The FBI has arrested a Houston man who allegedly tried to purchase explosives from the dark web, according to court documents unsealed in the Southern District of Texas on Monday. Cary Lee Ogborn, 50, is charged with attempting to transport explosives with the intent they be used to kill, injure, or intimidate an individual or damage or destroy a building or vehicle.
The arrest was largely due to the work of an undercover agent who posed as an explosives seller on the dark web marketplace AlphaBay, showing that, even in the age of easy-to-use anonymization technology, old-school policing tactics are still highly effective at catching suspects.
According to the complaint, on August 21, an FBI Online Covert Employee (OCE)—essentially an undercover agent—located outside Houston logged into an AlphaBay vendor account they were running and opened an unsolicited private message from a user called "boatmanstv."
"looking for wireless transmitter with detonator," the message read. "Everything I need to set of a 5 gallon can of gas from a good distance away [sic]."
The pair started a rapport, and boatmanstv went into some detail about what he wanted to do with the explosives.
"Dont need big explosion, just need to make sure building 20 ft x 40 ft made of wood burns to the ground, I dont have a problem with being close buy," he wrote, adding, "P.S. can you get dynamite in sticks of ¼ sticks?"
The OCE, in clearly faked broken English, offered to sell a selection of different explosives, and the conversation carried on for around two weeks, also crossing over to boatmanstv's email account. Eventually, boatmanstv placed an order for a fragmentation grenade, dynamite, and trigger for approximately $600.
"The idea we have for this person is, while he sleeping we put grenade in back of truck and run to our car 20 or 30 meters away, then the truck blow up, he heres truck blow up and come outside while he outside we blow up house," boatmanstv explained to the undercover agent. According to the complaint, boatmanstv's AlphaBay profile had placed 32 orders on the marketplace, totalling over $15,000 worth of goods. (The complaint doesn't say what the rest of these items were, but in other conversations with the undercover agent boatmanstv mentions purchasing ecstasy.
Boatmanstv provided the agent with a P O Box address in Houston to send the goods.
FBI analysis of boatmanstv's Outlook email account found that the user had been emailing pictures of himself to other accounts. One of those accounts was affiliated with a boat repairing business run by Cary Lee Ogborn, as was a phone number linked to the P O Box. Finally, physical surveillance identified Ogborn as the individual who picked up the package sent by the FBI.
About half an hour after opening the package, Ogborn was arrested, according to the complaint.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.