IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Feds release documents in anthrax case

The Justice Department has released hundreds of documents that it used to falsely accuse scientist Steven J. Hatfill of masterminding the 2001 anthrax attacks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pharmacy records and writings initially — but wrongly — helped lead the FBI to Army scientist Steven Hatfill in the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks, Justice Department documents released Tuesday show.

Responding to a judge's order, the government released 78 pages of affidavits and search warrants in the now-closed case of Hatfill, who was cleared of the attacks earlier this year. The documents raise questions about Hatfill but provide no evidence that he masterminded the biological attacks that killed five people, sickened 17 and frightened a nation still shaken by the deaths of Sept. 11 only a few weeks earlier.

Ultimately, the government focused on another Army scientist: Bruce Ivins, who killed himself in July as prosecutors prepared to charge him in the case. Both Ivins and Hatfill worked at the Army's infectious diseases laboratory in Frederick, Maryland.

$5.8 million to settle lawsuit
Hatfill was never charged, and the Justice Department in June agreed to pay him $5.8 million to settle a lawsuit he brought against the government for wrongly implicating him.

The documents released Tuesday build a case against Hatfill on largely circumstantial evidence.

An FBI affidavit cites interviews and a never-published book by Hatfill to show he knew how to treat anthrax infections and how easy it would be for terrorists to acquire, produce and use the toxin with "deadly consequences."

Still, the documents raise questions about some of Hatfill's statements to authorities.

In a March 2002 interview with the FBI, Hatfill denied taking the antibiotic Cipro in the weeks before and after the attacks.

But an affidavit released in the documents cites pharmacy records showing Hatfill filling Cipro prescriptions twice during that time period — two days each before the letters were postmarked on Sept. 18 and Oct. 9 of 2001.

At the time, Cipro was the only antibiotic recommended by the Food and Drug Administration to treat anthrax infection.

Hatfill also had Cipro prescriptions filled in January, July and November of 2001, according to the affidavit.

'A person of interest'
After the anthrax attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft called Hatfill "a person of interest" in the investigation and stories by various news organizations followed. The Army scientist maintained his innocence in the case from the start.

Hatfill attorney Tom Connolly said there is nothing in the documents showing Hatfill had anything to do with the attacks.

"Search warrant affidavits are designed to raise suspicion — that is their express purpose," Connolly said in a statement. "Our repeated experience has been that people make wild accusations in secret, only to retract them under public questioning. Whether or not it was right for the government to rely on this kind of information to obtain a search warrant in 2002, we know in 2008 that Steven Hatfill had nothing to do with the anthrax attacks."

He added: "It will be unfortunate for all involved if the release of these documents misleads anyone into thinking otherwise."

The documents show the FBI seized clothing, financial records, VHS tapes, books and other papers from Hatfill's home in Frederick, Maryland, his car, and a locker he rented in Ocala, Florida.

One search warrant describes the apartment and a 1994 Toyota belonging to Hatfill's girlfriend, which also were searched. Investigators made clear they had been tailing Hatfill, noting that he sometimes spent the night at her apartment and was seen sometimes driving her car.

Government wanted records sealed
The FBI seized notebooks, files, envelopes, hair brushes and bobby pins from her apartment, the records show, where it found a container of Cipro in her apartment, apparently labeled "Peck Chegne."

The government asked a judge to seal the court records over the Hatfill searches, saying public disclosure would "jeopardize the ability of federal authorities to proceed with this investigation." It also warned about the potential damage to Hatfill's reputation, saying the adverse consequences to the scientist were obvious.

Hatfill worked at the Army lab from 1997 to 1999. Technically, the government's investigation in the anthrax attacks remains open, although the Justice Department has said it is only tying up loose ends and does not expect future charges.

The documents were released following last week's order by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times had filed a lawsuit demanding that the FBI materials on Hatfill be released. The newspapers contended that the public has a right to know why investigators wanted to search Hatfill's home and on what basis the courts agreed to allow those searches.