U.S. News

Search warrants show FBI suspicion in anthrax case

Steven Hatfill, a physician and germ warfare expert named by the FBI as a "person of interest" in the probe surrounding deadly anthrax mailings, is shown in this August 11, 2002 file photo while making his first public statement addressing his involvement in the investigation. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army scientist who was wrongly targeted in the FBI’s anthrax investigation attracted suspicion because of his knowledge of the deadly toxin, according to recently released court records.

FBI agents focused on Steven Hatfill after the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks because he had access to the building where anthrax was stored and described in an unpublished novel how an attack could take place, according to search warrants released on Tuesday by the U.S. District Court in Washington.

The FBI investigated Hatfill for years, but he was never charged. The Justice Department agreed in June to pay him $5.85 million to settle his lawsuit claiming government officials had violated his privacy rights.

The FBI and Justice Department said in August that Army scientist Bruce Ivins, who killed himself in July, was solely responsible for mailing the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and sickened 17 shortly after the September 11 attacks.

Hatfill complained that the U.S. government had not prepared adequately for an anthrax attack and told an anonymous informant that he had engaged in biological warfare against rebels during the Rhodesian civil war in 1979 and 1980, the documents said.

Hatfill also filled prescriptions for the antibiotic ciprofloxacin during the time the attacks were taking place, according to the FBI. The drug, which can protect against anthrax infection, is prescribed for a wide variety of bacterial infections.

Hatfill’s attorney said the government relied on unreliable information from anonymous sources in its investigation, which at the time received heavy media coverage.

“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. It will be unfortunate for all involved if the release of these documents misleads anyone into thinking otherwise,” lawyer Thomas Connolly said in an e-mail.

The Justice Department, citing privacy concerns, has sought to keep the search warrants and other records related to Hatfill under seal. But a judge last week ruled in favor of The New York Times and Los Angeles Times newspapers, which had sought their release.

Editing by David Wiessler