Sunday, April 3, 2016

UNABOMBER | Arrested 20 Years Ago (Personal Comments)

L to R: FBI Special Agents Max Noel, Terry Turchie, Jim
 Freeman at BookExpo America 2014 in NYC. They
tracked down Kaczynski. Photo © 2014 by JT Marlin.
Apr. 3, 2916–This day in 1996, Theodore J[ohn] ("Ted") Kaczynski was taken into custody by FBI agents on charges of being a terrorist.

He was held responsible for the deaths of three people and the injuries of 23.

Kaczynski was indicted on multiple federal charges of murder and attempted murder using the postal service.

The deaths were attributed to mail bombs. Extensive evidence at the site included a live bomb and the original of the Manifesto that Kaczynski had sent copies of to The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Upon his first appearance, Kaczynski pleaded not guilty. He had arguments with his defense attorneys, who wanted to plead insanity; he viewed his deadly actions as legitimate political activity.

The perpetrator was called "the Unabomber" starting in 1980 because the targets of his bombs seemed to be universities and airlines. At the start of the Unabomber trial in 1998, the judge rejected his requests for a new defense team and pro se representation. On January 22, 1998 Kaczynski pleaded guilty on all counts and was spared the death penalty, a condition David Kaczynski required for giving the FBI information that would identify his brother as a likely suspect and allow FBI agents to find him.

Showing no remorse for his crimes, Ted Kaczynski was sentenced in May 1998–20 years after he sent his first bomb–to four concurrent life sentences plus, for good measure, 30 years.

Comment 1–Book by the FBI Agents

On May 30, 2014, as I was walking through the Javits Center, New York, checking out exhibits at the annual BookExpo America, a familiar face looked out at me from a blow-up of a book cover – my Harvard '62 classmate Ted Kaczynski.

The new book was by three FBI agents that tracked him down. They were signing books. My timing was fortuitous and I got their very first copy.

The book makes the point that the FBI was not well structured back then to deal with random violence of the kind the Unabomber undertook. As they say: "He was not [the FBI's] normal prey." For example:
  • Although the letter bombs were addressed to individuals, they could have exploded anywhere along the way and were therefore loose cannons. 
  • The FBI was also not well structured to bring in the kind of cooperation that David Kaczynski eventually provided, in return for assurance that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty for his brother (p. 269).
The authors argue that the Unabomber case helped bring about some reforms at the FBI to raise its effectiveness in addressing terrorist and random-bombing incidents. These reforms were implemented by FBI Director Louis Freeh in the years leading up to 2001, when Freeh left (in the spring of 2001) and Robert Mueller took over. The book's authors argue that the changes Freeh made helped prepare the FBI to respond to the 9/11 attacks, although they properly avoid giving any credit to the Unabomber for any of the reforms.

The details of the investigation are fascinating. As a general comment, the authors emphasize the importance of the cooperation of the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Unabomber's brother David. In the end, investigators can't do the job by themselves.

It's good to have the conduct of the investigation on the record, and to recognize the hard work of the agents in solving the case.

When the case was broken, the media tracked down virtually every member of the Harvard Class of 1962. When I introduced myself to Max Noel, the Supervisory Special Agent of the UNABOM [sic]  Task Force, he said he felt he had met every member of the class. The new book should help my classmates get some closure on the shock that one of us could do such things (see list in my second comment).

Kaczynski's entries in the quinquennial class reports of the Harvard Class of 1962 are unusual. His first address in 1967 was in Lisbon, Iowa. In 1972, he is in Lombard, Ill. In 1977, he's in Great Falls, Mont. Then in 1987 and 1992, his "last known address" is given as in Khadar Khel, Afghanistan. Then in his 35th Anniversary report in 1997 his address was listed as "unknown", even though, having been arrested in 1996, his location was surely the best-known in the class. In his 50th Anniversary report, the address of the maximum-security penitentiary is actually listed; he lists his Occupation as "Prisoner" and his 1998 multiple life sentences as "Awards".

Comment 2–Ted Kaczynski's 16 Bombs

What was Kaczynski's problem? After graduating from Harvard, he went on to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He was considered a great mathematician. What was not to like?

The problem was, he was viewed as having emotional issues that got in the way of his work. His contract was ended in 1969. He turned his back on the system and became a radical environmentalist and Luddite.

