The federal investigation into the deadly anthrax mailings of late 2001 was undermined by leaks and a premature fixation on a single suspect, people involved the case told the Los Angeles Times. More than six years after the mailings, no one has been charged, and the top suspect, former Army scientist Steven Hatfill was essentially exonerated Friday when the U.S. agreed to pay him $5.82 million to settle a lawsuit. The anthrax mailings killed five people, crippled mail delivery in some areas, and closed a Senate office building for months. Dozens of interviews by the Times and a review of newly available court documents show a flawed investigation marked by abnormal tactics and internal dissent.
In 2002, Hatfill was publicly identified by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft as “a person of interest.” The preoccupation with Hatfill persisted for years, long after investigators failed to turn up any evidence linking him to the mailings. Other potential suspects and leads were ignored or given insufficient attention, investigators said. The security of information within the probe was so lax that FBI agents found news helicopters racing them to the scenes of searches. One exasperated agent called the leaks to the media “ridiculous.” FBI leaders remained fixated on Hatfill into late 2006. “They exhausted a tremendous amount of time and energy on him,” said one FBI agent.