A Wichita Falls man who plotted to blow up a data center in Virginia pleaded guilty Wednesday to malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive, announced Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Prerak Shah.
Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested in April after attempting to obtain an explosive device from an undercover FBI employee in Fort Worth. He entered his guilty plea today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hal R. Ray, Jr.
“Due in large part to the meticulous work of the FBI’s undercover agents, the Justice Department was able to expose Mr. Pendley’s twisted plot and apprehend the defendant before he was able to inflict any real harm,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah. “We may never know how many tech workers’ lives were saved through this operation – and we’re grateful we never had to find out. Bringing to justice domestic extremists remains one of the Department’s top priorities.”
FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno said, “The FBI thoroughly investigates all credible threats, and The North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force acted quickly based on information received from a concerned citizen. The defendant sought to cause destruction with an explosive and investigators devised a strategy to disrupt the threat while keeping the public safe from harm. We ask the public to stay vigilant and to continue reporting suspicious or threatening behavior to law enforcement.”
In plea papers, Mr. Pendley admitted that he disclosed his plan to blow up a prominent tech company’s data center to a confidential human source via Signal, an encrypted messaging app, in January.
In late February, he sent the source a list of data center addresses and said he hoped a successful attack could “kill off about 70% of the internet.” When the source offered to help him obtain C4 explosives to use in the attack, Mr. Pendley responded, “F*** yeah.”
Mr. Pendley then showed the source a hand-drawn map of a data center on Smith Switch Road in Virginia, featuring proposed routes of ingress and egress at the facility. He later described how he planned to disguise his car to evade detection by law enforcement.
In late March, the confidential source introduced Mr. Pendley to an individual who he claimed was his explosives supplier. In actuality, the man was an undercover FBI employee.
In recorded conversations, Mr. Pendley allegedly told the undercover employee he planned to attack web servers that he believed provided services to the FBI, CIA, and other federal agencies.
“The main objective is to f*** up the Amazon servers,” he said, adding that he hoped to anger “the oligarchy” enough to provoke a reaction that would convince the American people to take action against what he perceived to be a “dictatorship.”
During that same conversation, Mr. Pendley claimed to have been present at the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He said that although he did not enter the building, he came prepared with a sawed off AR rifle, which he left in his car.
On April 8, Mr. Pendley again met with the undercover FBI employee to pick up what he believed to be explosive devices. (In actuality, however, the undercover gave Mr. Pendley inert devices.) After the agent showed Mr. Pendley how to arm and detonate the devices, the defendant loaded them into his car. He was then arrested.
A subsequent search of his residence in Wichita Falls turned up an AR-15 receiver with a sawed off barrel, a pistol painted to look like a toy gun, masks, wigs, and notes and flashcards related to the planned attack.
Mr. Pendley now faces between five and 20 years in federal prison. His sentencing hearing has been set for Oct. 1 before U.S. District Judge Reed C. O’Connor.
The FBI’s Dallas Field Office, Wichita Falls Resident Agency and FBI’s North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Boudreau of the Northern District of Texas is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Trial Attorney Alexandra Hughes of the National Security Division.
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