Package Bombs – The Domestic Threat Revisited

Some of us will recognize this handsome devil immediately, but for the younger crowd out there, allow me to formally introduce you to Theodore John Kaczynski. Better known as the “Unabomber”, this mathematician, anarchist, and Saturday night karaoke singer (that last one might be fake news), will live in infamy as one of the most prolific domestic terrorists in American history. I do not want to feed into the ego of this nut job, and this isn’t a case study, however, his actions have paved the way for a very real threat and the topic of this blog, mail package bombs.
A child prodigy, Ted was accepted to Harvard University at 16, and received his doctorate in mathematics by the age of 25 from the University of Michigan. After briefly serving as an assistant professor at the University of Berkeley in California, he decided to go completely off-grid, and moved to a remote cabin without running water or electricity in Montana. It was here that he witnessed the destruction of the wilderness around his cabin, and vowed to do something about it. He saw modern technology as “an erosion to human freedom and dignity”, and decided that he would wake up society through the use of package bombs. 
Ted’s first bomb was sent to a professor at Northwestern University in 1978, which was opened by a security guard, exploded, and caused injury to his left hand. The bomb was amateur in nature, but not bad for someone that was self taught.  Fifteen bombs over almost two decades later, he became a master, and literally wrote the book on anarchy and domestic terrorism in the form of his manifesto Industrial Society and Its Future. Here is a replica of one of his more sophisticated bombs that is on display at the Newseum in Washington, DC.

The hunt for Kaczynski would become the longest and most costly in FBI history until his capture in 1996.  
So what does good ol’ Ted have to do with 2017, and the world we live in today? Well, it’s happening again. There are two recent incidents involving mailed exploding packages, one in Queens, New York, and one where we are headquartered, here in Philadelphia. After Kaczynski, all eyes focused on the mail system, and large amounts of resources were used to keep mail safe. Then came AOL, and “You’ve Got Mail!” changed everything. When the internet and email became commonplace, and in the decades since, the world got smaller, and so did the mail system. The dwindling use of “snail mail” has caused a crisis for the US Postal Service. And with a shrinking budget, the screening of mail has inevitably declined as well. So here we are, talking about mail package bombs.  
As this is a public blog, I will not get into the makeup and components of a mail package bomb.  It is not necessary for the topic, and I will not provide someone with the tools to create one.  I will, however, cover the common indicators of a package bomb, and steps to take if you think you have encountered one.  
Packages with:

  • No return address
  • Restrictive Markings – “DO NOT XRAY”… “FOR C.E.O. ONLY” ….”PERSONAL”
  • Misspelled words or addressed to title only, incorrect title, poorly typed or written
  • Possible mailed from foreign country and unexpected
  • Excessive Postage
  • Rigid, bulky, heavy, or exposed wires
  • Excessive tape or string holding it together
  • Discolorations, crystallization on packaging
  • Hand written or improperly formatted address or return address


The mail bomb checklist provided by the United States Postal Service

A more sophisticated mail bomb, designed to detonate when the intended target pulls the tab to tear open the letter.  Courtesy Securityaffairs.com

Example of excessive tape and postage. The note was added post inspection. Courtesy wikipedia.
Now that you know a little about what to look for, let’s talk about what to do if one of these shows up at your door.  

  • Do not pick up, shake, move, or open the package
  • Keep yourself and others calm, acting and thinking rationally is vital
  • Immediately leave the area and evacuate others as necessary
  • If you can find a landline, use that to call 9-1-1 —  Try to refrain from cell phone use as much as possible
  • If possible, and only when in a safe location, try to remember everything about the person that delivered the device, where you found it, anything out of the ordinary. The quicker you can gather your thoughts and put them to paper, the more accurate the facts will be, and the better help to the responding investigators you will be. Walk yourself through everything you have done that day up to that point, any strange interactions or individuals you may have encountered in recent times, strange phone calls or emails, ANYTHING you can think of. Sometimes the greatest clues come from the smallest piece of information. Write it all down, in a stressful event, as time goes on the more specific information will be lost or altered.  

So hopefully this blog will help keep you, your family, and possibly other residents in your area safe from this resurgent threat. Two last pieces of advice:

  1. You might not be the intended target, but a target of opportunity or mistake. Don’t get complacent and think to yourself “who would want to do this to me?”
  2. Always be cognizant of the fact that the bomber may still be in the area, and may want to observe the incident for himself or herself, or worst case, may have the ability to detonate the device remotely if he or she observes that it has been discovered or will not reach the intended target. Once you clear the area and it is safe to, scan the area carefully for someone that your gut tells you just doesn’t fit into the surroundings…i.e. Everyone else is running away and one individual is standing and watching intently.   

Until next time, remember that the biggest threat to violence is a community that cares and that acts. If something happens, help each other, don’t just get it on video for your Facebook.  
Thanks for taking the time, and for more visit opssecuritygroup.com/blog.  

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