By Nicholas Stix
August 26, 2002
Is the Federal Bureau of Investigation suffering the institutional equivalent of a nervous breakdown? That is the just one of the questions raised by Steven J. Hatfill’s second dramatic press conference, on Sunday, in which Hatfill continued to take the offensive, publicizing the facts of the case as he knows them, providing evidence that he believes should exculpate him, daring the FBI to be as open as he has been, and indicting his tormentors by name.
Hatfill accused the Bureau, the media (particularly the New York Times and its columnist, Nicholas Kristof) and Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg of using his status as a “person of interest” as a pretext for terrorizing him, his girlfriend, and his friends. But his most stinging criticism, by far, was of attorney General John Ashcroft, a man who considers himself a devout Christian, but whom Hatfill accused of being something less than that. Fighting back tears, Hatfill threw down the gauntlet at Ashcroft’s feet, saying of the attorney general, “In my view, he has broken the Ninth Commandment:
‘Thou shall not bear false witness’!”
Hatfill indicted the Justice Department, the FBI, and specifically, Ashcroft, of being behind the perpetual motion machine whereby a Justice Department leak would lead to a media feeding frenzy, which would in turn be used by the FBI to justify renewed activity against Hatfill.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. Two weeks ago, I reluctantly appeared before the TV cameras to defend myself against the bizarre allegations that were appearing about me in the news media dealing with last year’s anthrax attacks. These allegations were [inaudible] by ongoing leaks from the Justice Department, and those leaks continue to this day. Several days ago, the Justice Department representatives confirmed to the Associated Press, that there was no evidence linking me to the anthrax attacks. Despite this lack of evidence, I am still hounded by the FBI, victimized in a never-ending torrent of leaks and general innuendoes from the United States Attorney General John Ashcroft and unnamed others, all of which has been amplified and embellished by the media. This fascination with my character appears to be part of a government-run effort to show the American people that it is proceeding vigorously and successfully with the anthrax investigation....
I want to look my fellow Americans directly in the eye, and declare to them, I am not the anthrax killer! I know nothing about the anthrax attacks. I had absolutely nothing to do with this terrible crime. My life is being destroyed by arrogant government bureaucrats, who have [inaudible] groundless innuendo and half information about me to gullible reporters who in turn repeat them, in the guise of news. I want to give you, the American people, an idea of what it is like to be named a ‘person of interest’ by the attorney general of the United States.
John Ashcroft has now publicly told the American people that I am a “person of interest” in last year’s anthrax attacks, just recently, several days ago, at a news conference in Newark, New Jersey. The FBI says that I am not a suspect, and that it does not use the term, “person of interest.” Mr. Ashcroft, however, continues to do this publicly, and I am here to complain about this, and its consequences.
My attorneys have filed an ethics complaint on Mr. Ashcroft’s conduct, as well that of as others involved in this matter, and I will be very interested to learn how well the Justice Department will police itself.
Mr. Ashcroft has repeatedly testified to his strong Christian values, and I highly respect him for this. Unlike many others, I was delighted when he was selected for his appointment to this high public office. In practice, however, by openly, repeatedly naming me as a “person of interest,” Mr. Ashcroft has not only violated Justice Department regulations and guidelines which bind him as the nation’s top law enforcement official, but in my view, he has broken the Ninth Commandment: “Thou shall not bear false witness”!
I have never met Mr. Ashcroft. I don’t know him, I’ve never spoken with him, and I do not understand his personalized focus on me. My lawyers can find no legal definition for a “person of interest.” I, however, have a working definition: A “person of interest” is someone who comes into being, when the government is under intense political pressure to solve a crime, but can’t do so.
Is it because the crime is too difficult to solve, or because the authorities are proceeding in what could mildly be called, a wrongheaded manner?...
It then becomes necessary for the FBI and other authorities to produce a [inaudible] body. Because there’s no suspect, and the authorities have nothing on which to base a prosecution, they pick a serviceable target. This should preferentially be a person about whom mysterious questions can be raised, someone with an interesting or colorful background. Then they give him a prejudicial label: “Person of interest.”...
