Friday, May 30, 2014

UNABOMBER | How the FBI Nailed Him

L to R: FBI Special Agents Max Noel, Terry Turchie,
Jim Freeman at BookExpo America 2014 in NYC.
© 2014 JT Marlin.
May 30, 2014–As I was walking through the Javits Center at BookExpo America yesterday at 3 pm, a familiar face looked out at me from a blow-up of a book cover.

It was Theodore J[ohn] (Ted) Kaczynski, the Unabomber, the most [in]famous member of my class of 1962 at Harvard, who sent bombs by U.S. mail to his victims starting in 1978.

A new book has just come out by the three FBI special agents that tracked down Kaczynski. They were signing books. My timing was fortuitous and I got the first copy they signed.

Their book makes the point that the FBI was not well structured to deal with random violence of the kind that the Unabomber engaged in. "He was not [the FBI's] normal prey." Although the letter bombs were addressed to individuals, they could have exploded anywhere along the way. 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 address terrorist and random-bombing incidents. These reforms were implemented by FBI Director Louis Freeh in the years leading up to 2001. Freeh left in the spring of 2001 and Robert Mueller took over the FBI. The authors of the book 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, no "b" at the end] Task Force, he said he felt he had met every member of the class. This book should help my classmates get some closure on the shock that one of us could do such things.

Kaczynski's entries in the quinquennial class reports of the 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 he was arrested in 1996 and his location was the best-known in the class. In his 50th Anniversary report, the address of the maximum-security penitentiary is listed; he lists his Occupation as "Prisoner" and his 1998 "Awards" as eight life sentences.

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