A Claysburg man with military computer training sent bomb and water contamination threats from a jail computer, according to Hollidaysburg police.
Adam C. Hardin, 23, formerly of 2250 Right Hand Gap Road, was an inmate at the Blair County Prison when he sent emails to area media on Oct. 23 that contained threats of a bomb at the Blair County Courthouse. Two days later, Oct. 25, Hardin allegedly sent an email to the Mirror that claimed several Altoona Water Authority water sources in the Hollidaysburg area, as well as its transmission system, had been contaminated with a unspecified toxin and that three bombs had been placed around the borough that were set to explode using a random number generator.
Hardin faces 11 charges, including felony and misdemeanor counts of threats to use a weapon of mass destruction, terroristic threats, unlawful use of a computer and criminal use of a communication facility.
Mirror photo by Greg Bock
Adam C. Hardin, 23, of Claysburg is led into Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner’s office in Hollidaysburg on Tuesday to face 11 felonies stemming from threats of bombs and water contamination sent in emails that police said Hardin sent in late October.
Hollidaysburg police Patrolman Henry Fownes said the motive for the threats remains under investigation and that Hardin hacked into a law library computer, which had been set up to restrict inmates from accessing the Internet.
"We believe that Mr. Hardin's training that he received from the Pennsylvania National Guard as well as a local secondary education facility gave him the ability to manipulate the system in a manner that he could send these emails," Fownes said.
Despite his training, police were able to connect Hardin to the threatening emails by examining two computers in the prison's law library, through information supplied by Internet service provider Atlantic Broadband and through Hardin's own bragging in another cases.
But it was a tip from a resident who put investigators on Hardin's trail, Fownes said. A woman contacted police on Oct. 26 with a letter from an inmate who had knowledge of the threats. The letter mentioned the contamination of the water system, although it had been written and mailed before the threat was made, police said.
"Therefore that lent ... credibility for us to follow up on," Fownes said. When police questioned the inmate who sent the letter, he said it was Hardin who emailed the threats. Another inmate who police said was present when Hardin hacked into the law library's computer also said Hardin emailed the threats, as well as accessed Facebook, and told investigators which computer was used, police noted.
Trooper Todd Roby of the state police computer crimes unit was able to tie the email addresses used to make the threats, firstname.lastname@example.org and Ghostapple1234@mail.com, to Hardin's Atlantic Broadband account.
Hardin also tied himself to the crime by using his hacker alias Gate Keeper. Police said Hardin told an investigator from the Fort Indiantown Gap police on Aug. 16 that he had used the alias to hack computers since he was 14 years old.
When Hollidaysburg police asked Hardin about the name Gate Keeper on Oct. 29, Hardin told police the Gate Keeper was a mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades but denied he ever used the handle. Hardin also denied accessing the Internet via the prison's law library computer.
Police in Greenfield Township also told investigators Hardin bragged to them on Aug. 15 that he used the nickname of Gate Keeper when hacking, and state police found a user with the name Gate Keeper had been created on the law library, where Atlantic Broadband records showed as the address from which the threatening emails were sent.
A forensic examination of the law library computer showed Gate Keeper had used web-based email and other evidence that linked Hardin and the computer to the threatening emails, according to police.
Hardin was in jail awaiting trial on several cases in Blair County involving a military Humvee that Hardin had in his possession. The Humvee had been stolen from the Pennsylvania National Guard training center at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County last spring.
Hardin allegedly used the Humvee in several crimes in the Blue Knob area. Hardin was driving the Humvee, full of suspected stolen logging equipment, when he was arrested by Blue Knob State Park police on Aug. 14.
Hardin was in Blair County Prison until Oct. 28 when he was sent to the Mifflin County Prison to face charges involving the alleged theft of military goggles, Fownes told Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner during Hardin's arraignment. Police said Hardin has criminal cases pending in Blair, Cambria, Bedford, Lebanon and Mifflin counties.
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, Hardin smirked as he was led into Aigner's courtroom Tuesday afternoon for his arraignment.
Hardin was polite when questioned by Aigner, telling the judge he was a farmhand who "off and on" lived at the Claysburg address he gave police, that of former neighbors from his days as a foster care child. Hardin said he'd lived outside of Blair County for a time when he was still under the age of 18, spending time in foster care in Greencastle and Chambersburg before moving back when he became an adult.
Hardin also claimed to have a bachelor's degree from South Hills School of Business, but police said he only attended one semester before dropping out. It was after joining the National Guard in 2009 that police said Hardin gained his computer skills, completing 794 hours of training to become an information technology specialist at the U.S. Army Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Ga.
Blair County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said the two law library computers at the prison are set up so inmates can only access West Law, a law research service, but not the greater Internet. The vendor was contacted, and the security breach was fixed, Tomassetti said.
"Those changes have already taken place," said Tomassetti, adding the company added three additional layers of protection to prevent future breaches.
"Nobody has done it before; nobody has done it since," Tomassetti said.
Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio praised the cooperation of multiple agencies, particularly the state police computer crimes unit, in making an arrest. Consiglio said threats such as those in late October are significant, because they put people, including first responders and evacuees, at risk of injury or other calamity.
"I don't think people always think about how serious these things are," Consiglio said.
Fownes said numbers are still coming in as to how much restitution the state will seek in the criminal case, but so far it has topped $10,000.
Hardin is due in court for a preliminary hearing Tuesday and remains in Blair County Prison, with bail set by Aigner at $250,000 cash.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.