High tech safe from Unabomber?

The high technology industry breathes a sigh of relief after hearing that a man believed to be the Unabomber is in custody.

4 min read
Reports that a suspect has been apprehended in the Unabomber case sparked a new round of rumors and reaction across the Internet today, including relief in Silicon Valley that the most infamous anti-technology terrorist may finally be behind bars.

A man identified by a neighbor as Theodore Kaczynski, a Harvard University graduate and former professor at the University of California at Berkeley, was taken into custody by the FBI in Lincoln, Montana. Authorities have not confirmed the identity or the arrest of the suspect, but preliminary news reports say that Kaczynski fits the profile of the individual responsible for a 17-year mail-bombing campaign that has left three people dead and 23 injured.

Because many of the Unabomber's diatribes have been directed at what he considers the detrimental effects of high technology on society, his case has drawn wide attention throughout the Internet and its users. His lengthy manifesto denouncing the power of technology was published on the Net immediately after its release, giving rise to a number of newsgroups, chatlines, bulletin boards, and Web pages that developed an almost cult-like fascination with the Unabomber and his decidedly negative philosophy toward anything high-tech.

"Some news reports have made the misleading statement that we have been attacking universities or scholars," the bomber wrote in one letter to the New York Times. "We would not want anyone to think that we have any desire to hurt professors who study archaeology, history, literature, or harmless stuff like that.

"The people we are out to get are the scientists and the engineers."

Although the Unabomber never targeted any particular high-tech companies, such statements shone an uncomfortable spotlight on the role of technology in modern civilization.

"As a worker in the high tech field, I never felt threatened, although I'm threatened by his ideals and his belief system," said Clay Graham, VRML evangelist at Silicon Graphics. "As a person who thinks technology can help people, I can't agree with the man."

The FBI paid special attention to technology companies after the location of one Silicon Valley firm was used as the return address on one of the Unabomber's letters last year. At that time, companies began taking special security measures and issuing mailroom guidelines on how to spot bomb-bearing packages, and amateur sleuths began trading theories and potential clues over the Internet, often in impressive detail.

Those Unabomber aficionados turned to their keyboards with renewed vigor today to discuss the latest developments on various online forums. The atmosphere on those newsgroups and chatlines turned from anxiety to anticipation and then relief this afternoon as the news broke that the FBI had tracked down a suspect after a man originally from Chicago told authorities that he believed his brother was the Unabomber. The FBI had long suspected that the Unabomber was from the Chicago area, where the first bombings occurred.

"Sure, technology has the ability to isolate communities, but on the other hand I've seen people who are paraplegic and can communicate only through computers," Graham said. "We have the possibility to isolate ourselves by going home and entering chat rooms instead of meeting someone at a bar, but on the other hand certain people would have never met if it weren't through electronic media."

Since beginning his spree almost two decades ago, the Unabomber has singled out academics working in some technology-related field. Among the known bombings:
--May 9, 1979, a graduate student is slightly injured at Northwestern University's Technological Institute
--May 5, 1982, a secretary is slightly injured at the Computer Science Department at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee
--July 2, 1982, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science is injured at UC Berkeley
--May 15, 1985, a graduate student in the Electrical Engineering Department at UC Berkeley loses partial vision in his left eye and four fingers from his right hand
--December 11, 1985, a computer salesman is killed outside his computer rental store in Sacramento, California
--February 20, 1987, the owner of computer store CAAMs Inc. in Salt Lake City is injured
--June 24, 1993, a professor of computer science is severely injured at Yale University.

In June of last year, the Unabomber drew a national audience for his anti-technology philosophy when the New York Times and the Washington Post agreed to his demand to publish a 35,000-word manifesto explaining his objections to a society ruined by over-reliance on technology.

More online information on the Unabomber can be found at these sites:
The Unabomber's manifesto
Series of unsolved bombings
A chronology of Unabomber attacks
The text of a Unabomber's letter to a victim