Newsweek today publishes a profile of Steven Hatfill, the Army infectious-disease specialist who was identified by the FBI as the leading suspect in a series of post-9/11 anthrax mailings for which he was never charged. The piece begins in classic where-are-they-now fashion, describing Hatfill's recent legal history; he's won several settlements from entities against whom he made credible accusations of libel, including one online troll who was revealed, via transoceanic e-sleuthing, to work at a South African university that Hatfill attended in the '90s. Writer Cameron Bird then documents Hatfill's plan to build a boat that will sail through the jungle, studying plants and fungi and whatnot for potential medical applications:
Hatfill handed me a stack of documents marked “appendix.” On the cover, a serpentine double helix shrouds a wireframe Earth, encircled by the acronym ABSOG—short for Asymmetric Biodiversity Studies and Observation Group, a not-for-profit trust Hatfill had established to support his pharmaceutical mission. I leafed through to find elevation maps, land surveys and blueprints for Hatfill’s unbuilt, twin-diesel-powered boat. Inside the vessel’s aluminum hull, he envisioned a plexus of laboratories, with DNA microarrays and other “space-age zuzu” for analyzing the genetic compositions of plants. Bedrooms would be equipped with video-conferencing systems and DVD players, and the executive cabin was modeled after the president’s quarters on Air Force One.
His plan seems ambitious, but plausible: he did work at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. But the redemption tale is not entirely straightforward. Hatfill's attorney admits that his client at one point claimed a Ph.D. in biology he didn't have; the piece mentions that Hatfill plans on hiring a former soldier from the white-ruled African country of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). And then, discussing a company that Hatfill had launched as part of the research-boat plan:
But in late 2013, Hatfill...had sued two of his original Templar associates for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, misappropriation of trade secrets and a host of other claims, after they allegedly used his camp and contacts to launch their own side business. And after my long hiatus waiting for a glimpse of his boat, Hatfill made it clear in October 2012 that I too had overstepped the boundaries. He asserted that everything we had discussed in person was off the record and directed all follow-up questions to his attorney.
Then the story ends! It's very beguiling. Hatfill stopped cooperating, and at some point author Bird must have just given up hope of ever talking to him again. What happened to the boat? Who knows! To be further beguiled, read the entire piece here. Stephen Hatfill has clearly led a very unusual life. One wonders if its story will ever be told in full.