FBI returns server examined in Pitt bomb threats

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The FBI has returned a server it seized last month as part of an investigation into bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh, but the server's owner was not informed of the return, New York-based Internet hosting service May First/People Link said Thursday.

Jamie McClelland, director of May First/People Link, said staff discovered last Friday the server had been returned April 24 to an off-site location by viewing video from a camera installed there.

Authorities have had difficulty tracking who sent the bomb threats, which were emailed via anonymous remailers. Campus buildings were evacuated more than 100 times over the course of a month; the threats appear to have ended April 21.

May First/People Link said the FBI had informed it that some threats were sent through one of its servers used by the European Counter Network, or ECN, an Italian Internet provider that allows users to send anonymous emails.p>

Anonymous remailers can be used for nefarious purposes, but they also have legitimate uses such as communication with battered women's support groups or within countries with repressive governments.

Mr. McClelland said removing the server from its New York facility initially disrupted service for hundreds of people and organizations, including academics, gay rights groups, feminists, documentation and software archives, community centers and free-speech groups, he said. Their service was restored on a different server.

Mr. McClelland said the returned server would not be put into use but instead would be inspected.

"It's a science experiment, meaning we don't consider the server fit for production use. We'll be examining it to see if anything was changed when it was taken out of our possession."

The action in New York occurred in the same week FBI agents returned computer equipment and other items to Seamus Johnston and Katherine Anne McCloskey of Cambria County that likewise had been seized as part of the Pitt probe. The couple said they had come under scrutiny because Mr. Johnston, a transgender man, was expelled in January from Pitt-Johnstown and criminally charged by Pitt police for repeatedly using the men's locker room after being told on numerous occasions not to do so.

Kelly Kochamba, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Pittsburgh, declined to comment on suspects in the case. She said the investigation remains a "high priority" for the FBI and for the numerous federal and local agencies assisting it.

education - neigh_city

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968. Liz Navratil contributed. First Published May 4, 2012 2:30 PM


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