Pitt bomb threat suspect called publicity hound

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Adam Busby, the Dublin-based Scotsman charged with emailing 40 bomb threats targeting the University of Pittsburgh, is a publicity-obsessed narcissist who enjoys creating just the kind of fear and disruption that occurred at Pitt, according to a retired journalist in Scotland who has known him for more than two decades.

Moreover, David Leslie of Glasgow said, the emailing of threats to journalists, as occurred in the Pitt case, is a signature method employed previously by Mr. Busby, the founder and face of the Scottish National Liberation Army, a 30-year-old group seeking Scotland's independence.

"That is his MO to a 'T,' " said Mr. Leslie, a reporter for News of the World for nearly 40 years and the author of eight nonfiction books.

"I was not in the least bit surprised [by the charges]. His motive is publicity. Busby glories in publicity. He will target anyone or any organization that he feels will gain him publicity.

"People haven't been injured, but the amount of disruption this causes is extraordinary. Obviously there was a lot of disruption at the University of Pittsburgh."

He said he knew of no connection between Pitt and Mr. Busby, dubbed the "tartan terrorist" by European media. But, he added, Mr. Busby has often picked targets seemingly at random.

He speculated that Pitt could have become a target by something as benign as the presence of UPMC Beacon Hospital in Dublin. Or it could have been something as topical as the six bomb threats scrawled on the walls of men's and women's restrooms in Pitt buildings that immediately preceded the emailed hoaxes. No one has been charged in those incidents.

Mr. Leslie met Mr. Busby more than 20 years ago for a story on the SNLA. They hit it off and Mr. Leslie agreed to write a book about the group's history, but his job as the chief crime reporter for the paper delayed the writing.

Unbeknownst to him, Mr. Busby wrote the book himself and published it on the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement under Mr. Leslie's byline, infuriating the reporter.

A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on Wednesday charged Mr. Busby, 64, with sending emails, mostly to Pittsburgh journalists, between March 30 and April 21 that threatened Pitt buildings and caused 136 evacuations. He is also charged with sending emails on June 20 and 21 targeting federal courthouses in Pittsburgh, Johnstown and Erie and threatening U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton.

Mr. Leslie said the FBI, which was involved in the Pitt investigation, would know Mr. Busby's history because it had investigated him as a suspect in other threats in U.S. territory over the years. They included probes of threats directed at British business and tourist interests in various states in 2000 and against water supplies in Florida in 2006.

Mr. Leslie said that over the years he had been interviewed about Mr. Busby by the FBI as well as numerous European law enforcement agencies.

"The obvious question is, 'Why hasn't he been arrested over the years?' On a number of occasions he said he expected the American government to come in and try to extradite him," said Mr. Leslie, whom Mr. Busby calls regularly when Mr. Busby is not in jail. "The reason they haven't is simply the man is such a ... nuisance that they prefer to keep him in the hands of Ireland."

Mr. Hickton has declined to say whether extradition will be sought on the recent indictments. Extradition is difficult to achieve in Ireland, and Mr. Busby suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. Also, at the time of the indictments, he already was in a Dublin prison awaiting an Oct. 2 extradition hearing sought by Scotland.

Scotland has charged him with sending hoax threats in 2010 that threatened then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a noxious substance, claimed buildings would be bombed and that the English water supply would be contaminated.

Most recently, Mr. Busby was sentenced in 2010 for sending hoax bomb threat emails to Heathrow Airport, according to an Irish Times article. Investigators showed that he sent the emails from computers in a public library in Dublin. Mr. Busby served 18 months of his two-year sentence and was released from a Dublin prison in January, according to the Irish Prison Service.

Mr. Busby, who fled to Ireland in 1980 after being charged with damaging military property, seeks publicity to embolden his small cell of sympathizers, Mr. Leslie said.

"I believe there are about eight in the United Kingdom and more -- up to 20 -- in the U.S.A.," Mr. Leslie said. "These are young people, most likely nationalists of some form, caught up in the excitement of committing terrorist acts in the name of getting 'justice' for Scots and freedom from England.

"Generally these are people who really don't know the fact that Busby is not interested now in achieving for Scotland but is only interested in getting publicity for himself and causing trouble for others. He's a ... menace, but he's dangerous, too."

In 2002, it was widely reported in Great Britain that Mr. Busby was suspected of being the caller to the News of the World who said vials of caustic soda, disguised as aromatherapy oil, had been sent to 16 politically connected women. Mr. Leslie said he was the reporter who received that call and it was indeed Mr. Busby who told him the names of the women who were targeted, among them Cherie Blair, wife of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr. Leslie informed the authorities, including MI5, the British Security Service. No one was injured, and Mr. Busby was not arrested.

"He's charged occasionally and packed off to prison. He comes out of prison and does it all again. They know he thrives on publicity and he wants to get into court so he can get a platform for publicity," Mr. Leslie said.

"It's really a no-win situation for authorities. This will only stop when Busby dies. He will never give up. He is very, very bitter and very, very determined."


Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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