Security clearance with faulty resume

Anthrax: Errors in his file suggest a researcher was hired and given access to deadly materials without effective scrutiny.

August 08, 2002|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF


Because of an editing error, an article in The Sun yesterday may have been unclear about the academic degrees earned by Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, a former Army researcher under scrutiny in the anthrax investigation. He is a physician who earned a medical degree in Zimbabwe in 1984, and that degree is not in dispute. The doctoral degree he claimed on his resume to have received in 1994 but did not receive, according to the registrar at Rhodes University in South Africa, was a Ph.D.

Contrary to claims he made on his resume, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, now under scrutiny in the FBI's anthrax investigation, did not earn a doctoral degree and never served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, according to academic and military officials and records.

But the apparent fabrications did not prevent him from getting hired in 1995 by the National Institutes of Health and in 1997 by the Army's biological defense research center at Fort Detrick. The Defense Department also apparently failed to check his credentials thoroughly before granting him "secret" security clearance in 1999.

Because no one discovered the problems, Hatfill was granted access to the world's deadliest pathogens in his research at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, where he worked from 1997 to 1999. While at the institute, and afterward at Science Applications International Corp., a defense contractor, Hatfill briefed officials at the CIA, FBI and the Pentagon about bioterrorism.

The job history of Hatfill, 48, raises questions about the federal government's hiring procedures for sensitive jobs, particularly in the field of biological defense.

"Obviously, if this is true, he was not adequately vetted by the U.S. government to work with dangerous pathogens," said Elisa D. Harris, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland who is studying how to regulate biological programs, including possible licensing of scientists to work with dangerous organisms.

The revelations about Hatfill's resume shed no light on whether he had anything to do with the anthrax mailings that killed five people last fall. He and his attorneys have adamantly denied any connection, saying that only his expertise placed him, with other scientists, on the list of potential suspects.

One of his attorneys, Victor M. Glasberg, yesterday declined to comment about the resume.

In the resume obtained by The Sun that appears to date from 1997 and in documents submitted to NIH, Hatfill claimed he earned a doctorate in "Molecular Cell Biology/Biochemistry" from Rhodes University in South Africa.

In fact, according to Rhodes University Registrar Stephen Fourie, he was registered as a doctoral candidate from 1992 to 1994 and submitted a thesis, but he was never given the degree.

An NIH official, who declined to be named, said last night the agency has what appears to be a photocopy of a doctoral degree from Rhodes bearing Hatfill's name, certified as authentic by a British law firm. In a 1999 resume, the reference has changed from "Ph.D. Degree" to "Ph.D. Thesis."

In the 1997 resume, Hatfill states that he "served with U.S. Army Special Forces" and that he was a member of 7th Special Forces Group.

Army records show he began special forces training at Fort Bragg on Jan. 23, 1976, but was "academically dropped" a month later and never completed the training, said Walt Sokalski, an Army spokesman. Without completing the training, he could not have joined the 7th Special Forces Group, Sokalski said, and his military record shows no such service.

In the 1999 resume, Hatfill dropped the reference to the 7th Special Forces Group, saying only that he had "served with the U.S. Army Institute for Military Assistance" - the name of the training school at Fort Bragg where he flunked out.

While Hatfill was first questioned by the FBI at least seven months ago, he drew wide news media coverage when search teams visited his apartment in Frederick on June 25 with his permission and again Aug. 1, this time with a search warrant. The FBI, which has given Hatfill a polygraph test, is not known to have found any evidence linking him to the mailings.

In the meantime, Hatfill has drawn attention from publications and broadcast news shows around the world, and he has been placed on leave from his job doing bioterrorism training for Louisiana State University under a Justice Department grant. The latest report came from Newsweek, which reported this week that the FBI used bloodhounds to sniff out an alleged connection between him and the anthrax letters.

According to Newsweek, bloodhounds trained to recognize the scent of the decontaminated anthrax envelopes reacted strongly to Hatfill's apartment, his girlfriend's apartment and a Denny's restaurant in Louisiana where he had eaten.

But there are doubts about the significance of the report, and the possibility exists that the story was a leak calculated to put pressure on Hatfill.

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