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Pitt threat suspect Adam Stuart Busby a 'serial hoaxer,' wannabe terrorist

| Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, 10:28 p.m.
Adam Stuart Busby, 66, indicted for delivering online bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh
Adam Stuart Busby, 66, indicted for delivering online bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh

Adam Stuart Busby is a wannabe terrorist who understands the power of disruption, an international terrorism expert said on Thursday of the self-proclaimed Scottish separatist charged with sending bomb threats to the University of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania federal courthouses.

“This guy was so strange, even the IRA rejected an offer of assistance from him,” said John Horgan, director of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Penn State University. “When an underground terrorist organization refuses your help, you know you're in trouble.”

In two indictments, a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh this week charged Busby, 64, of Dublin with sending the threats that disrupted weeks of classes at Pitt in March and April.

Busby was sentenced to four years in prison in 2010 for using a Dublin public library computer in 2006 to email bomb threats targeting two flights from London Heathrow Airport to New York. The judge suspended the final two years of the sentence, given Busby's age and the fact that he uses a wheelchair because of chronic multiple sclerosis, The Guardian newspaper reported. He was released early this year but is back in custody on a separate warrant.

“To release someone who makes threats to trans-Atlantic airlines on the basis of age is a rather odd decision,” Horgan said. “He's a serial hoaxer. He has a very, very long track record of that. He's someone who knows full well the potential for mass disruption.”

U.S. Attorney David Hickton said Busby had no connection to Pitt, but declined to say what led investigators to start looking at him in mid-April.

Busby emailed the threats between March 30 and April 21, according to the indictment. Officials charged him with 17 counts of wire fraud, 19 counts of maliciously conveying bomb threats, two counts of international extortion and one count of threatening to assault or murder Hickton. The 52 bomb threats Pitt received, including some written on walls that officials did not connect to Busby, forced 136 evacuations and cost more than $300,000.

The emails were sent anonymously and used programs designed to hide their source.

Lance Cottrell, a San Diego computer company executive who wrote one such program called Mixmaster, said it's unlikely the FBI was able to trace the emails back to Busby.

“I've never heard of anyone coming close to the source by actually following it back through the chain,” Cottrell said. “I would expect they probably identified someone through fairly old-fashioned police techniques and then were able to verify they were right after they picked them up. That would be my guess.”

The Scottish National Liberation Army, with which both Busby and his son are affiliated, is a group best known for a letter bomb campaign to British officials in the early 1980s, Horgan said.

“He's been at the heart of the SNLA, but he was never capable of doing anything on a sustained basis,” Horgan said. “They would bubble to the surface just to say, ‘Please pay attention to me. I'm not dead yet.'”

In a third indictment, the grand jury charged Alexander Waterland, 24, of Loveland, Ohio, and Brett Hudson, 26, of Hillsboro, Ohio, with conspiring to post a YouTube video and emails that threatened to release student and faculty personal information unless Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg apologized for “failing” to protect students during the bomb threats.

Busby was arrested on a warrant in July, according to the Irish Prison Services. He is accused of texting and calling in threats to media groups in Edinburgh and Glasgow and a British charity in Glasgow, according to the The Irish Examiner and Scotland's Daily Record.

The threats include bomb threats, a claim that he would contaminate the drinking water supplies of major English towns and a claim that packages of hazardous substances had been sent to various political leaders, the papers reported.

“This has really come out of the blue,” Horgan said. “If any terrorism expert said they saw this coming, they're lying. It's a very unusual development.”

Staff writer Brian Bowling contributedto this report. Margaret Harding isa staff writer for Trib Total Media.She can be reached at 412-380-8519or

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