- Dr. Steven Hatfill may or may not be the killer who sent
anthrax through the mail last year. But something smells about the way
the FBI is handling this matter.
- Without arresting him, a researcher who never worked
with anthrax, and even without calling him a suspect ó merely one
of 20 "persons of interest" ó the FBI apparently tipped
off the press when it made a scheduled search of Dr. Hatfill's apartment.
- When the FBI agents arrived, they were accompanied by
satellite trucks and news helicopters buzzing overhead. What if they are
wrong? Will the press ever correct with the same vigor that it misreports?
Almost never ó the Richard Jewell case being the only exception
that leaps to mind, and he had to sue. More often, the unjustly accused
have no recourse. In the immortal words of Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan's
labor secretary who was acquitted of corruption charges in a court of law
after a prolonged trial by media, "Where do I go to get my reputation
- A spokesman for the FBI denies tipping the press, but
those helicopters and news trucks did not arrive due to clairvoyance. Not
only does it look like the FBI was fingering a man against whom it has
very little evidence in order to obscure the FBI's lack of progress in
finding the anthrax terrorist or terrorists, it further looks like the
FBI has bullheadedly followed only one possible scenario ó the lone
American scientist ó in its search.
- The Weekly Standard's David Tell has waged a lonely battle
to challenge the FBI on this. In a series of detailed articles (see the
Weekly Standard, April 29, 2002), Tell has examined the FBI's peculiar
reliance on research professor Barbara Hatch Rosenberg of the State University
of New York at Purchase. She has apparently encouraged the FBI to believe
a disgruntled American scientist loosed anthrax on the political and media
elite last year.
- Her views sound a bit loopy to the dispassionate observer.
She apparently told the BBC that the FBI has known the true identity of
the anthrax mailer for some time but won't arrest him because "he
knows too much." Well, let Mr. Tell tell: "Last fall, you see,
the man's Langley masters supposedly decided they'd like to field-test
what would happen if billions of lethal anthrax spores were sent through
the regular mail and it was 'left to him to decide exactly how to carry
it out.' The loosely supervised madman then used his assignment to launch
an attack on the media and Senate 'for his own motives.' And, this truth
being obviously too hot to handle, the FBI is now trying hard not to discover
- Then there is the matter of Syed Athar Abbas, a Pakistani
picked up for defrauding two banks out of $100,000 and running a sophisticated
check-kiting scheme. Tell reports that when the FBI checked him out, it
discovered he had purchased a "fine food particulate mixer" (the
sort that might be used for making biological weapons) for about $100,000
in cash. Was the FBI interested, or was it too busy chasing Dr. Hatfill?
- To read Dr. Hatfill's statement is to suspect very strongly
that the man is innocent. If I were wrongly accused, I think I would write
a statement like his. Some excerpts: "I've devoted much of my professional
career to safeguarding men, women and children from the scourge of different
types of disease, from leukemia to infectious disease. I am appalled at
the terrible acts of biological terrorism that have caused death, disease
and havoc in the great country starting last fall. I wish the authorities
Godspeed in catching the culprit or culprits. I do not object to being
considered a subject of interest by the authorities because of my knowledge
and background in the field of biological warfare defense. This does not,
however, give them the right to smear me and gratuitously make a wasteland
of my life. If I am a subject of interest, I'm also a human being. I need
to earn a living [he's been fired from two jobs due to this investigation].
I have a family, and until recently, I had a reputation and a bright professional
- If the FBI has screwed this up, heads should roll, starting
with Director Robert Mueller's.
- Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. http://www.washt