That car is definitely FBI.
The blue one. The one with the custom antenna. See it? Soccer moms don’t use antennae like that.
From behind the wheel, Pat Clawson spots the feds first. But not before they’ve spotted him. The game began a traffic light up, outside an apartment building in Glover Park, when Clawson’s friend Steven Hatfill slipped quietly into the front passenger seat. It took Clawson a few sharp turns, a few stabs at the accelerator, and a few peeks in the rearview to realize we had company.
“Well, buddy, I think I’ve gotten a tail,” blurts Clawson, a longtime journalist who serves as Hatfill’s press liaison.
Hatfill says nothing. This isn’t news to the man the Justice Department last summer named a “person of interest” in the investigation over the fall 2001 anthrax attacks. And “interest” is something of an understatement: Nearly two years since the letters contaminated with aerosolized anthrax spores killed five people in the months after Sept. 11, Hatfill, 49, is a marked man. John Ashcroft’s G-men have tracked him 24-7 since last August. In June, the FBI drained a Frederick-area pond in their attempt to link Hatfill to the murders. Although a suspicious box had been found this past winter, the June draining produced nothing, the Washington Post reported, except a street sign, a bicycle, and a few logs.
Along the way, Hatfill, a well-regarded hematologist, has become a lot of people’s person of interest: Internet sleuths, bio-defense activists, Fort Detrick alumni, the media. Most of those folks trade in anthrax rumors and innuendo, which are the only things so far connecting Hatfill to those deadly letters. To rebut some of the talk, Hatfill and his attorneys are preparing defamation suits against various parties, according to Clawson.
The agents who dog Hatfill, however, worry more about surveillance than evidence. Their tracking system has become part of Hatfill’s routine. As their cars swirl around, Hatfill just sits in the passenger seat and stares out the window. They are the daily nuisance; Hatfill and his camp have dubbed their FBI tails “the flies.”
And today is a big day for the flies. As the Hatfill crewClawson, Hatfill, and a Clawson friend, plus mezigzags around an upper Northwest neighborhood, Clawson gives updates at every corner, every turn, every green light.
“They’re right behind us,” says Clawson. Two cars away. Maybe three.
“Don’t look,” Clawson adds.
It’s a tricky job, trying to lose the FBI. The Hatfill detail has shunned traditional law-enforcement autos, such as the Crown Vic, in favor of Dodge Durangos and GMC Yukons, models indigenous to upper-Northwest driveways. The FBI blends into D.C.’s plush neighborhoods like a renovated brick colonial.
The blue car fades away. But look, Clawson reports, see that big-ass ’70s van? That’s another member of the FBI team.
Clawson’s friend, a second-grade teacher, tries her best to change the subject from the back seat. She gives Hatfill her most heartfelt good-to-see-you, her most up-to-date weather report, and bulletins on mutual friends.
“Where are we going?” Hatfill asks. Margaritas, Clawson says: “I want to have a private drink with my friends.”
Clawson guns the engine, cutting across a quiet residential street near American University. He speeds through an intersection, making a quick right. After tearing around the ‘hood, he slows down at one end of a block. He looks both ways. Everything is quiet. There are no feds in sight.
Seeing nothing, Clawson peels off into another neighborhood, not taking any chances. These are classic evasion moves. Hatfill seems confused because his buddy is driving away from the neighborhood commercial strip. Clawson has to repeat the fact that he wants his drink with his buddy to be private.
“Watch it!” Hatfill mutters. His voice has a disarmingly squeaky high end. The car gets silent again, as if he were a terminally ill hospital patient who had just asked for a cup of water or the TV clicker.
“Careful,” Hatfill mumblesthere’s a girl standing at a crosswalk. “Usually, I’m reprimanding [the feds] for their bad driving.” He is a thick man, barrel-chested with a protruding guta big-game hunter who has done his share of gathering. His hair is cropped short, his beard trimmed neat. The only things that stand out are his cowboy boots, peeking out from dark pants.
