Last weekend saw the first public appearance of Steven Hatfill, a former viral researcher at the Army’s biological weapons facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Hatfill has been the subject of much media speculation over the last several months as a possible perpetrator of the deadly anthrax mailings last fall that claimed five lives. In the face of some highly dubious circumstantial evidence and undoubted leaks to the news media from the FBI concerning his role as a “person of interest,” Hatfill and his attorneys came out swinging last Sunday. Perhaps a look at the paper trail and possible motivations of those insinuating Hatfill’s guilt is in order.
The first story regarding the “lone American” theory of the anthrax mailer appeared in February 2002 on the website of the Federation of American Scientists. It came from Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor at SUNY-Purchase and the chair of FAS’s Working Group on Biological Weapons. In this piece, entitled “Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks,” Rosenberg didn’t couch her charges in the form of an allegation, but came right out and said:
“For more than three months now the FBI has known that the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks is American. This conclusion must have been based on the perpetrator’s evident connection to the U.S. biodefense program. “
Since its inception many years ago FAS has been a predominantly left-wing critic of nearly every U.S. defense-related initiative. Its efforts included active support for the “nuclear freeze” programs of the 1980s. Since the February FAS posting other left-wing critics of the FBI and U.S. national security policies have joined in the search for an American perpetrator.
In May, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a bashing President Bush in connection with pre-9//11 warnings. It included this about the anthrax mailings and the persona of “one middle-aged American”:
“One of the first steps we can take to reduce our vulnerability is to light a fire under the F.B.I. in its investigation of the anthrax case. Experts in the bioterror field are already buzzing about a handful of individuals who had the ability, access and motive to send the anthrax.
“These experts point, for example, to one middle-aged American who has worked for the United States military bio-defense program and had access to the labs at Fort Detrick, Md. His anthrax vaccinations are up to date, he unquestionably had the ability to make first-rate anthrax, and he was upset at the United States government in the period preceding the anthrax attack.
“I say all this to prod the authorities, for although the F.B.I. has known about this handful of people since October, it has been painstakingly slow in its investigation. Let’s hope it will pick up the pace, for solving the case would reduce our vulnerability to another attack.”
Apparently, Kristof was unaware of an important piece — “Remember Anthrax?” by David Tell — that ran in the Weekly Standard of April 20. Tell pointed to a compelling evidence of a non-domestic source for the anthrax — precisely the sort of news those convinced of a homegrown American source would not welcome :
“The U.N.’s former top bioweapons inspector in Iraq, Richard O. Spertzel, has told Congress about reports of a ‘cryptic September article in a newspaper run by Saddam’s son, Uday’ which promised that a ‘virus’ would soon attack ‘the raven,’ apparently a Baath party curseword for America.
“Spertzel has also told Congress that Iraq has conducted military exercises simulating the dispersal of anthrax spores from crop-dusting aircraft — a subject in which both Mohamed Atta and Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged ‘twentieth hijacker,’ are known to have expressed intense interest. Last June, one of Atta’s September 11 confederates, Ahmed Ibrahim Al Haznawi, walked into a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, emergency room with a painless butin flamed one-inch black lesion on his lower left leg. In retrospect, Al Haznawi’s attending physician, Dr. Christos Tsonas, is convinced that the wound was cutaneous anthrax. The Department of Health and Human Services’ top bioterrorism expert agrees, as do two leading researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies.”
On June 27, the left-leaning American Prospect entered the game, with an online piece by Laura Rozen entitled “Who is Steven Hatfill?” Rozen made much the same
case, except explicitly, and picked up on an angle Kristof would subsequently pursue:
“There is something curious about Hatfill’s claim, on his resume, to have worked concurrently with the U.S. Army Institute for Military Assistance in Fort Bragg and with the Rhodesian Special Air Squadron. Indeed, several of his associates have told the Prospect that Hatfill bragged of having been a double agent in South Africa — which raises some intriguing questions. Was the U.S. military biowarfare program willing to hire and give sensitive security clearances to someone who had served in the apartheid-era South African military medical corps, and with white-led Rhodesian paramilitary units in Zimbabwe’s civil war two decades earlier? Or did Hatfill serve in the Rhodesian SAS, and later in the South African military medical corps, at the behest of the U.S. government?”
