Charges put a face to Pitt bomb threats
David Hickton (center) with Doug Perdue and Mark Nordenberg, Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh.
Adam Busby in an undated photo provided by authorities.
People wait along South Bellefield Avenue in March after being evacuated from the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh because of a bomb threat, one of many that had interrupted classes for months.
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A 64-year-old, wheelchair-using Scottish man from Dublin, who already has served a prison sentence for emailing hoax bomb threats, was indicted Wednesday as the person responsible for emailing a series of 40 false bomb threats targeting the University of Pittsburgh during the spring semester.
A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh also charged the suspect, Adam Stuart Busby, with sending emailed bomb threats to federal courthouses in Pittsburgh, Erie and Johnstown and with threatening U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton.
Speaking at a news conference announcing the indictments, Mr. Hickton said Interpol had been alerted to the federal warrant charging Mr. Busby, who currently is in custody in Dublin on a Scottish warrant for similar crimes there. He would not speculate on any timetable for extraditing Mr. Busby from Ireland to face prosecution.
Mr. Busby is charged with 20 counts of wire fraud, 16 counts of maliciously conveying false information, two counts of international extortion and one count of threatening a federal officer. All are felonies with maximum penalties ranging from 20 years in prison for wire fraud to two years in prison for international extortion.
Mr. Busby had been a suspect since mid-April in the investigation by the region's Joint Terrorism Task Force, made up of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, Mr. Hickton said. Mr. Busby had no known ties to Pitt or Pittsburgh, he added.
But the biggest questions surrounding the series of threats, including what prompted the threats and why Pitt was targeted, remained publicly unanswered Wednesday. Despite repeated questions from reporters, Mr. Hickton refused to discuss a motive in the case.
"We don't get into the minds of criminals," he said. "We do our jobs, investigate the case and bring charges."
According to The Irish Times, Mr. Busby has multiple sclerosis and is a leader of the Scottish National Liberation Army, which seeks independence for his homeland. He recently was released from prison on a 2010 conviction in Ireland for emailing two false bomb threats in 2006 to Heathrow Airport in London. Those threats, which cited specific international flights, claimed to be from the Scottish National Liberation Army, according to the Times.
Since last month Mr. Busby has been held in custody in Dublin on a European Union warrant seeking his extradition to Scotland for additional charges of sending false threats, according to Irish media outlets. He is charged with making hoax threats in 2010, mostly by email to media organizations, that threatened then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a noxious substance, and claimed buildings would be bombed and that the English water supply would be contaminated, Irish news media reported.
In 1997 he was convicted of making threatening phone calls to the Press Association in Scotland and the Scottish Daily Record. He was sentenced to two years on each count, according to the Times.
The SNLA was made illegal in Ireland in 2005 and the organization has been responsible for bombs, letter bombs and anthrax threats over the years, according to the Times.
Similar to the European emailed hoaxes, the bomb threats involving Pitt were mostly emailed to Pittsburgh media outlets, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Sent between March 30 and April 21, they caused 136 evacuations of Pitt buildings, including dormitories, at all daytime and nighttime hours, disrupting the rhythms of college life.
The incidents stopped only when the university rescinded a $50,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person or people responsible. An email to the Pitt news signed by "The Threateners" took responsibility for the threats and reiterated an earlier demand that Pitt withdraw the reward.
Investigators were initially hamstrung by the use of technology in the threats. Most were emailed to news media using anonymous remailers in European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden that require little technical knowledge to utilize but make it virtually impossible to trace, according to cybersecurity specialists.
"It took painstaking efforts to trace the origin of these anonymous email threats," Mr. Hickton said. "The investigation involved the service of search warrants upon various entities providing Internet services both within the United States and Europe.
"The analysis of the information so obtained consumed thousands of hours and involved detailed, meticulous work. We will not be more specific as revealing further details might jeopardize our ability to solve future cases of this nature."
The first six bomb threats at Pitt in the spring semester -- on Feb. 13 and March 14, 19, 22 and twice on the 28th -- were much more low-tech -- scrawled on the walls of men's and women's restrooms in university buildings. Authorities have not identified who they think is responsible for those threats.
Two Cambria County residents who said they were told in mid-April they were persons of interest in the probe said Thursday the indictment of Mr. Busby showed they were telling the truth about their innocence.
Seamus Johnston, 22, a transgender man, and Katherine Anne McCloskey, 56, a transgender woman, were subpoenaed to the grand jury in mid-April and had computers and documents seized. Mr. Johnston had been a junior honors student at Pitt's Johnstown campus, majoring in computer science but was expelled in January after being arrested for repeatedly using the men's locker room despite being told not to do so.
"I kept telling everybody we didn't have anything to do with it. Maybe they'll believe us [now]," Ms. McCloskey said. "Why were they raiding our house with guns drawn [if they had a suspect]?"
"I don't know if this guy is more responsible than I was," Mr. Johnston said. "If it was him, I hope there's justice. I am upset about [how I was treated], but I'll get over it."
A separate one-count indictment also returned Wednesday named two Ohio men as others who also made threats against Pitt. Between April 25 and May 23, Alexander Waterland of Loveland and Brett Hudson of Hillsboro targeted Pitt with interstate threats claiming to be affiliated with the hacking group Anonymous, according to the indictment.
First Published August 16, 2012 12:00 am