Clawson passes the girl and then guns the engine harder still. The car groans all the way up a hill.
Clawson’s getaway vehicle is a pure shitbox, a maroon 1988 Plymouth Reliant with 173,000 miles on the odometer. He bought it on eBay for $300. There are little pieces of newspaper, notebook paper, silver gum wrappers in every crevice. “This is like Al Bundy,” Hatfill says of the car’s vibe.
Everyone laughsHatfill made a joke. The FBI isn’t in sight. Finally, after 10 minutes, Clawson pulls into an empty lot and stops the Plymouth. We all wait for the FBI to show up.
Ten seconds pass and nothing. The neighborhood is quiet. There are no cars. All you can hear is the wind through the trees.
Twenty seconds pass. A flicker of optimism. Maybe Clawson will get his private drink. Thirty seconds pass. Clawson starts up the car, pulls out of the desolate lot, and parks nearby so he has a good view of the street. Just to double-check.
Another 20 seconds pass. Still no FBI.
Soon, maybe another 10 seconds, we hear the rumble of the FBI’s silver-and-black Chevy van getting closer and closer until we see it chugging up the street toward the Plymouth. The driver, straight out of a Cheech and Chong flick, leans out and gets a good look at us before motoring on. The agent turns around and passes us again before stopping at the next intersection. There, he is joined by a gold SUV and a blue sedan. All three wait a bit. Who knows what they’re talking about?
The flies disperse when we start to move again. It’s 4:20 p.m.
Hatfill gives his driver an exasperated look. That’s enough. He wants his margarita.
“I think they put a homing device in your dick,” Clawson says.
Since Hatfill became the Justice Department’s obsession in the anthrax case, he has rarely left the confines of his girlfriend’s Northwest condo. On a public foray in May, the SUV of an FBI agent ran over Hatfill’s foot. Police issued the scientist a $5 ticket for “walking to create a hazard.” He plans on contesting the ticket at an Aug. 15 court date. The person of interest’s foot is now fully recovered. “[The agent] ran red lights in front of a school,” says Hatfill. “When I went back to admonish him, he ran me over.”
The fifth-floor one-bedroom reflects the touch of a swashbuckling geek. Hatfill has lined the living room with a fine collection of classic guy films, such as U-571, Behind Enemy Lines, and X-Men. African game animals that he’s killed, eaten, or skinned share wall space with antique pistols. The one thing he showcases is a replica of King Tut’s tomb, which opens up to a bar and more flicks.
The place was somewhat roughed-up after the FBI ransacked it last summer. As a gift for his girlfriend, who works as a secretary, Hatfill spends much of his time renovating it. The work has grown extensive, says one friend, adding that Hatfill’s renovations are “from the studs out.” He has remodeled the bathroom, and she bought some huge antique chairs that their friends refer to as “thrones.”
The apartment has become the one place where he can workon somethingaway from the scrutiny of the G-men.
Playing Bob Vila marks quite a fall for a local researcher once keyed into high-level government contracts. Hatfill comes with impressive credentials, including a medical degree, three master’s degrees, a winter tour in Antarctica as a medical officer for the South African government, and graduate study at Oxford.
After all that training, he landed at the National Institutes of Health on a low-level research fellowship in 1995. He joined the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Frederick’s Fort Detrick on a two-year fellowship in September 1997. There, he studied ebola and the Marburg virus, which causes a rare hemorrhagic fever in humans.
By the late ’90s, Hatfill had become outspoken on the threats of bioterror. He gained attention on this front in 1997 when the offices of B’nai B’rith International in the District received a suspicious package containing a non-lethal relative of anthrax. A subsequent account in the Washington Times cited Hatfill as an expert on biological agents.
Hatfill posed for Insight magazine in 1998, theorizing that anyone could make biological weapons from his own kitchen. The story read, “National Institutes of Health researcher Steven Hatfill demonstrates how a determined terrorist could cook up a batch of plague in his or her own kitchen using common household ingredients and protective equipment from the supermarket….For this photo opportunity, Hatfill left out the secret ingredientnamely the plague bacteriawhich an enterprising terrorist could collect from a prairie-dog habitat in the American Southwest, where it is endemic.”
