The Anthrax/Hatfill Files
By Nicholas Stix
September 30, 2002
Insight on the News
Much of the media's "case" against scientist Steven Hatfill, dubbed a "person of interest" by the FBI in its investigation of the anthrax-contaminated letters that last fall killed five people and sickened more than a dozen others, rests on two myths set in Africa during Hatfill's stays in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia prior to 1980) and South Africa. Rather than check out the phony stories, partisan media in the United States, Europe and Africa have echoed and, in some cases, embellished them.
Steven Hatfill long has claimed on his resume to have served in the Rhodesian special forces Special Air Services (SAS) and Selous Scouts counterinsurgency unit. In stories that have circulated around the world, journalists at South Africa's Cape Times and the liberal, German weekly newspaper Die Zeit additionally have claimed that Hatfill was allied with and gave weapons training to South African "neo-Nazis" (the Afrikaner Resistance Movement); the New York Times has suggested that he was responsible for a deadly outbreak of anthrax that hit Rhodesia from 1979-1980; and ABC News and the Associated Press (AP) have reported that Hatfill attended medical school in Zimbabwe near a "Greendale School."
Some reporters--notably staffers at The Forward, a New York-based weekly--found former members of Rhodesian special forces and the South African Afrikaner Resistance Movement, none of whom had any recollection of Hatfill. However, none of the journalists hunting Hatfill retracted the earlier claims. Even if true, Hatfill's service with the Rhodesian army is irrelevant to the anthrax investigation.
Let's examine the myth of anthrax as a weapon used in the Zimbabwean civil war. True, from early 1979-1980, an outbreak of anthrax hit black farms in Rhodesia, killing livestock, afflicting 10,738 black farmers with cutaneous (skin) anthrax and killing 182 of the farmers. The cause of the outbreak never has been determined. Ever since, supporters of the black-independence movement have insisted, without any supporting evidence, that the outbreak was a biological-warfare attack by the white Rhodesian army.
In a 1992 article that was not published in an academic journal, Dr. Meryl Nass, a close associate of Hatfill-nemesis Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, cited "journalist Jeremy Brick hill" [sic], who has insisted that anonymous military contractors told him that the outbreak was a military attack by the multiracial Selous Scouts. The credibility of Brick-hill, a self-described "antiapartheid activist" who claims to have fought on the side of the black rebels, is questionable. This reporter has not been able to find any record of massive, biowarfare-induced, cutaneous anthrax infections anywhere.
Journalists such as the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, the Cape Times' Tony Weaver, Die Zeit's Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff and the Zimbabwe Mirror's Chofamba-Sithole and Mlambo all have suggested that Hatfill had a hand in the anthrax outbreak. Innocent Chofamba-Sithole and Norman Mlambo have insisted that the Zimbabwean government proved that its white apartheid predecessor was behind the anthrax outbreak, but this reporter has been unable to find reports supporting their claims. Do these reporters accept the claims of dictator Robert Mugabe and his ilk on their face?
The second myth exploits the "Greendale School," the phony New Jersey return address on the anthrax-contaminated letters sent to Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The Greendale School myth first was reported by ABC News on June 25, the day of the first high-profile search of Hatfill's home and property: "ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross also reported that investigators are intrigued by the fact that Hatfill lived for years near a Greendale Elementary School while attending medical school in Zimbabwe."
Ross' claim was repeated by countless news organizations and in later ABC reports. On Aug. 8, the AP's Jeremiah Marquez came up with a new wrinkle in order to immunize the Greendale School myth from ever being disproved: "The anthrax letters had a return address of the `Greendale School.' A school in Harare known as the Greendale School was actually named for Courtney Selous, a famed white hunter and the namesake of the Selous Scouts." Marquez' fiction was echoed by his AP colleagues Laura Meckler and Ted Bridis, and by the New York Post's Niles Lathem.
An official of the Zimbabwean Ministry of Schools in Harare has assured this reporter that there is no Greendale School; Zimbabwean expatriates I contacted, who lived in the same area during the same period as Hatfill, concurred.
Although there is a school located in Greendale, it never has been known as "Greendale School." No other schools ever have been built in the area. The fact is, there are "Greendales" and "Greendale Schools" all over the English-speaking world. The current significance of the address is to the journalists--most notably ABC's Ross and the AP's Marquez--who have created an alternate-media universe within which the phrase "Greendale School" condemns Hatfill. This would embarrass a middle-school journalism student.
Not content to be a brilliantly accomplished scientist, Hatfill apparently fancied himself a cross between Dr. Christian Barnard and James Bond. To that end, he created a "usable" past. The media have used that past in ways Hatfill never could have countenanced. However, the media frenzy over Hatfill has taught us nothing about the anthrax killer. All that we have learned, ultimately, is that for much of the mainstream media, being politically conservative and on the "wrong" side of Zimbabwe's bloody civil war is a capital crime.