ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Calling himself a "fall guy" in the anthrax investigation, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill vehemently denied yesterday he had anything to do with the mail attacks and accused the FBI and the news media of a campaign of "character assassination" that he said has severely damaged his career.
"I am a loyal American and I love my country," Hatfill, wearing a U.S. flag pin, told several dozen reporters and photographers gathered outside his lawyer's office. "I had nothing to do with the anthrax letters, and it is extremely wrong for anyone to contend or suggest that I have."
Hatfill and his attorney, Victor M. Glasberg, said government investigators had smeared him with a series of leaks, tipping off reporters to planned searches of Hatfill's Frederick apartment and giving Newsweek what Glasberg called a "bogus" account of bloodhounds tying him to the anthrax letters. Glasberg also said he had just been told that ABC News had been leaked the text of a bioterrorism novel that Hatfill wrote and stored on his computer, which was seized by the FBI.
In a strongly worded and emotional statement that took about 10 minutes to read, Hatfill, 48, a physician and bioterrorism expert who previously worked at the Army's biodefense center at Fort Detrick, said his life has become a "wasteland" as a result of the public scrutiny.
He was particularly outspoken in decrying FBI agents' conduct this month in searching the Washington home of his girlfriend, whom he did not name.
"She was manhandled by the FBI," he said. "Her apartment was wrecked. The agents screamed at her that I had killed five people and that her life would never be the same."
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the bureau would have no immediate comments in response to the allegations from Hatfill and Glasberg, who said the bureau had ignored his offer of complete cooperation.
The news conference, set up by Pat Clawson, a former CNN and NBC reporter who is a friend of Hatfill's, was the scientist's first major counteroffensive in answer to a flood of media coverage set off by FBI searches of his Frederick apartment and rented storage lockers in Florida June 25 and Aug. 1. The attention intensified when it was reported that agents had obtained a criminal warrant for the second search.
When he gave consent for the first search, Hatfill said, "the FBI agents promised me that the search would be quiet, private and very low-key." In fact, he said, "within minutes of my signing the release ... television cameras, satellite TV trucks, overhead helicopters were all swarming around my apartment block."
Hatfill said he was given a polygraph test months ago by FBI anthrax investigators and told he had passed. Glasberg said Hatfill would not agree to take another polygraph, because his emotional reaction to the public scrutiny focused on him might skew the results.
Pointing to published reports, Hatfill suggested that the FBI's search in June resulted from a briefing of U.S. Senate staff members and FBI agents by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a molecular biologist who has posted her theories about the anthrax attacks on the Internet.
"I am at a complete loss to explain her reported hostility and accusations. I don't know this woman at all," he said.
Rosenberg, a professor at the State University of New York, denied that she had given Hatfill's name to anyone.
"I've never mentioned any names to anyone - not publicly, not privately to the Senate committee staff or anyone else," she said. "The FBI has gone out of its way to make one suspect's name public. I presume the FBI had some good reason for doing so. If they did not, I think it was reprehensible to do so."
Neither Hatfill nor Glasberg would answer questions about Hatfill's past, including false claims made on his 1997 resume that he held a Ph.D. and had served in a U.S. Army Special Forces unit.
Glasberg also declined to comment on why the Defense Department suspended Hatfill's security clearance in August 2001. He said he did not know where Hatfill was on the days the anthrax letters were mailed last fall.
In his statement, Hatfill did refer to mistakes in his past, saying "there are things I would do or say differently than I did 10, 20 or more years ago." He may have been referring to published reports of extreme right-wing political views and claimed service in military units of the former white government of Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia. Hatfill lived abroad from 1978 to 1995, attending medical school in Zimbabwe and conducting medical research in South Africa and England.
"After eight months of one of the most intensive public and private investigations in American history, no one - no one - has come up with a shred of evidence that I had anything to do with the anthrax letters," he said. "As a substitute, the press and now the public have been offered events from my past, going back 20 or more years, as if this were critical to the matter at hand."
Glasberg dismissed reports linking the fake return address on the anthrax letters, a non-existent "Greendale School," to a Zimbabwe suburb called Greendale a few miles from where Hatfill lived two decades ago. "I think there are several hundred or 1,000 Greendales in the United States," he said.
In an apparent reference to a Sun reporter, Hatfill described a call from a reporter in February "all but accusing me of mailing the anthrax letters" and improperly seeking information on a classified project. He said the reporter later called his employer, Science Applications International Corp., a defense and CIA contractor. He suggested that might be the reason SAIC dismissed him in March.
The Sun reporter called Hatfill to ask about reports from his former colleagues at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases that he had taken from Fort Detrick discarded biological safety cabinets. U.S. military officials later confirmed that Hatfill took the cabinets for an SAIC contract to create a mock bioterrorist lab for a training exercise.
SAIC officials have said calls from reporters played no role in the decision to dismiss Hatfill. They say the company gave him six months after his security clearance was suspended to get it restored. When the clearance was not restored, the company dismissed him, the officials said.
Yesterday, Hatfill said he has been asked by SAIC to help with several projects he had started. He said SAIC has contracted for his services through Louisiana State University, where he was hired July 1 as associate director of a bioterrorism training center. He was placed on paid leave by LSU Aug. 2, after the second FBI search.
Hatfill said his work at Fort Detrick from 1997 to 1999 involved viruses, not bacteria such as anthrax. He said that although he was vaccinated against anthrax at that time, he has not received the annual booster shot since 1999 and has therefore been susceptible to anthrax infection since December 2000.
"I've never worked with anthrax," he said.
In a 1999 resume, Hatfill claimed to have "working knowledge" of "large scale production of bacterial, rickettsial and viral BW [biological warfare] pathogens." It also said he was principal architect of a study of "decontamination following threats with Bacillus anthracis," the bacterium that causes anthrax.
Also in 1999, while working for SAIC, Hatfill commissioned a study that included a description of a letter containing anthrax being opened in an office.