Unabomber Sends New Warnings
Under tight security and a pervasive clamp of fear, Los Angeles International Airport continued to handle the early waves of the brisk summer travel season Thursday, even as a series of letters sent by the Unabomber raised a new specter of terrorism if the bomber is unable to gain a mass media forum for his anarchist views.
In separate letters whose contents began to emerge late Thursday, the Unabomber has suggested that he may build “one more bomb” unless either the New York Times or Washington Post agrees to publish a 50-plus page manifesto outlining his anti-technology viewpoints. He said he will only agree to stop the killing if one of the papers publishes the tract within three months and agrees to print annual follow-ups for three years.
The bomber’s treatise, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” was sent to the Post and the New York Times on Wednesday. In today’s editions, the Post said it received copies of letters sent to the Times and to Penthouse magazine, in which the Unabomber claimed to “reserve the right” to make one more attack if only Penthouse published the manifesto. The letter writer said he preferred to be published in one of the “respectable” newspapers.
Earlier this year, Penthouse offered to give a voice to the elusive serial bomber, whose attacks have killed three people and injured 23 others in 16 attacks since 1978.
Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, said in a statement that the newspaper was considering whether to publish the manuscript. “We will act responsibly and not rashly, knowing that lives could be at stake. It seems we’ve been given three months to think the issues through. One issue that we find especially troubling is the demand that we not only publish the initial document, but then open our pages for annual follow-ups over the next three years.”
Donald E. Graham, publisher of the Post, said his newspaper was “considering how to respond.”
In other developments Thursday:
* The U.S. Postal Service instituted new restrictions--the tightest since the Gulf War--to prevent the Unabomber from changing tack and carrying out his threat of violence with another random strike through the mail. In Los Angeles County, mail delays caused Wednesday by the threat were expected to prevent more than 300,000 recipients of federal Supplemental Security Income from receiving their checks on time.
* The wave of fear reached the state Capitol, where a bomb threat Thursday forced an interruption of an afternoon Assembly session. The 20-minute hiatus began when Speaker Doris Allen told lawmakers a caller had told police in San Jose that a bomb would explode in the lower house at 4:40 p.m. After a break, the Assembly resumed work without incident.
* And at Los Angeles International Airport, strengthened security details continued to check passenger identifications while handling luggage, despite the Unabomber’s claim that his threat to blow up a Los Angeles airliner was only a prank intended to draw attention to himself. Officials on Thursday confiscated three briefcases left unattended in different terminals, but did not disclose their contents or whether they were returned to travelers.
The Unabomber’s threat to attack an airliner out of LAX was contained in a letter delivered Tuesday to the San Francisco Chronicle. In that letter, the terrorist indicated that he would make the attack within six days--or, presumably, by the end of the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
A day later, in a packet of letters and documents delivered to the New York Times, the Unabomber announced that the threat was a ruse. In that same packet, the Unabomber vowed to end the killings if the newspaper met his demands, but he made it clear that he still might engage in “sabotage” of property to help advance his viewpoints, the New York Times reported.
Authorities were continuing to take extraordinary safety precautions Thursday at LAX and elsewhere.
A number of security measures put in place Wednesday were maintained and even reinforced Thursday. Those precautions included a substantial deployment of federal agents, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and Los Angeles police officers stationed within the airport.
“The FBI reiterates that based on the Unabomber’s prior history of violence, and specifically violent acts directed against airline passengers, the FBI is continuing to take the threat as stated in the letter to the San Francisco Chronicle very seriously,” the FBI said in a statement. Spokesman George Grotz added: “We can’t afford not to take this seriously.”
The Airport Scene
Travelers, who filled the busy terminal Thursday as vacationing families and out-of-school children got an early start on the holiday weekend, were being warned against possible flight delays and being asked to show photo identification when they checked their luggage.
Authorities at LAX and other Los Angeles-area airports were also X-raying packages and using dogs to sniff for explosives in luggage, on airplanes and in flight terminals.
The highly trained dogs are able to detect even small amounts of explosives in packages or otherwise hidden and are the bomb experts’ most useful tool, said Mark Logan, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
“We’re running them through planes and luggage,” Logan said. “We’re running them through the airport, because you just don’t know. The dogs are extremely helpful. A lot of airports already have their own dogs.”
Some travelers appeared wary while going through security checkpoints, but most said they were determined to complete their travel plans and said they were willing to brave flying despite the bomb threat.
“It doesn’t bother me either way,” said Doug Frankel, who was preparing to fly to New York. “If you’re going to go, you’re going to go. You can’t stop your life.”
Holding her 6-month-old daughter on her lap, Trena Moore, who was traveling to Colorado Springs, Colo., with her husband and three children, said the Unabomber’s threat had forced her to take stock and think twice about her travel plans.
“You have second thoughts. I don’t know, maybe we all think we’re immortal and that it will happen to someone else,” Moore said, dismissing the bomber’s announcement that the threat was a prank. “It seems kind of odd. Oh, we’re all supposed to heave a sigh of relief?” she asked sarcastically. “It seems he might say that to get people to back off and then go ahead and do it.”
Other air travelers expecting to undergo heavy security checks and long delays said they were surprised at the relatively low level of scrutiny they received.
Vernell Jackson, of Los Angeles, who was traveling with her daughter, said, “I thought there was going to be more security than there is. I think there are more news vans than security.”
But Tom Anthony, assistant aviation security manager for the FAA, said at a news conference: “The measures in place are something like an iceberg. What you see, as the public, is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There are measures ongoing by hundreds of individuals that aren’t visible.”
Delays in the Mail
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service announced that individuals mailing parcels of 12 ounces or more in California would have to do so at a post office counter, and even then such parcels could be mailed only by slower, fourth-class service that does not travel by air.
