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Hatfill Considered Potential Suspect in Anthrax Probe

Aired August 1, 2002 - 13:08   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Another breaking story that we have been following, and that is the researcher Steven Hatfill, had previously been called a person of interest by police sources. Well, he is now being referred to as a potential suspect, and we are talking about the anthrax scare that rocked the United States.

Kelli Arena has more now live from Washington, D.C. -- Kelli, what can you tell us?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, FBI agents have been at Dr. Hatfill's residence before. The last time, it was a consensual search and we saw them coming out with swabs of carpet, and so on looking for, you could tell, anthrax residue. This time, the search is being done under a search warrant, and you are looking at pictures from affiliate WTTG, it is an aerial of the area surrounding Dr. Hatfill's home. FBI agents were seen there just a while ago searching through the dumpster outside of his home looking for -- it is not clear what, but under a search warrant, Kyra, the scope of an investigation can be much broader. Investigators can bring in anything that they feel is of a suspicious nature, whereas when you are doing a consensual search, you really need to abide by the rules that were set up when that search was consented to.

This is not the first or only residence that the FBI has searched. They have done at least a dozen consensual searches before this, looking for possible suspects in the anthrax investigation. No suspect has been named up to this point, and we need to point out that Steven Hatfill has not been named a suspect, but rather one step back, which is a potential suspect.

But this does seem to be moving along at a quicker pace than it has been over the last several months. This is not the first time we have heard of the name Dr. Steven Hatfill, we have here at CNN chosen not to report it, but he has been the subject of much reporting and Web -- Internet gossip among the scientific community as a possible suspect for the anthrax attacks that took place last fall. If you remember, there were two letters sent to senators and to several members of the media, letters laced with anthrax.

One of the things that scientists pointed to was a study that Dr. Hatfill commissioned back in 1999 where he laid out a fictional scenario about a terrorist sending anthrax through an envelope -- through a letter, so that was something that seemed very curious. He never worked directly with anthrax. He worked at Fort Detrick between the years of 1997 and 1999 but he did have access to labs containing the Ames strain, which has been the strain that investigators have identified as being the strain that was used last fall.

Once again, the search continues. It is not clear at this point where Steven Hatfill is, if he is here in Washington or overseas, but the search continues and we will certainly fill you in on whatever new details we can as soon as we get them -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Kelli, have sources told you, what took this from a person of interest to a potential suspect?

ARENA: No, we haven't gotten that far yet, Kyra. There has been a short and rotating list of "people of interest," -- quote-unquote -- that investigators have looked at, dropped off the list, went back to again, and that list, we were told, had at least 50 names on it at one point, has been gradually shrinking.

The working premise all along, though, has been that the person who -- or persons who were responsible for sending those anthrax letters through the mail last fall had to be someone from within the scientific community, someone with a great deal of knowledge, because this was -- this was a very sophisticated strain of anthrax, being able to pull it off, you needed to have a great deal of detailed knowledge, and many investigators that I have spoken to over the past several months have seemed to always believe that it had to be someone that did this domestically, that this was not -- although it was never ruled out that it could have been someone, you know, that was from another country, but the majority of thinking was that it had to be somebody that came from within the United States.

We do not know what elevated his status from just a person of interest to more of a priority. Hopefully we will be hearing more later on. And if there is a possibility that we might be hearing more, officially, from the FBI later on today -- it is very unusual for the FBI to make comments on search warrants.

As you know, there has been no official comment from the FBI regarding this search or any other action that has been taken in the anthrax investigation. We are getting our information from a variety of law enforcement sources who have been filling us in, but, again, Steven Hatfill not new as a potential suspect, at least to the scientific community that has brought his name up more than once, so we will keep an eye out -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Kelli Arena on the potential suspect now in the anthrax scare. We will stay on top of this story all day, of course. Kelli Arena, thank you.

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