the unabomber

In 1959, 17-year-old Ted Kaczynski was a sophomore at Harvard and was recruited for a psychological experiment. The research was said to be a “personality assessment study” and was conducted by Henry Murray, an expert on stress interviews due to his previous job at OSS (Office of Strategic Services) during WWII.

The experiment is speculated to be part of the controversial CIA programme, Project MKUltra.

In total, 22 undergraduates took part, and they were told that they were going to be debating personal philosophy with a fellow undergraduate. Instead of this, the participants were subjected to a “purposely brutalising psychological experiment”. When they turned up to the “debate” they were attached to electrodes, seated in a chair which was facing a one-way mirror and were subjected to bright lights.

Prior to this, the students had written an essay which included their personal beliefs. This was then turned over to an attorney who was then to “go to town” on what they had written down.

During this process, the participants were recorded, and after the interrogation, they were made to rewatch it to relive the humiliation. Murray has since called them “vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive” attacks.

In order to protect his identity, Kaczynski was known as “Lawful” during the experiment.

At Kaczynski’s trial, his lawyers attributed some of his emotional instability and dislike of mind control techniques due to his participation in this study. Some have even suggested that this experiment was key to Kaczynski’s future actions. Although some raw data of the study was released to Kaczynski’s attorneys, the Murray Center where the research was conducted refused to share the analysis of that data. Kaczynski hinted that the Murray Center seemed to feel like it had something to hide.


Ted Kaczynski aka the Unabomber’s cabin in Lincoln, Montana.

Inside, investigators found bomb components, journals describing Kaczynski’s bomb making experiments, countless bottles and cans, some labeled with the names of chemicals, the original manuscript for his manifesto and one bomb ready for mailing. Kaczynski shunned electricity, he used an old potbelly stove and only had a cut out spot in the middle of his cabin as a toilet.

The first picture was taken in 1972. Kaczynski sent the first letter bomb in 1978, and was arrested 16 years later on 3 April, 1996. At that time, the FBI only had the linguistic analysis of the manifesto compared to Kaczynski’s earlier writings, but as soon as they entered the cabin, it became clear to them, that they had found the Unabomber.

A letter from Theodore Kaczynski to one of his victims, Yale computer science professor David Gelernter.

Dr. Gelernter:

People with advanced degrees aren’t as smart as they think they are. If you’d had any brains you would have realized that there are a lot of people out there who resent bitterly the way techno-nerds like you are changing the world and you wouldn’t have been dumb enough to open an unexpected package from an unknown source.

In the epilog of your book, “Mirror Worlds,” you tried to justify your research by claiming that the developments you describe are inevitable, and that any college person can learn enough about computers to compete in a computer-dominated world. Apparently, people without a college degree don’t count. In any case, being informed about computers won’t enable anyone to prevent invasion of privacy (through computers), genetic engineering (to which computers make an important contribution), environmental degradation through excessive economic growth (computers make an important contribution to economic growth) and so forth.

As for the inevitability argument, if the developments you describe are inevitable, they are not inevitable in the way that old age and bad weather are inevitable. They are inevitable only because techno-nerds like you make them inevitable. If there were no computer scientists there would be no progress in computer science. If you claim you are justified in pursuing your research because the developments involved are inevitable, then you may as well say that theft is inevitable, therefore we shouldn’t blame thieves.

But we do not believe that progress and growth are inevitable.

We’ll have more to say about that later.


P.S. Warren Hoge of the New York Times can confirm that this letter does come from FC.