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Just tell them what they want to hear -- who'll know?



Published: Sat, August 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The story of Dr. Steven J. Hatfill is not particularly reassuring.

Hatfill is one of about 30 scientists and researchers who is being looked at as a possible suspect in the anthrax mailings that killed five people last fall.

Hatfill and his attorneys have adamantly denied any connection, saying that only his expertise placed him, with other scientists, on the list of potential suspects. And that may well be true.

But the circumstances that surround the hiring of Hatfill leave the U.S. Department of Defense accused and convicted of gross negligence.

Hatfill managed to get hired in 1997 by the Army's biological defense research center at Fort Detrick. Two years later, he was given a "secret" security clearance.

He worked on and had access to some of the most deadly biological agents on the planet.

And for all that the people who hired him knew, he could have been a man from Mars. He was clearly not what he said he was on his resume, in at least two significant ways.

He did not hold a doctoral degree and he did not serve in the U.S. Special Forces.

No one minding the store

Imagine that. A man who inflated his academic achievements and his military credentials manages to get hired to do secret research for the Army without anyone checking his resume close enough to uncover two such glaring deceptions.

As it turns out, "Dr." Hatfill claimed to hold a doctorate in molecular cell biology and biochemistry from Rhodes University in South Africa. While he attended the university and submitted a thesis, he was never awarded a doctorate.

As for his Army duty, he claimed that he "served with U.S. Army Special Forces" and that he was a member of 7th Special Forces Group. While he was, indeed, in the Army in 1976, he dropped out of special forces training after a month.

There could be a lot of people who get away with inflating their resumes a bit. And there could be a lot of people who brag to coworkers about their exploits -- as Hatfill did -- in such ways that the co-workers begin taking the tales with a grain of salt -- as Hatfill's coworkers did.

But those people don't belong in government laboratories working with anthrax or other deadly agents. And another group of people who don't belong in government jobs are those people who hired Hatfill without doing an adequate background check.




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