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Video: Former anthrax suspect breaks his silence

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    >>> caribbean international . wrongly pursued by the fbi in connection with the anthrax attacks that terrified this nation in the weeks and months after 9/11. several members of congress and media outlets, including nbc , received tainted letters. five people died, 17 others were sickened. now for the first time , dr. steven hatfield is speaking out about what he was forced to endure. dr. steven hatfield worked at a scientist at the army research medical center 's in maryland which holds stores of anthrax. when the fbi started investigating the deadly attacks, it looked at more than 1,000 people. he wasn't surprised to be one of them. did you volunteer to take the polygraph or did they ask you?

    >> they asked if i would. i said, sure.

    >> that would be a moment that would get my blood going a little bit, at least my heartbeat going. no, i think this is just standard.

    >> no reservations about that whatsoever.

    >> no, why?

    >> what kind of questions did they ask you? any of them jump out at you?

    >> sort of mundane things.

    >> they didn't come right out and say did you keel people with anthrax?

    >> no, actually i got upset with them with all of these mundane, you ever cheat on a test type things. said, why don't you just ask me? the guy said, yeah, okay. that was the end of it.

    >> reporter: but unlike the others, he became the focus of the investigation after two outside sources said he fit the profile of the anthrax killer. for the next five years, hatfield 's life would be turned upside down.

    >> imagine being the fox chased by the hounds, and i think you begin to get an idea of what it was like for steven hatfield .

    >> reporter: on june 25th , 2002 , hatfield 's name became very public. the fbi said they wanted to take some tests at his home. feeling he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to fear, he agreed.

    >> well, we'd like to do some swabs. it will be very discrete, quiet.

    >> you sign a consent form.

    >> sure.

    >> you got home later that day ?

    >> no, i walk out in the parking lot , there were already news cameras filming me walking to the car. they were taking me back to the apartment. then the whole news thing was out there and the helicopters and all this.

    >> didn't you say to one of the fbi agents , you know, how did this get leaked or didn't that person say to you, someone must that leaked this to the media?

    >> i can't remember the exact conversation, but i said, what's going on here? and, well, it got leaked. wonderful. i'm watching this on television and there's guys in hazmat suits . what a show. apparently that's what it was -- a show.

    >> reporter: a show that was watched by americans on live tv with no concrete evidence. steven hatfield was now public enemy number one. can you try to describe for me what happens over the next several years when you are now under surveillance constantly by the fbi , and under the scrutiny of the media?

    >> it just never seemed to end.

    >> when you say they're following you everywhere you go, is it like in a bad movie where they're in a van, peeking out of a side window? or are they just obviously --

    >> no, right behind you.

    >> so they're making it clear to you, "we are watching every move you make."

    >> sure. it just became a way to harass. you're going to a restaurant, they'll sit down on either side of you.

    >> how did you react to that?

    >> you keep thinking, well, this will end. somebody will come to their senses.

    >> it is all a mistake .

    >> yeah.

    >> reporter: in august , 2002 , attorney general john ashcroft took the unprecedented step of naming hatfield a person of interest in the anthrax killings.

    >> he's a person that the fbi has been interested in.

    >> reporter: the scrutiny cost hatfield his job and every aspect of his privacy. you can't go anywhere without them following you. you can't have a candid phone conversation because you have to assume they're listening to every word you say.

    >> i think by the time the fbi come and see you, i think your phone's already been done. which, you know, if the law says they can do that, then fine.

    >> how long did this disaster last for you?

    >> it lasts forever.

    >> what about friends ? during the heat of this, when the spotlight was the brightest on you, did you lose friends ? were people afraid to associate with you?

    >> no. what upsets me, i don't know of any law that permits the fbi to go by your closest friends and say you're not to associate with dr. hatfield . you're not to see him or talk to him. what they're trying to do is socially isolate you as a part of this stress.

    >> trying to make you snap.

    >> yeah. intentionally.

    >> reporter: in 2007 , the fbi was able to track the deadly strain of anthrax used in the attacks to a supply kept by dr. bruce ivans who worked at the same army lab as dr. hatfield . as investigators closed in, ivans took his own life. his family maintains his innocence. case closed, says the fbi . given what you've told me, steve , about your now complete lack of confidence in the justice department and the investigation they conducted surrounding you, do you think they got it right now?

    >> matt, i have no way to know. i haven't seen the data. obviously the fbi haven't felt it necessary to share anything with me. i have talk to some senior scientists that i trust and respect. i have to take their opinion that, yeah. other than that, i can't say.

    >> what's your feeling about the way the justice department treated you?

    >> i learned a couple things. the government can do to you whatever they want. you break the laws, their laws, as they see fit. you can't turn laws on and off as you deem fit. and the privacy act laws were were put in place specifically to stop what happened to me. i used to be somebody that trusted the government . now i really don't trust anything.

    >> you settled with the justice department , a legal settlement , for a lot of money . this may sound trivial to you, but did they ever apologize?

    >> somebody phoned me up and say "we're sorry"?

    >> yeah. "we screwed up."

    >> no, they don't do that.

    >> the falsely accused often ask the question, where do i go to get my reputation back. where does steven hatfield go?

