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FBI searches apartment in anthrax probe

Steven Hatfill
Steven Hatfill  


From Kelli Arena
CNN Washington Bureau

FORT DETRICK, Maryland (CNN) -- FBI agents searched the apartment of a former researcher at the U.S. Army's biological warfare defense laboratory at Fort Detrick for the second time in two months Thursday.

The researcher, Steven Hatfill, 48, had previously been questioned in the investigation of last fall's anthrax attacks and had his apartment searched in June. No arrests are imminent, sources said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said only that investigators had made progress in Thursday's search, which included trash bins outside Hatfill's apartment. Sources said authorities also searched the apartment of a Hatfill friend.

Mueller said an FBI profile of the suspected anthrax mailer -- a lone person living within the United States with experience working in labs and smart enough to "produce a highly refined and deadly product" -- had not changed.

A State Department official revealed Thursday that Hatfill, an infectious disease specialist who has worked both in and for the government for nearly two decades, is on the standby roster of experts waiting to go to Iraq with the U.N. weapons inspection team if President Saddam Hussein approves.

Although the U.S. government nominated most of the Americans serving with the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Hatfill was "one of the very few that applied to UNMOVIC" independently, the official said.

An UNMOVIC spokesman said Hatfill is one of some 230 trainees and since 2000 has attended U.N. training courses -- including a month-long course in France.

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The course covered the history of UNSCOM, Security Council resolutions, cultural sensitivity and exercises in occupational safety, sources said.

The spokesman said Hatfill was not with UNSCOM, the former weapons inspections regime that pulled out of Iraq in November 1998. Sources said neither is he on the U.N.'s payroll.

Dick Spertzel, a former UNSCOM bioweapons expert and former Fort Detrick employee who also took the UNMOVIC training, defended Hatfill, saying the biologist "is being crucified."

Spertzel said the course offered no training in anthrax or weapons. He said Hatfill's area of expertise is not anthrax but the ebola virus.

Second search with warrant

Sources said Thursday's search of Hatfill's apartment, situated next to Fort Detrick, was conducted with a search warrant, unlike the previous search of his residence on June 25, which was consensual.

At that time FBI agents also searched a storage locker Hatfill used in Florida. No incriminating evidence was found in the searches, sources said. His residence was one of more than a dozen subjected to consensual searches.

Sources said Hatfill took a polygraph but the results were inconclusive.

Sources said that while the June search was for traces of anthrax, the focus of the latest search was different, although they did not elaborate. The warrant allowed for a broader search, the sources said.

Agents did not wear protective clothing Thursday, indicating they did not expect to find anthrax spores.

U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, at Fort Detrick has been a focus of the FBI investigation because workers there had done experiments with anthrax.

The apartment complex where Steven Hatfill lives is just outside the fence line of Fort Detrick.
The apartment complex where Steven Hatfill lives is just outside the fence line of Fort Detrick.  

Hatfill, who worked at Fort Detrick from 1997 to 1999, never worked directly with anthrax there, sources said, but did have access to a lab containing the Ames strain of anthrax, which has been identified as the one used in last fall's anthrax mailings, which led to the deaths of five people.

The Ames strain is named for the Iowa city where researchers first isolated it.

Hatfill drew attention because in 1999, while working for a defense contractor, he commissioned a study that laid out a fictional scenario about terrorists sending anthrax through the mail, sources have said.

Hatfill was fired from the McLean, Virginia-based defense contractor, Science Applications International Corp., in March 2002. According to published reports, he was dismissed after the Defense Department suspended his security clearance in August 2001.

Hatfill began working last month as the associate director of Louisiana State University's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, which has federal grants to train emergency workers to deal with bioterrorist attacks. He is due to teach a course this fall.

FBI asked microbiologists for help

Earlier this year, the FBI asked the nation's 30,000 microbiologists for help in identifying who sent the anthrax letters last year.

"A review of the information-to-date in this matter leads investigators to believe that a single person is most likely responsible for these mailings. This person is experienced working in a laboratory," the FBI said in a letter to the members of the American Society of Microbiology.

Anthrax-laced letters were sent last fall to offices of U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and to television network news offices in New York, prompting fears of mass terrorist mailings coming so soon after the September 11 attacks.

The letters -- leaking what investigators called highly sophisticated weaponized anthrax spores -- contaminated post office buildings in Washington and New Jersey.

Five people, including two postal employees in Washington, died last fall of inhaled anthrax. At least 13 people developed either skin or respiratory anthrax. They have since recovered.



 
 
 
 






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