Along the way, Hatfill also wrote an unpublished novel, Emergence, in which terrorists attack humans with mad-cow disease and the plague. At the end of the story, FBI agents heroically capture the bad guys.
After leaving Fort Detrick in 1999, Hatfill began a stint at Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a large U.S. defense contractor. While at SAIC, says Hatfill, he worked on domestic preparedness for terrorist attacks. Hatfill’s research convinced him that cities were ill-equipped to handle anthrax hoaxes, much less bona fide germ offensives. “I went to my boss and suggested, ‘We need to develop some kind of doctrine here to provide a rational way to handle this stuff,’” says Hatfill. “My boss agreed.”
SAIC commissioned a renowned expert to write a report on scientific procedures for dealing with hoax letters as well as real anthrax-laden missives. The expert reportedly inserted talcum powder into an envelope to test how much anthrax could be sent through the mail without detection. The resulting report and preparedness guides, completed roughly three years ago, made the rounds throughout the U.S. government, including many U.S. embassies.
Hatfill claims that FBI and media inquiries to SAIC regarding anthrax led to his departure from the defense contractor in March 2002.
Just after leaving SAIC, Hatfill lined up a gig with Louisiana State University on another counterterrorism project. Then, less than a week before his move to Baton Rouge, FBI agents searched the Frederick apartment where he was livingit was the second search thereas well as his girlfriend’s place. After he moved to Baton Rouge, LSU officials notified him that his services would not be needed.
Before his sudden dismissal, his girlfriend, who planned to move with him, had packed up her place. The place was full of neatly stacked cardboard boxes. There were hangers stacked in bunches, glasses wrapped in newspapers and put in a carton marked “Fragile.”
But all the stuff stayed put in the apartment. And that soon included Hatfill. When he’s not working on renovations, he sits in his small den and job-hunts, looking up old contacts for leads. He hasn’t had any luck. He went to one interview, Clawson saysand so did the FBI. The interview, which concerned starting up a company doing private first-responder work, took place in public. So the federal sleuths pulled out their video camera to capture Hatfill’s professional ambitions on tape, according to Clawson. The interviewer caught on to the surveillance, and he asked Hatfill, “Did you see that?” Hatfill couldn’t say anything. It’s just something he’s learned to live with. He never heard back about the job.
Of course, getting an interview these days is a big score for Hatfill, who often doesn’t even get his calls returned. “Nothing happens,” Clawson says. “He’s just radioactive. It’s like he’s got leprosy.” It doesn’t help that the media found apparent falsehoods on his résumé, namely that he’d earned a Ph.D. and had served in the U.S. Special Forces. “You don’t have my résumé,” says Hatfill. “Nobody has the accurate copy of my résumé.” That document must make for some interesting reading: Hatfill once told me that he’d killed a terrorist, whose sandals he took as a souvenir.
Hatfill thought he had a job lined up as a weapons inspector with the United Nations last fall. He was told he’d be called up that December. The call never came. “I was working on plans for a going-away party for him,” Clawson says. “Then all of the sudden, he got notified that he was not going to be going to Iraq.”
Hatfill watches a lot of TV, particularly CNN and the Fox News Channel. He reads the wire services and hunts down any story that mentions his name or the anthrax investigation. “It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even tell him about a lot of the press coverage,” Clawson says.
Friends and supporters call regularly in attempts to bring him out of the apartment. When he ventures outside, it’s usually to go to the hardware store for building supplies. A good time is going to the movies or to a Thai restaurant. Usually the FBI will come in, sit at the bar, and sip water.
At a dinner three weeks ago with Clawson, Hatfill put on Eminem’s latest album, The Eminem Show. He knew all the words to the rapper’s first single: “Without Me.” In an attempt at gallows humor, he changed the words to fit his situation:
“Why won’t the FBI let me be me?” Hatfill rapped. “There is no investigation without me.”
