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Ann Arbor’s Key Role in Nabbing the Unabomber

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

There’s a memorable scene near the end of the classic John Ford movie and parable about the triumph of the rule of law in the old west, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

The editor of the local newspaper has just heard the true story from Jimmy Stewart’s character, Ranse Stoddard, about the killing of Liberty Valance, an extremely bad guy and notorious gunfighter. Stoddard is in the autumn of a very successful political career that began, at least in part, because he had been proclaimed a hero for having killed Valance.

As it turns out Ranse Stoddard didn’t kill Valance.

When the interview with Stoddard ends, a young reporter asks the editor if he’s going to use the story. The editor replies, “This is the west. When the legend becomes fact print the legend.”

A few weeks ago I had a Liberty Valance moment when I was out to dinner with my wife. A local judge, who I have known for years, walked up to our table and introduced me to his wife as the FBI agent who identified the Unabomer. I sort of demurred and said something like, I helped, but it was a team effort.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been given credit for identifying the Unabomer, and although it’s technically true, it’s definitely misleading.

So here’s the story:

I first became involved in the Unabomer investigation because one his bombs had been sent to Ann Arbor. (“Unabomer” was Bureau shorthand for university and airlines bomber and was used as the title of the case. And yes, the second “b” was dropped in the Bureau spelling.)

In November, 1985, a package (weighing about 5 lbs. and measuring 3”x 8”x 11”) was received in the mail at the residence of Prof. James McConnell. McConnell was teaching and doing research in the psychology department at the University of Michigan. The package was opened by an assistant of McConnell. It exploded and caused considerable damage to McConnell’s kitchen, but the assistant only suffered minor injury to his arms and abdomen.

This was the 10th bomb in a series of 16 sent by the Unabomer from 1978-1995. The bomb had been secreted in a hole cut in a ream of paper. The explosive device was basically a pipe-bomb filled with ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder. The pipe was sealed at either end by wooden caps rather than the usual threaded metal caps. The igniter was a nail held in tension by rubber bands poised to strike multiple match heads when disturbed by someone opening the package.

Because of this rudimentary construction, the bomb did not explode with anywhere near its potential power. Later bombs were more efficient and resulted in the death of 3 people and severe injuries to others.

One of the maddening elements of the Unabomer investigation was that there didn’t seem to be a common thread connecting the recipients of the bombs. And the construction of the bombs although similar was done with components that proved to be untraceable.

It wasn’t until the Unabomer‘s convoluted manifesto was published that some overarching motive could be discerned.

When Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louie Freeh persuaded the reluctant editors of the New York Times and Washington Post to publish the manifesto in its entirety – 35,000 words, it was hoped that someone would read it and associate it with the person who was the Unabomer.

It is a testament to Ted Kaczynski’s isolation that only one person did or could identify him, Ted’s estranged brother, David Kaczynski. But for Ted’s hubris in demanding his manifesto be published, he may never have been identified.

David’s wife, Linda, saw some common themes in the manifesto and some of Ted’s professed philosophy, but neither she nor David had had any contact with Ted in years. She encouraged David to read the manifesto. (Linda had thought Ted might be the Unabomer for some time prior to the publication of the manifesto.)

David was struck by the similarity between some of the ideas and phraseology in the manifesto and some old letters Ted had written and which David had kept. In the letters Ted had expounded on his anti-technology philosophy.

In the Fall of 1995, David and Linda contacted a friend, Susan Swanson, who was an attorney/investigator regarding their concerns about his brother. Swanson contacted Clinton Van Zandt, a retired FBI agent. Van Zandt, a hostage negotiator for the FBI had been assigned to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit which among other things does criminal profiling.

Swanson took the letters from which almost all the names and identifying information had been removed to Van Zandt and asked him to determine whether the author of the letters was the author of the manifesto. After reviewing the material, Van Zandt concluded that there was about a 50% possibility that the authors of the letters and the manifesto were the same. Van Zandt was not impressed enough with any similarity to pursue the information further.

Swanson had been investigating this matter pro bono, but was unable to continue.

The Kaczynskis’ concerns had not been alleviated. So they contacted another attorney friend who was practicing in Washington, D.C., Anthony Bisceglie. Bisceglie knew a FBI agent, Mike Harrison. Bisceglie apprised Harrison of David and Linda’s concerns without identifying them. He also provided Harrison with some of the redacted documents.

