Tenth Witness to History Event Recounts the Investigation of the Unabomber

On Saturday, September 20th, 140 people attended the National
Law Enforcement Museum’s Witness to History: Investigating the Unabomber program, held in partnership
with the Newseum in their Knight Studio in Washington, DC and generously
sponsored by Target. The program was the tenth in the Witness to History series. Panelists included Jim Freeman, Donald
Max Noel, and Terry Turchie, three principal members of the Task force credited
with apprehending the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Their experiences are documented
in a new book, Unabomber: How the FBI
Broke Its own Rules to Capture the Terrorist Ted Kaczynski

The event kicked off with opening remarks from Memorial Fund Chairman and CEO
Craig Floyd. Floyd was followed by discussion moderator, John Maynard from the
Newseum, who prompted  panelists to
recount their experiences while serving on the Unabomber task force. Topics
included how the task force changed their policies in order to find and capture
the Unabomber, and the importance of the 35,000 word manifesto that the Kaczynski
sent to major newspapers.

Kaczynski sent homemade bombs that targeted universities, airlines and computer
stores, killing three people and injuring 23 others. The search for the
Unabomber became one of the largest and most expensive cases in FBI history,
spanning almost 17 years, involving a file consisting of 59,000 volumes of
information, and thousands of viable suspects.

Turchie, assistant Special Agent in charge of the task force, discussed
how the FBI changed their strategies in order to apprehend the Unabomber.
Turchie and Freeman came onto the task force towards the end of the
investigation, when morale was low and not much progress was occurring. “They’d
worked really hard, they’d been there a long time, and they were just tired,” Turchie
said. Each member of the task force was encouraged to choose a partner in the
hopes that if one was having a down day, the other could bring spirits up and help
promote creativity.

Regarding the importance of the manifesto Freeman, Special Agent in charge of
the task force, said that it is difficult to find a criminal when they are not
communicating. However, “once [a criminal] starts communicating, you have an
opportunity for lead material to develop. And the Unabomber had been quiet for
about seven years up until he started bombing again in 1993 … and he started
writing letters.”

The manifesto allowed the task force to get an idea of who the Unabomber was.
Turchie described how the manifesto became a major clue in the case saying, “We
spent months really reading and trying to understand the manifesto. And by the
time we had someone step forward that could help us bring it together, we were
already on those trails and we were able to go back and pull those pieces
together.” The manifesto, which was published in media outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times at the urging of the
FBI, brought forward the most crucial tip from the Unabomber’s own brother.
David Kaczynski recognized the language and ideas of his brother, Ted, and had
his attorney contact the FBI with the tip.

The discussion then moved on to the identification and capture of the
Unabomber. Noel was  sent to investigate in
Montana, where the Unabomber was hiding. He described  seeing Ted Kaczynski  for the first time: “I saw him a month before
we actually took him into custody … I walked, along with his neighbor, up a
skid road. And when we were about 40 yards away from his cabin, in a clearing,
he opened up the door of his cabin and stuck his head out. And my first
response was, ‘My God is that what we’ve been looking for all these years?’ He
was a wild looking person; he had on an orange knit cap. You know, you conjure
up an image of who you think you’re looking for over the years … and he’s this
guy living in this little dinky cabin … that just amazed me.” Noel then went on
to describe Kaczynski’s arrest. “It went like we planned it,” he said. There
was no struggle.

At the end of the discussion, there was a Question and Answer session with
audience members, after which guests were then invited to a reception in the
Newseum. Everyone was encouraged to view the Unabomber’s Cabin, which will be on
exhibit until January 15, 2015 in the Newseum’s G-Men and Journalists Exhibit.

The National Law Enforcement Museum would like to, again,
thank Target® for sponsoring our Witness
to History
programs and the Newseum for partnering on this event.

For those unable to attend, a recording of the program can be viewed here
on C-SPAN’s website. Thank you to everyone who attended the event and stay
tuned for more Witness to History Events.