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August 30, 2012

Scottish nationalist indicted in emailed bomb threats

While questions remain about who scrawled bomb threats on bathroom walls on campus last spring, a federal grand jury has indicted a Scottish nationalist in connection with emailed bomb threats against the University and threats against federal courthouses and a federal officer.

In a separate indictment, a pair of Ohio men were charged with conspiracy in relation to videos posted on YouTube that threatened to release confidential information allegedly stolen from University computers. (See related story, this issue.)

Accompanied by Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg and Doug Perdue, special agent in charge of the FBI Pittsburgh office, U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton in an Aug. 15 press conference announced the charges against Adam Stuart Busby, 64, of Dublin, Ireland: 17 counts of wire fraud, 16 counts of maliciously conveying false information and two counts of international extortion.

The indictment stated that between March 30 and April 21 Busby targeted the Pittsburgh campus in more than 40 emailed threats sent to news media, Pitt employees and affiliates and others in the area.

The indictment also charged Busby with international extortion for emails sent on April 10 through a computer server in Austria and on April 20 through a server in the Netherlands that promised the threats against the University would cease if Nordenberg withdrew a $50,000 reward offered for information on those responsible for the threats.

Hickton would not speculate on a motive, adding that Busby has no apparent connection to the University.

A separate indictment against Busby charges that on June 20 and 21 he used the Internet to falsely claim that bombs had been placed at federal courthouses in Pittsburgh, Erie and Johnstown and that he threatened to assault or murder Hickton.

Hickton said Busby had been a suspect since mid-April but would not go into detail.

“It took painstaking efforts to trace the origin of these anonymous email threats. The investigation involved the service of search warrants upon various entities providing Internet services both within the United States and Europe. The cooperation of our international partners, including in particular the Metropolitan Police Service Counterterrorism Command, was crucial for our ability to obtain information from overseas,” he said.

Analysis of the information involved thousands of hours of “detailed meticulous work,” Hickton said, adding, “We will not be more specific as revealing further details might jeopardize our abilities to solve future cases of this nature.”

Hickton said the maximum penalty for each count of wire fraud is 20 years in prison; maliciously conveying false information carries a 10-year maximum sentence, and extortion and threats carry maximums of two years in prison. The maximum fine on each count of these crimes — all of them felonies — is $250,000.

Hickton said Busby is in custody in Ireland on unrelated charges but would not offer details.

According to published reports, Busby — dubbed the Tartan Terrorist in the United Kingdom — is the founder of the Scottish National Liberation Army, which seeks independence from the U.K.  He has a history of making hoax threats as well as real attacks involving letter bombs. Published reports state he was convicted in Dublin in July of sending emails that claimed bombs had been placed on a pair of transatlantic flights to New York from Heathrow Airport and that he is facing charges of calling in other bomb hoaxes and threatening to poison water supplies in England.

Hickton acknowledged that the University was targeted by multiple “threat streams,” including copycats.

While Busby has been charged in connection with threats sent via the Internet, those emailed threats were preceded by other bomb threats found scrawled on campus restroom walls.

Hickton would not discuss the scope of other investigations or other individuals who might be charged, nor would Pitt Police Chief Timothy Delaney comment on the written threats.

Hickton did offer kudos to the Allegheny County district attorney’s office for its prosecution of a man accused of making unrelated threats to Pitt professors in the midst of the campus bomb threats.

Mark Lee Krangle, 66, of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., was arrested April 11 as he arrived at the Pittsburgh International Airport after allegedly making threats to Pitt professors. (See April 19 University Times.)

Krangle was charged with two counts of harassment and one count of terroristic threats. He had been in the Allegheny County Jail since April 12 unable to post $50,000 bail. He pleaded guilty to one of the harassment counts; the other two charges were withdrawn. Krangle was sentenced Aug. 9 in Allegheny County Court to time served.

Nordenberg said the University received 52 separate threats that targeted 160 buildings, causing 136 evacuations.

The chancellor expressed thanks to the many law enforcement agencies and government officials for their assistance. “Everyone in the University of Pittsburgh community is deeply grateful for the many forms of help that were extended to us while our campus was under siege,” he said. Commending faculty, staff and students for pitching in and supporting one another, he paid special notice to the Pitt police, Student Affairs staff and information technology specialists — units that had faced particularly daunting demands — as well as to the University’s senior management team, the Board of Trustees and board chair Stephen R. Tritch, who Nordenberg said was “a regular source of good counsel.”

In dealing with the threats, Nordenberg said he listened to advice from law enforcement and discussed the issues with his senior staff and with Tritch. “In the end though, the decisions were mine to make,” he said.

The chancellor explained why he acceded to emailed demands to withdraw the $50,000 reward in order to halt the threats. He said the initial demand, sent April 10, was crudely crafted and contained factual errors. “As we examined that message and discussed it as a group I don’t think there was anyone who believed that it was worthy of a serious response,” he said.

“When the second email of this type came in a couple of weeks later, it was a very different message. It began by offering to demonstrate that the author was in fact the source of the threats by ensuring that there would be not threats for a 24-hour period. And as we thought about that, there obviously is the threshold question of whether you ever respond to a threatening message of this type.”

Nordenberg said he decided he would monitor what happened over that 24-hour period and as the end approached without additional threats, made the decision to remove the reward offer from Pitt’s web site.

The final threat — made to multiple buildings on campus — came on the morning of April 21.

Nordenberg noted that the University spent more than $300,000 on such expenses as hiring additional security guards, procuring equipment to detect explosives and paying overtime to police officers and facilities managers in response to the threats — a figure he said likely would rise. “And the expense does not include things like lost faculty and staff time, lost opportunities for students or time and talent invested by other law enforcement in helping the University,” he said.

Whether Pitt will seek restitution from Busby remains unclear. Nordenberg said that would be a practical matter dependent on whether Busby had sufficient assets to make it worth Pitt’s effort to pursue such an action.

John Fedele, associate director of News, told the University Times, “Any restitution will be a matter of eventual prosecution and sentencing determinations.”

Nordenberg said the timing of the indictments — before the start of the new academic year — was “very beneficial to the University.”

The effect on enrollment remains to be seen. He said: “Among the students already enrolled at the University who actually were forced to endure this experience, there seemed to be a sense of greater connection to Pitt, so that when we look at measures like freshman-to-sophomore retention, we actually think those numbers will be as high as they ever have been this fall.”

Recruitment of new students may have suffered, he said. “Remember that these threats were being received at the very time of the year that is most critical to the student recruitment process,” he said. “Students who have been admitted often are making their last visit to a campus with their parents and trying to decide between their universities of choice. I can’t quantify it and I’m not sure that it will be significant but it would surprise me if there is not some kind of impact on the entering freshman class this fall.”

A link to Nordenberg’s press conference remarks is posted on the chancellor’s page at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, flanked by U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton and Doug Perdue, special agent in charge of the FBI Pittsburgh office, answers questions at an Aug. 15 news conference at which federal indictments were announced against three men accused of threats to the University.

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, flanked by U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton and Doug Perdue, special agent in charge of the FBI Pittsburgh office, answers questions at an Aug. 15 news conference at which federal indictments were announced against three men accused of threats to the University.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 45 Issue 1

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