August 4, 2003

Two years into the persecution of Steven Hatfill shows what the feds have in store for us all

by Justin Raimondo

We are fast approaching the second anniversary of the anthrax scare: the first letter filled with the deadly spores was postmarked September 18, 2001. Almost two full years after the FBI fixed its sights on Steven J. Hatfill as a "person of interest" in the anthrax-by-mail attacks, John Ashcroft's G-men are still persecuting Hatfill without pressing any charges, and persistently ignoring abundant leads pointing away from their hapless victim.

While there is not a single iota of physical evidence supporting the case against Hatfill, a recent story in the Washington, D.C. City Paper chronicles the life of a man whose privacy and sanity have been held hostage by the FBI in this, the season of terror. It is a spectacle at once sinister and pathetic:

"The video cameras seem to be the latest hassle. One time, [press liaison Pat] Clawson remembers, Hatfill spotted a few agents trying to rig a camera to a lamppost across from his apartment building. He decided to have a little fun and go out there and offer his assistance.

"'What are you guys doing?' Hatfill asked, according to Clawson.

"The agents told him that they were installing an 'Internet relay device.' Whatever that means. He offered to help them install it anyway. The joke in Hatfill's camp is that he's secured the best Internet service in the District."

Your tax dollars at work. More tax dollars were spent draining a pond in Frederick, Maryland, a few miles from the Ft. Detrick government lab that may have been the source of the anthrax. Four weeks and 50,000 gallons later, a veritable army of feds, both FBI and postal agents, came up with a couple of logs, a few fishing lures, and an old gun unrelated to the attacks. Tests for traces of anthrax came up negative. The search was conducted on the basis of a "tip" that Hatfill had once confided that he would dispose of anthrax by doing it in the water. After this embarassing blow to the FBI's strategy, Hatfill's attorney, Thomas Connolly, called on Ashcroft to back down:

"It comes as no news to Dr. Hatfill that the search of the pond yielded nothing. Dr. Hatfill had no involvement in the anthrax attack. It is now time for those law enforcement officials who have orchestrated a campaign of smears to do the honorable thing and issue an apology to Dr. Hatfill and an apology to the taxpayers for spending a quarter-million dollars on a wild goose chase."

For two years, an American citizen has been characterized as a mass murderer by government officials and treated like a convicted criminal by their agents: he has been spied on, rendered unemployable, and publicly humiliated all without being charged.

How can this happen in America?

In the age of terror that is, government-initiated terrorism directed against us Hatfill's Kafkaesque predicament is a metaphor for life in the 21st century life, that is, as our rulers would like to see it. In the world of Steven J. Hatfill, the Bill of Rights has been repealed and you're guilty until proven innocent. You can't go out of your home without being observed, you're subject to warrantless searches, and the FBI shows up for your job interview.

The truly nighmarish aspect of all this is Hatfill's glaringly obvious innocence. The case against him is entirely circumstantial, based on his public pronouncements on the subject of bio-terrorism and a "profile" of the anthrax killer worked up by scientist Barbara Hatch Rosenberg. On the other hand, the trail of some pretty substantial evidence leads in another direction altogether, one that has been inexplicably neglected by law enforcement agencies and the news media, but is, nevertheless, a matter of public record.

In late September, 2001, days before the anthrax story broke but after the deadly missives had been mailed – an anonymous letter arrived at military police headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, stating that Dr. Ayaad Assaad, who formerly worked at Ft. Detrick, was the mastermind behind a bio-terrorist plot. The letter's author demonstrated a detailed knowledge of Dr. Assaad's life and work at USAMRIID, tending to validate the claim of this poison-pen author to have once worked with the Egyptian-born scientist.

The FBI soon cleared Dr. Assaad of any connection with the anthrax, but his story of how his former colleagues at Ft. Detrick, who called themselves the "camel club," targeted him and essentially set him up for just such an accusation points so clearly in the direction of the real culprits that it's hard to believe this aspect of the case has been completely ignored.

Security was so lax at the Ft. Detrick bio-terror facility that, in the early 1990s, an investigation turned up the disturbing news that 26 sets of deadly specimens – including anthrax, hanta virus, and two labeled "unknown" were found to be "missing." As the Courant reports, investigators also found a surveillance camera tape:

"Documents from the inquiry show that one unauthorized person who was observed entering the lab building at night was Langford's predecessor, Lt. Col. Philip Zack, who at the time no longer worked at Fort Detrick. A surveillance camera recorded Zack being let in at 8:40 p.m. on Jan. 23, 1992, apparently by Marian Rippy, a lab pathologist and close friend of Zack's, according to a report filed by a security guard."

