Wednesday, November 26, 2008

FBI abused power in pursuing Bush administration critic in anthrax probe

Did the FBI go after U.S. Army scientist Steven Hatfill to the exclusion of other suspects in the 2001 anthrax attacks because he was a Bush administration critic? Recently released records of the FBI's investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks demonstrate the dangers of giving law enforcement agencies unlimited authority to investigate anything and in entrusting enforcement of the Bill of Rights to a government that is hostile to it. The FBI's incorrect focus on an innocent U.S. Army scientist to the exclusion of other suspects probably was influenced by Steven Hatfill's criticism of the government's preparations against chemical attack. According to the Reuters international news service, agents relied on unsubstantiated statements from unidentified witnesses to pursue Hatfill in the poison mailings, which killed 5 and sickened 17 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Hatfill did have access to anthrax and had written a novel about anthrax attacks. But Hatfill turned out to have had nothing to do with the attacks while the real criminal, fellow Army scientist Bruce Ivins, was not on the FBI's radar, even though he presumably had the same access to anthrax. The difference appears to be that Ivins was not a critic of the government. The FBI spent millions of dollars investigating Hatfill and the Justice Department was forced to spend nearly $6 million more to settle after Hatfill sued for breach of privacy rights. The Justice Department even tried to prevent the public from gaining access to the search warrant used by law enforcement to search the homes of Hatfill and his girlfriend during the investigation, but a lawsuit by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times won a court order to release the documents.

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