- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

FBI and U.S. Postal Service agents began draining a pond yesterday on the outskirts of Frederick in hopes of collecting evidence related to the anthrax attacks of 2001.

The pond is in a large municipal forest about eight miles from the former home of Steven Hatfill, a man referred to last year by Attorney General John Ashcroft as a “person of interest” in the anthrax investigation.

A statement from the FBI Washington Field Office said draining the pond is part of a search effort related to the “investigation of the origin of the anthrax-laced letters.”

However, investigators declined to comment on whether yesterday’s activity was related to Mr. Hatfill, a bioweapons expert who once worked at the U.S. Army biowarfare defense lab in Fort Detrick, Md.

No suspects have been officially named in the nearly 2-year-old investigation into who mailed the letters, but investigators repeatedly searched Mr. Hatfill’s apartment near Frederick last summer.

The letters, mailed in September and October of 2001 to two senators on Capitol Hill and to news outlets in New York and Florida, contained a powder mixture of the deadly bacteria, which resulted in five deaths and 17 illnesses

Mr. Hatfill has denied involvement in the case and says the FBI is ruining his life.

“Steve has cooperated 100 percent with the FBI from Day One of this investigation,” Mr. Hatfill’s spokesman, Pat Clawson, told the Associated Press yesterday. “If draining the ponds in Maryland will help further establish [his] innocence, we welcome it. He knows nothing about the ponds.”

The FBI maintained that the purpose of draining the pond is “to locate and collect items of evidence related to the attacks.”

Agents returned to the Frederick woods after conducting searches there during the winter, which suggests that they are hunting for specific evidence. During previous searches, investigators carved large holes in an ice-covered pond and sent divers into the water to search for clues.

The searches began after a tipster was reported to have told investigators that Mr. Hatfill had once hypothetically described how he might dispose of contaminated equipment.

According to a report published first in The Washington Post, the divers retrieved vials wrapped in plastic and a clear box with holes that could accommodate gloves to protect the user during work.

The report also stated that some FBI investigators believed that people could put envelopes and anthrax powder in the box, wade into water and submerge the box to put the bacteria into the envelopes to avoid contaminating themselves during the process.

The FBI statement also stated that the searches and draining of the pond do not pose a threat to public health or safety.

“It’s a little scary. I swam in the ponds since I was a little kid,” said Laurie Bailey, 18, who lives about a half-mile from the pond. Miss Bailey also said she is concerned about the environmental threat of a contaminated pond.

Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty said last month that FBI agents had discussed with city officials a plan to drain the spring-fed pond. The city expects crews to need three to four weeks to siphon the pond of its 50,000 gallons of water.

Yesterday, officials sealed off a road about a quarter-mile from the pond while municipal dump trucks, some with their payloads covered by large tarps, rode in and out of the roped-off area.

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