Michael Mason, the new agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Washington, regrets that former military scientist Steven J. Hatfill was named a “person of interest” in the 2001 anthrax attacks. The Washington Post says that Mason finds the phrase vague and unhelpful.
Mason, 45, an 18-year FBI veteran who took over the 700-agent office this month, also regrets that the investigation had been “beset by leaks” about Hatfill’s being under the FBI’s scrutiny. He prefers to identify people only when they are formal suspects and the FBI has enough evidence to charge them with a crime. Naming someone as a person of interest can unfairly harm a person’s reputation, he said.
Mason told the Post that Attorney General John Ashcroft, who first used the “person of interest” phrase in the Hatfill case, “may have had his back against the wall” when reporters questioned him. Hatfill has not been charged in connection with the anthrax attacks, which killed five people and made 17 others ill; he has denied involvement. Last month, he filed a lawsuit accusing Ashcroft and the FBI of unfairly making him a public target and engaging in a “patently illegal campaign of harassment” to cover up their failure to solve the case.
Mason said he was not sure whether the anthrax case would be solved. Ashcroft pledged in an ABC interview Aug. 3 that it would be solved.