Hatfill gets his day

Our view : The government should explain its actions in anthrax case

July 08, 2008

Steven J. Hatfill will forever be linked to his outing as a "person of interest" in the post-9/11 deadly anthrax scare. But he can rightly now claim he took on the U.S. government, its lawyers and the FBI for ruining his reputation - and won. The former Army researcher who was never arrested or charged in the case sued the federal government in 2003 in a dogged effort to clear his name. The government recently agreed to pay him $4.6 million to settle. But as these things go, notoriety as a once-suspected biological terrorist may be hard to shake.

The real culprit in the string of anthrax-tainted letters has not been found, and there is no justice in that.

It would be easy, with the announcement of the U.S. Justice Department's settlement in the Hatfill case, to close the book on this mishandled investigation. But the FBI should share with the public the steps it has taken to avoid the mistakes revealed by Mr. Hatfill's lawsuit. A former defense researcher at the Army's Fort Detrick laboratory who knew how germs could become a lethal weapon, he was named a "person of interest" in the government's investigation of the 2001 anthrax letters by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. That was after his name was leaked to the media, which then dogged him.

Mr. Hatfill's background justified a visit from investigators, but, subsequently, the government cavalierly kept his name in play, despite the absence of any credible evidence against him. That was irresponsible behavior, for which the government is now paying.

The FBI maintains the case remains under investigation, but FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III still has some explaining to do.

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