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Profile: Clinton R. Van Zandt

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Clinton R. Van Zandt was a participant or observer in the following events:

The day before the promised departure of the Branch Davidian sect members from their besieged compound (see April 1-4, 1993), Davidian leader David Koresh sends a four-page letter to the FBI, identifying himself as “Yahweh” (the Jewish name for God) and telling it that the “heavens are calling you to judgment.” The letter is written in first-person as if God penned it. “The letter is threatening and cites six Biblical passages,” says FBI spokesman Bob Ricks. “The gist of the letter, like the Biblical passages, conveys messages of a powerful, angry God empowering his chosen people to punish and harm those who oppose him.” Experts analyze the letter, along with others Koresh will send over the next few days (see April 10-11, 1993), and will conclude that Koresh is possibly psychotic and has no intention of leaving voluntarily. [New York Times, 4/10/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Davidian Attacked with Stun Grenades - Steve Schneider, David Koresh’s lieutenant, is allowed to briefly leave the compound to deliver Koresh’s letter and to ignite seven smoke flares to commemorate Passover. In the process, FBI agents bombard him with stun grenades, sometimes called “flash-bangs,” to drive him back inside. Ricks explains, “Mr. Schneider, either through his own confusion or whatever, came out one occasion too many yesterday and we had to flash-bang him twice.” [New York Times, 4/10/1993]
Letter Helps Precipitate Decision to Assault Compound - Impelled in part by the letter, the FBI finalizes plans to use tear gas to flush the Davidians from the compound (see April 7, 1993), and begins moving to secure Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval to carry out these plans. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Some within the FBI feel that the tear-gas assault is the very worst thing that can be done to resolve the situation (see March 31, 1993). FBI profilers Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993), who warned their superiors that increasing the pressure on Koresh and the Davidians would precipitate a bloody, violent end to the standoff (see March 7-8, 1993), say that the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel should withdraw from the compound, and that tactical pressure “should be the absolute last option we should consider.” The two experts who analyze the letter tend to agree with Smerick and Young. Clint Van Zandt, of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime—the so-called “Silence of the Lambs” team—and Dr. Joseph Krofcheck, a psychiatrist, conclude after reading the letter that an FBI confrontation with Koresh might “bring this matter to a ‘magnificent’ end, in his mind, a conclusion that could take the lives of all of his followers and as many of the authorities as possible.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]

Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Janet Reno, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Steve Schneider, Mark Young, Joseph Krofcheck, Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

In interviews conducted for the Justice Department’s probe of the FBI’s 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993), several FBI agents present during the siege and/or final assault say the bureau abandoned negotiations much too early and instead implemented aggressive measures that were counterproductive (see March 23, 1993). The interviews will not be included in the Justice Department’s report, and will not be released until December 1999, when they are made available to the special counsel investigating the FBI’s conduct during the final assault (see September 7-8, 1999).
Negotiators 'Had the Rug Pulled Out from under Them' - Some negotiators say during their interviews that because the FBI used punitive paramilitary actions (see March 12, 1993, March 14, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, March 21, 1993, March 22, 1993, March 23-24, 1993, March 25-26, 1993, April 7, 1993, April 10, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), many Davidians chose to remain inside the compound rather than leave. Gary Noesner, the FBI’s negotiation coordinator for the first weeks of the siege, says, “The negotiators’ approach was working until they had the rug pulled out from under them” by aggressive tactical actions. Noesner’s replacement, Clint Van Zandt, agrees, saying the negotiators’ position was “akin to sitting on the bow of the Titanic and watching the iceberg approach.” Former FBI profiler Pete Smerick, who warned early in the siege that the aggressive tactics being used by the FBI might backfire (see March 3-4, 1993 and March 7-8, 1993), says that the FBI “should not send in the tanks, because if they did so, children would die and the FBI would be blamed even if they were not responsible.… The outcome would have been different if the negotiation approach had been used. More people would have come out, even if Koresh and his core never did.”
Negotiators Submitted Own Plan for Tear-Gas Assault - Noesner says that on March 22, he and other negotiators submitted their own plan for gassing the compound, in hopes that their more moderated plan would be chosen over a more aggressive plan from the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). “This showed a clear realization… that the negotiations were basically over. They knew they were at an impasse,” Noesner says of FBI negotiators. “They recommended that tear gas be used because they realized this was going to happen anyway and they wanted to control it, to use it with leverage in the negotiations. The tactical interests just wanted to throw the gas in.” The negotiators’ plan became the blueprint for the plan accepted by Attorney General Janet Reno. “It would be allowed to work by letting them sit in it. The idea was to increase pressure but not in a way to provoke a violent response,” Noesner says.
Negotiators' Positions Disputed - FBI agent Byron Sage, one of the senior agents present during the siege, disagrees with some of his colleagues’ comments. In an interview repeatedly cited in the Justice Department report, Sage says: “Could we have gotten a few more people out [had the FBI used different tactics]? Maybe so, and God knows, any life that we could’ve saved would’ve been important. But it’s a total what-if. The fact remains that we did everything we could.” According to former White House counsel Webster Hubbell, also interviewed for the Justice Department report, Sage told him in a phone call that further negotiations were useless, and that some kind of assault on the compound was the only way to resolve the situation. Sage disputes Hubbell’s recollections, saying, “I never said negotiations were abandoned or at a total impasse.” Van Zandt, speaking to reporters in 1999, will say that he is not surprised to learn that Sage, and not Van Zandt, received Hubbell’s phone call. “I probably would’ve told him a lot different,” Van Zandt will recall. “When anyone from Washington asked who should we talk to, [on-site commander Jeffrey] Jamar strongly suggested Sage because he would speak the company line.… I don’t say [Sage] was Jeff Jamar’s man in a negative sense. But Jamar trusted him and knew he’d be working for Jamar when this was all over.” Van Zandt will recall warning “whoever would listen” that the plan was too risky and wouldn’t work. “That fell on deaf ears. I said we’re playing into Koresh’s prophecies. We’re doing what he wants.” Van Zandt will say that shortly before the assault he told the other negotiators what was coming. “It was a very deep, sobering time,” he will recall. Sage will dispute Van Zandt’s recollections also. “I don’t remember anyone jumping up and disagreeing,” he will say. “Hindsight is 20/20. We all agreed that we had reached a point where we would try to force the issue. If that meant the exercise of some force, then tear gas was the lowest level of force available.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/30/1999; USA Today, 12/30/1999]

