Copyright 1995 Globe Newspaper Company
The Boston Globe
May 10, 1995, Wednesday, City Edition
SECTION: METRO/REGION; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 623 words
HEADLINE: Scientists on edge after Unabomber letters
BYLINE: By Richard Saltus, Globe Staff
When he targeted two prominent and well-liked Massachusetts scientists with warning letters, the mysterious letter-bomb maker known as Unabomber sent a shiver of fear through the Boston area's large scientific and technical community.
After the existence of the letters was disclosed yesterday, many researchers refused to discuss the potential danger publicly for fear of attracting the attention of the bomber or imitators.
"I'm very upset about what's going on and I actually feel quite vulnerable," said a Boston-area genetic scientist.
"I have thought a lot about being in the position I am in, given that someone feels this way about geneticists and biologists," added the scientist, who requested anonymity because "who knows who reads what."
The Unabomber sent letters to Nobel laureates Phillip A. Sharp of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Richard J. Roberts of New England Biolabs Inc. in Beverly.
Although the prevailing response was a nervous silence, one biotech official unleashed a torrent of indignation at the campaign against what the Unabomber has called "techno-nerds" who are "changing the world."
"I find it disgusting that there are such people in the world," said Alison Taunton-Rigby, president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council Inc. in Worcester.
"Phil Sharp is someone I really admire; he's a forerunner" in the DNA research that underlies the development of the biotechnology industry, she said, "and it appalls me that someone would do something like this."
"We're realizing that we're more of a target as an area of research," she said from the council's Worcester headquarters.
The Unabomber, who got his nickname because his first bombs went to university scientists and airline executives, sent the letters to Sharp and Roberts on April 20, the same day a package bomb he mailed killed a timber industry lobbyist in Sacramento, Calif.
Taunton-Rigby and officials of other research institutions said security measures were tightened two years ago after the Unabomber mailed a letter bomb that seriously injured a Yale computer scientist when he opened the package.
After that attack, MIT police circulated a set of guidelines about suspicious mail, said spokesman Ken Campbell. The institute sent out another advisory on April 26 after the New York Times printed a lengthy letter from the bomber in which he railed against computer scientists and geneticists.
Campbell said Sharp and MIT officials would have no comment on the latest events.
David Baltimore, also a Nobel laureate at MIT, declined comment on the bomber's latest communications. But he said he felt that criticism of biological research and biotechnology had diminished in recent years.
Baltimore noted that some individuals in the Pacific Northwest are espousing a life that is as free as possible of technological trappings.
"In the diverse world we live in, there's room for an anti-technology movement in its benign form," but not when it expresses itself in violence, he said.
At the Harvard School of Public Health, Max Essex, an AIDS researcher, said he hadn't heard of any changes in security as a result of the Unabomber's new letters.
Although the bomber struck in New England before, injuring the Yale scientist two years ago, "I haven't thought about it personally very much," said Essex.
He said it did catch his attention when Sharp and Roberts were singled out. "I realized, 'Gee, I know these people,' " he said. Letter and package bomb indicators
Although the chances of receiving a letter or package bomb are exceedingly slim, the Postal Service offers the following signs to help you recognize a suspicious mailing that could be a letter or package bomb: GRAPHIC: CHART DIAGRAM