Harrison believed there was sufficient similarity in the writings to justify contacting the Unabomer Task Force in San Francisco. With Bisceglie’s knowledge, Harrison contacted the UTF and told them about the redacted letters and their similarity to the manifesto. He provided the task force with what information could be gleaned from the letters. Fortunately in the documents, some hints were mistakenly not redacted: The name “Ted” appeared and there were references to Harvard, Michigan and the University of California in Berkeley. (Bisceglie was not aware of the tell-tale information that remained in the documents.)

The UTF, which was comprised of FBI, Postal Inspectors and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents had been coordinating the Unabom investigation and had recently been inundated with tips resulting from the publication of the manifesto. None of which would be of any value, but had to be investigated none the less.

The information Harrison provided stood out and seemed to have some promise. Several UTF agents would investigate the information in an effort to identify the author. Joel Moss, a FBI supervisor, assigned to the UTF would pursue the possible Michigan connection.

The evening of February 12th, I was working late when I received a call from Joel. I knew Joel as we had talked in the past about the Unabom investigation and the McConnell bombing. Joel explained to me about the letters, the manifesto and some information that might be useful in identifying the author.

They had determined that: his name was Ted (a derivation of either Theodore or Edward); he was born in the Chicago area; had done under-grad study at Harvard (probably in mathematics), and thereafter obtained or sought a PhD at the University of Michigan between 1968 and 1972. It was believed that subsequent to being at Michigan, Ted taught mathematics at the University of California at Berkley.

The UTF was making inquiries at UC Berkley, but so far they hadn’t been successful.

Joel impressed upon me the sensitivity of the information, and that it had to be handled as expeditiously as possible. In other words I needed to get personal information from the University of Michigan regarding a possible PhD candidate, whose name I didn’t know, and I couldn’t tell them why I was asking.

I had been in Ann Arbor and around the University long enough to know that people at the University would not welcome the FBI with open arms nor would I have any control over how many people became aware of the investigation. Further, they would refuse to do anything without a subpoena and nothing would happen quickly.

But I had a friend, Jim Smiley, the Assistant Director of the UM Department of Public Safety, the UM police. He was a graduate of the FBI National Academy (The prestigious school for law enforcement executives), and we had worked together on a number of occasions.

I called Jim and told him I needed to identify an individual who may have received a PhD from Michigan, but didn’t know his full name, etc. I did not tell him that the guy might be the Unabomer. I just said it was extremely important and very sensitive.

Jim didn’t question my sanity nor did he say such a check couldn’t be done without more information. Instead he said that he would see what he could do.

Within a few hours Jim called me back and told me that he had come up with 5 possibles, but only 1 seemed to fit all the criteria, Theodore Kaczynski. To Jim’s credit he never asked me what the inquiry was about.

I immediately called Joel Moss and gave him the name Theodore Kaczynski and what background information Michigan had about him. Joel told me I was to tell no one else, “At this moment there are only two people who know the identity of the Unabomer.”

It is my understanding that within a few days the UTF was contacted directly by Anthony Bisceglie. Initially Bisceglie had some pre-conditions he wanted to be agreed to before disclosing the identity of the Unabomer. Joel Moss and others on the UTF explained to the attorney that perhaps the discussion could move more quickly if the attorney knew that the UTF already had the name Ted Kaczynski.

Over the next few weeks, while the FBI had Kaczynski under surveillance in Lincoln, Montana, and arrest/search warrants were being prepared, I was making discrete inquiries regarding Ted’s time at Michigan. I learned that he was a brilliant if eccentric and socially inept student, who had studied theoretical mathematics.

About six weeks later, when Ted was arrested and the little cabin where he was living was searched, considerable evidence was found linking Ted to the bombings including a live bomb that was ready to be sent.

Joel Moss sent me a copy of Ted’s handwritten diary that was found at the cabin. I was particularly interested in what he had written about his time at Michigan – “These were the most miserable years of my life.” However, Ted didn’t send the bomb to Prof. McConnell because he was a disgruntled Michigan student. He sent it because he hated psychologists.

Although brilliant, Ted had many demons. He viewed himself as intellectually superior to other students and the faculty. He contemplated killing people even back then: “What was entirely new was the fact that I really felt I could kill someone. My first thought was to kill somebody I hated and then kill myself before the cops could get me. (I’ve always considered death preferable to long imprisonment.) But, since I now had new hope, I was not ready to relinquish life so easily. So I thought, I will kill, but I will make at least some effort to avoid detection, so that I can kill again.”

Ted Kaczynski is currently serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole at the Federal Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado – “Super Max,” where he is locked down 23 hours a day.

So technically I identified the Unabomer, but in reality I was merely a cog in the machinery that was already moving inexorably towards knowing Ted Kaczynski was the Unabomer.

Print the fact not the legend.

