View Full Version : Ex-Agent: Hatfill Settlement Shows FBI Botched The Case

06-30-2008, 07:26 PM
Ex-agent: Hatfill settlement shows FBI botched the case


Muriel Kane
Published: Monday June 30, 2008

Following the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001, the name of bio-weapons expert Steven Hatfill was first leaked and then offered publicly as the FBI's leading suspect. However, the case never progressed, and a former FBI agent has now blasted the Bureau for the "top-heavy leadership" and "amateurish investigative techniques" that stymied the probe.

Last Friday, the Department of Justice agreed to a $5.8 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by Hatfill under the Privacy Act, alleging that officials harassed him and deliberately leaked his name in order to cover up their lack of actual progress.

In an exclusive analysis for ABC News, Brad Garrett, who served as a key investigator on the attacks, points to "some of the things that went wrong inside the FBI and what lessons can be learned from this embarrassing case."

"The anthrax investigation, almost from the beginning, was hampered by top-heavy leadership from high ranking, but inexperienced FBI officials," writes Garrett, "which led to a close-minded focus on just one suspect and amateurish investigative techniques that robbed agents in the field [of] the ability [to] operate successfully."

Garrett points out that Hatfill's complaint makes it clear he knew he was being followed and wiretapped. "Common sense and my experience have taught me that anyone who knows they are being wiretapped is unlikely to make incriminating statements," he writes. "They are unlikely to go anywhere or do anything that will provide agents following them with any further evidence. ... The best investigations are covert, where the suspect, the media and the public are not alerted."

For the same reason, Garett says it was unwise to name Hatfill publicly as a "person of interest," as Attorney General Ashcroft did in August 2002, because "once an individual knows he is suspected of a crime, he will change his patterns of behavior. He will be less likely to contact possible co-conspirators. Where a suspect has been cooperating with an investigation, he will stop."

Last year, Hatfill reached an undisclosed settlement of two libel lawsuits against Vanity Fair and Reader's Digest for an article they both published which suggested he had been behind the attacks. A similar suit against the New York Times was thrown out by a judge.

Garrett's analysis suggests that he still believes there is a possibility that Hatfill was guilty but the FBI botched the case against him. However, conservative outlets are now using the Hatfill settlement to proclaim his innocence and imply there may have been a left-wing agenda on the part of the FBI in singling him out as a suspect.

The Wall Street Journal is calling the settlement "a virtual confession that the anthrax case is cold" and noting that "agents were fixated on a 'lone wolf' theory that Director Robert Mueller's FBI, for all intents and purposes, now admits was wrong. Helped along by a sympathetic press corps, the obsession with a domestic perpetrator has ended up in a dead end." The Journal editorialist believes that the FBI may have been trying to cover up the possibility that Iraq was behind the attacks.

The conservative group Accuracy in Media is similarly but more strongly charging that "[the left's] bogus theory of the case, apparently shared by the FBI, was just a short step from the Al-Jazeera-promoted disinformation that the U.S. government had attacked itself on 9/11. ... Meanwhile, the real perpetrators, most likely associated with al Qaeda, got away with murder."