    >> i was fortunate that about half-way through this mess, i had a band of brothers and they never left my side. i still work with them to this day. patriots, soldiers, highly decorated men. and that gives you the strength, just to be in their company , to carry on.

    >> sounds to me like you wouldn't have made it without them.

    >> no. no, i doubt it.

    >> while he was never formally clear after being labeled a person of interest , the government 's multi- million dollar settlement would seem to speak for itself. read more about hatfield 's story in the may issue of the " " atlantic monthly ." he said he used to drive his car and they'd be right behind him, pull him over for routine traffic stops and give him tickets for ridiculous things. his life was turned

TODAY contributor
updated 4/16/2010 8:40:50 AM ET 2010-04-16T12:40:50

The man falsely accused by the FBI of sending letters laced with deadly anthrax spores has received a big settlement from the government, but never an apology for destroying his life.

What’s more, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill told TODAY’s Matt Lauer during his first interview since the September 2001 attacks, neither the Justice Department nor the FBI has been held accountable for breaking the law and lying in their pursuit of him.

“I love my country,” Hatfill, 56, told Lauer. But, he added, “I learned a couple things. The government can do to you whatever they want. They can break the laws, federal laws, as they see fit … You can’t turn laws on and off as you deem fit. And the Privacy Act laws were put in place specifically to stop what happened to me. Whether we’re at war or have been attacked, the foundation of society is that you hold to the laws in place. I used to be somebody that trusted the government. Now I really don't trust anything.”

No apologies
“Did they ever apologize?” Lauer asked.

“No, they don’t do that. My father asked them, very early on in the investigation. He said, ‘When all this is over, and you find that my son had nothing to do with this, are you going to apologize?’ And Bob Roth says, ‘No, we don't do that,’ ” Hatfill said, referring to the FBI’s lead investigator in the case, Bob Roth.

“We’ll send Martha Stewart to jail for making false statements. What about these senior people? Nothing’s happening. Is the Justice Department incapable of regulating itself? Without strong regulation, the privileges we give them to investigate us, to conduct their normal anti-crime things, can spiral out of control.”

Hatfill said that at his worst, while unable to get a job and living with his girlfriend, he turned to drink, the glass of wine he took to help him relax turning into two glasses and more.

“I’ve been in a lot of stressful situations over the years. And it ends. This didn’t end. It kept going, going, going, getting worse, worse, worse,” he said of the investigation.

NBC’s Tom Brokaw was one of the recipients of the 2001 anthrax letters.
The anthrax attacks began in September 2001, a week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Letters filled with deadly anthrax spores began arriving at media outlets and at the offices of federal lawmakers. Five people would die in the attacks, and at least 17 others would be infected. Among those to whom letters were addressed was NBC’s Tom Brokaw.

In 2008, the government would finally settle with Hatfill for $5.8 million, although a Justice Department spokesperson said the department “does not admit to any violation of the Privacy Act and continues to deny all liability in connection with Dr. Hatfill’s claims.”

Another researcher, Bruce Edwards Ivins, was identified as the prime suspect. Ivins committed suicide after his name was made public.

Wake of 9/11
In 2001, the immediate assumption was that the anthrax attacks were orchestrated by al-Qaida. Amid intense media attention, investigators attempted to determine the source of the letters.

Video: Feds close case in 2001 anthrax attacks As someone who was working on biological warfare-related projects for a defense contractor, Hatfill, a respected researcher, said he expected to be among those questioned. So he wasn’t surprised when agents came by to ask him a few questions.

Eventually, they asked if they could take a look at his apartment in Frederick, Md.

“I’m cooperating. I didn’t get a lawyer or anything,” Hatfill told Lauer. He said agents asked to swab surfaces in the apartment and promised, “It’ll be very discreet, quiet.”

“Sure,” he replied. “Knock yourself out.”

The government conducted a highly public investigation of Hatfill. Eventually another man was named prime suspect in the anthrax mailings.
But when Hatfill walked out of his apartment with the agents, “there were already news cameras filming me walking to the car.” Overhead, helicopters hovered taking aerial footage. “I was really angry,” he said.

Hatfill cooperated fully in the early stages because he had nothing to hide. He even took a polygraph test, even though he knew that polygraphs are not reliable and sometimes return false positive results.

‘Person of interest’
In July 2002, Hatfill was named a “person of interest” by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

In July 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft named Hatfill a “person of interest” in the anthrax mailings.
As Hatfill found himself vilified in the media, his anger grew. He told Lauer he blamed the media for the false reports about him, not understanding that the media was reporting false information that came from anonymous government sources.

“I didn’t know this at the time. I just thought it was the press sensationalizing things. It wasn’t till much, much later we learned that it was actually intentionally done by the Justice Department,” Hatfill said.

Hatfill said he survived only because he had faithful friends who refused to abandon him, even when ordered to by the FBI.

“I was fortunate that I had a band of brothers and they never left my side. I still work with them to this day. Patriots, soldiers, highly decorated men. And that gives you the strength, just to be in their company, to carry on.”

He is angry that the government feels that it can tell people to abandon their friends.

“I don’t know of any law that permits the FBI to go by your closest friends and say, ‘You’re not to associate with Dr. Hatfill.’ What they’re trying to do is socially isolate you as part of the stress.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


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