Pennsylvania Manhunt Evokes Memories Of The Search For Eric Rudolph Robert Siegel talks to former FBI special agent Chris Swecker about the similarities between the hunt for Eric Rudolph and Eric Frein, a survivalist suspected of killing a Pennsylvania state trooper.
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Pennsylvania Manhunt Evokes Memories Of The Search For Eric Rudolph

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Pennsylvania Manhunt Evokes Memories Of The Search For Eric Rudolph

Pennsylvania Manhunt Evokes Memories Of The Search For Eric Rudolph

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Schools were closed this week, hunting season put off, even Halloween activities have been canceled all as a six-week-old manhunt goes on in northeastern Pennsylvania. In September, two state troopers were shot in an ambush. One was killed, the other wounded. State police identified a suspect: Eric Frein. They call him a self-taught survivalist and marksman with a grudge against police. Ever since, they have been searching for Frein unsuccessfully.

Comparisons with the search for Eric Rudolph are inevitable. Rudolph was the domestic terror bomber who disappeared into the Appalachian wilderness for five years before his capture. The man in charge of that search was former FBI special agent Chris Swecker, who joins us now. Hi.

CHRIS SWECKER: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: There have been sightings and false sightings of Frein. Does all this strike you as reminiscent of the Rudolph manhunt?

SWECKER: Oh, it definitely does. There are just so many similarities to the hunt for the Olympic Bomber. Both of them are survivalists or at least fancy themselves as survivalists. And they are both in very rugged terrain. I think there's that period where there's saturation of the law enforcement manhunt aspect of it, which I think at some point's going to have to wind down, as we did with Eric Robert Rudolph.

SIEGEL: Yeah, you spoke of Rudolph as the Olympic Bomber. He was - one of the bombs he placed was at the games in Atlanta, Georgia.

SWECKER: That's correct.

SIEGEL: If the attack on the Pennsylvania troopers was planned the way state police evidently think it was, you have a fugitive who probably planned his escape. How much does that complicate a search?

SWECKER: Well, this type of search, it presents a whole host of complications. One, if he's planned it as Rudolph did he's got supplies stashed in not one place but several places. If he planned well enough these supplies are either buried underground or in caves. And, you know, there's many different aspects of this planning. I mean, even things like stocking books and other - and radios and cell phones and that sort of thing.

SIEGEL: Eric Rudolph was ultimately arrested by a local police officer. And then he published his own account of his life on the lam. Assuming that what he wrote was truthful, did Rudolph's own account of his time as a fugitive confirm what you thought must have been going on? Or was it an eye-opener for you and other law enforcement officers?

SWECKER: There were a couple eye-openers. I don't think there are a lot of surprises for those that were very close to the investigation. The main part being that he didn't have a lot of help. He had minimal help, if any, that he had prepared well in advance, that many times he was watching the search team and could track their movements probably better than we could track his. So there weren't a whole lot of surprises other than some of the aspects. For example, the hidden dynamite. He had five different sites where he had hidden explosives. And he had actually gotten close enough to our command post to detonate an IED, which he chose not to.

SIEGEL: By preparing, you mean - Rudolph, in his case, and we don't know but possibly the current fugitive could store food, other sorts of supplies, a weapon, even dynamite in places in the woods where they would know to find them and police wouldn't?

SWECKER: Correct. I actually stood on top of one of Eric Rudolph's hiding places and didn't know it. What he did was dug holes in the ground and put his supplies in there or whatever he wanted to put in there - weapons, whatever. In this case, it was supplies. And then he found a huge, flat rock and covered it up with leaves and dirt, and it looked perfectly natural.

SIEGEL: When you were in charge of this search, did you have then or do you have now some sense of what would be the outer limit on how long a person could conceivably remain in the wild and evade a search?

SWECKER: Well, when I took over, Eric Rudolph had been in the woods for about two and a half years, close to three years. In the case of Frein, I don't think that he has the advantages that Rudolph had. I think the area's more finite. It's harder to slip in and out of the area that he's in. If he doesn't have shelter, he's going to seek shelter at some point. It's just too hard to live outdoors for the period of time that he's been outdoors. And I really feel like - and I think a lot of experts would say - he's starting to reach the outer limits of his ability to stay outdoors.

SIEGEL: Mr. Swecker, thank you very much for talking with us about it.

SWECKER: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Chris Swecker, who was the special agent in charge for the FBI of the search for Eric Rudolph some years ago. We were talking about the current manhunt in northeastern Pennsylvania for Eric Frein.

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