Zack and Rippy were part of the "camel club," which had left insulting and obscene messages in the mailboxes of Arab scientists at Ft. Detrick including a 235-line poem, which included the following:

"In (Assaad's) honor we created this beast; it represents life lower than yeast."

The "beast" referred to is a rubber camel outfitted with sexually explicit appendages, apparently another "camel club"-sponsored activity.

In tracking down the real culprit in the anthrax attacks, it would seem that an attempt to frame someone as the anthrax terrorist just as the attacks commenced would be a clue of some significance. The history of Ft. Detrick's "camel club" might also be seen as a hint of what direction the investigation ought to take.

But not to our intrepid FBI. They're too busy tormenting poor Hatfill.

What's scary is that these are the same people who are now warning us Al Qaeda is poised for another strike at the U.S., once again using planes as weapons. In this context, the question of whether Ashcroft and the feds are the equivalent of the Keystone Kops, or something more sinister, becomes a matter of some urgency. In reviewing the role of the FBI in the anthrax investigation, I am reminded of what FBI veteran agent Coleen Crowley said in her memo and testimony before Congress about the agency's failure to adequately investigate Islamist terrorists in the U.S.:

"During the early aftermath of September 11th, when I happened to be recounting the pre-September 11th events concerning the Moussaoui investigation to other FBI personnel in other divisions or in FBIHQ, almost everyone's first question was "Why? – Why would an FBI agent(s) deliberately sabotage a case? (I know I shouldn't be flippant about this, but jokes were actually made that the key FBIHQ personnel had to be spies or moles, like Robert Hanssen, who were actually working for Osama Bin Laden to have so undercut Minneapolis' effort.)"

The anthrax attacks ratcheted up the level of fear and anger that gave momentum to the War Party, which was able to direct all that emotional energy at a convenient scapegoat: Iraq. Andrew Sullivan stated with certainty that the anthrax attacks emanated from Baghdad, and demanded that we immediately launch a strike that "need not be nuclear." The Weekly Standard also published a screed by William Kristol pointing to the Iraqis as the probable culprits. I'm waiting for the Telegraph, or some other enterprising pro-war rag, to come up with papers supposedly found in the ruins of Baghdad, purporting to show that Hatfill is an Iraqi agent. They would no doubt be just as authentic as the Niger uranium papers or those implicating British antiwar MP George Galloway.

The same people who lied us into war with false "intelligence" on Iraqi WMD are making Steven Hatfill's life a living hell. Where is the ACLU during all this? Some of my libertarian brethren are talking about joining the ACLU regardless of their wacked-out stance on affirmative action and other matters, but I won't do it until I see they're fighting by Hatfill's side. The persecuted scientist is suing his tormentors, and more power to him: but why, one has to ask, does he have to fight alone?

We will likely mark the second anniversary of the anthrax attacks by acknowledging that the mystery only gets darker, and more impenetrable. Congress is now busying itself holding hearings about the missing "weapons of mass destruction," the ones we didn't find in Iraq. But what about the WMD we did find in our mailboxes?

A congressional investigation into the persecution of Hatfill is bound to throw light on some remarkably murky intelligence. As in the case of the Iraqi WMD, will we discover that a small group with a particular agenda has been feeding highly dubious "intelligence" regarding Hatfill to law enforcement officials?


I note, without quite knowing what to make of it, that the most fanatic pursuer of Hatfill, second only to the FBI, is the Jewish Defense Organization (JDO), a split-off from the extremist Jewish Defense League: the JDO has devoted a special website to the proposition that Hatfill is the anthrax terrorist, and also a "Nazi." A.J. Weberman, a JDO militant, who once made a career out of harassing Bob Dylan, has now turned his sights on Hafill. As the Salt Lake City Tribune reports:

"'When you look at Hatfill's background, there are just too many coincidences,' said Weberman, who is putting the finishing touches on the manuscript of a book about Hatfill called, 'The Bioevangelist.' He added: 'It is a tremendous circumstantial case against this guy.' Among his favorite clues is the fact that Hatfill once lived in Zimbabwe, near an area in Africa known as Greendale – the name of a nonexistent New Jersey elementary school that is listed as the return address on two of the anthrax-laced letters."

Yes, and if you re-arrange the letters of Hatfill's name, you come up with all the letters in "Fatah" an obvious allusion to Palestinian-inspired terrorism as well as the word "ill." Now I dare somebody to tell me that's a coincidence!

If Weberman thinks Hatfill is guilty, then that's the clincher: he's innocent, for sure.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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