 

The John Edwards Case Just Didn’t Feel Right

Edwards after the trial/ from NBC newscast

 By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Some federal cases are too complicated for jurors. Some may be borderline illegal. And some may end up being a waste of taxpayer money.

The trial against ex-presidential hopeful John Edwards was probably all of the above.  A jury on Thursday acquitted him on one count and deadlocked on five others in a scandal that involved using nearly $1 million  – in what should have been declared as campaign funds — to help hide an extra-marital affair during the 2008 campaign.

It had a lot of gossip appeal, which made for good press, but in the end it seemed to lack the appropriate outrage quotient necessary to get all the jurors to jump into the guilty pool.

Who’s the loser.

The list is long.

For one, Edwards paid some serious bucks for a top-flight legal team.

Additionally, his reputation, which was already pretty poor, got tarnished even more. If you had any doubts that he was a sleaze, the trial helped put those to rest.

And he had to bear responsibility watching his family suffer through the trial.

 

The Justice Department once again looks bad. Granted, federal prosecutors shouldn’t fear losing. They should just worry about standing on solid ground. Some how, this one didn’t ever feel right to me.

The feds should have gone after some hefty civil fines. Edwards has lots of money. He would have gladly paid to make it go away. Maybe the money could have been put to good use.

And then there’s the former U.S. Attorney George Holding, who stuck around in his post to make sure that Edwards was indicted. He’s running for Congress and is expected to win.

But there’s talk of him jumping into the Senate race in North Carolina in 2014. A conviction of Edwards could only have bolstered his political capital. Now, sorry George, no added points for you.

So at this point, the question is: Should the feds go for a retrial?

I say absolutely not. In a case like this, one bite of the apple is enough. It’s not like the Rod Blagojevich case, which was certainly worth going after a second time after Blago was convicted on only 1 of 24 counts. The feds nailed him the second time.

This one is not worth going after again. Was Edwards a sneak? Yes. Is he a sleaze? Yes.

As the Washington Post noted:

“The mixed result in a trial that laid bare Edwards’s sexual indiscretions and serial deceptions came after nine days of jury deliberations.”

There are bigger crimes out there. And he’s paid  for his digressions. Let’s move on, and let’s forget we knew a Presidential candidate named John Edwards.

He is not worthy.

Does Secret Service Need More Rules to Make Sure Agents Don’t Hire Hookers?

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It would seem like common sense that if you’re a Secret Service agent and you’re on the road, you shouldn’t booze it up too much and bring prostitutes back to the hotel.

Well, obviously some Secret Service agents needed a little more guidance and common sense.

So after the Colombia-prostitute scandal, the Secret Service is tightening and clarifying its policies for travel, according to NPR.

The new rules were contained in an internal message, NPR reported.

Too bad the guidelines weren’t tightened earlier.

I’m sure if the agents had known they weren’t supposed to bring prostitutes back to the hotel, they wouldn’t have done it. Right?

 

Secret Service Scandal is Not Indicative of Agency’s Current Culture

By James G. Huse
ticklethewirecom

I have been somewhat “retired” from this column for many months, but the No. 1 news story in Washington this past week, the Secret Service personnel who broke the code of conduct rules in Cartagena on an advance assignment for President Obama’s trip, has motivated me back to the keyboard.

I have waited a bit for the media hysterics to somewhat abate before making these observations.

Contrary to the hue and cry, this is not the greatest crisis in Secret Service history.

That was, as we all know, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. That was a true crisis. This instant mess is an egregious failure of discipline on the part of the personnel involved. The breach was reported to leadership and instant remediation action ensued.

This is not, by any gauge, proof of a pandemic culture of immorality and irresponsibility in today’s Secret Service, nor is it the first time in Secret Service history that agents and officers have been disciplined for breaking the rules.

As in all organizations there are people who fail to meet or perform to acceptable standards. Dealing with those individuals has been a continuing Secret Service focus through the years.

I know this because it was my job as a Secret Service Assistant Director. In this current matter the Secret Service process of discipline and correction was well underway before it became public knowledge.

When the failure became known to management the situation was immediately addressed and the miscreant agents and officers immediately replaced.

While this event is certainly an embarrassment to the Secret Service it is not -as some strident media experts suggest – a complete condemnation of its leadership, professionalism and public service to the United States. The over-the-top posturing of these so-called experts should raise some questions about the substantiation behind their pronouncements they endlessly tout on the news media. I wonder what their professional experience is and what their qualifications are, to advance these opinions.

I also question why their inside sources remain anonymous? During my years as Inspector General of Social Security Administration a steady stream of provocative allegations about agency leaders were reported to my office from anonymous sources.

