Arrest made for video post, threat to Pitt officials
FBI agents on Wednesday charged an Ohio man with posting a YouTube video that threatened University of Pittsburgh officials, although prosecutors would not say whether they suspect him in the string of bomb threats that disrupted the campus for six weeks in the spring.
Alexander Thomas Waterland, 24, of Loveland erased the hard drive of his desktop computer but left plenty of evidence on two other computers and two smartphones to connect him to the video posted April 26 by “AnonOperative13.”
It claimed that the hacking group Anonymous had stolen the personal information of Pitt students, faculty and alumni and would publicly release the data unless Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg apologized for failing to safeguard student welfare during the bomb scares.
Waterland appeared before a magistrate judge in Cincinnati federal court and was released on his own recognizance on charges of making interstate threats and using a computer to make the threats. He faces a June 27 hearing in Pittsburgh. He could not be reached.
Reached by phone, Amber Luby of Indian Head, Md., confirmed her brother was arrested but declined to discuss him or whether he was connected to Anonymous, a group blamed for hacking incidents and known for international protests.
“I'm not going to incriminate my brother,” Luby said.
The arrest brought some relief to Pitt's campus.
“Whether it's a copycat or someone who wanted to get in on the action, I knew they couldn't hide forever,” said Rob Yetter, 20, of Oakland.
The video was posted five days after the last bomb threat against Pitt.
“The video was weird, like something out of a movie,” said David McMonagh, 22, of Shadyside, a rising senior who twice had to evacuate the Cathedral of Learning. “But I don't think people took it as seriously as the bomb threats.”
Pitt denied it was hacked. Nordenberg said in a press release that the university community is grateful that the federal government has “continued to make this matter a high priority and are pleased that significant progress appears to have been made with respect to this aspect of the investigation.”
U.S. Attorney David Hickton said authorities were still investigating the bomb threats, which prompted 150 evacuations over six weeks. He declined to say whether Waterland is a suspect.
“I can't answer any questions,” Hickton said during a news conference.
A neighbor in Loveland said Waterland told him that he was being investigated for the bomb threats about a month ago. Investigators knocked on the doors of people in the building, said Nate Hostiuck, 27, who lives downstairs from Waterland.
“He said he didn't do it,” Hostiuck said.
Waterland lives on the third floor of a reddish-brown brick building in the Deer Ridge apartment complex in Loveland, a city about 15 miles northeast of Cincinnati.
His wooden balcony — furnished with chairs, a small, round table, a blue telescope pointing at the sky and a wind chime made of CDs — sits higher than the surrounding buildings and overlooks a verdant valley.
Hostiuck said he often would see Waterland smoking a cigarette on the balcony when he came home from work. Waterland does not like to smoke in the apartment, Hostiuck said.
“He's a nice guy. I've had him over for dinner a couple of times,” Hostiuck said.
Rita Bushman, mother of Waterland's pregnant girlfriend, called him “just a good guy” who goes with her daughter Rachel to all of her doctor's appointments. The couple were at one on Tuesday night, she said. She declined to comment on the charges and said the family was focusing on helping Rachel, who is in her 35th week of pregnancy, through a difficult and stressful time.
Waterland graduated from Hershey High School in 2006 and worked as an intern in its computer department in 2010, said Dan Tredinnick, spokesman for the Derry Township School District.
A seven-week investigation connected Waterland to the video, a May 2 comment posted with the video, and a May 14 email to university police, Hickton said.
AnonOperative13 posted three similar YouTube threats between February and April, targeting a Harrisburg company, Alliance Computers; a website called zeptotraining.com; and Georgia College's senate in Milledgeville, Ga., according to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Joseph Ondercin.
Investigators tracked the postings to Internet protocol addresses for the apartment complex where Waterland lives, the Express Scripts in Mason, Ohio, where he worked, and to his sister's house. The threat that originated from his sister's house was made while Waterland was visiting, the affidavit states.
Express Scripts spokesman Brian Henry declined to comment other than to say that Waterland is no longer an employee and the company is cooperating with the investigation.
Nick Jordan, a manager for Alliance Computers, said the company offered Waterland an entry-level job in sales in 2010.
He could not recall anything particularly interesting about Waterland's interview, Jordan said. The FBI talked with company people about Waterland about a week ago. Jordan said he had not connected Waterland with the YouTube threat since there was no reason to think he was upset with the company.
“It's kind of weird because he got a job offer from us,” Jordan said. “He said he had another position. I'm glad somebody's been charged.”
Both Georgia College and State University police Chief Scott Beckner and Tom Davis, the Special Agent in Charge of the Milledgeville branch of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said they had not heard about a video threatening the college.
When FBI agents searched Waterland's apartment on May 23, he told them that he had been expecting them, the affidavit said.
Waterland had wiped all the data off the hard drive of his desktop computer. On his work laptop and another personal computer, however, investigators found numerous Internet searches for Anonymous and visits to the YouTube user page for AnonOperative13.
Waterland's smartphone also contained several images of people wearing the Guy Fawkes masks connected to Anonymous, including some of the images that were used in the video, the affidavit states.
Staff writers Brad Bumsted, Adam Brandolph, Kari Andren, Carl Prine and Bill Vidonic contributed to this report. Brian Bowling and Mike Wereschagin are staff writers for Trib Total Media.