The Gang That Can't Shoot Straight

by Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman)

It seems that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (some refer to it as the FIB, rather than the FBI), appears to have gotten itself into a real pickle over its investigation of who sent anthrax-laced letters that killed five people in the United States in late 2001. In the panic atmosphere following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the FBI has been investigating and, in fact, appears to have been harassing, one individual whom they believe committed the crime.

But after more than 18 months of putting this individual under the federal microscope, the FBI does not appear to be any closer to finding the perpetrator of this crime. According to the July 2 New York Times (which, via one of its opinion columnists – Nicholas Kristoff, has often pointed accusing fingers at this individual), the FBI's suspect – excuse me, its "person of interest" – might just have been involved in helping to train the U.S. Delta Force to search for and dismantle the so-far undiscovered weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and associated two mobile laboratories that the U.S. has found thus far in Iraq.

The whole mess, with the Defense Department doing its thing while the FBI chases one of its contractor's former employees, would be the grist for a Keystone Cops movie if it were not the fact that people have died, one person's reputation has possibly been destroyed and property has been damaged (and this does not include the destruction in Iraq). It just demonstrates once again that depending upon government for justice and the protection of life, liberty and property is a pipe dream.

Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, "Person of Interest" or …..

The investigation of Dr. Steven J. Hatfill as the possible perpetrator of the anthrax letters apparently began in late 2001 or early 2002. Hatfill had worked for the U.S. government and for a Defense Department contractor.

After failing to get any significant clues as to the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime, the FBI was starting to feel the political heat. Readers should recall that one of the anthrax-laced letters was sent to former Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle's office, and it's delivery to that location led to the closure of the Senate Hart office building for a number of months. Another letter, which was intercepted before reaching its target, was addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy.

To drive home the point that catching the perpetrator or perpetrators of the anthrax crimes should be a high priority, Daschle would often appear on the nightly news, asking why the FBI had not made any progress. Whether or not the FBI was providing periodic reports to Daschle regarding its progress on the investigation, Daschle, and his Democratic colleagues, wanted the public to know that Democrats were the focus of terrorist attacks.

Various outside groups, some of which may have had political connections, began expressing in public and on the internet that some person or persons with skills in handling and processing anthrax into a weapons grade material had to be the real suspect or suspects. Eventually, because of direct leaks from FBI officials or special agents, leaks from people interviewed by the FBI, leaks by colleagues or indirect leaks from Congress or Congressional staff that were briefed on the investigation's progress by the FBI, the name of Steven J. Hatfill reached the public.

Hatfill, who reportedly either got his medical degree or completed graduate course work in biology or physiology at a college in Africa, was also reported to have been involved in the war in the former African country of Rhodesia (now run by the "warm and witty" Robert Mugabe, Africa's answer to Joseph Stalin and a black KKK). Hatfill also was alleged to have been involved in some of South Africa's internal racial troubles. Thus, Hatfill apparently fit the bill for those on the left – like Daschle – who want to blame someone of an allegedly right-wing persuasion for the anthrax attacks.

Hatfill had – or stated on his resume (some have alleged that Hatfill lied extensively on his resume) – that he had experience in working on the deadly Ebola virus. He eventually – in 1997- picked up work at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, known as USAMRIID. He worked with a number of other scientists on biological warfare studies, despite the fact that the U.S. government had abandoned biological weapons in a treaty, signed by Richard Nixon, that took effect in 1975. The powers that be in the government were still concerned about terrorist acquisition and use of WMD, and Hatfill and people with his skills were still in demand.

With experience in the government, Hatfill in 1998 left USAMRIID and joined a contractor – Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) – that does extensive business with the Defense Department. In this position, Hatfill ran a study that assessed the likelihood and characteristics of sending anthrax spores through the mails, just the crime that later took place in late 2001. During this time, according to the Times' sources, Hatfill reportedly was being considered for a top secret clearance at the CIA but was supposedly not granted the clearance because he failed the polygraph test. In addition, during the investigation of Hatfill, the FBI came upon a draft novel on biological warfare that Hatfill had been writing in his spare time. In March 2002, after Hatfill's involvement in the anthrax letters was alleged in media reports, SAIC fired him.

