FBI agents in Texas have arrested Seth Aaron Pendley for an alleged plot to blow up an Amazon data center in Virginia with the goal of taking down the internet.
“Mr. Pendley allegedly told the undercover he planned to attack web servers that he believed provided services to the FBI, CIA, and other federal agencies,” the DOJ said in a press release. “He said he hoped to bring down ‘the oligarchy’ currently in power in the United States.”
According to the Department of Justice, federal authorities learned of Pendley’s plot after one of his friends warned them. Pendley was allegedly active on MyMilitia.com, a website where extremists gather to socialize and plot, where feds say he boasted about his plans.
“A user who went by the screenname ‘Dionysus’ stated he was planning to ‘conduct a little experiment,’ that he said would ‘draw a lot of heat’ and could be ‘dangerous,”’ the DOJ said. “When another user asked what outcome Dionysus desired, he responded, ‘death.’”
In another post, Dionysus said, “I’m not a dumbass suicide bomber.”
The DOJ said that investigators quickly figured out that Dionysus was Pendley and began to search his social media feeds. “In private messages, he allegedly told friends that although he did not actually enter the Capitol building, he did reach the ‘platform,’ where he swiped a piece of glass from a broken window and interacted with police,” the DOJ said. “He said he brought a sawed-off AR rifle to D.C., but left the weapon in his car during his movement to the Capitol.”
According to the DOJ, Pendley began talking over his plans with an FBI informant via Signal in late January. “The source told the FBI that Mr. Pendley allegedly stated he planned to use C-4 plastic explosives to attack prominent tech company's data centers in an attempt to ‘kill of about 70% of the internet,’’ the DOJ said.
“We would like to thank the FBI for their work in this investigation,” An AWS spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. “We take the safety and security of our staff and customer data incredibly seriously, and constantly review various vectors for any potential threats. We will continue to retain this vigilance about our employees and customers.”
If a court finds Pendley guilty, he could face up to 20 years in federal prison.
Pendley’s plan, if it had worked, would not have knocked out around 70% of the internet. “The AWS data places are almost all centrally located,” he said, according to the criminal complaint against him. “They are fucking MASSIVE. I haven’t got all the details worked out.”
Data centers and other pieces of the internet’s physical infrastructure and guarded and distributed across the world. “It might slow things down for a bit,” Ingrid Burrington, author of Networks of New York: An Illustrated Field Guide To Urban Internet Infrastructure, told VICE in 2019. “Whether it actually destroyed or erased any information seems pretty unlikely because there are enough data centers—and data is distributed enough and backed up enough—that in theory that probably would not be a major concern.”
Updated 4/10/21: This story was updated with comment from Amazon.