If the left wants an example of the Bush Administration’s incompetence in the war on terror, they’ve got it in the case of former government scientist Dr. Steven Hatfill, who was falsely accused of the anthrax murders. The U.S. Government “has determined that settlement is in the best interests of the United States and has agreed to pay Dr. Hatfill and his attorneys $2.825 million dollars and purchase for Dr. Hatfill an annual annuity of $150,000,” the Department of Justice said in a statement released on Friday, June 27. But there was no apology for ruining an innocent person’s life and career.
There was never any evidence indicating that Hatfill is anything other than a patriot who tried to help America prepare for the terrorist attacks that were blamed on him.
The problem for the left is that they never took his side in this dispute because he was too conservative for them. They were suspicious of him because he had done biowarfare research for the government. Their bogus theory of the case, apparently shared by the FBI, was just a short step from the Al-Jazeera-promoted disinformation that the U.S. government had attacked itself on 9/11.
Hatfill’s accusers, in addition to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and anonymous Justice Department officials, included such media luminaries as Pulitzer Prize-winning liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. As we pointed out, without contacting Hatfill or his representatives, Kristof wrote five columns and thousands of words urging FBI scrutiny of the scientist. He portrayed Hatfill as a despicable character with an unsavory past.
The case demonstrates that not all “leaks” to the press are good and that anonymous sources should not be trusted. Hatfill’s reputation and career were ruined by FBI agents and other government officials leaking damaging but false information. One of the motives of the leakers was to convince the public they were making progress in the case and had solid leads and suspects. They used the media to mislead the public. Meanwhile, the real perpetrators, most likely associated with al Qaeda, got away with murder. In short, both the government and their media lapdogs blew it. They should all be forced to pay.
Pleading His Case
Accuracy in Media came to Hatfill’s defense early on. At an October 5, 2002, Accuracy in Media conference, Hatfill said, “Like many Americans I trusted that the news that would be presented to me on television and in the newspapers would be filtered and have some degree of accuracy. I took this for granted.” He quickly learned the truth―that reporters could be faithful mouthpieces of their misinformed and devious “sources.”
The campaign against Hatfill had all the earmarks of the corruption that we had witnessed in the Richard Jewell case. Jewell was falsely accused of the Olympic Park bombing and sued and collected financial damages from the government and the media.
For the complete story, which we had less than a year after 9/11, of how the FBI went wrong in the Hatfill case, please read our August 2002 AIM Report, “Another Richard Jewell?”
Hatfill has now gotten his settlement from the government. But it took many years and he still needs to collect from the media. I have asked New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at the last two Times annual meetings to settle with Hatfill and admit that Kristof’s columns on the case were malicious and wrong. Sulzberger and the Times refuse and continue to fight in court. They spend millions of dollars on expensive lawyers when they should be giving Hatfill the money, in compensation for the Kristof columns suggesting he was the anthrax killer.
This case is also a big black eye for the Bush Administration. President Bush should have cleaned out the FBI and the CIA when he took office. But he stuck with the bureaucrats and later inexplicably rewarded one of them, former CIA Director George Tenet, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The invasion of Iraq, launched in part on the basis of false information provided by Tenet, can be justified today by the argument that American troops are helping to build a democratic and lasting government in Baghdad that may, over the long term, stabilize the area and reduce the terrorist threat. But the handling of the Hatfill case can’t be justified under any circumstances. Who has paid for this incompetence?
We frequently hear that the Bush Administration has kept us safe since 9/11. But tell that to the families of the victims of the post-9/11anthrax attacks. Five people were killed and many others sickened by the anthrax that was mailed in envelopes featuring statements attacking Israel and praising Allah. Some FBI officials, operating on the basis of left-wing theories of the case, figured these statements were a diversionary tactic and an attempt to blame Muslims, even though other government officials were noting evidence of an actual al-Qaeda program to develop and use anthrax. It was worse than the Keystone cops because American lives had been lost and others were at risk.
Making a financial settlement to Hatfill doesn’t solve the case. It only makes us acutely aware of how much time, money and resources were wasted. In its statement about the Hatfill settlement, the Department of Justice said that “we reassure the public and the victims that this investigation remains among the Department’s highest law enforcement priorities.” That’s hardly reassuring at this late date.
As we pointed out in 2006, the evidence suggests that, in addition to the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for 9/11, there was another al-Qaeda cell that staged the anthrax attacks. The perpetrators fled the country, were deported for immigration law violations, or are still here. The FBI certainly doesn’t know. And that means we are still vulnerable.
No Lessons Learned
There are undoubtedly many good people in the Bureau struggling to protect us against terrorist attack. But some clearly haven’t learned the right lessons. We recently discovered that FBI Special Agent Andrew Bringuel had invited Weather Underground terrorist Mark Rudd to lecture at the FBI training Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Rudd, who traveled to Cuba before returning to the U.S. to lead the violent protests at Columbia University as a member of the Students for a Democratic Society, now lists his occupation as “writer, organizer” and is with “Progressives for Obama.” Rudd writes about his FBI visit on his blog.
According to declassified government intelligence information, Rudd had traveled to Cuba as part of a program designed to provide training to foreign radicals in revolutionary and guerrilla tactics. Now’s he’s an FBI lecturer.
It turns out that Bringuel also invited a member of the Animal Liberation Front to come to the FBI to speak to a group of “police executives.” The animal lover turned him down. In 2002, an FBI official had testified that groups like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front had emerged as a serious terrorist threat in the U.S.
Shouldn’t the FBI be putting terrorists in jail rather than inviting them to lecture?
If the Congress wants to do oversight of the Bush Administration, Hatfill is the perfect case, even if the victim isn’t a left-winger. Here is a concrete example of a real innocent victim of the “war on terror.”
More than anything, however, the Congress should not make the problem worse. The proposed media shield law, known officially as the Free Flow of Information Act, would make it easier for unscrupulous officials in the FBI and other agencies to use the media to smear people and damage their reputations. With a media shield law in place, we could have many more Steven Hatfills, who would be prohibited from even attempting to get justice.
With justification, Hatfill argues that the leaks from the government violated his right to privacy. As a result, he wants to identify the government agents who fingered him because he wants them to pay. In order to do that, however, he wants reporters to identify sources who provided them information about the Justice Department’s investigation. He has gone to court to force the disclosure of these sources. That’s the only way to root out these corrupt government officials. A media shield law would make it impossible for Hatfill and his lawyers to identify and punish those dishonest government officials.
Back in 2005 we said that “It is important for our national security and survival to find out why the case is unsolved and who in the government used the press to finger an innocent man. Members of the media must tell us what they know. They are citizens as well. They are not above the law.” This is why we call the shield bill the “Special Rights for Journalists Act.”
Pandering to the press, politicians such as Senators Barack Obama and John McCain favor the media shield bill. It has already passed the House and a Senate committee and awaits action by the full Senate. The good news is that there is growing opposition and Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid has refused so far to schedule a full Senate vote.
But the pressure from the media, which rarely report on their own lobbying efforts, is intense. A “Media Coalition” of 63 different journalism and media organizations is pressuring Reid to bring the bill up. It includes media giants such as ABC News, the New York Times Company, Gannett, Associated Press, National Public Radio, NBC, the National Press Club, and News Corporation.
You can let your senators know how you feel. They can be contacted through the official Senate website. When they want to know why you oppose the bill (S. 2035), answer in two words: “Steven Hatfill.”