A former government scientist that the FBI has labeled a "person of interest" in last year's fatal anthrax attacks said today he is innocent, and that government leaks and media scrutiny are ruining his life.
Steven Hatfill, 48, said he is a "loyal American" who had "nothing to do with the anthrax letters," and his attorney argued that his case is similar to that of Richard Jewell, who was implicated and then cleared in a bomb blast at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
‘Person of Interest’
Hatfill — who worked from 1997 to 1999 at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute at Fort Detrick, Md., and has studied biological warfare — is one of a group of scientists FBI officials have been investigating for months in the probe of the anthrax letter attacks that left five people dead and at least 13 others ill last fall. Investigators searched Hatfill's home earlier this month and in June.
He has been described by authorities as a "person of interest," not a suspect, and until now has declined to speak out in detail to the ongoing anthrax investigation.
"I am appalled at the terrible acts of biological terrorism that caused death, disease and havoc in America starting last fall, but I am just as appalled that my experience, knowledge and service relative to defending Americans against biological warfare has been turned against me in connection with the search for the anthrax killer," Hatfill said today in a lengthy, prepared statement to the media.
"I went from being someone with pride in my work, pride in my profession, to being made into the biggest criminal of the 21st century, for something I never touched," Hatfill earlier had told The Washington Post for today's editions. "What I've been trying to contribute, my work, is finished. My life is destroyed."
Pat Clawson, a spokesman for Hatfill and his attorney, Victor M. Glasberg, told ABCNEWS.com before the statement that Hatfill is a private person who was not used to dealing with the media, and the statement would be the only time he addresses the press. Hatfill took no questions after his statement, though Glasberg fielded some as Hatfill stood behind him.
Law enforcement officials told ABCNEWS that the latest search of Hatfill's property, conducted Aug. 1, followed newly uncovered information. FBI agents also searched a rental storage shed in Ocala, Fla., that had been rented by Hatfill, as well as at least one other location. The shed had also been previously searched by officials investigating the anthrax attacks.
Hatfill added that his girlfriend's home recently was searched, and alleged she was "manhandled" and "screamed at" by FBI agents.
Hatfill said he remains willing to cooperate with investigators, and that he consented to the June search in an effort to clear his name. Glasberg added Hatfill would have consented to the August search even if agents had not displayed a warrant.
"As a scientist in the field of biological warfare defense, I have never had any hesitation whatsoever in helping the anthrax investigation," Hatfill said.
Following the first search, agents said they found nothing immediately incriminating in Hatfill's apartment and storage shed.
Hatfill said he understood his background and controversial comments made him a logical subject for investigation, but he objected to government leaks and media zeal that have made him, "the currently designated fall guy."
"This does not … give them the license to smear me and gratuitously make a wasteland of my life in the process," he said. "I will not be railroaded. I am a loyal American."
‘Never, Ever Worked With Anthrax’
Hatfill has worked closely with the military and CIA anthrax experts and has frequently shocked his colleagues with his statements and demonstrations of how easily terrorists could make biological weapons, sources said.
Hatfill said today he has received standard government vaccinations or boosters for anthrax but that the last one expired by Sept. 2000, making him just as vulnerable to exposure as any unvaccinated member of the public. He added that although he has commented on bioterror, his work focused on viruses and did not involve anthrax.
"I have never, ever worked with anthrax in my life," he said. "It's a separate field from the research I was performing at Fort Detrick."
In 1999, however, while working for a government contractor, Hatfill commissioned a study detailing how a hypothetical anthrax attack could be carried out by mail.
Hatfill lost his government security clearance Aug. 23, 2001, for reasons that remain unclear. Glasberg declined to answer a reporter's question on the circumstances surrounding the loss of the security clearance.
Hatfill said he later was fired from the government contractor's job and placed on leave at a new job at Louisiana State University largely because of "defamatory speculation, innuendo and other accusations about me."
Biological Attack Novel
Glasberg revealed today that Hatfill has been working on a novel. Part of the manuscript has been obtained by ABCNEWS affiliate WJLA-TV in Washington.
"This novel written by Steven Hatfill envisions a biological attack on Congress," said Rebecca Cooper, a reporter for WJLA. "It's an attack so deadly that not only do members of Congress and congressional aides become ill, but hundreds of Washington residents become ill and many die as a result."
Glasberg said the novel was stored on a computer seized during one of the searches, and alleged investigators may have leaked it to the media. However, it was unclear how WJLA obtained the manuscript portion.
Late today, the FBI responded to Hatfill's and Glasberg's remarks, saying, "Credible allegations concerning mishandling of evidence will be investigated thoroughly."
Investigators are intrigued by the fact that Hatfill lived for years near a Greendale Elementary School while attending medical school in Zimbabwe, ABCNEWS has reported. Greendale School was the phony return address used in the anthrax letters.
However, Glasberg denied Hatfill knew of such a school in Harare, Zimbabwe.
"There is a subdivision in Harare called Greendale, [but Hatfill] did not live there," Glasberg said. "The information we have is that there is no such Greendale School."
Since the wave of attacks, the FBI has been unable to find out who was behind the anthrax-laced letters. There have been few leads and investigators have admitted that the trail seemed to have grown cold.
Fort Detrick, which also is home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, has anthrax samples, and the FBI is conducting voluntary lie detector tests at the base. Lie detector tests and interviews are also being conducted at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, where researchers have been developing a powdered form of anthrax for testing biological defense systems.
Small quantities of anthrax have routinely been produced at Dugway, and then shipped to the Army's bio-defense center at Fort Detrick, Army officials have said.
ABCNEWS' Barry Serafin, Pierre Thomas, Brian Ross and Michael S. James contributed to this report.