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Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Unabomber Strikes Again, June 24, 1993

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Today in 1993, Dr. David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, was severely injured by a bomb that had been mailed to his office. He lost part of his right hand, sight in one eye, and hearing in one ear. After a six-year long hiatus, the Unabomber was back. The string of bombings, with a history going back nearly 20 years, was the work of one man: Theodore Kaczynski.

Kaczynski was born in May, 1942, in Chicago. During his fifth grade year, he was told that he could skip seventh grade; his parents were told that their son was a genius. He also skipped his Junior year in high school. This placed him in classes where all the other students were two years older, a fact that Kaczynski later said contributed to his lack of social development. He did not interact with other children and had so many irrational fears that his parents considered having him tested for autism. As a result of the his academic advancement, Kaczynski was 16 when when began his college career at Harvard in 1958.

The future Unabomber graduated from Harvard in 1962 and went on to receive both a master's degree and a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Michigan. At that university, he was considered to be the most gifted mathematician in a generation. He remained at the school after receiving his doctorate and taught undergraduate classes for three years. In 1967, Kaczynski accepted a position as an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. He was not well-liked by the students because of his socially-stunted behavior. He resigned two years later, despite pleas from his fellow academics.

After his career as an educator, Kaczynski's life changed radically. He held no permanent job and lived on what money he could make from temporary work and handouts from his family. He lived a solitary, remote existence in a cabin that had no electricity or running water. After nearly a decade of this life, Kaczynski built his first bomb, a crude device that was sent to Professor Buckley Crist at Northwestern University. It was a pipe bomb in a wrapped package, a method of delivery that Kaczynski would use for many of his attacks. Thanks to the bomb's poor construction, Crist was only slightly injured.

Kaczynski's next attack, in November 1979, was much more bold. He managed to place a bomb in the cargo hold of American Airlines Flight 444 flying from Chicago to Washington, DC. The bomb did not explode as intended, but released so much smoke into the passenger cabin that twelve people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Later investigation showed that the bomb contained enough explosive to completely destroy the aircraft had it worked as designed. Since placing a bomb on an aircraft is a federal crime, the FBI became involved in the case. They gave the bomber the code name UNABOM, for University and Airline Bomber and created a psychological profile of the suspect. The FBI's behavior specialists said that the bomber would be male, of above-average intelligence and linked to academic circles. This described Kaczynski perfectly. However, the FBI contradicted their own profile in 1993 for a new one that claimed the bomber was probably an airline mechanic. This new profile led the FBI and other agencies to waste valuable resources chasing down leads that had nothing to do with the real perpetrator.

Kaczynski planted 16 bombs in all, killing three and injuring 23. He wrote letters to the New York Times and other large papers in which he gave false information about who he was and where he lived. He successfully deflected attention away from himself so skillfully that no one suspected that the Unabomber lived in a one-room shack on a mountainside in Montana.

In 1995, the Unabomber sent several letters demanding that his "manifesto", a 35,000 word paper entitled 'Industrial Society and Its Future', be published in a major American newspaper. If this was done, he promised, the bombings would stop. As newspaper editorial staffs debated the issue, the bomber sent another letter in which he said that the bombings would begin again if a decision was not taken soon. Finally, the US Justice Department asked that the New York Times and the Washington Post publish the paper, which they did on September 19, 1995.

In his paper, Kaczynski claimed that the Industrial Revolution and all that has happened since are destroying the human race. He said technology only leads to control of the many by a powerful few and that a collectivist, "anti-individualistic" society would eventually result. He believed that, eventually, human beings will live like domesticated animals who may be happy, but will not be free.

The Unabomber Manifesto was picked apart by analysts looking for clues as to the perpetrators identity and location; it gave up nothing. The trail grew cold again until the spring of 1996, when David Kaczynski, Theodore's brother, contacted the FBI through an attorney and offered to hand over letters he had received from his brother for comparison to the manifesto. When the letters and the manifesto were compared, it was determined beyond a reasonable doubt that they were written by the same man. David Kaczynski then told the FBI the location of his brother's cabin in Lincoln, Montana. The hunt for the Unabomber was over.

In January, 1998, Ted Kaczynski pled guilty to all government charges in exchange for the state not pursuing the death penalty. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He later tried to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that it was coerced. However, two appeals courts rejected his claim and his sentence stands to this day. Kaczynski now spends his days in a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.

The "whys" of the Unabomber case may never be answered. Court doctors showed that Kaczynski suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, but not everyone with that condition turns to murder. Conspiracy theories have surfaced in the decade since his imprisonment, including the theory that he did not act alone or that he was the Zodiac Killer, a still-unknown serial killer who struck in Northern California during the late 1960's. None of the claims have sufficient evidence to back them up, however. In the end, Kaczynski is seen as another troubled loner who in the halls of his mind convinced himself that his cause, his mission, was worth killing for.

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