Kristof revisited the anthrax issue in a July 2 column, but seemed unaware of the Rozen piece as he continued to refer to Hatfill not by his real name:
“Almost everyone who has encountered the F.B.I. anthrax investigation is aghast at the bureau’s lethargy. Some in the biodefense community think they know a likely culprit, whom I’ll call Mr. Z. Although the bureau has polygraphed Mr. Z, searched his home twice and interviewed him four times, it has not placed him under surveillance or asked its outside handwriting expert to compare his writing to that on the anthrax letters…
“People in the biodefense field first gave Mr. Z’s name to the bureau as a suspect in October, and I wrote about him elliptically in a column on May 24.
“He denies any wrongdoing, and his friends are heartsick at suspicions directed against a man they regard as a patriot. Some of his polygraphs show evasion, I hear, although that may be because of his temperament.
“If Mr. Z were an Arab national, he would have been imprisoned long ago. But he is a true-blue American with close ties to the U.S. Defense Department, the C.I.A. and the American biodefense program. On the other hand, he was once caught with a girlfriend in a biohazard ‘hot suite’ at Fort Detrick, surrounded only by blushing germs.
“With many experts buzzing about Mr. Z behind his back, it’s time for the F.B.I. to make a move: either it should go after him more aggressively, sifting thoroughly through his past and picking up loose threads, or it should seek to exculpate him and remove this cloud of suspicion.”
Now in fairness to Kristof he does not come right out and say that the man in question is Steven Hatfill, but by this time anyone who’d followed the case with any degree of detail — as evidenced by Laura Rozen’s online piece — would know exactly to whom he’s referring. In addition, might it be asked just what the FBI was doing leaking details on an ongoing investigation to a columnist for the New York Times? And can someone explain what inspired Kristof to attempt a cheap imitation of David Brock by reporting on “Mr. Z” allegedly being caught with a girlfriend in a “biohazard ‘hot suite’ at Fort Detrick” — and how such an interlude would have made “Mr. Z” or anyone else any more or any less likely to have committed the anthrax mailings.
In his news conference and with testimony provided by his friend and former CNN reporter Pat Clawson, Steven Hatfill emphasized his research was in the area of such viral agents as Ebola and not anthrax. Nonetheless, all the media speculation regarding his alleged guilt has seen him suspended from his job as an associate director at Louisiana State University’s National Center for Biomedical Research and Training. His attorneys have filed an official complaint with the Justice Department regarding the FBI’s defamatory leaks to the media concerning Mr. Hatfill. Which brings us to Mr. Kristof’s column of August 13th, written after Hatfill’s public appearance.
In it Kristof does a good deal of hasty backpedaling and, to put it politely, derriere-covering, claiming “it’s time for me to come clean on Mr. ‘Z'” — as if anyone who’d followed the story would not have known by then exactly to whom he was referring. But as in the Rozen story one paragraph probably explains Kristof’s obsession with Hatfill, particularly since it also connects to something mentioned prominently in Kristof’s July 2nd column. Here are the two relevant sections:
“Have you examined whether Mr. Z has connections to the biggest anthrax outbreak among humans ever recorded, the one that sickened more than 10,000 black farmers in Zimbabwe in 1978-80? There is evidence that the anthrax was released by the white Rhodesian Army fighting against black guerrillas, and Mr. Z has claimed that he participated in the white army’s much-feared Selous Scouts. Could rogue elements of the American military have backed the Rhodesian Army in anthrax and cholera attacks against blacks?”
“Moreover, what was a man like Dr. Hatfill who had served in the armed forces of two white racist governments (Rhodesia and South Africa) doing in a U.S. Army lab working with Ebola?”
So Steven Hatfill deigned study (it’s not clear that he served in either country’s armed forces) in countries that were not on the New York Times politically-correct listing at the time, which is enough to make him a prime suspect in the Kristof’s eyes. If innuendo is all Kristof can use against Hatfill, the least he is owed is an apology and I suspect much more.