Unabomber News History

Copyright 1995 The Washington Post

The Washington Post

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August 02, 1995, Wednesday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 1139 words

HEADLINE: FBI Asks College Professors If UNABOM Text Is Familiar; Terrorist's Manifesto Circulated in Academia

BYLINE: Joel Achenbach; John Schwartz, Washington Post Staff Writers


The FBI has given copies of a 35,000-word manifesto written by the terrorist known as the Unabomber to dozens of university professors in the hope they can identify the writing as the product of a former student or colleague.

The bomber, believed by authorities to be responsible for killing three people and injuring 23 since 1978, sent the manuscript in June to the New York Times and The Washington Post, saying he would refrain from killing anyone else if either paper published it in its entirety within three months. Neither paper has made a decision yet.

Many of the professors shown the manuscript, a learned screed against technology, are experts in the history of science.

"What we're trying to stress is this whole idea of the history of science, and people who might have been in the right places at the right time, who have maybe seen or heard comments from someone whose words and writings are very similar to this," Terry Turchie, assistant special agent in charge of the San Francisco-based UNABOM Task Force, said yesterday.

Members of the task force believe the bomber was exposed to the history of science or some related discipline in the late 1970s in the Chicago area, possibly at the University of Illinois at Chicago or at Northwestern University, where the first two bombs were found.

The FBI believes he then moved to the Salt Lake City area in 1980 and 1981, then finally to Northern California, where he may have had "some sort of contact" with the University of California at Berkeley, in the words of an FBI statement to be made public today. Two bombs were placed in a computer sciences building at Berkeley in 1982 and 1985.

"Obviously the Unabomber knows his way in and around a college campus. Whether or not he's been successful in achieving advanced degrees is subject to speculation," said Jim R. Freeman, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office.

For much of his criminal career the Unabomber chose to remain unnervingly silent about what seemed to be a random campaign against unrelated industries and academic fields. The FBI called him UNABOM because his early targets worked in universities or for airlines. The bomber called himself "FC," for Freedom Club, though the FBI thinks the membership in the group is limited to the bomber himself. The only credible sighting of the bomber was in 1987, outside a Salt Lake City computer store just before an explosion. He was decribed by a witness as a man with curly reddish-blond hair and a light mustache.

He resurfaced six years later, in June 1993 when, two days apart, university professors were seriously injured with mail bombs. While only one person was killed in the first 14 incidents, his two most recent bombs proved lethal, last December when a New Jersey advertising executive opened a bomb in his house, and then in April when the president of the California Forestry Association was killed in his office by a mail bomb addressed to someone else.

With that incident the Unabomber suddenly became discursive, sending letters to newspapers, a former victim, a college professor and, most dramatically, unveiling his manifesto, entitled, "Industrial Society and Its Future."

The FBI has placed no restrictions on the professors who have been given copies of the manuscript. They can copy it and share it with whomever they want, or conceivably even make the text available on the Internet. Of this last possibility, Turchie said, "We haven't encouraged that." Asked if the FBI had thought of posting it on the Net, Turchie said, "It wasn't sent to us. It's not really ours to publish or make public."

When he sent the manuscript to The Post and the Times, the Unabomber enclosed a letter saying the Times has first claim to publish the manuscript and that "the same bargain" is offered to The Post if the Times does not print it or have it published "reasonably soon." Penthouse magazine has offered to publish the manuscript, but the bomber said that if it is the only publication that publishes it, he will plant another bomb with the intention to kill.

"We are continuing to talk it over with people at the New York Times and are consulting with responsible public officials," Donald E. Graham, publisher of The Post, said yesterday. "The document we received was postmarked June 24, and said that first the Times and then The Post would have three months to think it over. And quite obviously it takes some thinking about. It is not an easy decision."

Excerpts of the manifesto, about 3,000 words, are being published in today's Post. Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor, said the excerpts would permit readers to see some of the material the FBI is making available to the academic community. "While the excerpts are a small fraction of the whole document, they are representative of the thoughts in it," Downie said.

The document draws on a mix of academic disciplines, notably psychology and sociology, to argue that individuals in modern society are too easily able to meet their basic needs for survival, and suffer from a "disruption" of the "power process," which leads to depression, low self-esteem, guilt, anxiety, sexual perversion, etc.

One retired professor of government who has written about technology and received the manifesto from the FBI on Monday said he was impressed by the bomber's intelligence.

"I was surprised how bright this guy seems. It could have stood a lot of editing, obviously. It was remarkably coherent and precise. His prescription is absurd, but I liked a good deal of his diagnosis," the professor said.

Keith Benson, executive secretary of the History of Science Society in Seattle, said yesterday he was shown letters last October written by the Unabomber, including one in which he said he had been a doctoral degree candidate in history at the University of Utah, working on a dissertation about the history of the behavioral sciences.

Based on what he read, Benson said of the anarchist, "He's smart enough to talk fairly knowledgeably about the history of science."

One historian whose work is cited in the UNABOM manuscript, Roger Lane of Haverford College, said that based on a description of the citation, the Unabomber basically understood his thesis, that the industrial revolution brought a degree of conformity to Americans that had not been necessary to citizens in more solitary pursuits such as farming.

"This is not a volume that was ever a major best-seller, and that he should have gone through it carefully is very interesting," Lane said.

The FBI has at least 150 people working on the case. Freeman and Turchie said yesterday they are optimistic they can catch the Unabomber.

"We're not frustrated. We're very motivated," Freeman said. "We're very confident we're going to solve the case."