What is useful, is that the FBI can be seen to be on the job. The press is hot on the trail, and the public is satisfied as Mr. Ashcroft continues to say, without any explanation, that progress in the anthrax letter attacks is being made.
God help us all, if the FBI’s pursuit of Mr. Ashcroft’s person of interest, me, represents that progress....
Almost a quarter century ago, I lived in a city that had a suburb named “Greendale.” The FBI and some in the media linked this with a non-existent Greendale School that appeared in the return address on four [sic] anthrax letters. ABC News even reported, as a fact, that I lived next door to that non-existent school for four years, citing unidentified government gumshoes.
My entire life history has been laid out on the Internet by reporters and conspiracy nuts....
It is one thing to have your alleged faults and misdeeds publicly aired, because you are seeking, as a candidate, for higher office. But I am a private citizen, and one who has not sought the limelight.
Remember your own travails, Mr. Ashcroft, when elements of your past were dug up by persons opposed to your selection as attorney general? I could dwell on this at length, but my principles bar me from doing so here.
In any event, Mr. Ashcroft, you asked for that; I did not. And I wonder how you would have coped, being on the end of the media frenzy that I have been enduring this entire summer.
Hatfill charged the FBI with following him 24 hours a day, tailing his car at a distance of as little as two feet, tearing up his apartment and that of his girlfriend during searches, illegally searching his girlfriend’s purse, and of trying to get his friends to lure him into privately confessing to having committed the anthrax letter attacks last fall which killed five people and sickened over one dozen others. Hatfill specifically named FBI special agents Jennifer Grant and Pamela Lay for the mistreatment of his girlfriend, and showed photographs that he and the girlfriend and taken of her trashed apartment.
Hatfill and his civil attorney, Victor Glasberg, also charged the Bureau with illegally leaking information to the media. Hatfill charged New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof with fabricating the claims that Hatfill had spent time in a “cabin” that functioned as a CIA safehouse, and that he had taken and failed three polygraph examinations in which he was asked about the anthrax attacks. Hatfill said “I have not taken, let alone failed, three polygraphs on anthrax since January. I had one polygraph session which the FBI did administer to me in January, and I was told I passed, and the examiner was satisfied that I had told the truth. Mr. Kristof never called me about this allegation, nor did he call my attorney.”
Hatfill offered to help the FBI with writing and blood samples the Bureau had never requested of him. He reported that on the days that the anthrax letters were mailed, he had been working 11-14 hour days in a team for SAIC, and offered the FBI work records, which he showed the audience. Observing that Iraq was in the possession of anthrax, and that several of the 911 terrorists were in the South Florida vicinity of American Media, Inc., the recipient of the first anthrax deadly anthrax letter, which killed photography editor Bob Stevens, Hatfill mocked the FBI’s dogged insistence on following only the “homegrown terrorist” theory.
On a personal note, I measure the effectiveness of the smear campaign against Hatfill, based on a conversation I had with an editor of another publication in mid-July. Although the editor was more familiar with Hatfill than I was, had always thought highly of him, and is one of the best-informed people in America, even he was beginning to have his doubts about the man.
Meanwhile, information released by the National Whistleblower Center and the Justice Department concluded that Van Harp, the director of the FBI’s Washington, D.C. field office, and the agent in charge of the anthrax investigation, was guilty of misconduct, in botching an internal investigation into the Bureau’s handling of the 1992 incident at Ruby Ridge.
In 1992, Rudy Ridge, Idaho, was the site of two of the darkest days in Bureau history. On August 21, U.S. Marshal William Degan and Sammy Weaver, the 14-year-old son of white separatist Randy Weaver, died in a gunfight. The following day, an FBI sharpshooter shot and killed Randy Weaver’s wife, 42-year-old Vicki Weaver, while she was holding the Weavers’ baby. The sharpshooter had been ordered to shoot to kill. The shoot-to-kill order, issued by FBI officials Richard Rogers and Larry Potts, violated FBI rules of engagement, and was later ruled illegal by a federal judge.
