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FBI seizes Internet host from N.Y. 'remailer' center

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Saturday, April 21, 2012, 2:47 p.m.
 

The FBI seized a computer server from a New York Internet host through which at least three bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh were relayed, the host said on Thursday.

Officials at May First/People Link said the FBI removed the server about 4 p.m. on Wednesday on a federal warrant. An Italian Internet service provider, the European Counter Network, operated an anonymous email service on the server. Jamie McClelland, co-director of May First/People Link, said the server stored more than 300 email accounts, up to 80 email lists and websites serving groups from Latin America to Europe.

The FBI could not be reached.

WPXI-TV reported federal agents on Wednesday also raided the home of a Cambria County couple who have testified in a grand jury investigation into the threats. Seamus Johnston and Katherine McCloskey told the station the agents took a laptop, desktop computer, CDs, a router and a cable modem. Johnston and McCloskey could not be reached. They have denied involvement in the threats.

Authorities cleared 13 Pitt buildings yesterday in the latest in an ongoing series of bomb threats that have triggered more than 110 evacuations since Feb. 13. The threats have been delivered by email and in handwritten messages. Authorities have not found explosives.

More than 700 liberal and union-oriented organizations from around the world pool their resources through May First/People Link to pay for Internet hosting equipment and expenses. The server the FBI seized was housed in a New York building that May First shared with Riseup Networks, which says on its website that it offers hosting services for groups similar to those that use May First.

At least three of the Pitt bomb threats came via a service provided by ECN, one of May First's members. The service facilitates an anonymous remailer program called Mixmaster that makes emails all but impossible to trace. Mixmaster bounces encrypted emails through a global network of servers. The servers typically don't store information about the emails that pass through them, according to Lance Cottrell, who wrote Mixmaster.

"We sympathize with the University of Pittsburgh community who have had to deal with this frightening disruption for weeks. We oppose such threatening actions. However, taking this server won't stop these bomb threats. The only effect it has is to also disrupt email and websites for thousands of unrelated people," said Devin Theriot-Orr, a Riseup spokesman.

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