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Bomb Scare

In a discussion aired before the arrest of suspect Luke John Helder, a former FBI special agent discusses how the agency profiles suspected criminals.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The latest pipe bomb was found yesterday afternoon in this mailbox along a country road near Amarillo, Texas, bringing to 18 the total number of devices found in five states. The first mailbox bombs were discovered Friday in Illinois and Iowa. Five of them detonated injuring half a dozen people, including four mail carriers.

  • WOMAN:

    It's scary, and it's scaring a lot of people. I mean, not to be able to open your mailbox, I mean, that is insane.

  • WOMAN:

    I think it's terrible. You're not even safe in your own home, you know, in your own neighborhood.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    By the end of the weekend, whoever was planting the bombs had moved west to Nebraska. Of the eight devices found there, none exploded. Yesterday, another bomb was found 400 miles west in Salida, Colorado. Officials said most of the devices are three-quarter inch steel pipes attached to 9-volt batteries. They are rigged to go off when touched or moved. Attached to most of the devices were letters, as posted on the FBI Web site, the author wrote: "I'm obtaining your attention in the only way I can," adding, "More attention-getters are on the way." FBI officials say one person appears to be responsible for all the bombs. Today, they said they wanted to talk to college student Luke John Helder.

  • JIM BOGNER:

    He is a 21-year-old white male from Minnesota, he is described as 5'9″ tall, 150 pounds; he has brown hair and green eyes. He has been described as an intelligent young man with strong family ties. He is believed to be operating a 1992 Honda four-door sedan either black or dark gray in color. It bears Minnesota license plates… I have a picture here of the individual that we are seeking to question in this matter, and we're hoping for a very safe outcome in this situation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Officials said Helder does not have a criminal record. They would not say whether they believe he is armed.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    For more on today's developments, we're joined by former FBI Special Agent Clint Van Zandt. He spent 25 years with the Bureau. As a supervisor at the behavioral science unit at the FBI Academy, he was instrumental in identifying Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber. He also profiled Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Federal Building bomber.

    So Clint, we're talking about no criminal record — a college kid, strong family ties. What about what we know about this young man would make him even a likely suspect?

  • CLINT VAN ZANDT, Former FBI Profiler:

    Well, he is at first blush the all-American boy. He's someone we think would just finish a college career and go off on his own. But again if he turns out to be what we think he is, a young man who has perhaps some fundamental values that come from a very small town, much like the places where he's accused or suspected of placing these bombs, and then he takes that to a college environment where your thought processes, your religious beliefs, whatever, are challenged and then you mix in music, you mix in social challenges, you mix in perhaps challenges with a girlfriend, but whatever has happened to this young man, should he be the person who has placed these devices– and I say should he because we all remember what happened in Atlanta during the bombing with the Richard Jewel/Eric Rudolph case.

    And I think the FBI is moving with discretion right now. They say they want to talk to this young man. But it appears that information has been developed that he's involved in this. And this is someone who for whatever the challenge, whatever the reason, feels somewhat disenfranchised. He doesn't feel that his… that people listen to him.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Late this afternoon his father came out and gave a statement to the press in which he said "I really want you to know that Luke is not a dangerous person. I think he's just trying to make a statement about the way our government is run. Luke, you need to talk to someone. Please don't hurt anyone else." And he says some other things. It seems that his father is signaling that he believes that his son is involved in this.

  • CLINT VAN ZANDT:

    Well, at least he believes his son would be a good suspect. Look, it took us 18 years to identify the Unabomber. What it took for that was Ted Kaczynski to generate his 35,000 word manifesto and his brother read it, raised his hand and said, hey, that looks like it could be my brother.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In the letters that were attached to so many of these bombs, what could you read in that letter and the way he talked about death and the way he talked about fearing death, that would tell you… that would lead a profiler to understand who the perpetrator of all this was?

  • CLINT VAN ZANDT:

    Well, one message he gives us was the term either death or die. He refers to that ten different times in this very short letter. That is… that's a very challenging concept for a young man to be dealing with, but when we read the entire communication, even though he uses some terms like attention-getters, talking about planting more devices, which I'll be perfectly honest I thought might have signaled an older person. When my team, when we discussed this last night we said, no, this is a younger man, probably in his mid-20s at most, probably not all the way through college because we could see ideas. It's like he felt things, he was voicing ideas and concepts but they weren't fitting together. They weren't meshing together. He didn't have the maturity to bring that about yet.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Was there anyway to tell either from the letters or from any other information that the FBI would gather in a case like this who the intended targets might be?

  • CLINT VAN ZANDT:

    Well, I think the jury is going to be still out on that one, but I would suggest that he wasn't targeting Mr. and Mrs. America. In fact he probably wasn't necessarily targeting postal workers, but he like Timothy McVeigh, the federal building bomber, would probably say if someone was injured it's collateral damage. What's more important is that America understand my statement, what I have to say. This young man, again should he be the bomber, was looking for a forum. He was looking for a platform to stand up and say, "listen to me. I have something to say."

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What about the evidence that the FBI seems to have assembled would indicated that there is only one person involved, that a single person made all of these devices?

  • CLINT VAN ZANDT:

    I think that's exactly what we're going to find out. From the beginning, this type of activity is usually one person. When you read the statements that he passed out with his bombs, even though he may have used "we" a couple of times he fell back to "I" again, which tells us one person. The letter itself was only written by one person. There doesn't appear to be two contributors. So this is a young man who had this idea, who developed it.

    But what's important is that he would have shared philosophically some of his beliefs with other people, and when his letter — and I think rightfully so — the FBI moved very quickly to publish that. They didn't hold it back. Since September 11, I think there's a new sharing of information. We have to do that — domestic, foreign terrorism. I think when someone else, just like Ted Kaczynski's brother David saw that writing and saw that letter, knew about his thought process, they put two and two together.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But since September 11 we haven't been that focused on domestic terrorism. How common an occurrence are, say, pipe bombs and incidents of domestic terrorism maybe not on this scale?

  • CLINT VAN ZANDT:

    There are probably incidents of 1,500 pipe bombs per year that are detonated in the United States that are located, that are found. So it's a relatively common thing that takes place. The challenge is, of course, you know, postal carriers, rain, snow, sleet, hail, now anthrax and pipe bombs and it all seems to be directed at that group of men and women who serve our country so well. If you can imagine going to a mailbox and when you're look to go put that mail in, in this case you're looking down the barrel of a loaded gun.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    If you're an FBI agent investigating this now and you have certain information gathered what do you do now? They have put out the public plea to him. They have a very gentle plea, almost please turn yourself in, please call your parents, what is that intended to accomplish and then what happens next? Do they have to just wait for him to call?

  • CLINT VAN ZANDT:

    No they won't wait for him to call. There'll be a fugitive investigation conducted right now. They've obviously talked to his parents, people he went to college with, girlfriends, social acquaintances, places he's traveled. The FBI by now will know every place this man has ever been. They will be looking at his credit card records, his telephone records, gas mileage on his vehicle. They'll draw a radius from the last time he was seen and known to be in Texas and figure how far he could have gone. But this is the type of man you've got to be very careful with because he can hurt others and he can hurt himself. He feels trapped. He's got the adrenaline flowing. But he's scared too. We need to be careful with the emotions, but we need to protect law enforcement officers also.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Okay. Clint Van Zandt, thank you very much for joining us.

  • CLINT VAN ZANDT:

    Thanks for having me.