TOPICS > Politics

Mystery Solved?

April 4, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Theodore Kaczynski was arraigned and formally charged with illegal possession of bombing material. No mention was made of the unabomber during today’s hearing. But Kaczynski is considered a suspect in the 17-year bombing case. He was detained yesterday by federal agents during a search of his isolated cabin outside of Lincoln, Montana. The unabomber’s first bomb exploded at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, outside Chicago, in 1978. Since then, 15 explosions around the country have killed three people and wounded twenty-three. We get more on this now from Lou Bertram, a former FBI agent who worked on the unabomb task force, David Jackson, San Francisco Bureau Chief for “Time” Magazine, he’s been covering the unabomber story for four years, and Howard Berkes of National Public Radio. He was in Helena today for the arraignment. And Howard Berkes, to you first. Did Kaczynski say or do anything at that hearing today?

HOWARD BERKES, National Public Radio: (Helena, MT) He merely answered direct questions from the judge. The judge asked him if he understood the charges. He said, yes. The judge asked him if he was mentally competent. He said, yes. He seemed calm in the hearing today and didn’t really have anything else to say, except the direct questions by the judge. Occasionally, he whispered questions to his attorney.

JIM LEHRER: Was he–he was represented by an attorney?

MR. BERKES: By a court-appointed attorney. The judge asked him if he had the means to provide his own attorney, and he said no to that.

JIM LEHRER: Did he look like this famous drawing that’s been going around for years, you know, the one in the hood and the sunglasses and the curly hair in front?

MR. BERKES: He doesn’t look like that to me. He, umm, he didn’t really resemble that drawing at all. Of course, that drawing is of somebody wearing a hood, umm, perhaps a wig of some sort. Umm, he appeared today, uh, gaunt a little bit. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit that prisoners at the jail must use, and, umm, his hair was neatly combed, which it wasn’t yesterday when he was arrested. Umm, he didn’t really look like that drawing, no.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Lou Bertram, refresh our memory. Where did that drawing come from? That came from you all–your work in the task force. Where did it come from?

LOU BERTRAM, Former FBI Agent: (Salt Lake City) That was February 20, 1987, the unabomber placed a package which exploded behind a computer store here in Salt Lake City. We had an eyewitness standing in the back room of the store at the time. I think one of the things that we have to remember this was a single witness. The unabomber did not act suspicious in any way. She observed him place the package on the ground and then very calmly walk away.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. So this shouldn’t put–place too much emphasis at all on the fact whether he does or doesn’t look like that drawing is what you’re saying, right?

MR. BERTRAM: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. The profile of, of Kaczynski, now we realize he has not been charged with being the unabomber, but does he fit the profile that you all, that you and your colleagues worked on all those years on the task force?

MR. BERTRAM: Very much so. Highly intelligent, loner, anti-social, uh, again, an individual who, who keeps to himself and there are a few other aspects of it. But I think the profile is probably 80, 85 percent accurate.

JIM LEHRER: In thinking back in the investigation, were you ever close to this guy do you think?

MR. BERTRAM: We know that the unabomber visited Salt Lake City in 1981, 1982, 1985, and 1987, so we felt that our investigation in 1987 with the leads that we got, that we either contacted him or came very close to him, leading to his six-year absence from any type of criminal acts.

JIM LEHRER: David Jackson, what is known, if anything, about, about Kaczynski and where he might have been during that time that Lou Bertram was just laying out?

DAVID JACKSON, Time Magazine: (San Francisco) Well, Jim, they’re trying to retrace Kaczynski’s movements right now. They–there’s evidence, there are reports that he had help from his brother perhaps getting plane tickets. It’s not hard to catch a bus from Montana and go anywhere that these bombs were left in the cases where they were left or mailed from say California or other states. We know that he has the ability living in a remote cabin in Montana to disappear for weeks at a time and no one would notice, so that’s another thing that fit the profile that I’m sure the investigators noticed early on.

JIM LEHRER: David Jackson, do you agree with Lou Bertram that what is known thus far about Kaczynski fits the projected profile that the, the FBI and the task force developed over the period of years?

MR. JACKSON: I think it’s amazingly close. In fact, some of the things that were not publicly released about the profile but I heard privately from investigators matched too. For example, the profile never said that he was–the profile only suggested that he probably had a high school education. A lot of investigators privately suspected that he not only had a high school education, he may have had advanced degrees, and that certainly fits Mr. Kaczynski.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Speaking of Kaczynski, let’s go through that very quickly. He grew up in, in a suburb of, of Chicago, right?

MR. JACKSON: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: And then he, he went to Harvard University. Take it from there.

MR. JACKSON: And he went from Harvard to the University of Michigan, and then he went to Berkeley, where he was an assistant professor, and, in fact, a very promising mathematician according to the department chairman who I talked to today. He was on a tenure track if he had chosen to stay at Berkeley, and yet, it was very unusual that after two years there, he left, and the chairman told me that it was his impression that Mr. Kaczynski decided to leave the field of mathematics. It wasn’t because of any problems at the university or any lack of confidence in his ability to turn into a brilliant mathematician.

JIM LEHRER: He wasn’t fired or anything?

MR. JACKSON: Not to–not–no. Not according to the chairman. And, uh, he also, umm, we have to remember this came at a time in the late 60’s, when there was a lot of things going on on the campuses, and particularly at Berkeley. Umm, it wasn’t unusual for young professors to leave their fields of study and go up into the woods and live–get back to the country, get back to the land. In that respect, there were other people who did that too.

JIM LEHRER: Lou Bertram, does the, the profile that you all worked up jibe with a man who was an accomplished mathematician and went on to become a college professor and all of that? Is that–does that match?

