Unabomber News History

Copyright 1994 The Telegraph Group Limited

Sunday Telegraph

December 18, 1994, Sunday


LENGTH: 1060 words

HEADLINE: Nightmare on Madison Avenue as bomber homes in

BYLINE: by Edward Helmore in New York


NIGHTMARE on Madison Avenue. Executives arrive for work in bomb-proof vests, their briefcases stuffed full with detection devices. Secretaries gather for jittery conferences in the corridors. All employees have been put on full security alert, warned not to open any unexpected packages. With the murder of Thomas Mosser, a prominent Young and Rubicam executive, last weekend, it seems that a serial bomber has succeeded where even the recession failed: this, the convivial heartland of advertising in America, has finally had the stuffing knocked out of it. There will be no sick jokes at the Christmas party. Anyway, Young and Rubicam has already cancelled its "do". Nor is it just the admen who are bunkering down. Spurred by the knowledge that "Unabom" (the codename given to the bomber by the FBI) usually strikes at pairs of targets less than 30 days apart, many New Yorkers have rushed out to buy life-saving equipment. Counter Spy, a Manhattan shop specialising in security equipment, claims to have received more than 500 inquiries into X-ray "mail-safes", nitrate detectors and briefcase metal detectors that cost between $ 11,000 and $ 15,000. "The phones have been ringing like wildfire," said Tom Hauser, who had just sold 14 detectors to "large companies" in one day instead of the usual one or two a month. Ever willing to help, the US Postal Service in New York has issued advice to help identify suspicious packages. These, according to the Postal Service, include items that buzz or slosh or emit unusual odours, items that have protruding wires, bear incorrect addresses or fictitious return addresses, and parcels that display more postage than they warrant. People are advised not to submerge such packages in water, or to leave them in confined spaces. The FBI has also been doing its bit. Its special helpline set up in San Francisco - the pipe bomb that killed Mosser was sent from there on December 3 - has taken 3,000 calls from the public, about 20 per cent of which, according to the Bureau, have been "potentially useful". Federal authorities, meanwhile, have offered a $ 1 million reward for clues to the bomber's identity. Despite his claims in a letter to the New York Times last year that he operated as part of an anarchist group called "FC", they are certain that the bomber acts alone. The initials "FC", which have been found inscribed on parts of his bombs, are thought to stand for "f**k computers". This would certainly tally with the little that is known about the bomber's motives - that he appears to nurse a broad grudge against technology and anyone connected with it. The 15 attacks by the bomber over the past 16 years - in which his meticulously constructed bombs have killed two and injured 23 - have tended to target university researchers and members of computer and airline industries. Young and Rubicam's client list includes a number of computer and information companies. With all this in mind, the Bureau has posted notices on the Internet computer messaging system telling users that they are "precisely the type of individuals" who might be targeted. So much increased security, though, merely serves to increase the tension. And, inevitably, the false alarms as well. In Connecticut a few days ago, a bleeping box that turned out to be an answering machine closed a Post Office and shut down Amtrack rail services next to it. In Nassau County, an advertising employee showed up at police headquarters and announced he had a suspicious package in the boot of his car. "It was nothing," a cop said after the package had been scanned. "But it scared the hell out of the executive." "Of course it did," said Paul Cappelli, a New York adman. "People are horrified and afraid. Everyone is hoping that it's just a random act, not premeditated." Fear brings its own paradox. On the one hand people hope the bomber acts arbitrarily, on the other they are terrified by his apparent lack of strategy. "There is no reason why it's linked to our business," snapped a reporter at Advertising Age, an industry paper. Airline and computer industries are similarly brusque when questioned about security measures. "The more we talk about this," said Todd Clay, a communications manager at Delta Airlines, "the more it stirs up people out there." What investigators on the case have noted is that Mosser, like other targets in the past, had been mentioned in the New York Times shortly before receiving a device. This lead has been taken seriously. Louis Bertram, a retired FBI agent who had investigated one of the attacks, confessed to the paper that he was "a little nervous" even to talk about the case. The bottom line, though, is that the authorities are no closer to identifying the bomber. The closest they have got was back in 1987, when Unabomb was spotted in Salt Lake City planting a device behind a computer store. It was from that sighting that the FBI made up a composite picture of a man in a hooded sweatshirt and aviator sunglasses, and issued a description of a white male in his late 30s, six feet tall with reddish blond hair and a ruddy complexion. Psychologists have speculated that he is a high school graduate who may have lost his job to advancing technology. Beyond that, nothing. Bob Bell, a Bay Area detective who has been on the case for 10 years, said: "There are a thousand theories and they all make sense." David Gelernter, a Yale University computer scientist who lost two fingers in one blast last year, described the killer as "perfectly sane and simultaneously evil". As the investigation has proceeded, there have been suggestions that Unabomb may have raced the mail to be at the scene when recipients detonate the devices. "I believe he watches the explosion," said Richard Stobel of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who has worked on the case for seven years. "We think he wants to see how well his creation works . . . to see if he has to make it better the next time." Terrorism expert Brian Jenkins said: "It is the activity of making and sending bombs and not being apprehended that is the source of his gratification." Ken Saxon, the 1960s radical and author of a bomb-making manual, said Unabomb is "the poor man's James Bond. He even makes the switches himself, he's so careful. This guy will never be caught unless he wants to be caught".