- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Disclosure of what the FBI knows about the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks could enable terrorists to engineer biological weapons to escape detection, the FBI says in documents filed in response to a lawsuit by a scientist labeled a “person of interest” in the case.

Citing the criminal investigation and national security concerns, the Justice Department is trying to persuade a federal judge to delay the lawsuit filed by Stephen J. Hatfill, who contends that the government invaded his privacy and ruined his reputation by leaking information to reporters implicating him in the attacks.

Mr. Hatfill once worked as a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md. Mr. Hatfill says he never worked with infectious diseases such as anthrax, however.

Mr. Hatfill has denied any role in the attacks, and his lawsuit seeks to clear his name and recover unspecified monetary damages.

Richard L. Lambert, the FBI inspector in charge of what is being called the “Amerithrax” investigation, says in a court document Mr. Hatfill’s lawsuit could jeopardize the probe and expose national secrets related to U.S. bioweapons defense measures.

“In the hands of those hostile to the U.S., this valuable intelligence could aid state sponsors of terrorism or terrorist organizations in their efforts to genetically engineer or alter their anthrax bioweapons to ‘spoof’ or escape detection,” Mr. Lambert said.

Disclosure also would make public the vulnerabilities and capabilities of U.S. government installations to bioweapons attacks and expose sensitive intelligence collection sources and methods, Mr. Lambert said.

There is no proven link between terrorist groups and the October 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five persons and sickened 17 others. The government, however, repeatedly has warned of al Qaeda’s interest in using anthrax or other chemical and biological weapons to mount attacks.

In the FBI document, filed Nov. 21 in U.S. District Court in the District, Mr. Lambert calls the anthrax probe “unprecedented in the FBI’s 95-year history” because of its scope and complexity. In all, the investigation has consumed about 231,000 agent hours, he said.

Mr. Lambert described the investigation as “active and ongoing” and said agents’ work is divided between checking into individuals who could be linked to the attacks and an intensive scientific effort to determine how the spores were made using “cutting-edge forensic techniques and analysis.”

The court papers stop short of confirming that Mr. Hatfill is among those being investigated.

Mr. Hatfill was labeled a “person of interest” in the probe in August 2002 by Attorney General John Ashcroft and says in his lawsuit that FBI agents have had him under surveillance around the clock.

That surveillance — which once led agents in a vehicle to run over Mr. Hatfill’s foot on a D.C. street — has dropped off in recent weeks, according to one person close to Mr. Hatfill and two federal law-enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The officials, however, cautioned against drawing the conclusion that Mr. Hatfill no longer was of interest to investigators.

Mr. Lambert said in the court document Mr. Hatfill’s lawsuit could force the FBI to divulge its “interest in specific individuals,” who could then destroy or hide evidence, flee the country, intimidate witnesses or make up alibis. None of these individuals are identified.

The Justice Department is seeking to delay Mr. Hatfill’s case until a decision is made on a forthcoming government attempt to dismiss the lawsuit entirely. Mr. Hatfill’s lawyers were preparing a response yesterday opposing the delay.

Mr. Hatfill’s lawsuit is seeking unspecified monetary damages from Mr. Ashcroft, the FBI and Justice Department and other current and former officials. His attorneys contend that the government linked him to the attacks to make it seem as if the investigation was making progress.

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