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'TIME' Reporter Discusses Sniper

Aired October 15, 2002 - 12:25   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Early on in the search for the D.C.- area sniper, police asked the Pentagon for the names of recently- discharged military sharpshooters.
"TIME" magazine correspondent, Michael Weisskopf, is joining us now to talk about that angle of the investigation.

You did some extensive reporting on that angle. What did you find out, Mike?

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: The idea is that people who recently have been discharged from the military, Wolf, especially those discharged because of misconduct or bad behavior, could be eligible to be the type of suspect the FBI and local police are looking for.

What's interesting here is that in sniper schools, the rifleman is taught to be -- to work in tandem with a spotter. In several eyewitness accounts, police have been told that there were two people in these white panel trucks.

BLITZER: And so, the speculation is that's one spotting and the other one shooting, is that it?

WEISSKOPF: Precisely. Mike Brooks just spoke about that a minute ago, too.

BLITZER: Is there any indication that the shooter is getting out of the truck, or has some sort of open area in the top, a sun roof if you will, that he might be able to just go up there, take a shot and go back in and then zip away?

WEISSKOPF: The sources indicate that in the shooting of the 13- year-old that the sniper was placed outside of the truck somewhere. And of course, that tarot card was dropped, possibly from the ground.

What police are availing themselves of now is some new technology that allows them to create three-dimensional computer images of the crime scene, moving around the rifleman from place to place. And the idea is to jog the memory of eyewitnesses. By recreating the scene, they may be able to pull things out of their subconscious, like the appearance of the guy, if he had a limp or a mustache, what he was wearing and things of that sort.

BLITZER: The Senate minority leader, Trent Lott, just a little while ago spoke out on this issue, saying that there is some legislation now pending in Congress that might tighten up some of the gun control laws of the land that may or may not have an impact in this particular case. I want our viewers to listen to what Senator Lott said.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: There is a bill right now pending, by the way, in the Senate that has broad support, I think, that would allow for expedited background checks for criminal background for people when they purchase guns.

I don't know that that would address this particular problem, and that's why I hesitate to get into relating what we can or cannot do on ballistics testing or other things, until we know exactly who's doing this. You know, as somebody noted, this may not be being orchestrated by a terrorist organization, but it certainly is a terrorist activity.


BLITZER: In your reporting, Michael, you found out I'm sure, that to get this kind of high-powered rifle or weapon is not necessarily all that difficult.

WEISSKOPF: That's correct. They're available at gun shops. And also, it's possible that in hunting, they could be used. And they're available in -- they're available in many places.

BLITZER: We have another e-mail. I want to read this one to you, because we're getting swamped with questions about this.

And Matthew in Massachusetts is reflecting that particular question out there. "The sniper spree seems to be the ultimate act of terrorism. While they have not been on as large a scale as 9/11, they still incite fear and chaos. Is it possible the sniper is linked to al Qaeda?"

You've done some questioning, some reporting on this, Michael. What have you found out?

WEISSKOPF: It's certainly possible. And one of the leads the FBI is considering is that the sniper went after a 13-year-old boy, and if the purpose is to inspire fear and terror in the hearts of suburbanites, going after a 13-year-old certainly would do that.

BLITZER: But there is obviously still no evidence, as the president of the United States yesterday himself said, that would back that up. I've spoken with several members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. They say they've received no briefing that would back that up, but they can't rule it out. That's an open question right now.

Let's take another e-mail question for you, Michael.

Nick is asking this question from Connecticut: "How helpful would high-tech equipment, like satellite imagery, be in apprehending the sniper? Wouldn't this enable police to get a license place number or physical description of the killer"? We heard Barbara Starr reporting just a little while ago from the Pentagon that some high-tech equipment -- she didn't describe that equipment -- will be made available presumably to law enforcement investigators.

What are you hearing about that?

WEISSKOPF: Well, certainly, recon satellites, which are capable for instance of reading headlines in Red Square in the Kremlin, would certainly be able to pick up license plates. This would be a new development in using the technology proactively as opposed to retrospectively.

I just described, for instance, devices used to recreate the scene of the shooting, which would be making use of the best technology.

I think the caller is suggesting a more proactive approach.

BLITZER: Michael Weisskopf of our sister publication, "TIME" magazine -- thanks for doing your excellent reporting, as usual, thanks for joining us, thanks to all of your colleagues as well.


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