigger balance.
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