Hatfill Teaching Bioterrorism Course
Program At LSU's Biomedical Training Center
Funded By $11.5 Million Grant
by Dave Altimari and Jack Dolan, Hartford Courant, 28 June 2002
Steven J. Hatfill, the microbiologist at the center of the FBI's anthrax investigation, has been working as part of an $11.5 million government-funded program to train police and firefighters in the event of a bioterrorism attack.
Hatfill, 48, who in March lost the security clearance he needed for his job at a prominent military contractor, has been working at Louisiana State University's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training. LSU received an $11.5 million grant in January from the Department of Justice, which also oversees the FBI, to train medical and law enforcement personnel responding to attacks such as last fall's anthrax-laced letters.
LSU officials confirmed Hatfill's employment.
"When he works here it's as an adjunct instructor and he develops and teaches his own class," said Gene C. Sands, LSU's executive director of university relations.
"I can't tell you right now whether he is being paid by the university," Sands said.
Hatfill is listed in the LSU phone directory as a lecturer and with the same address as Dean Daniel C. Walsh Jr. The dean, who runs the biomedical research center, could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
Hatfill's position, working indirectly for the federal department investigating him, is one in a series of uneasy interrelations between law enforcement and the close-knit community of biological weapons experts who make up the FBI's pool of potential suspects. Although the FBI insists Hatfill is not a suspect in the anthrax letter case, agents searched Hatfill's Maryland apartment Tuesday and his rented storage locker in Florida Wednesday, carting away evidence from both locations. Hatfill also has said he is not a suspect in the FBI investigation.
A source said Thursday that Hatfill was hired by LSU based on recommendations from David Franz and David Huxsoll, both former commanders of the U.S. Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., where Hatfill worked for two years. Franz and Huxsoll could not be reached for comment.
Huxsoll is now director of Plum Island, a U.S. Department of Agriculture research facility off the coast of Connecticut, accessible only by ferry. The secluded island is used to study exotic animal illnesses including foot-and-mouth disease. No animals leave the island alive.
Despite being popularly known as "Anthrax Island," after last fall's anthrax attacks, officials publicly deny that they have ever studied the deadly pathogen on Plum Island.
But at least one former infectious-disease center scientist interviewed recently by the FBI said agents asked a series of questions about the island: Have you ever been there? Do you know anybody who works there? What do they do?
On Thursday, an FBI spokesman would not acknowledge whether such questions were being asked, or why the FBI would care.
Franz and Huxsoll are part of a cadre of highly placed friends within the biological weapons field who have helped Hatfill over the years. Another of Hatfill's close friends is William Patrick, another former employee of the infectious-disease center. Patrick is known for developing the U.S. method for producing anthrax in aerosol form.
In 1999, while he was working for defense contractor Science Applications International Corp., Hatfill hired Patrick to do a study on a hypothetical anthrax attack by mail. The study depicted the impact of placing 2.5 grams of Bacillus globigii - a nonlethal, simulated form of anthrax - in a standard business envelope, a source at the SACI Corp. said.
The amount is similar to what was placed in the six anthrax-laden letters mailed to government officials and members of the media last fall. Five people died in the anthrax attacks, and 13 others were sickened.
The two most potent letters were mailed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. FBI Director Robert Mueller met with Daschle and his staff Thursday to update them on the investigation. Daschle declined to comment on the meeting.
Earlier this year, the FBI ordered dozens of university labs to send samples of their anthrax to the Maryland infectious-disease center to be collected for comparison with the powder preserved from the letter to Leahy, also kept at the Army lab.
Then last month, federal agents announced a sweeping series of lie detector tests for current and former employees of the infectious-disease center, where the evidence is being collected. FBI agents working the investigation have visited a number of current and former scientists in their homes. But none of those visits has resulted in the same level of public scrutiny Hatfill has come under this week.
Federal officials said on Thursday that Hatfill is on a list of 20 to 30 "persons of interest" and stressed that his property was searched because, like the others, he possesses the expertise to handle deadly pathogens and at one time had access to the anthrax strain used in the attacks.
FBI sources have said they cannot place Hatfill near Trenton, N.J., where they believe the tainted letters were mailed.
Hatfill's extensive background in biological warfare research includes two years working at the infectious-disease center, where he studied the deadly Ebola virus. He has also been vaccinated against anthrax. Unlike others on the FBI's list, Hatfill's name has circulated for months among microbiologists prodding federal agents to take a close look at his unusual background.
Hatfill graduated in 1984 from the Godfrey Huggins Medical School in Zimbabwe.
Not far from the medical school is a town called Greendale. The anthrax-laced letters to Daschle and Leahy each contained the same fictitious return address: 4th Grade, Greendale School, Franklin Park, N.J. There is no Greendale School in New Jersey. But there is a grade school by that name in Greendale, a suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital.
In the past few years, Hatfill has publicly discussed the process of turning toxic biological agents into easily inhaled powders - the form of the anthrax placed in the letters sent in the mail attacks last fall.
Hatfill also has said that the United States is woefully unprepared for a biological attack.
The search of his apartment in Frederick, Md., just across the street from Fort Detrick, came exactly a week after microbiologists met with staff from Daschle's and Leahy's offices. Two FBI agents also were present at the meeting.
© 2002 Hartford Courant
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.