- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

The discovery of the deadly poison ricin on Capitol Hill brought a chilling reminder yesterday of the October 2001 anthrax attacks, which remain unsolved to this day.

The massive investigation of who mailed the anthrax to Sens. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and to news outlets in Florida and New York, killing five persons, has not produced a single arrest and has produced few substantial leads.

Headed by the FBI’s Washington field office, the probe appears to be at a standstill, although FBI officials say it remains “intensely active.”

“Currently, there are 28 FBI special agents and 12 U.S. postal inspectors working full time on the investigation,” said Debbie Weierman, spokeswoman for the Washington field office.

“The group has conducted 15 searches, interviewed more than 5,000 people and served more than 4,000 subpoenas,” she said, adding that FBI agents have spent about 251,000 man-hours on the investigation.

Although progress has been kept secret, multiple developments have been made public during the more than two years since the anthrax mailings ramped up fears of biological terrorism just a month after the September 11 attacks.

Last summer, investigators combed through the mud at the bottom of a Frederick, Md., pond that the FBI had drained in an apparent search for tangible evidence to connect the anthrax mailings to scientist Steven Hatfill.

Although Mr. Hatfill has not been named officially as a suspect in the anthrax probe, Attorney General John Ashcroft has called him a “person of interest.”

Interest in Mr. Hatfill, 49, stems from work he did at the Army’s biodefense labs at Fort Detrick, Md., for two years until 1999, and another job he took afterward with defense contractor Science Applications International Corp. in McLean.

As a senior scientist with SAIC until March 2002, Mr. Hatfill built mock biological weapons labs to train special operations personnel on searches in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. He also commissioned a report about anthrax uses, two pages of which describe how the poison could be sent through the mail in standard business envelopes.

Investigators twice searched a Frederick apartment once kept by Mr. Hatfill, who repeatedly has declared his innocence. In August, he filed a lawsuit against Mr. Ashcroft, the Justice Department and the FBI, claiming they had ruined his life by unfairly singling him out.

In September, Michael A. Mason, the new head of the FBI’s Washington field office and anthrax investigation said it was troubling that Mr. Hatfill was labeled a person of interest and called it “unfortunate” that the investigation had been “beset by a number of leaks.”

The anthrax attacks left five persons dead and more than a dozen injured. Among the dead were two workers at the central mail processing center in the District, which sorted the anthrax-contaminated letters sent to Capitol Hill.

The center was rededicated to honor the workers, Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr., when it reopened for business in December after being closed by the anthrax contamination.

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