Very few proved to have any validity. I am wary of unidentified sources. To me, it’s the old courage of your convictions test. Too much exists as fact today that is never substantiated by good validation and verification before it is proclaimed to our over-connected world.

I know I am very subjective about my views on the Secret Service. I spent the balance of my federal career in it. I served with the finest men and women I know. I also know that the agents, officers, and all the Secret Service staff of today hold to the same commitments and standards that I did in my time.

On this past Wednesday evening, April 18, a wreath was placed at the Law Enforcement Memorial on E Street NW, here in Washington to commemorate the 29 officers and agents who have died in the line of duty since the Secret Service was authorized by President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865.

The Secret Service has a long and rich history of public service to the United States. It is made up of real people, steadfast men and women who respect these traditions, and serve their country with honor and commitment.

Where there are individuals who fail to keep this compact they are identified, and following due process, are removed. This is the abiding core culture of the Secret Service.

James Huse is currently a Senior Advisor to the Global Public Sector practice for a major consulting firm.

Column: Ex-Secret Service Official: Scandal is Not Indicative of Agency’s Current Culture

James G. Huse

James G. Huse is a retired Inspector General for Social Security and the retired assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service. He occasionally writes a column for ticklethewire.com. He currently a Senior Advisor for a major consulting firm.
By James G. Huse
ticklethewirecom

I have been somewhat “retired” from this column for many months, but the No. 1 news story in Washington this past week, the Secret Service personnel who broke the code of conduct rules in Cartagena on an advance assignment for President Obama’s trip, has motivated me back to the keyboard.

I have waited a bit for the media hysterics to somewhat abate before making these observations.

Contrary to the hue and cry, this is not the greatest crisis in Secret Service history.

That was, as we all know, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. That was a true crisis. This instant mess is an egregious failure of discipline on the part of the personnel involved. The breach was reported to leadership and instant remediation action ensued.

This is not, by any gauge, proof of a pandemic culture of immorality and irresponsibility in today’s Secret Service, nor is it the first time in Secret Service history that agents and officers have been disciplined for breaking the rules.

As in all organizations there are people who fail to meet or perform to acceptable standards. Dealing with those individuals has been a continuing Secret Service focus through the years.

I know this because it was my job as a Secret Service Assistant Director. In this current matter the Secret Service process of discipline and correction was well underway before it became public knowledge.

When the failure became known to management the situation was immediately addressed and the miscreant agents and officers immediately replaced.

While this event is certainly an embarrassment to the Secret Service it is not -as some strident media experts suggest – a complete condemnation of its leadership, professionalism and public service to the United States. The over-the-top posturing of these so-called experts should raise some questions about the substantiation behind their pronouncements they endlessly tout on the news media. I wonder what their professional experience is and what their qualifications are, to advance these opinions.

I also question why their inside sources remain anonymous? During my years as Inspector General of Social Security Administration a steady stream of provocative allegations about agency leaders were reported to my office from anonymous sources.

Very few proved to have any validity. I am wary of unidentified sources. To me, it’s the old courage of your convictions test. Too much exists as fact today that is never substantiated by good validation and verification before it is proclaimed to our over-connected world.

I know I am very subjective about my views on the Secret Service. I spent the balance of my federal career in it. I served with the finest men and women I know. I also know that the agents, officers, and all the Secret Service staff of today hold to the same commitments and standards that I did in my time.

On this past Wednesday evening, April 18, a wreath was placed at the Law Enforcement Memorial on E Street NW, here in Washington to commemorate the 29 officers and agents who have died in the line of duty since the Secret Service was authorized by President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865.

The Secret Service has a long and rich history of public service to the United States. It is made up of real people, steadfast men and women who respect these traditions, and serve their country with honor and commitment.

Where there are individuals who fail to keep this compact they are identified, and following due process, are removed. This is the abiding core culture of the Secret Service.

Scandals Need to Vanish Quickly

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

When it comes to scandals, the best thing is to make them vanish quickly.

Waiting for an Inspector General report takes far too long.

In the case of the Secret Service-prostitution scandal, so far, so good.

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, a veteran of navigating Capitol Hill, has done all the right things. He quickly launched an investigation. He’s called for an I.G. investigation. And he’s talked to folks on the Hill like Sen. Chuck Grassley to keep them apprised of the unfolding events.

So far, two agents have resigned and a third has retired. More need to go. The sooner the better.

Not that the agents have committed the crime of the century. In fact, they’ve committed no crime. Prostitution is legal in Colombia.

But when you represent an agency like the Secret Service while abroad, and you’re there on behalf of the President of the United States, more is expected of you.