Entity Tags: Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeffrey Jamar, Gary Noesner, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, Webster Hubbell

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

In the hours after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), some believe that the bombing was the work of Islamist terrorists. Televised news reports air theories of Islamist involvement, and say that eyewitnesses have reported seeing “Middle Eastern-looking men” fleeing the scene of the crime. [Los Angeles Times, 4/20/1995; Fox News, 4/13/2005] One eyewitness describes a man running from the scene clad in a black jogging outfit; many both in US intelligence and in the media assume that the man is likely Middle Eastern. One source tells reporters that the FBI has received claims of responsibility from at least eight groups, seven of which seem to be of Middle Eastern origin. Some officials privately fear that the bombing is the work of either Hamas or Islamic Jihad, two violently militant Islamist organizations. [Los Angeles Times, 4/20/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 185] Later in the day, Abdul Hakim Murad, an al-Qaeda operative in US custody, attempts to take credit for the bombing, but his associate Ramzi Yousef, also in US custody, does not (see April 19, 1995). In another instance, Jordanian-American Abraham Ahmad, attempting to fly to Jordan to visit relatives, is detained and questioned during a layover in Chicago. Ahmad, whom some sources describe as Palestinian-American, lives in Oklahoma City. A naturalized citizen who has lived in Oklahoma City since 1982, he has a background in computer science and is making a scheduled departure this morning to Jordan. His five suitcases contain, among other items, several car radios, large amounts of electrical wires, solder, a VCR, and a tool kit. He has packed a blue jogging suit and a pair of black sweatpants. Federal magistrates rush to serve him with a material warrant, moving so quickly that they misspell his name. He is stopped and questioned in Chicago before being allowed to continue his flight. He is stopped again in London, and this time is detained, strip-searched, and paraded in handcuffs through the crowded airport. He is photographed, fingerprinted, and returned to Washington before being transported to Oklahoma City. His name is leaked to the news media as a possible bombing suspect, creating a firestorm of interest; reporters crowd around his family’s home in Oklahoma City, and angry citizens vandalize his front yard. Authorities learn that Ahmad is going to Jordan for a family emergency. He will be released on April 21, will attend a memorial service for the bombing victims, and will file a $1.9 million lawsuit against the federal government. In later days, government officials such as counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say that the possibility of Islamist involvement on some level is difficult to disprove (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994 and November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). [Serrano, 1998, pp. 185-186; Clarke, 2004, pp. 127; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Justice Department spokesman John Russell says of Ahmad: “He cooperated. There is no reason for him to be held.” (The Washington Post, in reporting this, does not name Ahmad, and identifies him as “Palestinian-American.”) [Washington Post, 4/22/1995] Shortly after the bombing, senior FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, who had worked with the FBI at the Branch Davidian siege outside Waco, concludes that the bomber is probably a white male with militia ties and not an Islamist terrorist (see April 19, 1995).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Murrah Federal Building, John Russell, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Abraham Ahmad, Abdul Hakim Murad, Richard A. Clarke, Timothy James McVeigh, Ramzi Yousef, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The FBI’s Clint Van Zandt, a “profiler” at the bureau’s behavioral science unit, discounts the idea that the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) is the work of foreign terrorists. Instead, Van Zandt notes that the date of the bombing is the two-year anniversary of the Branch Davidian debacle (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Van Zandt worked the Branch Davidian case. He concludes that the perpetrator is white, male, in his twenties, with military experience and possibly with ties to far-right militia groups. Van Zandt says the perpetrator is likely angry about the Davidian and Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992) incidents. Coinciding with Van Zandt’s prelimilary profile, terrorism expert Louis R. Mizell notes that the date is “Patriot’s Day,” the date of the Revolutionary War battle of Lexington and Concord, and a date revered by the militia movement (see 9:00 p.m. April 19, 1995). Van Zandt’s profile is an accurate description of bomber Timothy McVeigh. [Douglas O. Linder, 2006; TruTV, 2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Louis R. Mizell, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

