- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

FREDERICK, Md. About 100 federal agents investigating last year's anthrax attacks continued searching a woodland clearing and pond for evidence yesterday in a forest about eight miles from the former home of a scientist described as a "person of interest" in the case.

"We do know that the FBI is not looking for anthrax and anthrax spores, but they are seeking evidentiary items related to the anthrax investigation," Frederick City Hall spokeswoman Nancy Poss said after the FBI briefed city officials during an early-morning meeting.

Officials wouldn't say whether the search in the Catoctin Mountains involved Steven J. Hatfill, who once worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick.

In a statement Thursday, the FBI said it was conducting "forensic searches" in the city-owned forest and stressed that previous water, soil and sediment tests had ruled out any anthrax threat to public health or safety.

Miss Poss said the investigative team had two scientists who were regularly monitoring water in the area, and that a scientist from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was on call.

Miss Poss said the FBI told Mayor Jennifer Dougherty and Police Chief Kim Dine that the woodland investigation, which includes divers, would continue through Wednesday.

Two blockades set up Thursday sealed off a 1½-mile section of an icy, two-lane county road bordering the Frederick Municipal Forest. About six inches of snow remained on the ground from a storm last week.

The forest, which serves as the city watershed, covers some 7,000 acres and has about a dozen ponds.

Agents set up two enclosed tents in the clearing, one yellow and one brown. A generator outside the brown tent had heating ducts leading inside to what appeared to be a command post. An all-terrain vehicle was nearby.

Farther downhill was an area where the ground had been dug up and plastic sheeting appeared to have been spread over a hole. Several small pieces of tractorlike equipment were there. Between 15 and 20 investigators milled around the scene.

Two Justice Department officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said divers searched at least one pond, but they would not say what was being sought.

As evening fell Thursday, several vehicles carrying people apparently connected to the search left the sealed-off area. Some of the people wore hard hats. One took a closed cardboard box from his vehicle and put it in another car parked at the roadblock.

One agent referred to having been at the scene since Monday, an indication that the forest probe began several days ago. The site is about 10 miles south of the Camp David presidential retreat.

Eva Rosvold, an aide to Mrs. Dougherty, said the FBI had been talking "all week" with Sheriff Dine about its work.

"It's an FBI investigation that we're pretty much staying out of," Miss Rosvold said.

Mr. Hatfill has denied any involvement in the anthrax attacks, which killed five persons and infected 18 others when letters containing the deadly spores were sent to government and news media offices in the District, New York and Florida.

The FBI has searched Mr. Hatfill's former apartment, which is next to Fort Detrick, at least three times. The Research Institute of Infectious Diseases is the primary custodian of the Ames strain of anthrax found in the anthrax letters.

Mr. Hatfill has said the Justice Department's scrutiny has destroyed his career and left his personal life in turmoil. He remains unemployed and is living in the Washington area.

The Justice Department has defended its use of the term "person of interest" to describe Mr. Hatfill, contending it accurately depicts his place in the probe and was not intended to cast suspicion on him. The FBI has said Mr. Hatfill is just one of many scientists it has interviewed and who are cooperating with the anthrax investigation.

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