Posted: 1:41 pm EDT
Updated: 8:09 pm PDT
A State Department employee based at the U.S. Embassy in London was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and is now facing charges of interstate threats, computer fraud, wire fraud, and cyberstalking. The employee identified by news reports and court documents as Michael C. Ford reportedly has a home in Alpharetta, Georgia but has worked at the U.S. Embassy in London since 2009. Typical State Department assignments are normally 3 years, sometimes with one-year extensions. The complaint does not say what work Ford has done at Embassy London or his category of employment.
During the Daily Press Briefing of May 21st, the deputy spokesperson for the State Department informed the press that the individual named in this case was a locally hired administrative support employee who was not a member of the Foreign Service. She also said that as of May 18th, the individual is no longer working at the embassy.
Department of State Employee From Atlanta Area Accused of Sextortion http://t.co/r3y1szXrAs
— Buckhead Patch (@BuckheadPatch) May 21, 2015
The Affidavit (pdf) executed by Eric J. Kasik, Special Agent of the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) says that on or about April 2015, DSS began investigating a target, later determined to be a U.S. Embassy London employee, Michael C. Ford (“FORD”), for allegedly engaging in a computer hacking, cyber stalking, and extortion. We should note that the affidavit is intended to show that there is sufficient probable cause to support the complaint.
According to the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, Diplomatic Security “identified the specific State Department computer that is located at a workstation cubicle located in the U.S. Embassy in London. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy in London told me that the only person who sits at that workstation cubicle and uses that computer is Michael C. Ford. FORD is a U.S. citizen who has worked as an Embassy employee in London since 2009.”
Item #25 on the complaint reiterates what folks already know — that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in any communications or data transiting or stored on the information system of the State Department.
DSS computer specialists have apparently obtained copies of specific documents or files that were allegedly stored on the employee’s computer in London. Court documents cited one document as example: “a spreadsheet that appears to summarize some of FORD’s more recent criminal activities. Along the far left hand column of the spreadsheet is a list of account names for approximately 250 e-mail addresses.” Special Agent Kasik says that “DSS agents have determined that several of the accountholders appear to attend the same college in Indiana, where they belong to the same sorority. One is a 17-year-old. This leads me to believe that FORD may be targeting college-aged women throughout the U.S.”
The alleged MO is described in item #16 of the Kasik affidavit:
16. The target initially sent Jane Doe Two an e-mail message to her Google e-mail account, posing as a Google representative and claiming that Jane Doe Two’s Google e-mail account was going to be deleted unless she provided her password. Jane Doe Two provided her password, as directed. The target then apparently hacked into Jane Doe Two’s Google account, presumably using the stolen password. He then obtained, presumably from Jane Doe Two’s hacked accounts, two or more private photographs of Jane Doe Two of a sexual nature. He also obtained other PII about Jane Doe Two, including her first and last name, her address, where she worked and went to school, and her parent’s first and last names and e-mail addresses. The target then sent Jane Doe Two several threatening e-mail messages to her Google e-mail account. He admitted that he had obtained sexual photographs of Jane Doe Two and sent her the photographs as proof. He then demanded that she provide her current home address and her parents’ contact information and other PII. He warned her that, if she refused, he would e-mail the photographs of her to a list of others, listing the first and last names of several of her acquaintances. The target also threatened to post her photographs online.
The affidavit is available here (pdf) via patch.com/georgia.
WSB-TV2 Atlanta reports that Ford will be in federal court in Atlanta today for a bond hearing and that his attorneys declined to comment at this point in the case. Click her to read the report via AP.
The case is USA v. Ford, CRIMINAL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:15-mj-00386-ECS-1 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).