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For The Record  

FTR #323 The Unabomber

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Highlighting an aspect of “the Unabomber” case that has attracted comparatively little attention, this program documents convicted Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski’s participation in an experiment at Harvard while an undergraduate. This experiment may very well been part of the intelligence community’s psychological experimentation and mind control programs.

1. Shortly before the broadcast was recorded, Kaczynski lost an appeal to have his guilty plea overturned. “A federal appeals court refused again yesterday to let Theodore Kaczynski withdraw his guilty plea and face a death-penalty trial for the Unabomber murders. A dissenting judge said the ruling treats Kaczynski as ‘less than human.’ The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied a rehearing of its 2-to-1 ruling last February that found that Kaczynski pleaded guilty voluntarily to save his life. . .Before his plea in a Sacramento federal court, Kaczynski had objected to his court-appointed lawyers’ plans to portray him to the jury as mentally ill.” (“U.S. Appeals Court Rules Kaczynski’s Guilty Plea Stands” by Bob Egelko; San Francisco Chronicle; 8/18/2001; p. A7.)

2. As we shall see, Kaczynski’s lawyers may have been right. Furthermore, his aberrant mental state may have resulted (in part at least) from his participation in an experiment as a precocious, 16-year-old undergraduate at Harvard. “In the fall of 1958, Theodore Kaczynski, a brilliant but vulnerable boy of sixteen, entered Harvard College. There he encountered a prevailing intellectual atmosphere of anti-technological despair. There, also, he was deceived into subjecting himself to a series of purposely brutalizing psychological experiments—experiments that may have confirmed his still-forming belief in the evil of science. Was the Unabomber born at Harvard?” (“Harvard and the making of the Unabomber” by Alston Chase; The Atlantic Monthly; June/2000; p. 1; accessed at www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/06/chase.htm .)

3. Developing the story of this apparently brutalizing experiment, the broadcast sets forth Harvard psychologist Henry A. Murray’s supervision of the experiment in which Kaczynski participated. “No. 7 Divinity Avenue is a modern multi-story academic building today, housing the university’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. In 1959, a comfortable old house stood on the site. Known as the Annex, it served as a laboratory in which staff members of the Department of Social Relations conducted research on human subjects. There, from the fall of 1959, through the spring of 1962, Harvard psychologists, led by Henry A. Murray, conducted a disturbing and what would now be seen as ethically indefensible experiment on twenty-two undergraduates. To preserve the anonymity of these student guinea pigs, experimenters referred to individuals by code name only. One of these students, whom they dubbed ‘Lawful,’ was Theodore John Kaczynski, who would one day be known as the Unabomber, and who would later mail or deliver sixteen package bombs to scientists, academicians, and others over seventeen years, killing three people and injuring twenty-three.” (Ibid.; p. 2.)

4. Reflecting the perspective that most people have of Kaczynski, the program further underscores the possibility that Kaczynski’s behavior may have been strongly influenced by the experiment. “Most of us believe we already know Ted Kaczynski. According to the conventional wisdom, Kaczynski, a brilliant former professor of mathematics turned Montana hermit and mail bomber, is, simply, mentally ill. He is a paranoid schizophrenic, and there is nothing more about him to interest us. But the conventional wisdom is mistaken. I came to discover that Kaczynski is neither the extreme loner he has been made out to be nor in any clinical sense mentally ill. He is an intellectual and a convicted murderer, and to understand the connections between these two facts we must revisit his time at Harvard.” (Ibid.; p. 3.)

5. Apparently, Harvard has been less than candid about all of the data concerning the experiment in which Kaczynski participated. “Kaczynski told me that the Henry A. Murray Research Center of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, although it released some raw data about him to his attorneys, had refused to share information about the Murray team’s analysis of that data. Kaczynski hinted darkly that the Murray Center seemed to feel it had something to hide. One of his defense investigators, he said, reported that the center had told participating psychologists not to talk with his defense team.” (Idem.)

6. Alton Chase was only slightly more successful than Kaczynski at obtaining information about the experiment. As the information about the experiment was clarified, the abusive nature of the experiment began to become clear. “Several of the research assistants I interviewed couldn’t, or wouldn’t, talk much about the study. Nor could the Murray Center be entirely forthcoming. After considering my application, its research committee approved my request to view the records of this experiment, the so-called data set, which referred to subjects by code names only. But because Kaczynski’s alias was by then known to some journalists, I was not permitted to view his records. Through research at the Murray Center and in the Harvard archives I found that, among its other purposes, Henry Murray’s experiment was intended to measure how people react under stress. Murray subjected his unwitting students, including Kaczynski, to intensive interrogation—what Murray himself called ‘vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive’ attacks, assaulting his subjects’ egos and most-cherished ideals and beliefs.” (Ibid.; pp. 3-4.)