MR. BERTRAM: Absolutely. We had first theorized that he possibly had some military background in explosives, but again that certainly changed later. The individual was not trained. The individual was self-trained, and of course, this fits our suspect 100 percent.

JIM LEHRER: Howard Berkes, in the court there in Helena at the hearing an affidavit was filed by an FBI agent which laid out what was found in, in Kaczynski’s cabin. Give us a feel for what, what they came up with.

MR. BERKES: Well, they came up with what they called partially constructed bombs. They came up with all kinds of chemicals and other kinds of materials, metals, aluminum, that could be used in making bombs. They came up with sheets and sheets and sheets of papers that detailed how to construct bombs and how to build cases to carry them in to transport them and presumably send them in. You know, this was only a cabin that was 11 feet by 12 feet, but judging by the affidavit, it was just filled with boxes of this stuff that seemed to be devoted solely to the making of, of bombs, at least according to the affidavit.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Is that your reading of it too, Lou Bertram, based on what you know, that, of what your former colleagues got out of there?

MR. BERTRAM: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What about–what would you say, Lou Bertram, was the importance of the manifesto that the unabomber demanded publication? In fact, the “New York Times” and the “Washington Post” eventually did publish it. Do you think it played some part in, in zeroing in on Kaczynski?

MR. BERTRAM: I think the decision to release it was with the idea that somebody somewhere in the United States would read it, would again associate it with another document and other writings, and I think that’s exactly what happened when Mr. Kaczynski’s brother found some writings in a residence, formerly occupied by the subject, and I’m sure that he had some inclination to then view the manifesto, review the two items, and then it came to the conclusion that the manifesto could very, the unabomber could very easily be his brother.

JIM LEHRER: David Jackson, based on the reporting that you’ve done before and also within the last 48 hours, does–does Kaczynski’s views and actions match what he wrote in that manifesto?

MR. JACKSON: I don’t think we found any confirmation yet of what his views are now. We have the manifesto from the unabomber. The only people who remember him from Berkeley remember a very quiet person who didn’t really seem to have any friends at all, so that connection hasn’t been made to my knowledge. We know that he spent a lot of time at the library. We know that he had access to newspapers, out of town newspapers there, which is another part of the profile that they were looking for.

JIM LEHRER: But the manifesto, would it be–I know it was–what, it was 35,000 words, was it not? Yeah. So no way I’m going to ask you to summarize that, but essentially it was anti-technical world, right, anti-technology, all that sort of thing?

MR. JACKSON: Essentially, it was that. It was, uh–and it added to their profile knowledge because they surmised that this was a person, also considering the make-up of the handmade make-up of the bombs, this was a person who probably, umm, didn’t even drive or rode a bicycle in the view of one investigator I talked to long before this came out, and, uh, so these things have turned out to be very interesting to find that Kaczynski, in fact, doesn’t–rides around on a bicycle.

JIM LEHRER: But there’s no direct link yet between what was in that manifesto and whether–we don’t know yet that Kaczynski actually held those specific views, right?

MR. JACKSON: We don’t know that. And one thing that should be kept in mind is that this–the unabomber has been an extremely discreet individual. He has not talked to anybody or bragged to anybody about his crime for almost 20 years. And that’s very rare among criminals. Most criminals are found, particularly serial criminals, are found because they can’t keep a secret. But this suspect said that he didn’t talk to anybody and he didn’t hang around the bars, he didn’t get drunk and say something indiscreet.

JIM LEHRER: Lou Bertram, did you and your FBI colleagues, in looking for this unabomber all these years, did you have in mind a mad man, somebody who was absolutely crazy, or working logically? What was your own feeling about this person that you didn’t know but who you were looking for?

MR. BERTRAM: I don’t think, Jim, we used the word mad man or maybe psychopath. We–we were dealing with a very highly intelligent individual, uh, who, uh, wanted to, for some reason not completely known yet seek revenge. We’ve had three homicides. We’ve had 23 people injured. So I think what the Bureau has to do is, now that Mr. Kaczynski’s in custody, is start going back and try to retrack his steps, try to retrack his thoughts, get into his mind back to 1978. The Bureau’s got their work cut out for them.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What are the kinds of–what is it going to take to prove he was the unabomber? Let’s assume that he doesn’t confess. What’s it going to take to prove it, Mr. Bertram?

MR. BERTRAM: Physical evidence; that’s what they’re taking out right now. What they’re going to have to do is this evidence is going to have to be taken to a lab. It’s going to have to be compared to the bombs that have been detonated, material, and that’s going to take an expert to–and some time to analyze all the material that they have, all the evidence that they have, and, and if there’s an association, that would certainly I think be enough to convict him.

JIM LEHRER: But it could take a while, right, to do this investigation?

MR. BERTRAM: Oh, definitely.


JIM LEHRER: Howard Berkes, meanwhile, Kaczynski remains in, in jail in Helena, and no bond has been set, right? He’s being held without bond?

MR. BERKES: Right. He has an opportunity to choose to have a bond hearing and a preliminary hearing, and he has until noon tomorrow to tell the judge whether he wants those. If he, if he says he does, then the judge will schedule those hearings sometime next week, probably in Missoula, but, uh, one of the main reasons this charge was brought today was so that they could keep him in custody and continue with the investigation at his cabin.

JIM LEHRER: Because this, this is a very common way of doing things, is it not, Howard, that, that they arrest somebody, they hold ’em on a smaller charge while they investigate the larger things, hopefully eventually filing the, the larger charge? In this case, it could be that if they, if it turns out they do believe he’s the unabomber, it could be murder or, or, or those kinds of things later on, correct?

MR. BERKES: Well, certainly, and, and, you know, the reality is that they–if they had enough to charge him with unabomber-related crimes, they would.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Okay. Well, gentlemen, thank you all three very much for being with us.