A handful of local Jewish institutions recently received bomb threats which turned out to be hoaxes, according to Shawn Brokos, community security director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Brokos declined to identify the organizations that were targeted but said the bomb threats were transmitted by online contact forms, occurred over the last several weeks and were timed to the High Holidays.
The language in each of the hoaxes has been similar, Brokos said, which has helped Pittsburgh’s Federation, the FBI and the Secure Community Network trace the threats to a single source, she said.
“They [SCN] are a really important piece because they are logging these threats across the country,” Brokos said. “So, if — let’s use Las Vegas as an example — there are synagogues who have received one of these online bomb threats through an online contact form, they’ll have a record of it. SCN is the holder of all these incidents and is able to look really quickly to see if there’s language that matches, emails that match or any type of correlation between what we’re seeing across the country.”
SCN was founded in 2004 under the auspices of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. It serves as the central organization dedicated exclusively to the safety and security of the American Jewish community working with 146 federations, 50 partner organizations and more than 300 independent communities. It also works with the FBI and other law enforcement organizations.
SCN was instrumental in flagging former Pittsburgher Hardy Carroll Lloyd to authorities and detailing many credible threats that led to his indictment in August. Last week, the white supremacist pled guilty to charges related to threats directed to jurors and witnesses during the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial. He will likely be sentenced to more than six years in prison.
Brokos said that the bomb hoaxes in Pittsburgh are similar to those that have occurred across the country recently. According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, there have been nearly 50 threats against Jewish institutions in the last two months across 13 states.
The person making the threats, Brokos said, has avoided detection using a VPN, or virtual private network, and assuming a false identity. Stolen identities can be bought on the dark web.
“They’re assuming a known identity that intentionally directs investigators to that person, but it’s not that person because their data has been compromised,” she explained.
The investigation, Brokos added, is proceeding rapidly.
Leaders of any organization that receives a threat should notify Federation and contact 911 to file a report. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.