- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

A top microbiologist in New York says FBI agents interviewing her Thursday asked whether a team of government scientists could be trying to frame Steven J. Hatfill, a former Army researcher whose apartment in Frederick, Md., was searched for a second time by FBI agents on Thursday.

"They kept asking me did I think there might be a group in the biodefense community that was trying to land the blame on Hatfill," said Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a microbiologist at State University of New York.

Mrs. Rosenberg said agents visited her hours before she learned Dr. Hatfill's apartment was being searched.

The FBI would neither confirm or deny her account.

Dr. Hatfill, who has not been named a suspect in the fatal anthrax-letter attacks of last autumn, was put on 30-days paid administrative leave from his post as head of Louisiana State University's new National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

LSU put him on leave because of the FBI investigation and will re-evaluate his status after that, school spokesman Gene Sands said.

Mrs. Rosenberg, chairman of the biological arms-control panel for the Federation of American Scientists, told The Washington Times she had been expecting a visit from the FBI since June, when she briefed staffers with the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

A day after the briefings, Van A. Harp, assistant director for the FBI's Washington Field Office, told her that agents wanted to meet with her, said Mrs. Rosenberg.

"Maybe [Dr. Hatfill] was being set up. That's my speculation of what [the agents] thought," she said.

Mr. Harp said he would advise anyone who is interviewed by the FBI to be careful about drawing conclusions from a particular question. "It's the nature of any investigation to ask a broad spectrum of questions to cover all or as many issues as possible," he said.

Mrs. Rosenberg has been involved in tracking the person who sent five anthrax-laced letters to media outlets in Florida and New York and two senators in the District last October.

"I just cannot imagine that it was a bona fide conspiracy," she said, adding that she told the FBI she had heard nothing to suggest a group was trying to frame Dr. Hatfill.

"On the other hand, I've heard a lot of support for him from prominent friends in the biodefense community," she said.

In January Mrs. Rosenberg told The Times the FBI was working on a "short list of suspects" who could have mailed the anthrax spores. She said at least three research scientists had identified the culprit as a former scientist at Fort Detrick, the Pentagon's top biodefense research center in Frederick, Md.

Bringing a search warrant, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service investigators wore protective gloves when they entered Dr. Hatfill's apartment for the second time in six months. Dr. Hatfill, who once was involved with bacterial-warfare studies at Fort Detrick and had access to anthrax spores, invited agents to search the apartment in February after they questioned him and he reportedly had passed a lie detector test.

The FBI's interest in him apparently stems from a report he commissioned in 1999 with William C. Patrick III, an authority on bioterrorism. The report includes a description of how anthrax could be sent in the mail.

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