Anthrax investigators return to Frederick

Search confirmed to be related to FBI's interest in ex-Army scientist

January 25, 2003|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

In their second search since mid-December, FBI anthrax investigators returned to the woods near Frederick yesterday in an apparent hunt for biological equipment used to make the spore powder that killed five people in mail attacks 15 months ago.

The return of agents in frigid temperatures to a remote part of the Frederick watershed, about eight miles northwest of the city, marked the latest episode in the bureau's yearlong scrutiny of Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, who worked at the Army's biodefense center at Fort Detrick from 1997 to 1999 and lived in Frederick until August.

A law enforcement source confirmed that the new search is related to investigators' continuing interest in Hatfill, 49, who has steadfastly denied any connection to the anthrax attacks.

Hatfill's spokesman, Pat Clawson, said the scientist remains under intensive FBI surveillance, with as many as eight cars following him when he leaves the Northwest Washington apartment building where he lives with his girlfriend.

"The sad thing is the FBI is wasting so much money on an investigation of the wrong man," Clawson said.

The FBI's Washington field office issued a terse statement yesterday virtually identical to one put out Dec. 13, before a weeklong search in the watershed that involved about 100 agents using earth-moving equipment and divers to search the small ponds in the area.

"The FBI is conducting forensic searches on public land located within the City of Frederick, Maryland. These searches are related to the FBI's investigation of the origin of the anthrax-laced letters mailed in September and October 2001," the statement said.

The statement reassured residents that there is no dangerous contamination in the area, which contains a reservoir supplying water to Frederick.

"Based on water testing already conducted, there is no indication of any threat to public health or safety associated with our search activities," the statement said.

Frederick Police Chief Kim C. Dine, who was briefed by the FBI last week, said the new search is taking place in a part of the watershed more remote than the December search, which focused on a few acres not far off Gambrills Park Road. Unlike the December search, this one will not require closing roads, he said.

The FBI ordered flight restrictions above the watershed to prevent news organizations from taking aerial photographs of the search, officials said.

The bureau's pursuit of Hatfill began more than a year ago but became more public and intense beginning in June with the first of three searches of his Frederick apartment.

He has blamed the FBI and news media for his dismissal from two $150,000-a-year jobs in bioterrorism training, one at Science Applications International Corp. and the other at Louisiana State University.

Trained as a United Nations bioweapons inspector, Hatfill now hunts for work and watches television reports of inspectors doing their work, said Clawson, a former CNN reporter and friend of Hatfill who volunteered to handle media calls for him.

Clawson said the intensity of FBI surveillance has waxed and waned. But when Hatfill drives out on errands, "he's followed by an entourage. They're right on his bumper. They run red lights to keep up with him."

Last month, Clawson said, he advised Hatfill to drive repeatedly around a traffic circle in downtown Washington.

"The entire entourage followed him three times around the circle," Clawson said. "It was just comical to watch."

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