“Truly good police work” in Texas involved analyzing a battery from a bomb and security video of the bomber dropping off packages for delivery.
Even as it became clear that Austin bombmaker Mark Conditt exploited modern fondness for online shopping to invoke terror, law enforcement, too, used emerging social dynamics, including Americans’ growing comfort with surveillance cameras, to protect the public, the Christian Science Monitor reports. “This case shows the depths to which law enforcement has to go to meet the challenges of the time,” says former FBI assistant director Joe Lewis. “That they identified the individual as quickly as they did and maintained a low loss of life, that is truly good police work.” While the ordeal seemed to unravel in slow motion, authorities closed the case in the same time frame as the D.C. sniper was caught in 2002.
Authorities were able to recover the battery from one bomb, which narrowed their search: It was one of only a few that had come into the U.S. from overseas. The discovery of a second, unexploded package and security video of the bomber, in a blond wig, dropping off packages for delivery, led to Conditt’s identification. This kind of digital forensics has become an increasingly valuable tool for law enforcement as investigators have become more familiar with tracking technology and the sheer availability of data has increased, says Don Vilfer, former head of the White Collar Crime and Computer Crime Unit of the FBI in Sacramento. “We leave digital trails as we travel throughout the day with so much that we do,” he says. The number of surveillance cameras in the U.S. doubled from 33 million in 2012 to nearly 62 million by the end of 2016. Privacy concerns have not gone away, but have been muted as digital footage has proved invaluable in solving terrorist attacks on civilians.