Man from Ireland charged in making Pitt bomb threats

By Gwenn Barney

David Hickton, United States attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, announced at a…After more than four months of investigation, law enforcement officials have filed an indictment against the man the state attorney general says was behind more than 50 bomb threats at Pitt.

At a press conference on Wednesday at the FBI field office in the South Side, David Hickton, United States attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, announced two indictments against Adam Stuart Busby, 64, of Dublin, Ireland, for emailing bomb threats targeting Pitt, three federal courthouses and a federal officer.

“Busby has been charged with emailing numerous, anonymous bomb threats targeting the University of Pittsburgh this past spring,” Hickton said. “The bomb threats caused more than 100 evacuations at Pitt, greatly disrupting the personal and professional lives of students, faculty and employees.”

Between Feb. 13 and April 21 of this year, Pitt received 52 individual bomb threats resulting in 136 evacuations of University buildings.

Hickton said that Busby is responsible for the more than 40 emailed threats that were aimed at Pitt’s campus between March 30 and April 21. Most of those threats were sent to media outlets in the area, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Busby was indicted on charges of 17 counts of wire fraud, 16 counts of maliciously conveying false information and two counts of international extortion.

A second indictment charged Busby with maliciously conveying false information through the Internet on June 20 and 21 by claiming that bombs were placed at federal courthouses in Erie, Pa., Johnstown, Pa. and Pittsburgh.

He was also charged with threatening to assault and murder Hickton while the U.S. attorney was performing his official duties, but no specifics as to how those threats were sent were discussed at the press conference.

Hickton said that the maximum sentence for each count of wire fraud is 20 years in prison, the maximum penalty for maliciously conveying false information is 10 years in prison and the maximum penalty for extortionate threats is two years. Hickton said each felonious count attributed to Busby also carries a maximum $250,000 fine.

Busby is currently in custody in Ireland for unrelated charges, which Hickton said he could not comment on at this time.

Hickton declined to comment on the details of the investigation, but he did say that Busby had been a suspect since mid-April. He added that there are no known connections between Busby and the University that he is currently aware of.

“We don’t get into the mind of the criminal,” he said.

Chancellor Nordenberg responds

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg spoke after Hickton at Wednesday’s press conference, expressing relief and gratitude for the capture of the man behind the spring bomb threats against Pitt.

“The timing to reach this point before we begin a new academic year is very beneficial for the University,” Nordenberg said.

He said that hiring extra security guards, paying overtime for police officers and procuring the types of equipment to detect explosives all added to the total bill for threat response. He put the financial cost of security and police response to the bomb threats at upward of $300,000.

But he also noted the other costs associated with the threats, including lost time for faculty members, lost opportunities for students and time invested by law enforcement organizations other than the Pitt police, as additional, incalculable costs of the threats.

“If we were able to calculate those things, the amount would be much larger,” he said.

Nordenberg then thanked all those involved in the investigation, including Pitt police, city of Pittsburgh police and the FBI. He also praised students and professors for “their strength and resiliency displayed during a time of crisis.”

His praises were echoed by Hickton.

“The Pitt community across the board responded to this threat in an exemplary fashion,” Hickton said. “We could not have solved the crime without their help. The stories of the way the Pitt community came together — from students helping each other to the tips and assistance we received — have moved me deeply.”

Nordenberg said reaching this point in the investigation was not only important for the University and the city, but also for society at large, which continues to see an increasing number of cyber attacks.

Gary Douglas Perdue, special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh division of the FBI, agreed with Nordenberg on the increasing seriousness of cyber attacks.

“Criminal activity, facilitated through the use of computer technology, is an increasing problem for law enforcement,” he said. “The FBI is committed to meet this challenge.”

He said the Bureau is expanding its cyber capabilities to keep up with this channel of crime.

In recent months, law enforcement officials said much of the difficulty in tracking the perpetrator was due to his use of sophisticated anonymizing servers that obscured the location from which the threats were emailed.

During the press conference, Nordenberg also addressed the University’s decision to rescind the $50,000 reward for information about the threatener in return for an end to the threats.

“Whenever there was a difficult decision to be made, I listened attentively and respectfully to the advice of law enforcement officials and my own senior staff,” Nordenberg said. “But in the end, the decision was mine to make.”

He said that a first offer to end the bomb threats in return for removal of the reward, sent on April 10, was crudely crafted and included factual errors and was therefore not taken seriously.

However, a similar email offer on April 20, this time promising a 24-hour reprieve in bomb threats to prove the author of the email was in fact the threatener, led Nordenberg to make the decision to remove the reward.

“It’s a threshold question of whether you ever respond to threatening messages of this type,” Nordenberg said.

Police chief says investigation continues

Pitt Police Chief Tim Delaney said that despite Busby’s indictment, the bomb threats investigation is not yet closed.

“There are other elements here,” Delaney said, citing Busby’s current status in a foreign country as one such element. “All the questions have not been answered.”

During the press conference, Nordenberg and Hickton gave special thanks to the Pitt police for their efforts in responding to the formerly daily bomb threats.

Delaney said that the bomb threats “stretched [the police force] to the max,” but that the continued support from other law enforcement agencies, including city police and the FBI, along with thoughts of keeping the Pitt community safe kept a tired police force motivated.

“The kids were always our main interest,” Delaney said. “I have 28,000 kids. They’re my children and I need to be responsible for them.”

Delaney said he was especially impressed with the way the Pitt community came together in response to the bomb threats.

“The more they threatened us, the more people got involved,” Delaney said. “We had one common enemy — all of us — It doesn’t happen that often.”

YouTube threateners indicted

In addition to announcing the Busby indictment, Hickton also announced the indictment of two Ohio men in a separate threat made against Pitt via YouTube in April.

Alexander Waterland of Loveland, Ohio, and Brett Hudson, of Hillsboro, Ohio, are both charged with engaging in a conspiracy targeting the computer system of the University.

A group using the YouTube username AnonOperative13 claimed in a YouTube video posted on April 26 to have hacked into Pitt’s computer system and downloaded personal information about Pitt students, employees and alumni.

Hickton said that both Waterland and Hudson will be arraigned in federal court in Pittsburgh later this month. The law prescribes a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both if the two men are found guilty.