Did the FBI ignore the `Tafoya profile'?

An eerily accurate Unabomber prediction


When FBI agent Bill Tafoya finally joined the Unabomber case, the bomber had already killed one person and injured 21. Tafoya told his superiors they were looking for the wrong man and produced a profile of the suspect that turned out to be eerily prescient. But the profile was ignored, and before the explosive spree was over, two more people would die. Now Tafoya is wondering: Why didn't anyone listen?

In June 1993, the federal government established a multiagency task force in San Francisco after the Unabomber detonated two new bombs after years of silence. Task-force leaders assigned Tafoya and colleague Mary Ellen O'Toole to study the bomber's victims. They produced a profile of the suspect in August 1993.

Like many of those who create criminal profiles based on fragmentary evidence, Tafoya--who has a Ph.D. in criminology--had fans and detractors. Some FBI executives view the profilers as crystal-ball gazers, and even supporters admit that profiling is a crude art..

But Tafoya's Unabomber profile got an especially chilly reception. A previous profile had argued the suspect was in his mid-30s to early 40s, with perhaps some college education. Other evidence led investigators to believe the bomber was a blue-collar aviation worker. His soldering techniques pointed in that direction; early attacks had been against planes or airline executives, and a forensic analysis of bomb fragments discovered materials unique to the airline industry.

By contrast, Tafoya's analysis concluded that the bomber was probably in his early 50s (Kaczynski was 53 when captured). The two-page document asserted that the bomber had not only a college degree but a graduate one as well, maybe even a Ph.D. It further stated that he probably had a background in "hard" science, perhaps electrical engineering or math. The profile concluded that the suspect was an antitechnology Luddite. Had Tafoya's profile been embraced, says former FBI colleague Gordon McNeill, "the suspect base could have been narrowed [in order] to zero in on highly educated people."

Wasted hours. In 1994, a new investigator took over the task force and tried to convince Tafoya that new forensic analysis should alter his profile. Tafoya didn't waiver, and he says the profile was ignored. "I let them down because I wasn't getting aboard that particular bandwagon," says Tafoya, who retired in 1995. Their embracing Tafoya's profile would have meant they trusted behavioral scientists over shoe-leather investigators and it would have been a tacit admission that countless hours and dollars had been wasted.

Bureau officials declined to comment, but former San Francisco agent-in-charge Jim Freeman claims Tafoya's recollections may be less than objective. Freeman notes that profiles are but one component of any investigation. He says investigators pursued several tracks, including the possibility that the bomber might be an academic. Tafoya says his colleagues were well intentioned. It just turns out, he says, "that the path that was followed wasn't the right one."

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