Members of a shadowy group of computer hackers, including one in prison, tried to obstruct an FBI investigation and harassed a government tipster with emailed threats, attacks online, and even sex toys sent to his home address, according to a court document.
The allegations were included in a search warrant, authorizing agents to search the houses and seize computer equipment of four suspected members of a group known as the Electronik Tribulation Army.
ETA’s former leader, Jesse William McGraw, of Arlington, pleaded guilty in May in a high-tech scheme to manipulate the air conditioning system of the Dallas medical clinic where he worked as a security guard.
The 38-page warrant, unsealed Friday, offers a fascinating glimpse into the FBI’s ongoing probe.
The FBI said McGraw, an inmate at the Seagoville Detention Center, targeted the tipster who first alerted authorities to the crime. He was identified as a computer security researcher from Mississippi who writes a blog on hacking.
"This guy is a faggot and I will make him pay for what he did to me," the warrant quoted McGraw as telling his wife in a telephone conversation in March.
In another call, he instructed his sister to "conduct research" on the federal prosecutor and judge involved in his case, according to the document. It did not elaborate.
ETA’s website blared news of the recent FBI raids in red letters. "On the 23rd of June 2010 the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued search warrants on ETA members," it said. "All their computers and electronic devices have been taken for forensic investigation... We are not terrorists. We are freedom fighters."
The message appeared above the group’s motto: "Hack your way through life." As of Monday afternoon the website was no longer online.
The tipster became a target of online threats soon after McGraw’s arrest in June 2009, the FBI said.
"We are still here and we are still watching you," someone wrote on his website. "We will destroy you and everything you live for. You will bow down to ETA and every member from it."
The threats continued after McGraw decided in February to plead guilty, the FBI said.
The tactics included computer attacks and threatening emails and telephone calls, according to the court document.
In early June, the researcher told agents that an ETA member had registered a website "as a platform for harassing me, encouraging others to order sex toys and have them shipped to my home address," the warrant said. He also said the website contained fake obscene images of him.
He said the hacker asked him for money.
"He’s also contacted me to try and sell the domain to me, hoping that I will be disgusted/embarrassed enough to give him money," the researcher said.
No charges have been filed against the suspects whose homes were searched, but in the warrant the FBI said there is probable cause to believe they sought to obstruct justice.
They were identified as:
- Jessica Lee Jones, McGraw’s sister, of Grand Prairie.
- William Houston Giles, of Pittsburg, Kansas, also known as William Premore, the operator of a website design company in Jasper, Missouri.
- Benjamin Earnest Nichols, of Manteca, California.
- Kevin Allen Gibbs, of Hamilton, Ohio.
In a telephone interview, Giles admitted he became leader of the group after McGraw's arrest.
"I pretty much just took over on a leap of faith, thought it would be fun," he said.
He said he left the group four or five months ago and denied harassing the FBI tipster or interfering with the investigation.
He said the FBI searched his apartment and seized his computers.
"The FBI was completely professional," he said. "I don't have any complaints. They were just doing their jobs."
He also said he does not believe he will face criminal charges and that when agents inspect his computer, they will know he did nothing wrong.
"There's nothing there to find that would go against me," he said. "They thought I was someone else."
The other suspects could not be reached for comment.
McGraw has been in custody since his arrest when he reported for work at the Carrell Clinic, a surgical facility on North Central Expressway.
On a hot day in June 2009, McGraw turned off all five of the building’s air-conditioning units for one hour, the FBI said. Buildng managers said they had been having unexplained "problems" with the cooling system for some time.
Prosecutors said his actions could have harmed patients or ruined medicine stored at the facility.
At the time, agents also said he had hacked into computers operated by NASA and the helicopter unit of the Dallas police department.
The evidence against McGraw included a video he recorded of himself at the medical clinic. Even though his face was clearly visible, he posted it online, apparently to impress other hackers.
Under his voice, he added the soundtrack to the TV show "Mission: Impossible."
"You’re on a mission with me," he said. "Infiltration."
Using his unlimited access as a guard, the video showed him walking into the hospital’s computer room late one night and installing malicious software that he bragged would allow him to access the computer remotely over the Internet.
"There’s the file. Drop it, bam," he said. "And there it goes. That’s all I needed."
John Nicholson, a federal public defender representing McGraw, said he does not believe his client tried to interfere with the investigation.
"I have not seen or heard anything that in my opinion rises to the level of obstruction as defined by the law," he said. "However, the ultimate decision is up to the judge."
McGraw faces up to 20 years in prison. His sentencing is set for September.