Fewer restrictions would apply to large businesses and other “known shippers,” but the new precautions are expected to delay the delivery of untold thousands of packages bound for points all over the globe. Overseas packages are expected to be shipped by boat, officials said.
The new restrictions took effect at midday Thursday and will remain in effect indefinitely. As part of the measures, all mail of 12 ounces or more placed in postal collection boxes will be returned to the sender. Late Thursday, authorities began posting notices of the restrictions on nearly 23,000 postal collection boxes across the Southland.
“Today, as an individual, you only have one option [for packages] and that’s parcel post because we can send it by surface,” said Postal Service spokesman David Mazer.
Thousands of postal customers are expected to see packages delayed as express, priority and first class mail service is curtailed. Instead of next-day to two-day delivery across the United States, parcel post can often take seven days, Mazer said.
Beyond the precautions for new packages, Mazer acknowledged that delays could occur in already mailed parcels, hundreds of thousands of which were held Wednesday in 23 postal processing stations statewide. Delays also were expected to affect recipients of some government benefits, including Supplemental Security Income payments. In Los Angeles County, which contains about one-third of California’s SSI recipients, about 326,000 checks would be late, said Leslie Walker, an agency spokeswoman.
Airport officials shipped the checks back to the Treasury office in San Francisco during the bomb threat, and recipients should get their payments by July 1, Walker said.
However, “we’re not anticipating delays for regular Social Security checks,” said Tim Roberson, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration in Baltimore. “We’re going to have people working over the weekend.”
The hastily announced mail restrictions created confusion at a post office near Los Angeles International Airport, where some postal workers appeared unsure whether to accept some packages for priority mail status.
Dan Shaffer, who planned to send five packages across the country, said postal employees argued among themselves over what he could send where. Ultimately, he was able to send three packages within California via priority mail, because they could be transported by truck rather than airplane, but had to send two others bound for Michigan fourth class.
Of the delay, Shaffer said, “I figure whatever it is, I have to live with it.”
Despite such problems, Mazer noted that individuals--who typically mail gifts or other parcels to relatives--account for a small portion of the 400,000 packages handled each day in California. Special provisions are being made to handle packages from commercial shippers on non-passenger planes, Mazer said.
And he stressed that regular letter mail of less than 12 ounces is not affected by the new restrictions.
Officials began reducing the package backlog by Thursday evening, but special security procedures--which some postal workers said included X-raying parcels before they were sorted--were likely to slow the process. Mazer said officials had no estimate of the potential delays, but said there had been few complaints.
“Most people understand the madness of the Unabomber and the precautions we have to take,” Mazer said.
Postal workers, however, had their own worries. “Oh lord, that’s going to be trauma,” said one loading dock worker, contemplating the backup of packages at the post office near LAX.
And for California businesses grown accustomed to the fast-forward, satellite-tracked, get-it-there-yesterday promises of the highly competitive overnight package industry, it cast a sudden new unpredictability over the movement of important parcels.
“It does create anxiety,” said Ruben Espalin, who manages the mail room at Lathan & Watkins, a large Downtown law firm that ships 500 packages a day. “I’m the guy they yell at.”
Mind of a Bomber
Some experts have speculated that the Unabomber is trying to attract more attention to himself because he feels upstaged by the heavily publicized bombing in Oklahoma City. Federal agents, such as Logan, said they are combing through the material they have received, trying to understand both the bomber’s motives and message.
“They are going through these things trying to figure out, ‘what does he mean?’ ” Logan said, dismissing the notion that the threat against LAX was a prank.
“How many people did he kill?” Logan asked rhetorically. “I don’t trust anybody saying it’s just a hoax.”
The Unabomber, in his letter to the New York Times, derided the investigative efforts of the FBI as “surprisingly incompetent” and rejected the theory that he was motivated by the April bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, according to excerpts of his missive published in today’s Washington Post.
“We strongly deplore the kind of indiscriminate slaughter that occurred in the Oklahoma City event,” the bomber wrote, characteristically referring to his philosophies in the collective, even though he is believed to be acting alone. But the bomber went on to write: “People who willingly and knowingly promote economic growth and technical progress--in our eyes they are criminals, and if they get blown up, they deserve it.”
He said his motivation was simply anger.
He also denied that he is fascinated by wood, as some investigators have speculated, partly because his devices have included wood in their construction. The letter writer said he used wood because it is light but strong.
The New York Times reported that the Unabomber’s package to the newspaper had included a copy of a letter from the serial bomber to Scientific American magazine. In that letter, the paper reported, he displayed a “technical virtuosity in discussing an article in which advanced nuclear reactors could initiate runaway reactions.” That was cited by the letter writer as “a good example of the arrogance of scientists, who routinely take risks affecting the public.”
Although each new letter offers new clues and insights into the bomber--who is believed to live in Northern California--authorities acknowledge that they have made little progress in identifying the bomber or finding clues that could lead to his capture.
One terrorism expert suggested that the latest series of notes marked a “worrisome” rise in the stakes in the 17-year-old cat-and-mouse game between the FBI and the notorious bomber.
“This shows an escalation of his animus toward society,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert formerly with the Santa Monica-based RAND Corp. Noting that the Unabomber’s latest strike was strategically targeted at one of the nation’s busiest airports during a peak travel period, Hoffman called the bomber “a publicity animal. And he’s smart enough to know that his threat is powerful enough to make a lot of people flying in and out of LAX concerned. He’s got his finger on the pulse of the American psyche.”
Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Ronald J. Ostrow, Larry Gordon, John M. Glionna, Jeff Leeds, Richard C. Paddock and Stephanie Simon. Correspondent Scott Collins also contributed.
* MANIFESTO EXCERPT: Unabomber assails modern technology in document. A32