Unabomber case, in so many words Analyst: Retired FBI agent with a knack for analyzing writing made a key contribution to breaking the serial killing case.

April 16, 1996|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. -- Clint Van Zandt has a particular skill and partly because of it Theodore J. Kaczynski, the suspected Unabomber, is in custody today.

It all began for Mr. Van Zandt with a call in December to his home in Fredericksburg. A woman investigator from Chicago wanted to know if what she had heard about him was true:

Could he compare separate documents and determine if they had been written by the same person? Not by the handwriting, but by the vocabulary, sentence structure, the punctuation?

Yes, he told her. It's one of the things the former FBI agent and current private security consultant does for a living. He also provides risk assessments to companies about potentially violent employees, does personality profiling and other security related tasks.

"I don't think she suggested at first we would be comparing documents against the Unabomber's manifesto," said Mr. Van Zandt.

But when she turned over to him typed copies of two handwritten letters, one written about 10 years ago, and the other about a year ago, she asked him to compare them with the 35,000-word manifesto published in the New York Times and Washington Post last September titled "Industrial Society and its Future."

The woman, whose name is Susan Swanson, was acting on behalf of David Kaczynski, who by then suspected his brother Ted might be the serial killer. It was a suspicion stimulated by the content of his brother's letters.

Ms. Swanson never told Mr. Van Zandt of her connection to the Kaczynski family. He learned that from the newspapers afterward.

Mr. Van Zandt had no idea who had written the letters.

"They didn't say to, or from, or Aunt Susie, or anything like that," he recalled.

A first scan

His procedure for such work is first to scan the documents to determine if he can dismiss the possibility of common authorship on the basis of obvious differences, such as the education levels of the authors. If such differences are not evident, he calls on two experts who work with him, a psychiatrist and a linguistics specialist.

In this case, the additional help was necessary. The trio set to work and finished its analysis within two weeks. But before sending along his findings, Mr. Van Zandt wanted to see more material.

"We see points of comparison and would like to look at other documents by the same author," he told Ms. Swanson. "It would bolster what we believe to be common authorship."

Ms. Swanson said no more letters were available.

"So, based on what we had, we suggested at least a 60 percent probability of common authorship," said Mr. Van Zandt.

The analysis was delivered around the turn of the year. It included a psychological profile of the person who wrote the letters, without reference to the manifesto. Ms. Swanson and her client, David Kaczynski, were expected to compare it with the published profile of the Unabomber.

Mr. Van Zandt then called Chicago. "I told her that whoever provided you these documents could well know something that would aid in this investigation and you have to get this person to the FBI as quickly as possible. And I stressed that in no uncertain terms."

Mr. Van Zandt is an affable man who retired from the FBI last August. He is 50, overt in his Christianity: he believes everything that happens has been ordained.

In the FBI, he specialized in psychological profiling and negotiating with hostage takers, especially the dangerous and explosive sort who emerge in prison riots and siege situations, such as that created by the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas.

He left the FBI after 25 years because he felt it was simply time for a change. "I'd done all the negotiating I wanted to do," he said. "I've seen people die. I've facilitated tactical resolutions, where we had to kill people. It was time to do something else."

He's thorough

At first encounter with Mr. Van Zandt, two characteristics become apparent. He is eager for clarity and certitude; he is thorough.

It was that latter quality that moved him to reanalyze the two letters in his possession. And he wanted another opinion.

"I wanted to really know that I was right," he said.

So he called upon two other experts he frequently works with. He described them as academics with "strong backgrounds in analysis of communications."

The second analysis was finished by mid-January. This time they had examined the themes contained in the letters and the manifesto rather than the mechanics and syntax of the language. He found similar themes, though those in the letters were less developed than those in the manifesto.

"With this second approach, we suggested an 80 percent probability of common authorship," said Mr. Van Zandt. With that, things had become more urgent for him.

it had not been asked for by Ms. Swanson, the second analysis was forwarded to Chicago, followed by another call:

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