Earlier Anthrax Suspect Was Exonerated Bruce Ivins wasn't the only government scientist suspected in the anthrax investigation. Steven Hatfill was also considered a "person of interest" at one point. But Hatfill was exonerated and received a $5.8 million dollar settlement from the federal government.

Earlier Anthrax Suspect Was Exonerated

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(Soundbite of press conference, August 11, 2002)

Dr. STEVEN J. HATFILL (Former U.S. Army Virologist): I have had nothing to do, in any way, shape, or form, with the mailing of these anthrax letters.


That's another government scientist, or former government scientist, Steven Hatfill, recorded six years ago. You may recall that he was under a lot of suspicion, and there were a lot of stories in the media pointing the finger at him for these anthrax letters. Recall, five people died in the mailings of these things. David Folkenflik covers the media for NPR. David, look back on these stories of Mr. Hatfill, and what does this news of Bruce Ivins do for all that?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's absolutely haunting to hear Steven Hatfill's voice these many years later, you know, having proclaimed his innocence all along, the tension clearly having swung to Bruce Ivins. Let's add the caveats that weren't added those years ago about Steven Hatfill. We don't know that Ivins was guilty. It hasn't been proven in court, and he won't go to court as he's now no longer alive. But Steven Hatfill came under the white hot attention of both the FBI and the news media, working, in a sense, in concert. Years later, it doesn't look very good, his life ruined by the notion that he was responsible for this domestic terrorist attack. He went around proclaiming at every opportunity that he had nothing to do with this.

CHADWICK: There were stories originally that came out that, oh, they've got the guy, or they think they've got the guy, and it's a government scientist, and he wasn't named. And then this guy comes out and gives a press conference and says, hey, I'm the one they're after, and I didn't do it. It was an extraordinary moment.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. And don't forget then Attorney General John Ashcroft, the chief law-enforcement official of the nation, declared him a person of interest, a term that has absolutely no meaning in law, but nonetheless, directing the entire nation's attention on this one man. You know, it's a little bit like a terrible Hitchcock plot, you know, the scenario of the wrong man. Meanwhile, it appears that one of the experts in bioterrorism at Fort Dietrich, where Mr. Hatfill had been working, you know, who had helped the government to investigate Mr. Hatfill, it turns out that the FBI ,years and years, later look at him as the primary suspect, look at him as the one being responsible. It's the guy down the hall.

CHADWICK: I have to say, we saw those stories, we reported those stories, intense media interest and kind of one scoop after another, to name this guy, to find him, to learn all about him, the details. The media doesn't look so good on this one.

FOLKENFLIK: Media looks very bad on this. It looks credulous for Justice Department sources. Hatfill had filed suit against the government and, you know, sought to get the names of sources from journalists, taking them to court to do so, and to try to prove that the Justice Department had intentionally leaked this, as they sought to, you know, circle in on him and to capture him for these attacks.

CHADWICK: Now, this year, there was a settlement, a legal settlement, for Steven Hatfill from the government.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. Just a few months ago, the government essentially paid out a package - depending on how you value it - but about 5.85 million dollars to compensate him for lost revenue over the course of his career. He lost a job at Louisiana State University, as a result of this, that he had been offered. Interestingly, the government did not exonerate him directly. Although the entire settlement tended to do that, but it not explicitly exonerate him, and nor did it apologize to him for this. CHADWICK: I don't imagine that we in the media are going to be apologizing to him either. NPR's David Folkenflik, thank you.


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