7. Detailing the psychological profile of Kaczynski developed by prison psychiatric officials, the program documents the convergence of two belief systems that precipitated Kaczynski’s attacks. “My quest was specific—to determine what effects, if any, the experiment may have had on Kaczynski. This was a subset of a larger question: What effects had Harvard had on Kaczynski? In 1998, as he faced trial for murder, Kaczynski was examined by Sally Johnson, a forensic psychiatrist with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, at the order of a court. In her evaluation Johnson wrote that Kaczynski ‘has intertwined his two belief systems, that society is bad and he should rebel against it, and his intense anger at his family for his perceived injustices.’ The Unabomber was created when these two belief systems converged. And it was at Harvard, Johnson suggested, that they first surfaced and met. She wrote: ‘During his college years he had fantasies of living a primitive life and fantasized himself as ‘an agitator, rousing mobs to frenzies of revolutionary violence.’ He claims that during that time he started to think about breaking away from normal society.'” (Ibid.; p. 4.)

8. Asking a pivotal question, the program sets forth the central point of inquiry—did the Murray experiment lead to Kaczynski’s behavior. “It was at Harvard that Kaczynski first encountered the ideas about the evils of society that would provide a justification for, and a focus to, an anger he had felt since junior high school. It was at Harvard that he began to develop these ideas into his anti-technology ideology of revolution. It was at Harvard that Kaczynski began to have fantasies of revenge, began to dream of escaping into wilderness. And it was at Harvard, as far as can be determined, that he fixed on dualistic ideas of good and evil, and on a mathematical cognitive style that led him to think he could find absolute truth through the application of his own reason. Was the Unabomber—’the most intellectual serial killer the nation has ever produced,’ as one criminologist has called him-born at Harvard?” (Idem.)

9. Initially, the psychological profile of Kaczynski is not what one would have expected, given what ultimately came to pass. “The health-services doctor who interviewed Kaczynski as part of the medical examination Harvard required for all freshmen observed: ‘Good impression created. Attractive, mature for age, relaxed. . . . Talks easily, fluently and pleasantly. . . . likes people and gets on well with them. May have many acquaintances but makes his friends carefully. Prefers to be by himself part of the time at least. May be slightly shy . . . . Essentially a practical and realistic planner and an efficient worker. . . . Exceedingly stable, well integrated and feels secure within himself. Usually very adaptable. May have many achievements and satisfactions.’ [Italics are Mr. Emory’s] The doctor further described Kaczynski thus: ‘Pleasant young man who is below usual college entrance age. Apparently a good mathematician but seems to be gifted in this direction only. Plans not crystallized yet but this is to be expected at his age. Is slightly shy and retiring but not to any abnormal extent. Should be [a] steady worker.'” (Ibid.; p. 12.)

10. In assessing the Kaczynski story and the experiment to which he was subjected, it is interesting (and possibly significant) to note the professional background of the experimenter–Henry A. Murray. “He [Murray] lent his talents to national aims during World War II. Forrest Robinson, the author of a 1992 biography of Murray, wrote that during this period he ‘flourished as a leader in the global crusade of good against evil’ . . . . (He had long shown interest, for example, in the whole subject of brainwashing.) During the war Murray served in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, helping to develop psychological screening tests for applicants and (according to Timothy Leary) monitoring military experiments on brainwashing. In his book The Search for the ‘Manchurian candidate’ John Marks reported that General ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, the OSS director, ‘called in Harvard psychology professor Henry ‘Harry’ Murray’ to devise a system for testing the suitability of applicants to the OSS. Murray and his colleagues ‘put together an assessment system . . . [that] tested a recruit’s ability to stand up under pressure, to be a leader, to hold liquor, to lie skillfully, and to read a person’s character by the nature of his clothing…. Murray’s system became a fixture in the OSS.'” (Ibid.; [Part II]; pp. 10-11.)

