Another Unabomber in the Making?

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FBI sketch of the Unabomber suspect before his capture.

He calls himself the Bishop, an unthreatening-sounding name if there ever was one, but law enforcement and private security officials fear he may be another Unabomber in the making.

In late January, the mysterious figure sent a letter bomb to two Midwestern financial services companies. The message inside both packages, which were discovered by mail clerks, read "Bang! You're dead." The boxes arrived at American Century Investments in Kansas City and Perkins, Wolf, McDonnell and Co., a Chicago financial services company. Both had all the makings of a pipe bomb, a PVC pipe filled with buckshot and smokeless powder, plus protruding wires. But the sender had not included a power source, which indicated to investigators that the Bishop, meant to terrify, not kill — at least not yet. Still, while the devices lacked some components, they could have exploded from static electricity or "even a transmission from a handheld radio," according to Fred Burton, a former State Department counterterrorism expert, now with Stratfor, an Austin-based private security and intelligence agency that is working in conjunction with the FBI in its investigation.

The Bishop first came to Stratfor's attention in October of 2005, when he began sending anonymous, threatening letters (but with no explosive materials) to various financial services companies, one of which was a client. He demanded they manipulate specific stocks to reach a set price, often $6.66, a number with possible Biblical or apocalyptic meaning. In one June, 2006 letter, he ended with the phrase: "IT IS BETTER TO REIGN IN HELL, THAN TO SERVE IN HEAVEN." The Bishop's curious stock-market demands were "delusional" since the companies were not large enough to do the kind of manipulation he demanded, Burton said. Once his demands were not met, his campaign escalated, going from simple demands in 2005 to more serious threats of violence in 2006, and now featuring actual improvised explosive devices, IEDs, being shipped in the mail.

Most of the poorly written letters came from the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. The addresses are handwritten, but the letters themselves were neatly typed on a computer. The letters appear to be form letters, but occasionally the Bishop used the name and address of an executive's family as a return address. Both the letters and IED packages were sent by priority mail and the recipient's name in the second line of the address was underlined. The bomb packages came in white cardboard boxes and were postmarked Jan. 26, 2007, from Rolling Meadows, Illinois, but carried a Streamwood, Illinois, return address. So far, the Bishop's letters have arrived only in corporate mailrooms, but he has threatened specific family members, friends and even neighbors of some of his targets.

In one 2006 letter the Bishop refers to both the Unabomber and the D.C. sniper, Lee Boyd Malvo. "You will help, after all it is so easy to kill somebody it is almost scary," the letter states. "Just think it could be as simple as mailing a package just like The Unibomber [sic] use to do simple mail out a package and when the suspecting recipient opens it they don't even know what hit them, or maybe like Salvo [sic] did in the D.C. sniper case just a small hole in the trunk of the car and BANG!!"

The Kansas City package was examined by a police bomb squad and, according to Kansas City FBI Agent Bob Herndon, there is an ongoing investigation of the letters and packages in multiple FBI field offices across the country. The U.S. Post Office is also investigating the letters and has issued an alert.

Despite forensic evidence that authorities have now obtained from the devices, it is more likely that a tip may lead to an arrest. The public release of the text of the Unabomber's writings led to his brother coming forward after he recognized the phrasing of certain sentences, and now that authorities are afraid the Bishop may be escalating his tactics, they are making a conscious effort to get details of the case out to the public.

"Looking back to the Unabomber case, Theodore Kaczynski began sending IEDs in 1978," Burton said. "Despite the large quantity of physical evidence, it was not forensics that led to his 1996 arrest, but rather a tip from his brother." In the meantime, Kaczynski had killed three and injured 23 with his devices