Library Records Led to Break in Unabomber Case

Stephen Freccero, a former U.S. Attorney and prosecutor in the Unabomber case, explains how authorities used library records to confirm a tip given by the Unabomber's brother that ultimately led to the conviction of Ted Kasczynski.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Library records have proven useful in some criminal cases, most notably the Unabomber. Theodore Kaczynski eluded authorities for nearly two decades, killing three people and injuring more than 20 others in a series of bombings. He was tripped up after demanding that his manifesto be published by a major national publication. That, in turn, led Kaczynski's brother to tip off authorities. Stephen Freccero helped track down and prosecute the Unabomber for the Justice Department.

Mr. STEPHEN FRECCERO (Prosecuted Unabomber Case): The Unabomb investigation took a very important turn when the manifesto was published, because it was a lengthy document that contained a number of references to well-known books and materials, but materials that had been out of circulation for a while. So in essence, investigators were looking to corroborate whether these materials could have been available to this individual who, they had information at that point, was residing in a rural area of Montana. So it was really a process of corroborating information that had been provided to the investigators.

MONTAGNE: How narrow then was this particular foray into library borrowing?

Mr. FRECCERO: The Unabomb investigation was a case in which investigators had some level of information about a particular individual, most significantly towards the end of the investigation, Kaczynski, and sought to use libraries as they would any other source of information. It's really different from an approach that says, let's find out who the universe of people are that are using certain materials as a starting point.

MONTAGNE: As institutions go, though, aren't libraries special? Might they not enjoy special protection because it involves people's First Amendment rights basically? People should feel free to read what they want without any sort of expectation the government will intrude.

Mr. FRECCERO: In terms of sources of information, sure, privacy rights attach to libraries, just as they would to medical records, but just as they would to a person's home. The question is what procedures must be followed before the government can go and inquire into those areas? That's where I think the proper debate lies on this issue.

MONTAGNE: Well, in the case of Theodore Kaczynski, would he have been caught had you not had the opportunity to inspect the books that he borrowed from the local library?

Mr. FRECCERO: Well, I believe eventually Mr. Kaczynski would have been caught. Whether there had been access to library materials or not, the real question is when would he have been caught and would there have been additional victims?

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. FRECCERO: Certainly. My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Stephen Freccero helped to prosecute the case against the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski. He spoke to us from San Francisco, where he's a partner at Morrison & Foerster.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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