He first tried to buy land in Canada, then in 1971 purchased a one-and-a-half acre plot near his brother David in Montana. From that point on until his arrest, Kaczynski just lived off the land, from time to time getting temporary work or taking a trip.  He wrote papers on his anarchical philosophy that in 1978 were rejected by two universities in the Chicago area, the University of Illinois and Northwestern. This rejection set Kaczynski on his path of revenge via 16 mail bombs:
1–To the University of Illinois from Northwestern, returned to Northwestern, where a security guard was seriously wounded opening it.
2–Another to a student at Northwestern's Technological Institute, injuring him.
3–A third that exploded on an American Airlines flight, causing injuries from smoke inhalation. 
4–One to Percy Wood, president of United Airlines, who was injured when he tried to open the package.
5-11. Four to universities, plus one to a professor’s home, one to the Boeing Company in Auburn, Wash., and one to a computer store in Sacramento. Six people were injured, and in 1985 the owner of the computer store was killed–Kaczynski's first murder.
12–Attempted bombing of a computer store. A woman in Salt lake City saw a man with aviator glasses and a hooded sweatshirt place leaving what turned out to be a bomb outside the store.  The sketch of the suspect was released and Kaczynski stopped bombing for six years.
13–In June 1993, one severely injuring a University of California geneticist at his home,
14–Two days later, one to a computer science professor at Yale, who was badly injured. Several federal departments established the UNABOM Task Force.
15–In 1994, one that killed a New Jersey advertising executive at his home. Kaczynski had mistakenly thought this man worked on PR for Exxon after the 1989 Valdez oil spill.
16–In April 1995, one that killed the president of a timber-industry lobbying group.
Comment 3–Kaczynski's Citation of Jacques Ellul

Kaczynski sent a 35-thousand-word Manifesto to The New York Times and The Washington Post, saying he would stop the bombs if they published it. The Post complied. Kaczynski’s brother, David, read the Manifesto and recognized his brother’s ideas and language. He notified the FBI in February 1996 that he suspected his brother was the Unabomber. Kaczynski was arrested less than two months later.

One of the influences on him, Kaczynski has said (Alston Chase. 2003. Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist, W.W. Norton & Co., p. 111, 331) is Jacques Ellul's book, The Technological Society (translated by John Wilkinson. New York: Knopf, 1964. London: Jonathan Cape, 1965. Rev. ed.: New York: Knopf/Vintage, 1967). This book was found in Kaczynski's cabin when he was arrested and he said he had read it several times. His Manifesto covers some of the same ground.

My brother Randal Marlin happens to be a semi-retired philosophy professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and a specialist on propaganda (his book on Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion was recently republished in a new edition). He studied with Ellul at Bordeaux for a year. I wrote to Randal today and asked him to comment on Kaczynski's reading  of Ellul, whose philosophy is described as Christian anarchism. My brother sent me the following excerpt from his longer article on Ellul's philosophy:
Take for example the case of Ted Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber,” who killed people by letter bombs starting in 1978. Unquestionably, he echoed some of the ideas of Ellul concerning the technological society and he specifically mentions having read The Technological Society.  
Had Kaczynski also read Ellul’s Violence, he would have seen how, despite a large measure of agreement about how the technological imperative has shaped our modern consciousness and turned us into willing slaves, sending letter bombs to kill or maim those taking part in that imperative was not an appropriate response. 
The main and simple reason is the Christian premise underlying all of Ellul’s thought. But there was also Ellul the sociological and political analyst, who saw that such acts, far from damaging the technological system, only strengthen its worst aspects. Just as with the events of 9/11, the result is to induce fear and create support for new security initiatives, new technological devices to further reduce the scope of human freedom. So we have one very clear idea of how not to be Ellulian in the 21st C. 
Kaczynski, though a brilliant mathematician, appears to have been short on sociological and moral perception. His killings were supposed to awaken a public consciousness that would turn against modernity and view favourably his own back-to-nature vision of how to live. But his actions showed little empathy for his victims, suggesting a defective moral awareness, and his aim of transforming society was not achieved. To the extent he thought his actions would succeed he demonstrated inadequate sociological understanding. 
To be a true Ellulian, then, requires not just an understanding of his diagnosis of what is wrong with the world. It also demands at least a minimal respect for the constraints he places on morally acceptable action. Based on the teachings in Violence, there is no justification for killing people as Kaczynski did. Where is the love shown to the victims of Kaczynski’s bombings? (© 2013 IJES Ellul Forum #53 November 2013 Marlin)