David Kacynski informs the FBI that his brother, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, might be the infamous “Unabomber.” The situation begins when their mother Wanda puts her Lombard, Illinois house up for sale in preparation to move to Schenectady, New York, to live closer to David. In the final days before the move, Wanda and David Kaczynski find documents written by David’s older brother Ted that they find disturbing.
Independent Investigation - Even before the publication of the “Unabomber” manifesto in the Washington Post and elsewhere (see September 19, 1995), David Kaczynski had worried that his brother might be the Unabomber. After its publication, his wife Linda Patrik read the manifesto and alerted David Kaczynski to its possible connection to his brother. David Kaczynski goes through the papers from his mother’s house, which include letters written by his brother from as far back as the 1970s protesting the use of technology. The themes and wording of the letters were disturbingly similar to the manuscript attributed to the Unabomber. David Kaczynski contacted a private investigator (later identified as Susan Swanson, a long-time friend of the family), who compiled information about the Unabomber’s attacks. David Kaczynski compared them to information he had about his brother’s movements. “She was able to deduce that he worked in the cities that were relevant at the correct times,” her supervisor Terry Lenzner will later say. Swanson contacted a colleague, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, who had briefly worked on a psychological profile of the Unabomber. Van Zandt compared letters written by Ted Kaczynski (whom Swanson did not reveal as the author) with the Unabomber document, and found marked similarities between the two. In mid-January, Van Zandt contacts Swanson and tells her the similarities are so strong that her client needs to go to the FBI, or he will be forced to do so. Swanson has already suggested that David Kaczynski retain the services of lawyer Anthony Bisceglie to represent the family.
Contacting the FBI - In late January, Bisceglie contacts the FBI in Washington, choosing to contact a friend in the bureau instead of the FBI’s Unabom task force in California. An FBI official will later recall, “The lawyer was nervous.” Initially, Bisceglie describes the situation without naming either of the brothers, or giving too much information about the grounds for David’s suspicions. “The brother was nervous,” the official later adds, “wanting to protect and not to smear his brother’s name if he wasn’t guilty and not to hurt him if he was.” After weeks of discussion, Bisceglie and David Kaczynski meet with FBI agents; David Kaczynski brings the documents from his mother’s house. Neither Bisceglie nor David Kaczynski are eager to identify Ted Kaczynski, but FBI agents have begun checking David Kaczynski’s background, and have already determined that Ted Kaczynski is probably the person he suspects of being the Unabomber. “We had kind of figured it out before he told us who his brother was, and that they both went to Harvard,” the official will later say. Bisceglie and David Kaczynski identify Theodore Kaczynski to FBI officials in early February. (Wanda Kaczynski is not told of the suspicions against her eldest son until late March.) Officials later say that they never considered David Kaczynski as having any involvement in his brother’s deeds, and never thought that he was motivated by the prospect of receiving the $1 million reward offered by the FBI for his capture and conviction (see August 20, 1998). Instead, the officials will say, David Kaczynski and the family want to ensure that if the FBI does go after Theodore Kaczynski, they will take precautions not to hurt him if and when they find him. Wanda Kaczynski authorizes an FBI search of the Lombard house as the family is preparing to leave. Using evidence found at the house, along with the documents and information provided by David Kaczynski and its own investigations, the FBI quickly learns that Theodore Kaczynski lives in an isolated cabin in the Montana mountains. Family and friends recall Ted Kaczynski as a brilliant mathematics student, perhaps a genius, but quite reclusive. LeRoy Weinberg, a veterinarian who lived behind the Kaczynskis in Evergreen Park, will later recall: “He never played with the other kids. He was a brilliant student, but even then his brother was much more social. I remember saying at the time that he may be brilliant, but I’m sure glad he’s not my kid.” Neighbors are aware that Ted Kaczynski had abandoned a promising career as a mathematics professor at the University of California at Berkeley to move into a tiny rural cabin in Montana some 15 years ago, and know little else. The Kaczynski’s father committed suicide in 1990 after learning he was suffering from terminal cancer. [New York Times, 4/4/1996; Washington Post, 4/5/1996; Reuters, 4/8/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/9/1996] In April 1996, Van Zandt will say that David Kaczynski is a “national hero” for turning in his brother. “He used us to verify in his own mind his suspicions that his own brother may have been the Unabomber,” he will say. “Unfortunately, we confirmed his worst fears.” [Chicago Tribune, 4/9/1996]

Entity Tags: Linda Patrik, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Anthony Bisceglie, David Kaczynski, LeRoy Weinberg, Wanda Kaczynski, Terry Lenzner, Theodore J. (“Ted”) Kaczynski, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Susan Swanson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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