While Hatfill slings drywall in the apartment, the feds stay down on the street, waiting for him to cave under the pressure, to confess his sins, or maybe just to walk out to buy some ice cream. Any move will at least break up the monotony of staking out the researcher’s apartment building. It seems clear from their setup that they are not looking to catch Hatfill doing anything sinister; they just want him to know they are out there, in the bushes, in the alleys, in that white construction van parked in front of his building. Maybe that will be enough to make him crack.
By now, Hatfill’s camp has the feds’ positioning down cold. There are upward of a dozen agents on the ground at all times, Clawson says. Two blocks up, a man usually sits in a blue Yukon. According to Clawson’s map, a woman sits for hours two blocks south, reading a newspaper in a white sports car. Clawson believes agents have set up a command post on a side street near Hatfill’s apartment. Agents park spare cars in alleys and spread over a two-block radius from Hatfill’s building.
They use all kinds of cars: Durangos, Pontiacs, Buicks, Saturns. After midnight, agents patrol the area on foot. What happens if Hatfill slips out the back door? Agents will be there. If Hatfill decides to drive his truck, agents will be there, too. Hatfill believes they’ve outfitted the truck with a tracking device.
In a lot across from Hatfill’s building, the feds have stationed their own vehicles beside marked Metropolitan Police Department vans. Clawson believes they have set up cameras in that lot and on the roof of an adjacent apartment complex. But when he attempts to show them to me, he can’t find them.
If Hatfill were to go out and get that ice cream, he would be joined by agents creeping alongside him in cars as well as agents surrounding him on foot. They’d have additional cars driving parallel to Hatfill on side streets. “There’s nothing subtle about it,” Clawson says.
The feds took over Hatfill’s life when they took his stuff last August. The agents came away with garbage bags full of the scientist’s belongingsbut no anthrax. Hatfill says that the feds were choosy about what they grabbed: individual pieces from suits, some T-shirts, his underwear, books and CDs, pairs of army boots, his girlfriend’s hammer. After the raid, Hatfill says, he called the feds and told them they had missed some things they would surely want to look at. The search had seemed so haphazard.
Agents seemed pleased with one find in particularan unassembled rock polisher. They showed it to Hatfill’s girlfriend as evidence of the scientist’s sinister deeds. In subsequent statements to the press, he lambasted the feds for telling his girlfriend he was the anthrax killer.
Hatfill’s relationship with the agentsinitially fairly cordialhas been uneasy ever since. On several occasions, agents have been the ones cracking up. He says he’s seen them run red lights, speed, weave in and out of traffic. When he drives on the highway, agents will surround him with up to four cars, creating a veritable homeland-security motorcade.
While Hatfill was traveling in West Virginia a couple of months ago, an agent freaked out on him. “I was walking towards him as a truck was in front of his car,” Hatfill remembers. “He couldn’t get out. He panicked. He said, ‘Fuck you!’ and he showed me the finger.” In Baton Rouge, when Hatfill was preparing for his job at LSU, agents made a bow out of yellow police tape and hung it up by his apartment door, Clawson says.
FBI agents have mistakenly followed his girlfriend on several occasions. One winter morning, Clawson reports, Hatfill’s girlfriend went to the grocery store in his truck and attracted roughly 10 agents.
Another night, the agents caught on to a soup caper. Hatfill went to meet a friend in the Virginia suburbs, who handed him a bag containing homemade soup. The agents, Clawson says, took pictures of the bag. Hatfill’s friend, spotting the cameras, yelled at the agents: “It’s soup!” The agents took no action against the soup transfer.
Hatfill says agents have been busted trying to sneak into his apartment’s secure garage. “Caught by the landlady,” he says, incredulous, adding that, in one instance, an agent bumped his head on the garage door trying to get out. Clawson says the building manager has sent around a flier to the building’s tenants warning them to be on the lookout for sharp-dressed men driving late-model cars.
