FBI said it counseled papers on publishing Unabomber’s manifesto
WASHINGTON, D.C.–After consulting with the FBI and U.S. Attorney General, The Washington Post and The New York Times in mid-August jointly published in the Post the 35,000-word manifesto ascribed to the terrorist known as Unabomber.
The papers received the manifesto in late June and published it less than a week before the deadline set by the terrorist, who said he would continue killing if the papers did not meet his demand to publish the document.
FBI spokesman George Grotz in San Francisco, where the Unabomber investigation is centered, said that the FBI played only a third-party counseling role in the decision to publish.
“The proprietary interest in the documents belonged to the Post and the Times,” Grotz said.
After the meeting on the Wednesday that preceded publication of the document, he added, the recommendation by the government was that the manifesto be published, “but this was clearly a case where the Post had to decide.”
Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie said that the paper was “obviously in touch with the FBI and attorney general,” and that during the meetings, “all different possibilities were discussed” on whether or not to publish the document. Both Downie and Grotz declined to state either who was present at the meetings or how many meetings took place.
Downie also would not say who initiated any of the meetings between the FBI and the papers. He said that the paper and the FBI had been in contact with each other since the time the papers received the manifesto and all other meetings were a continuation of that relationship.
That relationship began in June, Downie said, when “the FBI contacted us to say they thought we might be receiving the letter and they described the package in which it might be sent. Within a day, the package was spotted in our mail room and left there for the FBI who came to the Post and scanned the package for explosives and then, with our permission, took the package to their headquarters. They copied the document and did testing and we got a copy back immediately which is what we’ve been working from since then.”
Grotz explained that other publications had received the manifesto, and that the FBI believed the Post would receive the letter. Grotz confirmed that the Post contacted the FBI to state that the paper had received the letter and manifesto from the Unabomber on Wednesday, June 28.
The manifesto was published in an eight-page pullout section in the Post on Tuesday, September 19.
The Post also printed a statement by Post Publisher Donald Graham and Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger the same day.
“From the beginning the two newspapers have consulted closely on the issue of whether to publish under the threat of violence,” according to the publishers’ statement. “We have also consulted law enforcement officials. Both the attorney general and the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have now recommended that we print this document for public safety reasons, and we have agreed to do so.”
Downie said the decision to publish was not a journalistic decision and was unprecedented. He added that the Post was facing very unusual circumstances. Of the meetings, Downie said, “This is consistent with our policy that we will meet with the government or anyone else when public safety is involved. We make our own decision about publishing.”