Copyright 1994 The San Diego Union-Tribune
The San Diego Union-Tribune
December 18, 1994, Sunday
SECTION: NEWS; Ed. 1,2; Pg. A-31
LENGTH: 740 words
HEADLINE: Cases of maiming or killing by bomb spread alarmingly SERIES: UNABOMBER
BYLINE: GEORGE RAINE San Francisco Examiner
Killing or maiming by bomb is a growth area in the violence industry, one that reflects a sharp increase in the number of people willing to "go the extra step" to act on a grievance or a grudge, officials say.
The number of bombings usually increases immediately after a high-profile blast such as the recent slaying of New Jersey advertising executive Thomas Mosser, authorities say. The killing has been attributed to the so-called Unabomber, believed to be responsible for 15 bombings since 1978.
And it's not hard to get the materials and know-how to send a bomb. The basic instructions are in books, videos and even on-line.
"The information is out there, the people are out there and unfortunately something snaps in somebody's mind and they feel that this is the way they need to extract their revenge or their intimidation or whatever it might be that motivates them to do this crime," Mike Morrissey, assistant special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said last week.
"Very simply," said ATF agent Jerry Singer in Chicago, "what we have seen is an increase in the intent and the propensity of people willing to go the extra step, to put a device together and use it. It's an increase of people with that mind-set.
"It's a cowardly act," he said, "because you don't have to see the consequences right in front of you."
The number of explosives cases jumped 33 percent nationally from 1990 to 1993 and 55 percent in California, the ATF says. Officials chalk up part of that jump to changes in laws that made such offenses as using illegal fireworks an explosives charge, but they say that can't account for all the increase.
Perhaps most ominously, authorities can't pin down any one reason for why more people are trying to even the score with a bomb.
"Look around the room," Morrissey said at a news conference last week. "Look at how many personalities are here. There's no discriminating personality of a bomber.
"It could be somebody who is mad at her husband, wife, boss. It could be somebody who is a corporate executive, a police officer, anyone of 100,000 different personalities and people. It ranges from people who are highly educated to people who have no education at all.
"It's like the devices themselves -- each device carries a particular signature, and it just ranges with the imagination."
Singer said 37 percent of bombings turn out to be acts of vandalism. Twenty percent are intended as revenge, he said, while smaller percentages are protests against something or cold-blooded homicide.
Dr. Bennett Leaventhal, head of psychiatric studies at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, said the anti-social behavior that brings about any violent crime is seen in bombers.
"There are people at extremes of the spectrum who do not have an illness per se, but who solve problems by making enemies and blowing them up," Leaventhal said. "It's possible they have psychiatric disorders, but more probable they do not. They have some idiosyncratic feeling about somebody or something and they have decided to act on it."
The Unabomber's bombs have been sophisticated. But only a fundamental knowledge of explosives is needed to make a crude, lethal bomb, Singer said.
In fact, materials and assembly instructions have been available for years, published in books with such titles as "The Poor Man's James Bond," "Explosives Grandma Used to Make" and "Deadly Brew," said Jerry Taylor, ATF explosives enforcement officer in San Francisco.
Even videos are available, and instructions have been known to show up on computer bulletin boards, said Susan McCarron, an ATF spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.
"These are groups we are not real fond of," she said, "but there is not a whole lot we can do about it until somebody actually makes a bomb or a threat. There's nothing in the explosives law we can do about these things."
Copycat bombings or threats are common after a major bombing, said ATF Agent-in-Charge Bernard LaForest of the Arizona office in Phoenix. So are false reports of bombs. In San Francisco, police Capt. Lawrence Minasian said that since the Unabomber struck last Saturday, the department has received four or five calls a day about suspicious packages. Normally, he said, the department handles two or three such calls a week.
"People are paranoid," Minasian said.