11. After the war, Murray put his OSS-related skills to work at Harvard. “Before the war, Murray had been the director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic. After the war Murray returned to Harvard, where he continued to refine techniques of personality assessment. In 1948, he sent a grant application to the Rockefeller Foundation proposing ‘the development of a system of procedures for testing the suitability of officer candidates for the navy.’ By 1950, he had resumed studies on Harvard undergraduates that he had begun, in rudimentary form, before the war, titled ‘Multiform assessments of Personality Development Among Gifted College Men.’ The experiment in which Kaczynski participated was the last and most elaborate in the series. In their postwar form, these experiments focused on stressful dyadic relations, designing confrontations akin to those mock interrogations he had helped to orchestrate for the OSS.” (Ibid.; p. 11.)

12. Kaczynski was reluctant to participate in the experiment. “Kaczynski told Mello that he was ‘pressured into participating’ in the Murray experiment. His hesitation turned out to be sensible. Researchers gave the volunteers almost no information about the experiment in which they would participate. . . . the test that served as the centerpiece for this undertaking appears remarkably similar to the old OSS stress test. Students would be given the third degree. But whereas the OSS applicants must have known that enduring unpleasant interrogations could be part of their job, these students did not. The intent was to catch them by surprise, to deceive them, and to brutalize them.” (Ibid.; [Part three]; p. 1.)

13. The purpose, and context, of the experiments remains unclear and somewhat ominous. “At other times, he recalled the idealistic goal of acquiring knowledge that would lead to improving human personality development. At still other times, his language seemed to suggest a continued interest in stressful interrogations. For example, Murray explained in his ‘Notes on Dyadic Research,’ dated March 16, 1959, that an ongoing goal of the research, which focused heavily on ‘degree of anxiety and disintegration,’ was to ‘design, and evaluate instruments and procedures for the prediction of how each subject will react in the course of a stressful dyadic proceeding.'” (Ibid.; p. 5.)

14. Some have raised the question of whether the experiment may have been related to CIA mind control research being conducted at that time. (Some of that was done at Harvard.) In particular, some have raised the question of whether some of the students may have been administered LSD. (For more on the intelligence community’s experimentation with LSD, see RFA#28—available from Spitfire.) “Such equivocation prompts one to ask, ‘Could the experiment have had a purpose that Murray was reluctant to divulge?’ Was the multiform-assessments project intended, at least in part, to help the CIA determine how to test, or break down, an individual’s ability to withstand interrogation? The writer Alexander Cockburn has asked whether the students might have been given the hallucinogenic drug LSD without their knowledge, possibly at the request of the CIA. By the late 1950’s according to some, Murray had become quite interested in hallucinogens, including LSD and psilocybin. And soon after Murray’s experiments on Kaczynski and his classmates were under way, in 1960, Timothy Leary returned to Harvard and, with Murray’s blessing, began his experiments with psilocybin. In his autobiography, Flashbacks (1983), Leary, who would dedicate the rest of his life to promoting hallucinogenic drugs, described Murray as ‘the wizard of personality assessment who, as OSS chief psychologist, had monitored military experiments on brainwashing and sodium amytal interrogation. Murray expressed great interest in our drug-research project and offered his support.'” (Idem.)

15. Further developing the hypothetical CIA/LSD/mind control connection, the program sets forth more information about Murray and the intelligence community. “That Leary had Murray’s support was confirmed by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Schlain in their book Acid Dreams: The Complete social History of LSD (1985). ‘Leary returned to Harvard and established a psilocybin research project with the approval of Dr. Harry Murray, chairman of the Department of Social Relations. Dr. Murray, who ran the Personality Assessments section of the OSS during World War II, took a keen interest in Leary’s work. He volunteered for a psilocybin session, becoming one of the first of many faculty and graduate students to sample the mushroom pill under Leary’s guidance.'” (Ibid.; p. 6.)

16. After noting that there is no evidence that Kaczynski ever received any LSD or other mind-altering drugs, the program goes on to emphasize that, nonetheless, the defense/intelligence connections of the project are apparent. “Although direct evidence of support from a federal defense grant is so far lacking, circumstantial evidence exists: the strong similarity between the OSS stress tests and the later experiments; Murray’s association with the OSS; his grant proposal to do research for the Navy Department; and the lack of any clearly explained purpose for the study. Obviously, the dyadic studies would have had considerable utility for the defense establishment, either as a framework for testing recruits or as continuing work on how to improve interrogation techniques.” (Idem.)

17. A central point of discussion concerns the fact that the experiment does appear to have contributed to Kaczynski’s emotional instability. “There is no evidence of immediate mental degradation in the project’s aftermath. Emotional turmoil is another matter. As Sally Johnson, the forensic psychiatrist, reported, Kaczynski clearly began to experience emotional distress then, and began to develop his anti-technology views.” (Ibid.; p. 7.)

