From: email@example.com (George William Herbert)
Subject: Re: Globe reporter curious...
Date: 28 Dec 2000 11:12:30 -0800
I would like to make a general public statement regarding the
press coverage of the alt.engr.explosives newsgroup angle to date.
First, though, I want to express my condolences to the families and
friends and coworkers of the 7 victims in Wakefield. Their loved
ones died senselessly and needlessly.
This newsgroup has several sets of people who read it.
It has long had participation by professionals and responsible
amateurs in the explosives industry, government organizations,
and commercial users of explosives. It has also unfortunately
had many ill-educated amateur pyrotechnics users. Undoubtedly
at some point there have been readers who intended to do malice
to other people. Over the last few days, we've added some
curious reporters, curious individual readers, and a few individuals
who have a morbid and twisted sense of humor.
It has always been a struggle in this group for the professionals
and serious safe amateurs present to carry on discussions without
providing useful information to the dangerous un-educated amateur
pyros and those with malign intent. Those readers have always
been literally and figuratively looking over our shoulders as
we participate here. Every time I post, I think "Is what I am
posting here going to lead some kid to blow himself up,
or someone to blow someone else up on purpose?", and let that
guide what I say. The other long time responsible posters to
the group know this and have had the same thoughts.
Those of us who are responsible have avoided certain topics
entirely, such as details of explosive ordinance disposal
and terrorist bomb making which would provide information
to terrorists or criminals on how to improve their devices.
I did not personally recall having seen McDermott in this group until
people pointed it out and re-posted his contributions. When I realized
his involvement here, I went back to re-read his posts and the threads
that he had posted to, trying to see if either the responsible group
members had done anything wrong or if McDermott had dropped any hints
here that he might be dangerous. My reading of those posts indicates
that McDermott came to Usenet with fairly extensive prior knowledge of
at least some aspects of explosives (chemical compounds used in
professional and military explosives, some of their detailed
characteristics). He appears to have worked with them at some point in
the past, the level of knowledge seemed consistent with prior military
service involving work with them and personal curiosity or hobby level
of interest. I doubt that he would have learned anything useful for
producing or using explosives beyond what he already knew, based on his
apparent existing knowledge. I also didn't see any sign that he was
unstable or had criminal intent; there was at least one time he posted
safety warnings (on Fluorine gas being dangerous).
I think that the responsible readers of this newsgroup are generally
intolerant of those who are unstable and malicious, intending to do
harm to others with explosives. I have notified ISPs twice asking them
to contact local law enforcement in the region one of their users
lived, after someone started talking about blowing property or people
up in a manner I thought was serious. I have no doubt other longtime
participants in the group have done similarly, have contacted law
enforcement directly if they knew where a user was. I strongly suspect
that some law enforcement agencies read or at least archive this
newsgroup. Given the nature of McDermott's apparent postings, though,
I don't see at this time that anyone in these groups would have had
any basis to think that he was a threat.
I expect that we will see ongoing press coverage and possibly law
enforcement interest in the newsgroup for a while, due to the
connection and obvious reasons. If you are a reporter coming here
trying to figure out what McDermott was doing, please keep in mind that
had we had any idea about his instability we would have notified
police, and that this is a forum with much legitimate technical,
historical, and informational value to its legitimate participants. So
far the reporting has been generally good, accurately describing the
newsgroup. It is fairly important to me and I assume the other serious
participants that this remain true. I expect many of us are still
soul-searching on the questions this poses, of participation, of what
types of information are safe and responsible to discuss, of what level
of apparent unsafe or malicious posting is justification to report a
participant to law enforcement. I expect that we will continue to
worry about those for some time. Hopefully we will make the right
decisions. I think that, in retrospect, I see no evidence that
McDermott showed signs of being dangerous or violent, anything at the
time as other than just another newsgroup user. Usenet doesn't always
offer a good window into people's souls.
Ross Kerber's story today is at:
I had emailed Ross yesterday with a message generally similar in
content to this posting. I think his article sensibly and responsibly
addressed McDermott's involvement in the newsgroup.
-george william herbert