Unable to find last autumn's real anthrax killer, the FBI decided to pick on an American scientist who is almost certainly innocent—and in the process may well have ruined his life and career.
Moreover, the Bureau did so in part because of ideologically driven accusations by a left-wing activist on the grounds that the scientist might have had, sort of, right-wing connections.
The story of what has been happening to scientist Steven J. Hatfill is not a pretty one, but it's a story that ought not to rest in the few newspapers that have carried it so far.
Last week, Mr. Hatfill hit back—at the government and the media that the government has apparently used to wreck his life.
What the government will do to repair the damage its blundering has already done remains to be seen.
Last October, as everyone knows, somebody started mailing anthrax germs through the mail to various people—including U.S. Senate offices—and managed to murder five individuals. To this day, the FBI seems to have no clue as to who was behind the mailings. But that didn't stop the Bureau from picking someone as a non-suspect anyway.
Among some 30 other "persons of interest" in the anthrax investigation, the name of Mr. Hatfill soon emerged, thanks in part to another scientist, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, [Send her mail] a biological weapons expert affiliated with the left-wing Federation of American Scientists. Miss Rosenberg supposedly kept pointing to Mr. Hatfill as a suspect, and finally the FBI, with no better clue, decided to take a hard look at him.
Mr. Hatfill co-operated with the Bureau, voluntarily giving them an interview last January and taking a lie detector test, which the FBI says he passed. Then he gave them another interview in March. Then in June they searched his apartment in Frederick, Maryland, to which he voluntarily consented.
The FBI wasn't the only party in on the search, however. Since somebody tipped off the press, a small army of reporters and photographers, along with news helicopters and TV cameras, got to march through Mr. Hatfill's apartment along with the FBI, which carted off 23 cartons of his personal belongings for further examination.
Then the FBI wanted him to take another lie-detector test. At that point, Mr. Hatfill refused, but agreed to further discussions with the Bureau. A day later, the FBI showed up yet again at his apartment with a criminal search warrant and tiptoed through whatever tulips it had missed in the first search. The Bureau's media pals also went along for the ride.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hatfill was fired from one job in February, allegedly because he had lost his security clearance, but got another at Louisiana State University's Center for Biomedical Research and Training as associate director. After the second FBI search, he was suspended from that job.
Now he's gone public, telling the Washington Post last week, "My life is destroyed," and denying at a news conference the next day that he had anything to do with the anthrax letters or that anyone in eight months of investigation had produced "a shred of evidence" that he had.
He's correct, as far as anyone knows. To this day he has not been charged or arrested or even declared to be an official "suspect"; he's just been ruined. ["Ex-Army Scientist Denies Role in Anthrax" by Tom Jackman, Washington Post, Aug 10,2002]
So why was he a suspect (pardon me, a "person of interest") who was repeatedly interrogated, given a lie-detector test and searched by the FBI? Well, you see, as the Post noted, Mr. Hatfill was educated in Rhodesia and South Africa "at a time when apartheid still existed," and this "has raised eyebrows among Hatfill's accusers."
Just so. Anybody who was in southern Africa in the apartheid era and wasn't a terrorist or a political prisoner is probably evil and crazy enough to send anthrax germs through the mail to kill people.
That's how the left, which has now decided Mr. Hatfill is a "Nazi swine" and is labelling him as such on various websites, thinks.
It's not surprising that left-wing woolly-heads would come up with someone they think is on the political right as the guy most likely to commit mass murder.
What is perhaps a bit more surprising is that the FBI would fall for it and proceed to act on it with nothing more than the flimsiest suppositions about Mr. Hatfill's past and personality.
Back when the Bureau was a professionally run agency under J. Edgar Hoover, this sort of thing didn't happen.
Today, in the age of Waco, Ruby Ridge and Richard Jewell, the Atlanta security guard who was similarly targeted and harassed by the FBI for a bombing at the 1996 Olympics he never committed, it's not the same agency.
Indeed, it's not an agency this country needs anymore.
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
August 15, 2002