14 November 2008

Hatfill/anthrax documents

The federal district court held a hearing Wednesday over a request by two newspapers to see documents presently sealed in the matter of Stephen Hatfill and the anthrax scare of 2001.

You'll remember, if you were sentient and living on this planet at all at the time, that Hatfill was named a "person of interest" by those investigating anthrax scares - soon after envelopes containing the stuff were sent to news outlets and Congressional offices.

Hatfill (who has worked at the army's infectious disease laboratory 1997-99) was eventually cleared. Suspicion fell more recently on Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide this summer.

But let's stick with the Hatfill side of the case. The government searched Hatfill's home pursuant to a warrant, and authorities must have obtained that warrant by making a "probable cause" showing to a judge -- that is, a showing that there was probable cause to believe that they would find specified evidence of a crime or crimes if they looked in the specified place.

The New York Times and The L.A. Times have asked the court to see the documents on the basis of which that warrant was obtained.

As a general common-law matter, the court would weigh the government's interest (and Mr. Hatfill's privacy interest) in keeping these matters sealed against the value to public understanding and debate in having them made available. The government's interest in secrecy is considerably reduced by virtue of the fact that there is no ongoing investigation -- after Ivins' death, the US has said that the matter is closed.

I'm hoping these documents are unsealed. The reason? I think of an exchange at the press conference that the district attorney for DC held after Ivins' death:

Question: So there was at least a two-year delay between the forensic evidence
leading to Fort Detrick, and really focusing on Dr. Ivins. How big a factor
was Dr. Hatfill in that, and how did the FBI get so off-track in focusing on
him, apparently as the sole and primary suspect?

Mr. Taylor: Let me refer back to what I said: It was an extensive investigation.
In an investigation of this scope and complexity, the task is to follow the evidence
where it leads . . . .

Question: Was Dr. Hatfill under investigation at this time?

Mr. Taylor: Again, the evidence – they followed where it led. That’s all I’m
prepared to say at this point.


Somebody at some point should be able to say a good deal more. An investigation as important and high-priority as this hit a dead end for several years? focusing on the wrong guy? And the public, for whom the whole federal law enforcement apparatus works, isn't supposed to learn anything more about it? we're just supposed to be happy with anodyne remarks like "they followed the evidence where it led!"???

Bah. Humbug.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.