18. Apparently, Kaczynski himself had concerns about the possibility that he was a victim of mind control. “When, soon after, Kaczynski began to worry about the possibility of mind control, he was not giving vent to paranoid delusions. In view of Murray’s experiment, he was not only rational but right.” (Ibid.; p. 11.)

19. Providing background to some of the apparent effects of Harvard’s curriculum on undergraduates, the broadcast relates insights of a number of Harvard alumni concerning the traumatic philosophical views that many of them assimilated. This may have had an effect on Kaczynski as well. (Ibid.; [Part Two]; pp. 7-9.)

20. Unfortunately, Kaczynski seems to have become something of a role model for less responsible elements of the Green movement. “Kaczynski has attracted a large new following of admirers. Indeed, he has become an inspiration and a sort of leader in exile for the burgeoning ‘green anarchist’ movement. In a letter to me, Kaczynski made clear that he keeps in contact with other anarchists, including John Zerzan, the intellectual leader of a circle of anarchists in Eugene, Oregon, who was among the few people to visit Kaczynski while he was in jail in Sacramento, awaiting trial. According to The Boston Globe, Theresa Kintz, one of Zerzan’s fellow anarchists, was the first writer to whom Kaczynski granted an interview after his arrest. Writing for the London-based Green Anarchist, Kintz quoted Kaczynski as saying, ‘For those who realize the need to do away with the techno-industrial system, if you work for its collapse, in effect, you are killing a lot of people.'” (Ibid.; [Part Four]; p. 3.)

21. Not all of Kaczynski’s admirers are limiting their activities to intellectual imitation. “The Los Angeles Times has reported that last June, 200 of Zerzan’s comrades rioted in Eugene, smashing computers, breaking shop windows, throwing bricks at cars, and injuring eight police officers. According to the Seattle Times, followers of Zerzan’s also arrived in force at last December’s ‘Battle of Seattle,’ at the World Trade Organization meeting, where they smashed shop windows, flattened tires, and dumped garbage cans on the street.” (Idem.)

22. This type of activity has met with Kaczynski’s explicit approval. “Kaczynski continues to comment approvingly on the violent exploits of environmental radicals. In a letter he wrote last year to the Denver television reporter Rick Sallinger, he expressed his support for the Earth Liberation Front’s arsons at the Vail ski resort—fires that destroyed more than $12 million worth of property.” (Idem.)

23. ” ‘I fully approve of [the arson],’ he wrote Sallinger, ‘and I congratulate the people who carried it out.’ Kaczynski went on to command an editorial in the Earth First! Journal by Kintz, who wrote, ‘The Earth Liberation Front’s eco-sabotage of Vail constituted a political act of conscience perfectly in keeping with the sincere expression of the biocentric paradigm many Earth First!’ers espouse.'” (Idem.)

(Recorded on 9/9/2001.)


2 comments for “FTR #323 The Unabomber”

  1. Last week in Seattle, 4 blocks from where I live, a sudden random shooting spree took place. At the Cafe Racer, an ex-military man shot 5 (killing 4), then proceeded to shoot and kill one more downtown, then shot and killed himself when approached by police.

    The incident leaves everyone asking questions. The media narrative is that he was mentally ill, and had been refused service at the café.

    None of the media coverage mentioned his ex-military status except the following article, which includes this nugget:


    ” … “He mentioned going to Fort Lewis for a [psychiatric] evaluation,” Moore says. “But in the next breath, he was talking about a covert military operation he’d finished.” So she told him he should consider the possibility that what he was thinking wasn’t true. “It was the nicest way I could think of to tell him, ‘Dude, you’re totally off your rocker.'”

    Stawicki listened. You could see him considering it, she says, before he simply shut the conversation down. It was heartbreaking, Moore says… ”

    Food for thought: After it has come to light that Ted Kaczynski was a test subject for the CIA’s early MK Ultra LSD experiments, who would’ve believed Ted’s story?

    Posted by R. Wilson | June 8, 2012, 6:08 pm
  2. The Sci­ence Chan­nel show “Dark Mat­ters” (2012) had a drama­ti­za­tion of Murray’s exper­i­ment, show­ing its con­fronta­tional aspects and pos­si­ble effects on the young Kaczyn­ski. It didn’t go in to Murray’s intel­li­gence back­ground though.

    Posted by David | December 15, 2012, 3:37 pm

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