San Francisco–based FBI administrator Freeman chronicles the agency’s two-decade quest to identify and arrest the notorious homegrown terrorist.
Although the book lists three authors, the text is a first-person narrative by Freeman, who was given the difficult task of heading a large team charged with cracking the Unabomber case after years of frustration within the agency. (Freeman mentions co-authors Turchie and Noel frequently, but there is no sign that either wrote any of the chapters.) Between the explosion of the first bomb in 1978 and Ted Kaczynski's arrest in 1996, his homemade devices killed three and injured 23 more. Kaczynski mailed the bombs to private homes, university offices and commercial establishments; a few times, he physically placed them near such locales. In 1979, he arranged for a bomb-laden package to be hauled in the cargo bay of a commercial airliner heading for Washington, D.C.; it damaged the aircraft, but the pilots managed an emergency landing without fatalities. Freeman emphasizes throughout the impressive resources of the FBI but also includes criticism of the bureaucratic methods that initially hindered the investigation. He and his task force had to determine how to bypass FBI protocols without getting fired and without publicly besmirching the agency's image. Although the result of the investigation is cause for celebration, Freeman is painfully aware that the Unabomber might have remained at large if Kaczynski hadn’t anonymously written a manifesto and insisted it be published in the mass media. That led to a tip that sent Freeman's team to his isolated Montana cabin and resulted in a life sentence for Kaczynski. Regrettably, his account is poorly written and organized. Characters from inside and outside the FBI appear, disappear and reappear with mind-bending rapidity.
Despite its considerable flaws, the book is valuable as a rare insider’s account from an agency that does not value transparency.