August 6, 2008

The anthrax lag

We now know that the FBI learned in early 2005 from state-of-the-art gene sequencing that terrorist anthrax had to come from one of ten people at Ft. Detrick, and that Stephen Hatfill, the "person of interest" in this case, wasn't one of them.

How long did it take the FBI investigators to refocus themselves?

David Willman's breakthrough article in the 8/1/08 LA Times tells us:

Federal investigators moved away from Hatfill -- for years the only publicly identified "person of interest" -- and ultimately concluded that Ivins was the culprit after FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III changed leadership of the investigation in late 2006.

The FBI's new top investigators -- Vincent B. Lisi and Edward W. Montooth -- instructed agents to reexamine leads or potential suspects that may have received insufficient attention. Moreover, significant progress was made in analyzing genetic properties of the anthrax powder recovered from letters addressed to two senators.

The renewed efforts led the FBI back to USAMRIID, where agents first questioned scientists in December 2001, a few weeks after the fatal mailings.

By spring of this year, FBI agents were still contacting Ivins' present and former colleagues. At USAMRIID and elsewhere, scientists acquainted with Ivins were asked to sign confidentiality agreements in order to prevent leaks of new investigative details.

So, it looks like about a year and a half went by while the old FBI team continued to spin its wheels, stuck in the rut of blaming Hatfield. People don't like to admit they're wrong.

It was only in late 2006 when the FBI boss reassigned the old investigators and brought in a new team that the FBI began to make progress in finding a suspect that fit the genome sequencing data that they had had since early 2005. That year and a half lag may help explain why the government paid so much ($5.8 million) to Hatfill recently.

Clearly, much of the blame directed at Hatfield was because, like the bad guy in a Hollywood thriller, he had lived for a number of years in Rhodesia and South Africa. But there was some other circumstantial evidence -- he had a history of claiming advanced degrees he hadn't earned, he had been very interested in anthrax terrorism, he was taking Cipro at the time of the attacks for sinus surgery, and some minor coincidences. He was not a totally unreasonable suspect at first.

I bet, however, it was, especially, the unjustifiable 1.5 or so years between the genome sequencing in early 2005 and the FBI changing investigators and then suspects in late 2006 that led the government to settle on lavish terms with Hatfill.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

11 comments:

spacenookie said...

I suspect the govt cleared Hatfill (June 27, 2008) to strengthen their case against Ivins. Otherwise it would be very easy for the defense to create reasonable doubt, by pointing to the other suspect (Hatfill).

RKU said...

Actually, based on my recent readings on the case, I'd say that the evidence against Hatfill was MUCH stronger than the evidence against Ivins so far released.

Maybe they should rearrest Hatfill and give his $5M to poor Ivins' widow.

This whole "investigation" has got to be the world's biggest joke...

Anonymous said...

Is the payout really so lavish?

The government officially doesn't admit any wrong doing.

Hatfill couldn't find work.

His life was ruined.

Anonymous said...

One thing I don't understand. Every time some interesting crime happens and you want to find out all about it, all you get is "we can't comment because the investigation is still pending." Why can't the FBI keep its mouth shut until it's reasonably sure about the identity of the suspect.

I'll all for law enforcement, but why do they seem to ruin people's lives so?

rightsaidfred said...

So...the government investigates an innocent suspect, and then gives him $5.8 mil? This sounds strange and excessive.

It seems to me that citizens have some duty to bear the incompetence of public servants. Does everyone leaving the DMV get $100?

testing99 said...

Richard Jewell anyone?

koos said...

"Clearly, much of the blame directed at Hatfield was because, like the bad guy in a Hollywood thriller, he had lived for a number of years in Rhodesia and South Africa."

First, good for Hatfill! I'm always happy when an old Rhodie or Afrikaner manages to outdo one of these liberal, "post-racial" hypocritical Anglo-Saxon institutions.

This is OT, but I cannot understand all this cheap hollywierd guilt-by-association with Rhodesia or South Africa other than their fascination that a couple of die-hard whites managed to hold out so long against both the Soviet Union and the Anglo-Saxon spheres. They should actually be making hero films of those white crusties but then that would anger their black and liberal clientele. It was no coincidence that the Blood Diamonds film featured special forces characters from Rhodesia and South Africa (32 or Buffalo Battalion). With that hollywierd let the cat out the bag and indicated they know exactly what was going on down there.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that citizens have some duty to bear the incompetence of public servants.

Public "servants" (ask the obese attitude-with-an-attitude at the DMV if she considers herself your servant) should be held to the same standard as the private sector. If I screw up and ruin somebody's life in the private sector, I'm hauled into court. Government incompetence should be treated the same way.

--Senor Doug

Martin said...

"rightsaidfred said...

So...the government investigates an innocent suspect, and then gives him $5.8 mil? This sounds strange and excessive.

It seems to me that citizens have some duty to bear the incompetence of public servants. Does everyone leaving the DMV get $100?"

They didn't merely investigate Hatfill - they revealed his name long before ever moving to arrest him. I believe at one point, an FBI spokesman, when asked if they were pursuing other leads in the case, very pointedly replied "No." They dragged him and his good name through the mud.

The FBI, the police, and prosecutors aren't like the DMV. They have more than the mere power to inconvenience you - they can wreck your life.

The FBI, in particular, seems to be unduly enamored of itself and its reputation (undeserved, I believe) for super-competence (just consider all the favorable portrayals of it in movies and TV). I'm glad that Hatfill was able to squeeze a settlement out of them.

kurt said...

"Is the payout really so lavish?"

Anytime a government agency ruins someone's life as they did with Hatfill, they owe that person enough money to retire independently wealthy for the rest of their life.

If anything, the government owes Hatfill more than $5.8 million.


If the attorneys get 2/3's of the payout, and perhaps $3-4 million is enough to retire independently wealthy, Then the FBI really owes $10-12 million in this case.


"It seems to me that citizens have some duty to bear the incompetence of public servants."

This is one of the most outrageous comments I have ever read.

This is saying that institutions, particularly government, should not be held to the same standards as individuals, that one should be accountable for their actions. Any institution that refuses to accept accountability for its actions has no business existing.

rightsaidfred said...

Point taken that the FBI has more power than the DMV.

>>>>If I screw up and ruin somebody's life in the private sector, I'm hauled into court.

Sometimes. Other times it is low level things not worth a court case, or the person is too underfunded for a court date.

>>>>Anytime a government agency ruins someone's life as they did with Hatfill, they owe that person enough money to retire independently wealthy for the rest of their life.

By all means, chip in for Hatfill. But there is still some expectation he can contribute to the commonweal. To retire independently wealthy seems a little much.

>>>>This is saying that institutions, particularly government, should not be held to the same standards as individuals,...

I'm all for disciplining those responsible for Hatfill's troubles. But having the taxpayers cut him a check is not the best solution.