More details are surfacing about why Blogetery.com, a blogging platform that claimed to service more than 70,000 blogs, was mysteriously booted from the Internet by its Web-hosting company.
The site was shut down after FBI agents informed executives of Burst.net, Blogetery's Web host, late on July 9 that links to al-Qaeda materials were found on Blogetery's servers, Joe Marr, chief technology officer for Burst.net, told CNET. Sources close to the investigation say that included in those materials were the names of American citizens targeted for assassination by al-Qaeda. Messages from Osama bin Laden and other leaders of the terrorist organization, as well as bomb-making tips, were also allegedly found on the server.
But Marr said a Burst.net employee erred in telling Blogetery's operator and members of the media that the FBI had ordered it to terminate Blogetery's service. He said Burst.net did that on its own.
This past weekend, reports surfaced that Blogetery was shut down by the federal government and suggested that it was likely due to copyright violations. On Sunday, CNET reported that the shutdown had nothing to do with copyright violations and that a similar service, Ipbfree.com, a platform for message boards, was shuttered within days of Blogetery. It is still unclear why Ipbfree was cut off.
The disappearance of the sites has prompted users of each service to complain about the closures and speculate about possible reasons. Some guesses were more wild than others.
Many speculated that the FBI was using the Patriot Act to silence bloggers. But Marr emphasized that the FBI has never ordered Burst.net to stop service to any site it hosts without a court order and that the vast majority of Burst.net's communication with the federal government has involved agents serving warrants related to terrorist or child porn investigations.
"They have to go through the legal system," Marr said. "A judge has to issue an order."
Marr said the FBI contacted Burst.net and sent a Voluntary Emergency Disclosure of Information request. The letter said terrorist material, which presented a threat to American lives, was found on a server hosted by Burst.net and asked for specific information about the people involved.
In the FBI's letter, the agency included a clause that says Web hosts and Internet service providers may voluntarily elect to shut down the sites of customers involved in these kinds of situations. The Burst.net employee who handled the request erroneously believed that the FBI would want to seize the customer's server and thus the employee cut off service to Blogetery. Marr said the FBI, however, never asked for the server.
Marr said that regardless of the mix-up, Blogetery's service was terminated because bomb-making tips and a "hit list" are an obvious and absolute violation of its terms of service.
The FBI's request invoked 18 USC 2702, a portion of federal law that allows providers to voluntarily disclose information to police in some circumstances.
Under this, the FBI has the right to ask that an Internet service provider to turn over information immediately--without being compelled by a court order--when the agency has reason to believe that lives may be threatened. The request also compels an ISP not to discuss the investigation.
A source with knowledge of the investigation said that the material allegedly found on Blogetery's server is connected to an online magazine called "Inspire," which debuted recently. Numerous news outlets reported over the past weekend that "Inspire" is designed to help recruit new members to al-Qaeda and is edited by Samir Khan, a 24-year-old North Carolina man who moved to Yemen last October. According to Fox News, the title of one article was "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."
Citing intelligence sources, Fox reported that Khan is Web savvy and his magazine represents "al-Qaeda's most ambitious terrorist recruitment tool to date."