Pitt bomb threat inquiry reaches to NYC

Internet host refuses to assist FBI agents

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An Internet hosting service visited by FBI agents last week in the probe of bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh has announced that it can't and won't cooperate with the investigation.

In a statement posted on its website, May First/People Link said its director was unable to answer questions posed by two agents who visited the organization's New York City offices on Wednesday but "even if we could cooperate, we wouldn't."

"We will not cooperate with any investigation into the identities, activities or perspectives of any of our members or any of the users of our systems," the statement said, citing a desire to protect "free and unfettered communications" on the Internet.

According to the statement, the director, Jamie McClelland, met agents at the door to the organization's offices in the borough of Brooklyn and they showed him copies of three emailed threats that appeared to have been relayed from a server at May First/People Link. The Internet protocol address on the emails was assigned to ECN, an Internet provider in Italy that runs a server that sends anonymous emails.

"The agents asked Jamie questions about these emails. He couldn't answer their questions and still can't. We have no control over that server and no access to it and since it is an anonymous email server, there is no record of who is using it. We simply cannot cooperate because we have no information to share," the statement said.

Representatives for Pitt and the FBI declined comment Sunday. Attempts to reach Mr. McClelland were unsuccessful.

The investigation into the numerous threats against Pitt buildings that have occurred over the past month has been complicated by the existence of computer servers that make it possible to send email anonymously, with its origin extremely difficult or impossible to trace.

May First/People Link is an Internet host that caters to progressive organizations and labor unions. The organization "is like a co-op: as members, we pay dues, buy equipment and then we all use that equipment as we need to for websites, email, email lists, and just about everything else we do on the Internet," its website says.

In the statement regarding the FBI probe, the organization said it "considers the use of our Internet resources to make violent threats or carry on campaigns that threaten or facilitate violence to be unacceptable and unworthy of support. Not only does most of our membership oppose that type of activity but its propagation over our servers puts our organization and each of its members in severe jeopardy. This is not the purpose of the Internet.

"At the same time, it's the Internet's purpose that drives our unwavering and consistent position on this type of investigation. The Internet was created for free and unfettered communications and any infringement on the privacy, activities or free speech of anyone is in complete contradiction to that ...

"We believe that the future of the world and the survival of the human race depend on the open, uninterrupted and unfettered communication among the people of the world. We will strongly resist any attempt by anyone, including governments, to mitigate that kind of communication or to use the systems of communication as an investigative or repressive tool," it concludes.

Several responses posted to the site by current and former Pitt students were critical of the statement. "This isn't about free speech ... this is about terroristic threats and your inability to cooperate to help stop them is just wrong," said one writer who claimed to be a Pitt grad.

After the original statement was posted, a May First/People Link technician removed the references to ECN, writing that he did so at Mr. McClelland's request but offering no explanation. Unredacted versions could be found elsewhere on the Internet.

education - neigh_city - crime

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.


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