It was these factors, and some factors not revealed until now (see below), that led the FBI to interview Hatfill, search his apartment and personal effects, and to have special agents trail and harass him. When asked at a news conference whether Hatfill was a suspect, Attorney General John Ashcroft labeled Hatfill a "person of interest." Well, that's gov-speak for you. Apparently, after the Richard Jewell fiasco (Jewell was the innocent man who was the FBI suspect in the Atlanta Olympic park bombing in 1996 whom the FBI hounded and subjected to numerous scurrilous attacks in the media), the various parts of the Justice Department tried to cover their tails by not referring to a suspect as a suspect.

Well, the harassment and trailing of Hatfill continued unabated. Last summer, Hatfill was fired from a (what else) federally-funded position at Louisiana State University where he would have been training officials in the details of countering biological warfare attacks by terrorists. Several months ago, an FBI special agent trailing Hatfill in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC drove over Hatfill's foot with his government car. Within the last few weeks, the FBI has drained a pond near Hatfill's former apartment – near Frederick, Maryland – in search of equipment that might have been used to insert anthrax into the letters. Thus far, nothing has been found.

Since last summer, Hatfill, and a person who is acting as his spokesman, have taken to television to put out his side of the story. Denying any involvement in the anthrax attacks (involvement alleged by Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times and others in the print and television media), Hatfill claimed he was a patriot, in part working on the biological warfare/terrorist attack area because he loved his country and did not want to see such biological attacks against the U.S. succeed.

….. Patriot?

The July 2 New York Times report indicated that while a contractor, Hatfill worked on devising a prototype mobile anthrax/biological weapons laboratory that was to be used to train members of the Delta Force in how to spot such weapons production facilities, determine whether or not they had been used, and also to handle, possibly dismantle, any WMD bio-weapons they found. This may have been done since American officials claim that an Iraqi defector in 1999 stated that Baghdad was going to build a fleet of such labs.

According to colleagues of Hatfill's, he was an enthusiastic participant – one said he was the instigator – in the mobile lab project. (N.B. – contractors cannot initiate projects on their own – they may suggest a project, but only a federal employee (a contract officer) can sign the contract and then a project officer, who actually controls the funds, monitors the specific tasks in a contract.)

Anyway, as part of this project, Hatfill ordered parts for the mobile lab in 2000, storing them in a warehouse until he began supervising the assembly in September 2001. The Times July 2 article quoted an expert on bio-weapons terrorism projects who said: "It's all the ordering of equipment that in hindsight looks suspicious."

By the time Hatfill was fired, in March 2002, the mobile lab prototype was only half built. Even after Hatfill was fired, and while he was being investigated, he continued to work on the mobile lab even though he was not being paid. One expert recalled that Hatfill "… was doing it on his own, using his own money."

According to the Times, "Later, as the Delta trailer was being hauled to Fort Bragg, FBI agents and experts pulled it over and thoroughly checked it for anthrax and other deadly germs." According to one expert quoted by the Times, "The FBI wanted to confiscate it."

After arguing with the FBI, the military was able to continue its trip, bringing the prototype mobile lab to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for training the Delta Force. One military officer interviewed by the Times, Col. Bill Darley, a spokesman for the Special Operations Command, said, "This is a sensitive thing." He further stated, "We are not growing anthrax or botulinum toxin. None of this equipment is functional. It looks like – it is – the real stuff, but it's nonfunctional."

Is He or Isn't He?

As I said at the top of the article, this would be a great set of events for writing a Keystone Cops script, except for the loss of lives, damage of property and ruination of a man's reputation (Hatfill has not been charged with any crime thus far).

I do not know whether Steven Hatfill is guilty of the anthrax letter attacks. But eighteen months of FBI investigation and harassment of Steven Hatfill (albeit someone involved in a project which would never be necessary if the United States minded its own business instead of acting like a modern-day version of the Roman Empire) has not produced hard evidence of his involvement in the attacks. The latest revelations, while giving some a further reason to think that this man is a modern equivalent of Professor Moriarty, only make the FBI and the rest of the feds involved in this case look like the fools and knaves that they are.

But then that is what we should always expect when the government has a monopoly power in protecting life, liberty and property and can force us to pay taxes for this protection. We should invariably expect incompetence, political and other chicanery, significant wasting of money, loss of life, ruination of reputations and careers, and a host of other evils when we entrust government with our protection.

Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman) [send him mail], formerly an economist with the federal government, writes to “un-spin” the federal government’s attempt to con the public. He teaches economics part-time at a community college and provides economic consulting services to the private sector.

Jim Grichar Archives