The Secret Service is wisely delving deeply into the matter.

Bloomberg news reports investigators are trying to determine if any of the prostitutes were spies and whether any classified info was compromised.

If there ended up being something to that, the scandal would only get bigger.

That’s something the President, the Secret Service and the public doesn’t need. Scandals provide plenty of fodder for the press.

But they distract from more important issues at hand.

New Orleans Saints’ Bountygate Could be Prosecuted as a Conspiracy

This column also appeared in the New York Daily News.
 
By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

What if several executives of a multimilliondollar national corporation hatched a plan to pay bounties to its employees to deliberately injure key employees of competing corporations?

Then put the plan in action, actually disabling key employees, thereby affecting those corporations’ ability to compete. It clearly would be something that should be criminally prosecuted.

As you may have guessed, this is just a generic business- term description of the un-Saintly bounty scheme New Orleans was apparently running. There have been reports there may be criminal prosecutions pursued. Apparently the NFL Players Association has warned players involved that they may face criminal charges.

The Associated Press reported that “most legal scholars agree that prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute on-field sports activity,” said Gabriel Feldman, a sports law professor at Tulane. “They’re difficult cases to bring, because it’s hard to prove the injury was caused by a tackle with specific intent to injure, rather than a regular tackle.”

I would agree with the prosecutors’ reluctance to prosecute on-field activity, but criminal prosecution of the Saints’ pay-for-injury scheme would not necessarily entail proving much specific on-field activity.

Instead of charging individual incidents as though they were a series of assaults and batteries, a criminal conspiracy could be charged using federal criminal law. Under the so-called Hobbs Act (18 USC 1951), a racketeering statute, whoever conspires to commit physical violence to any person in furtherance of a plan or purpose which in anyway or degree effects commerce is in violation of the statute. Clearly the NFL and all of its teams are involved in interstate commerce.

Those teams’ primary purpose is to compete with the other teams in the NFL and win football games. Thus illegal activity that impedes or obstructs a team’s ability to compete is adversely affecting commerce.

The other question to be answered is, would a conspiracy rewarding intentionally injuring opposing players be criminal? Football is a violent game and “hard hits” are encouraged, but within the rules. Late hits, unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct are proscribed by the rules. If the conspiracy encouraged hits, with the intent to cause injury regardless of whether the hit would or could result in a penalty, then it seems such conduct goes from being aggressive football to assault and battery under the guise of playing football.

The prosecution would not have to show specific injuries resulted from specific hits for which a bounty was paid. It need only show a conspiracy was formed to commit acts of illegal violence which affected interstate commerce. It now appears, like Watergate, there is compelling, recorded audio evidence of the conspiracy. Although I think this is viable prosecutorial theory, I’m not sure I would be enthusiastic about recommending or pursuing a criminal prosecution in Bountyate based on the facts that have been reported.

But I do have a concern. What if organized crime and professional gambling interests became aware of or participated in the pay-to-injure activities? (Who understands paying bounties for injuries better than the mob?) That would change the whole perspective. This is why it is important for the NFL to come down hard on the participants in Bountyate. The integrity of the game is at risk. The potential for criminal prosecution should not be dismissed, but rather held in abeyance.

Fed Judge Who Circulated Racist Joke About Obama Should Resign

Judge Richard Cebull/wikipedia

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It would come as no shock to find out some Republican appointees to the federal bench are not President Obama’s biggest fans.

Nonetheless, it still comes as a shock that Chief Judge Richard Cebull, who is in his late 60s, who was appointed by George W. Bush to the fed bench in Montana in 2001, would circulate an email with a blatantly racist joke about the President.

Sure, Cebull is sorry. He’s apologized to the President personally. He has said that his essential endorsement of the joke wasn’t really about race but rather about his dislike for Obama. And oh yes, he admitted the joke was pretty racist.

Cebull needs to resign from the bench.

In case you haven’t seen the joke, here it is:

“A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’” the email joke reads. “His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!’” […]

Sure Judge Cebull is sorry. We all do stupid things. But as a friend Daniel Proudfoot commented on ticklethewire.com, the spell has been broken and Cebull “cannot be made whole again.” The trust is gone. I look at this way: If a bank teller steals once, can they ever be trusted again?  The teller will always be suspect.

Let’s be honest.

If you were an African-American, would you trust the judge to be fair and impartial? If  your life literally depended on it, the answer is a big NO!

So the question is: Can we have someone on the federal bench who can only preside over cases with white defendants? Who can only sentence white defendants?

If you thinks that’s a good idea, then by all means, keep him on the bench.

If not, Judge Cebull, needs to retire, sooner than later.