Rather than being prosecuted, dismissed, or suspended, most of the FBI supervisors responsible for Ruby Ridge were promoted.
A secret, 1999 report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, cited Harp for having “committed misconduct” by “helping to prepare an incomplete report on the 1992 Ruby Ridge siege that had the effect of protecting high-level FBI officials,” according to reporter Dan Eggen, writing in the August 24 Washington Post. Eggen reported that, “The report by Justice Department attorney Richard M. Rogers recommended a letter of censure or suspension for Harp, but Stephen R. Colgate, then the assistant attorney general, rejected that recommendation in January 2001, sources said.” Colgate protected all higher-level FBI officials who were responsible for the Ruby Ridge fiasco from being brought to justice.
Eggen noted that groups such as the National Whistleblower Center have complained -- as have FBI agents -- that the FBI has a corrupt organizational culture, in which bad agents and officials rise to the top, through covering up each other’s mistakes, while blaming underlings.
Dan Eggen reported that, “In a written statement, Harp said that leaks about his role in the Ruby Ridge inquiries violate ‘all sense of propriety’ and ignore reviews that exonerated him.”
At Steven Hatfill’s Sunday news conference, Harp was hoist on his own petard. Hatfill’s civil attorney, Victor Glasberg, observed that “Mr. Harp was soundly criticized in a report for ... by the Justice Dept’s Office of Professional Responsibility, claiming that he had engaged in substantial misconduct, relative to the Ruby Ridge matter. Well, it turned out that this report ended up getting leaked, and here’s Mr. Harp. In a written statement, Harp said that leaks about his role in the Ruby Ridge inquiries violate all sense of propriety. Well, I don’t know if that’s true. It may, but I’ll tell you this: The investigation that Mr. Harp is conducting of Steve Hatfill has as many leaks as the Titanic going down. So, he should take his own instructions....”
Glasberg announced that he was making a formal complaint on behalf of Hatfill about John Ashcroft, to the Justice Department and other agencies concerned with corruption of government power. The complaint has three particulars: The utilization of the terminology “person of interest,” which “has no sanction in law”; the violation of Hatfill’s privacy; and FBI/Justice Department leaks to the media.
Former FBI deputy director, Skip Brandon, appeared on Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN before and after the Hatfill conference. Brandon attempted to defend the Bureau, but inadvertently underscored Hatfill and Glasberg’s criticisms:
“It does not sound credible. That is not how the FBI I know acts. I hope it’s not, at any event.
“It doesn’t make any sense for the FBI or the Justice Department to have leaked ...
“We’re hearing only one side of this.
“He says he wants his privacy, but he keeps calling press conferences, trying to stretch his 15 minutes of fame.”
So, now Hatfill is not only a serial murderer, but his defense of himself proves his guilt, as well as that he is a publicity hound!
It appears that the FBI is undergoing some sort of institutional psychosis, due to the pressure it is under to catch someone by the anniversary of 911. Officials are cracking up, as they try to make Hatfill crack up. The hope is apparently that terrorizing Hatfill will drive him to do something that will retroactively justify the Bureau’s terror tactics. We are in the land of self-fulfilling prophecies.
Appearing on the same show with Skip Brandon was Patrick Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst. Lang remarked that the FBI’s “domestic terrorist story ... doesn’t make any sense.” Regarding the anthrax letters, which were written in the style of Islamic terrorists, but which the FBI insists were written by homegrown terrorists to seem like Islamists, Lang observed wryly, “Sometimes a cigar really is a cigar.” As for the FBI’s behavior in persecuting Hatfill, Lang noted, “I never served in the FBI, but it is characteristic of large bureaucracies to behave in ways they’re not used to behaving, when they’re under pressure.”
Unfortunately, in the age of Leviathan’s war against terrorism, the FBI is under constant pressure. And its officials have increasingly responded to that pressure, by adopting the habit of behaving like either madmen or outlaws.