Clawson says he’s been the target of unwarranted searches, too. His house in the Shenandoah Valley, he suspects, has been broken into at least twicethough he has no idea who the intruders were. He has set his computer up to handle any and all such intrusions. In Microsoft Word, he keeps a file called “Hatfill Case” and a file marked “Hatfill Confidential.” One night, he came home to find that the “Confidential” file had been opened. Far from containing juicy tidbits about Hatfill, the file contains a simple message: “Fuck You! You’ve Been Had!”
Clawson says that the FBI and D.C. police have confronted him twice when he wasn’t with Hatfill.
In the early fall of last year, Clawson went to Hatfill’s apartment to photograph the surveillance vans. He arrived in front of the building at about 9 p.m. and began snapping pictures with his Kodak Instamatic. He seized on a van parked in the lot across the street. A man and a woman inside covered their faces and pulled a curtain over the window. “Get out of here,” Clawson remembers them saying.
“When you looked through [the van], you can see them with video cameras,” Clawson adds. “They had them pointed toward Steve’s apartment.”
Eventually, the van began to pull out of the lot where it was parked. It was then joined by a blue sedan. The woman got into the sedan, which promptly parked in a different spot, with Clawson snapping away all the while.
Clawson then flagged down a police cruiser and told the officer about the suspicious activity. After the officer talked to the woman, who flashed a badge, the cop started questioning Clawson. “Next thing I know, I got six cops down there,” he says. One officer took his camera and threatened to arrest him. After much debate, a sergeant agreed to give Clawson his camera back, but with a warning not to come back again.
Several nights later, Clawson returned with his camera and drew a crowd. Two men in an unmarked sedan began following him. He decided to drive to a well-lit area for protection and headed to Georgetown. He made it almost to M Street when a cruiser pulled in behind him and put on its lights. Clawson pulled over.
The two guys in the unmarked sedan, who were apparently coordinating their work with the police department, stopped, too. They began to question him. “What are you doing?” they asked.
“Is there any law against driving?” Clawson asked.
“They told me point blank if I didn’t tell them what I was doing they were going to arrest me and take me in,” Clawson remembers. “At which point, I said, ‘Look, I’m out tonight working on a legal matter.’”
“What kind of legal matter?” the cops asked.
Clawson mentioned Hatfill’s attorney’s name. That ended the conversation. The cops let him go but told him to “watch what you’re doing.”
The video cameras seem to be the latest hassle. One time, Clawson remembers, Hatfill spotted a few agents trying to rig a camera to a lamppost across from his apartment building. He decided to have a little fun and go out there and offer his assistance.
“What are you guys doing?” Hatfill asked, according to Clawson.
The agents told him that they were installing an “Internet relay device.” Whatever that means. He offered to help them install it anyway. The joke in Hatfill’s camp is that he’s secured the best Internet service in the District.
Hatfill’s friends and associates believe that despite all the agents’ annoying tactics, their 24-hour watch offers Hatfill a security blanket. If the real anthrax killer ever mailed another letter, they believe their buddy would be exonerated.
Hatfill claims he passed a polygraph exam in the aftermath of the attacks. Yet he claims that convincing the FBI of his innocence won’t suffice in this case. He also has to convince one middle-aged professor of molecular biology at the State University of New York at Purchase. Her name is Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, and she chairs the Federation of American Scientists’ working group on biological weapons.
Rosenberg has made the anthrax case her personal crusade and even met with the FBI. In February 2002, Rosenberg claimed that she knew the identity of the main suspect in the case, first telling an audience of roughly 65 students and faculty at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. The Trenton Times reported: “There are a number of insidersgovernment insiderswho know people in the anthrax field who have a common suspect. The FBI has questioned that person more than once…so it looks as though the FBI is taking that person very seriously.”
In June 2002, Rosenberg put out a paper titled “The Anthrax Case: What the FBI Knows” that detailed her theory about this lone suspect. She stated that “a number of inside experts (at least five that I know about) gave the FBI the name of one specific person as the most likely suspect.” This person, she went on to write, had devised bioterror scenarios, had access to remote locations to develop the anthrax, and had access to Fort Detrick.
