Copyright 1993 The Washington Post
The Washington Post
August 12, 1993, Thursday, Final Edition
SECTION: FIRST SECTION; PAGE A12
LENGTH: 787 words
HEADLINE: Undaunted, Mail Bomb Victim to Resume Work
BYLINE: John Schwartz, Washington Post Staff Writer
One of two college professors injured in mail bomb attacks by the terrorist known as "UNABOM" has posted an electronic message to colleagues and friends describing his injuries -- and saying that he looks forward "to getting back to teaching and research pretty much as before."
Yale computer science Prof. David Gelernter reported in his note that his injuries are healing and his spirits are high. "My right hand was permanently damaged in the blast, but we're optimistic that a series of reconstructive operations will leave me with a decent level of right hand function. My left hand is a bit battered but should recover fully, and I'm in the early stages of turning myself into a lefty." He also described some loss of hearing and vision; the sight may return on its own, while the hearing loss can be corrected through surgery.
Gelernter's world was turned upside down on June 24, when he opened a package at Yale's computer center and a small pipe bomb sealed inside exploded at his touch. The 38-year-old Gelernter -- whose groundbreaking work has helped computers on a network run in parallel, rivaling the power of supercomputers -- ran down five flights of stairs and across the street to the campus health center, trailing blood.
Two days earlier, geneticist Charles Epstein of the University of California at San Francisco opened a similar package in his home in Tiburon, Calif.. The resulting blast severely damaged his hand and arm and caused abdominal injuries.
Little is known about the terrorist who is believed to have sent both bombs. The suspect, dubbed UNABOM by the FBI, has been credited with 14 bombings since 1978 in eight states; those bombs killed one person and injured 23. The bomber's identity and motives have never been determined, although investigators said he seems to follow an anti-technology bent. Victims tend to be university scientists or employees in the computer or airline industries.
Before the Gelernter and Epstein bombings, the UNABOM suspect apparently had been inactive for six years. A Feb. 20, 1987, bombing at a computer company in Salt Lake City yielded a witness who described a slender white male with reddish-blond hair about 6 feet tall and in his thirties. Federal officials have said that the sighting could have driven him underground, or that the suspect might have been in prison or hospitalized during his hiatus.
In July, the New York Times received a letter from "an anarchist group calling ourselves FC" -- the initials the bomber leaves on his wares -- that promised more information. The letter bore a Sacramento, Calif., postmark. The Times has reported no subsequent communications.
Gelernter's note was dated Aug. 4 -- the day he came home from the hospital. It showed a nearly jaunty attitude toward his ordeal. Calling himself "the department's very own official terrorist bomb victim," Gelernter said, "All in all, I am the luckiest man alive (emphasis on alive). Surviving the explosion was evidently a pretty neat trick on my part, and I could have been hurt much worse." Expressing thanks to his family, friends and colleagues, he joked that he was "privileged" to be an academic in computer science, a field in which "one decent typing hand and an intact head is all you really need." He expects to return to his office on a part-time basis in the fall and to have things "close to normal" by the spring semester. Gelernter did not return a call to his office. In his note, he wrote that the news media "have behaved exactly as the wildest parody would leave one to expect."
The note was picked up and broadcast over the international network of computers known as the Internet through an idiosyncratic electronic institution known as the "interesting people" list, a mailing list created by computer scientist David Farber of the University of Pennsylvania. Farber collects items he says interest him from the vast traffic on the Internet and e-mails them to about 120 people in government, industry and academe; he estimates that his 40 messages a week eventually find their way to about 20,000 people.
Farber said the Gelernter message was picked up by a friend at the University of Michigan who forwarded it -- a common practice in the high-tech samizdat world of electronic communications. Farber says people often don't understand how fast and far information can travel on the net: "People believe when they send an electronic message to somebody it's like sending a piece of paper. But electronics is like the ultimate Xerox machine. . . . If you're not very careful, you can send an innocent note and all of a sudden it's an electronic bestseller."
Staff writer Andrew Brownstein contributed to this report. LANGUAGE: ENGLISH LOAD-DATE: October 14, 1993