Copyright 1995 Boston Herald Inc.
The Boston Herald
May 10, 1995 Wednesday SECOND EDITION
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 001
LENGTH: 1250 words
HEADLINE: Bomber fears put schools on alert
BYLINE: By RALPH RANALLI and DAVID WEBER
As security tightened around the edgy scientific community yesterday, FBI officials said the two NobleNobel Prize winners who received threatening letters from the deadly Unabomber are "extraordinarily lucky."
The sudden change from the Unabomber's usual pattern is now being closely studied by the FBI's Behavioral Sciences unit, along with the letters themselves, said Special Agent Rick Smith, a spokesman for the Unabom Task Force in San Francisco.
"If I were the recipient of correspondence from the Unabomber and it wasn't a bomb, I would feel extraordinarily lucky," Smith said. "This guy is not playing any games here."
The Quantico, Va.-based Behavioral Sciences unit - which tracks and investigates serial killers - is investigating why the Unabomber spared geneticists Richard J. Roberts of Wenham and MIT Biology Department chairman Phillip A. Sharp of Newton after killing three people and injuring 23 others during a 17-year bombing campaign.
After the Sharp threat, MIT issued a computer E-mail advisory throughout its academic community warning people to be wary of odd-looking packages from unknown senders. The advisory did not mention the letter to Sharp.
Harvard Police Chief Paul E. Johnson said he reissued a security memo yesterday "just to remind people of common-sense things . . . to alert people to look for something odd, something strange, something different.'
Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn added that scientists are nervous about publicity, saying, "Nobody wants to raise their profile on this. They don't want to be on the news."
Calls to university police forces on both coasts are up. One prominent researcher repeated warnings to his children to stay away from packages he gets at home.
Local scientists, students and university staff members are more than a bit nervous after hearing that two of their own have been targeted by the Unabomber.
"Does it frighten me? Sure it does. But I don't know what we can do but keep our wits and not panic," said Helen Dippold, an administrative assistant in the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Building at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Said Daniel Spielman, an MIT mathemetics graduate student: "It's pretty scary because this is the place for technology and development, and that's what he seems to hate. I just hope they have good security at graduation this year."
MIT Alumni Fund Director Joe Collins said, "It seems shocking in my own mind. It's pretty frightening. This is a very big and open campus. Security is always a challenge when you're in an open urban setting."
One scientist said he tries to take concerns about the Unabomber in perspective.
"I wouldn't say I'm on edge. I have instructed my children not to open any packages addressed to me. That's about it," said the scientist, who asked not to be identified.
The scientist, who is a member of the American Society of Human Genetics, has special reason to worry. The incoming president of the society, Charles Epstein, of the University of California at San Francisco, was injured by a bomb sent to his home in 1993.
"The last thing in the world I need is for this guy to think I've thrown a challenge in his face," he said.
The Herald reported yesterday that both Roberts, 52, and Sharp, 51, who shared the 1993 Nobel Prize for medicine for their groundbreaking work on the nature of DNA, received threatening letters that were mailed from the San Francisco Bay area on April 20. That same day, the Unabomber also mailed his latest bomb, which killed a timber industry lobbyist on April 24.
Sources said the bomber's letters warned the pair to stop their research or else face his wrath.
Both men declined to speak with reporters yesterday.
A lawyer for New England Biolabs, a research firm founded by Roberts, told reporters curtly, "We're not giving any interviews."
MIT police officers, stationed inside the biology department building where Sharp works, turned reporters away. Sharp offered only a "No comment" as he walked into his office.
But Sharp's Newton neighbors felt uneasy about the threats.
"It's kind of scary if you think the house next to you might blow up," said 16-year-old Michelle Robbins.
Another neighbor said, "That's more excitement than a person needs."
Officially, FBI officials were continuing to neither confirm nor deny yesterday that Sharp was the recipient of a Unahomber letter, citing "privacy concerns."
Law enforcement sources, however, said FBI officials were sticking by a promise made to Sharp that he would not be identified publicly.
Locally, federal officials declined comment on whether any protection is being extended to Richards and Sharp, though an FBI spokesman told ABC News that the bureau "watches closely" people who have received bomb threats.
In the warnings to Richards and Sharp, the Unabomber himself defused one of his most potent weapons, the element of surprise.
"That's all being evaluated, any information relative to motivation, by Behavioral Sciences," Smith said.
One federal agent said some investigators agree with widespread speculation by experts that the Unabomber's warnings and new high-profile stance is an attention-seeking ploy.
"It may be that by warning people, he though he would get a lot more publicity," the agent said
Northeastern University criminologist James Fox went a step further, and said he believes the Unabomber wanted to "focus" his threats in order get a voluminous manifesto on his anarchist and anti-technology views published.
The bomber offered to stop his campaign if a major national media outlet published his tract, but so far only Penthouse Magazine publisher Robert Guccione has agreed.
"He is getting frustrated by the fact that, although people are dying, he is not making headway in turning back technology," Fox said yesterday. "He is becoming more open and overt; the obvious next step is to focus his threats as well as his bombs. He is increasing the intensity level by targeting specific people."
With the letters and the bomb coming so soon after the Oklahoma City bombing, some experts have also speculated that the Unabomber was jealous of the publicity it generated.
Sources familiar with the case also said that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which has participated in the Unabom investigation, routinely screens the mail of people like Richards and Sharp who have received bomb threats deemed serious.
FBI officials had previously said that the Unabomber - so dubbed because he was once believed to be targeting universities ad airlines - sent four letters around April 20.
One went to The New York Times and portions of it were published. In it, the Unabomber railed against industrial society and said he was "out to get. . . scientists and engineers, especially in critical fields like computers and genetics."
Another letter went to a previous victim, Yale University scientist David Gelertner, mocking him for opening the mail bomb that badly injured him in 1993. The Unabomber also criticized GelernterGelertner for predicting the inevitable computerization of the world. But the recipients of the third and fourth letters were withheld by both the FBI and the New York Times.
Smith said there was "no investigative purpose" to revealing the content of the other two letters, and that New York Times officials agreed to withhold the names. A Times spokeswoman declined comment yesterday.
Jules Crittenden and Herald wire services contributed to this report.