Rosenberg wondered if the agents were dragging their feet for fear of what this suspect might expose, for fear that he might “divulge secret information” or “even threaten to release a biological agent.” She went on to speculate that “perhaps he decided to mount an anthrax attack that would kill few people, if any, but would wake up the country and prove that he was right.”
Soon after releasing “What the FBI Knows,” Rosenberg presented her paper to Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy, both of whose offices received anthrax-laced letters in 2001. She was then invited to brief the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee. She became the most well-known watchdog on the case. “I was very frustrated,” she says now, adding that soon after her presentation before Congress, the FBI started to become much more aggressive in its investigation. In other words, the FBI went after Hatfill publicly.
Her description of the suspect fit Hatfill to a T: his experience at Fort Detrick, his ties to defense contractors and U.N. weapons inspectors, his friendship with anthrax expert William Patrick III. Her profile wasn’t a profile of an anthrax killerit was a profile of Steven Hatfill.
Rosenberg had Hatfill’s name on her lips before the Justice Department tagged him as a person of interest. One reporter, who requested anonymity, stated that Rosenberg floated Hatfill’s name as the lead suspect. She denies ever mentioning his name.
“I always stayed away from names,” Rosenberg says, before adding: “I asked people if they had an idea of who did it. If they did, did that agree with what somebody else said? Many people were pointing in the same direction. I was looking to see if people were pointing in the same direction.”
Within days of Rosenberg’s June session with Daschle and Leahy, Hatfill’s Frederick home was searched the first time. On July 2, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof began writing about Hatfill, referring to him as “Mr. Z.” After a series of columns, Kristof unmasked “Mr. Z” as being Hatfill. Rosenberg will neither confirm nor deny that Kristof consulted with her. Kristof refuses to comment on the sourcing for his columns.
Three months before Hatfill was outed, Rosenberg told the BBC: “I think the time is rapidly coming when it will be very important to bring him to trial, even if they don’t think they have sufficient evidence. This might at least, if not result in a criminal conviction, make it possible to bring civil charges somewhat like what happened to O.J. Simpson in the past. So I think it’s time to start moving, because it’s very important from the point of view of deterrence of any possible future terrorist.”
Pretty soon, the FBI was back on Hatfill. “She’s crazy. She caused it,” says Hatfill of Rosenberg.
A green Grand Prix appears in the Plymouth’s rearview.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
And then a red Buick.
Both look suspicious to Clawson. “Hold tightlet’s see what we got here,” he says as he speeds down Canal Road on a recent Tuesday afternoon. His pal and I are in the Plymouth’s back seat. Hatfill rides shotgun.
The red Buick has latched onto us, keeping a respectful distance. Maybe too respectful.
“Take a right up here, Pat,” Hatfill suggests. “There’s no way he would be taking a right.”
Clawson refuses. He’s got a plan worked out. Both men stare into mirrors. Clawson urges me not to look back.
The Buick makes the right, leaving us. We are soon joined by another suspicious car.
“Go straight,” Hatfill urges.
“Let me worry about where we’re going,” Clawson argues, before taking a left over the Chain Bridge and into Virginia. During the momentary downtime, the two discuss the Buick and what got their attention.
“Nobody carries a microphone in their car,” Hatfill says.
Clawson passes CIA headquarters and heads into downtown McLean. A gray sedan still seems to be following Clawson’s Plymouth. Soon, a black van joins the motorcade. And then both turn off. Nothing.
Clawson waits in a leafy neighborhood, and no agents join him. “I can’t tell you for sure if it was a tail,” Clawson says. They wonder aloud: If Hatfill is so dangerous, why did they stop following him?
“They don’t love you anymore, honey,” Clawson jokes on the way home from lunch. “Gone on to a new girl.”
Hatfill is pissed just the same. “It’s a shower of shit,” he says. CP