A week after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and whatever target United Flight 93 was headed for, Anthrax-laced letters entered the American postal system.
Then, people started dying.
With a combination of enthusiasm and competence worthy of Hazzard County's Rosco P. Coltrane, the FBI fingered a suspect. The wrong one: Steven Hatfill
Giving credit where credit is due, investigative reporters had interviewed known associates of Hatfield before the FBI got to them. And there was evidence implicating Steven Hatfill: This man
- Was a virology researcher at Fort Detrick's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
- Had a flamboyant personality
- Was seen at Charley's Place with some guys
- These guys were bodyguards for Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar bin Sultan
After the Hatfill debacle, there wasn't much fuss when the commander of Fort Detrick was implicated. At any rate, he made a statement about Fort Detrick's anthrax operations which wasn't true.
It wasn't a lie, either. Major General John Parker said, "I would say that it does not come from our stocks, because we do not use that dry material," which is what his staff had told him.
Today's Dead Anthrax SuspectThe latest suspect, Bruce E. Ivins, was a biodefense researcher at Fort Detrick for 18 years. I don't know if he's the "But I told the General we didn't make spore powder!" scientist.
Maybe the FBI got it right this time, and Ivins was actually involved with the anthrax attacks. If he was, it's anyone's guess at this point, why he sent lethal letters through the mail. [UPDATE: A plausible motive surfaced: "Mad Scientist's Test of Anthrax Cure Terrifies Nation" (August 1, 2008)]
Bruce E. Ivins may have worked alone, or maybe he didn't. The FBI isn't saying, but presumably if they stop investigating now, Ivins was the only anthrax mailer.
From the lying scientist, to the ones who kept quiet about the fib, the hot-to-publish reporters, and FBI agents in "hot pursuit," the anthrax letters investigation has been a miserable example of American law enforcement and citizenship.
I've said this before: there's a war on. Lying to cover your butt, or implicating someone who you'd like to be guilty, isn't just a personal offense - it can affect everybody.
In the News:
- "Report: Anthrax suspect kills self before filing of criminal charges"
CNN (August 1, 2008)
- "WASHINGTON (AP) -- A top U.S. biodefense researcher apparently committed suicide just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him in the anthrax mailings that traumatized the nation in the weeks following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a published report.
- "The scientist, Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who worked for the past 18 years at the government's biodefense labs at Fort Detrick, Maryland, had been told about the impending prosecution, the Los Angeles Times reported for Friday editions. The laboratory has been at the center of the FBI's investigation of the anthrax attacks, which killed five people.
- "Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick (Maryland) Memorial Hospital. The Times, quoting an unidentified colleague, said the scientist had taken a massive dose of a prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine...."
- "...Just last month, the government exonerated another scientist at the Fort Detrick lab, Steven Hatfill, who had been identified by the FBI as a 'person of interest' in the anthrax attacks. The government paid Hatfill $5.82 million to settle a lawsuit he filed against the Justice Department in which he claimed the department violated his privacy rights by speaking with reporters about the case...."
- "Scientist in Anthrax Case Is Deemed Public Figure, a Victory for Times"
New York Sun (July 15, 2008)
- "A federal appeals court is handing a major legal victory to the New York Times by rejecting a former Army scientist's claim that he was libeled by the newspaper in columns linking him to anthrax-laden mailings that killed five Americans in 2001.
- "The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., agreed with a lower court that the scientist, Dr. Steven Hatfill, was a public figure in the national debate over bioterrorism preparedness. As a public figure, Dr. Hatfill could only win his suit by proving that the Times deliberately lied about him or knew that it was likely the information it was printing was false. Dr. Hatfill could not meet that burden and was not entitled to a trial, the three-judge appeals court panel said in its unanimous ruling yesterday.
- " 'Throughout his career, Dr. Hatfill was not only repeatedly sought out as an expert on bioterrorism, but was also a vocal critic of the government's unpreparedness for a bioterrorist attack, as evidenced by the topics of his lectures, writings, participation on panels, and interviews,' Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote, joined by judges M. Blane Michael and Clarence Beam. 'Through these media, Dr. Hatfill voluntarily thrust himself into the debate. He cannot remove himself now to assume a favorable litigation posture.'..."