The Other McCain

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Death by SWATting: A Former Target’s Thoughts About a Deadly ‘Prank’

Posted on | December 31, 2017 | Comments Off on Death by SWATting: A Former Target’s Thoughts About a Deadly ‘Prank’

Tyler Barriss was arrested for a deadly SWATting incident this week.

SWATting is attempted murder. In 2013, I was the target of a SWATting, which is a type of hoax in which someone (usually using online services that can mimic a telephone number) calls 911 to make a false report of a violent crime at an address, typically claiming to have murdered someone and threatening further violence. This results in police dispatching a heavily armed SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team to the residence.

Now, SWATting has claimed its first life, an innocent Kansas man who happened to live at an address that a Call of Duty player wrongly believed was the residence of another player he was angry at:

Blue and red lights flashed outside of the McCormick Street house just after 6 p.m. on Thursday. Curious of what was going on, Andrew Finch, 28, opened the door.
“I heard my son scream, I got up and then I heard a shot,” his mother, Lisa Finch, said Friday morning.
Finch and other relatives invited reporters into their home Friday morning — more than 12 hours after Wichita police said an officer fatally shot a 28-year-old man, who was identified by family as Andrew “Andy” Finch. . . .
On Thursday, Deputy Wichita Police Chief Troy Livingston said a substation received a call that there was a hostage situation in a house in the 1000 block of West McCormick — and that someone had been shot in the head. . . .
Online gamers have said in multiple Twitter posts that the shooting was the result of a “swatting” call involving two gamers.
Andrew Finch was not involved in the online game, according to his mother and people in the gaming community.
“He doesn’t play video games,” Finch said. “He has better things to do with his time.”

The suspected 25-year-old SWATter was arrested in California:

Los Angeles police on Friday arrested Tyler Barriss, who law enforcement claimed is the “prankster” who called 911 and made up a story about a kidnapping in Wichita, ABC 7 reported. . . .
In the audio of the 911 call, the caller claimed his father had been shot in the head and that he was holding his mother and a sibling at gunpoint. The caller added that he poured gasoline inside the home and “might just set it on fire.” . . .
Dexerto, an online news service focused on gaming, reported that the series of events began with an online argument over a $1 or $2 wager in a “Call of Duty” game on UMG Gaming, which operates online tournaments including one involving “Call of Duty.” . . .
The FBI estimates that roughly 400 cases of swatting occur annually, with some using caller ID spoofing to disguise their number.

Tyler Barriss was arrested in October 2015 for making bomb threats to KABC-TV in Los Angeles. Barriss was charged with two felony counts of a false report of a bomb to an agency of business and one felony count of criminal threats, which raises the question, why wasn’t he in prison? Are prosecutors and courts not taking such crimes seriously?

Although SWATting originated as a “prank” in the online gaming community, this dangerous tactic has also been used as a form of political terrorism. This was what Patrick “Patterico” Frey believed happened to him. Frey had written about convicted bomber-turned-progressive activist Brett Kimberlin, and also about the 2011 Anthony Weiner sexting scandal. In July 2011, Frey was SWATted, which became part of a very complex story that attracted my attention in May 2012, and led eventually to a SWATing directed at me in March 2013.

Mir Islam was sentenced to prison for SWATting.

In July 2016, a 22-year-old New York man named Mir Islam was sentenced to federal prison in that case. He also targeted many others, including tech writer Brian Krebs, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association and a University of Arizona cheerleader that Islam spent months cyberstalking. As I wrote at the time of Islam’s sentencing:

What the reader should ask themselves is this question: “Why would the NRA president, a conservative blogger like Stacy McCain, and a tech security guy like Brian Krebs all be targeted by Mir Islam (and his yet-to-be-identified co-conspirators) in 2013?”
While the reader is speculating on that, let me add a very curious fact: I wasn’t living at the address that was SWATted in March 2013.
In May 2012, after I started reporting on the Brett Kimberlin case, concern for my family’s safety caused me to move to “an undisclosed location” outside Maryland. However, certain people who were allied with Brett Kimberlin — among them, deranged cyberstalker Bill Schmalfeldt — went to extraordinary lengths to defame me, and one of their character-assassination tactics was to claim that I had lied about moving out of state. Over and over, these allies of Brett Kimberlin falsely claimed online that I was still living at my former address in Maryland.
And guess which address was SWATted in March 2013?
Yep. A young couple with an infant daughter was living at my family’s former address, and the terrifying ordeal of being confronted in the middle of the night by a heavily armed police tactical unit was a trauma that they will never forget. Who is ultimately to blame for that incident?

Just as in the Wichita case that led to the death of Andrew Finch this week, the 2013 SWATting targeted at me involved the wrong address, so that innocent people who never had anything to do with my enemies were confronted by armed police in the middle of the night. Journalists who use “prank” to describe SWATting are seriously misrepresenting a very dangerous crime. Patterico argues that the SWATter in the Wichita case should be charged with murder, after hearing a man believed to be Barris being interviewed about this deadly incident:

The lack of remorse or empathy is infuriating if not surprising.
If you believe his story, he was not involved in the argument that precipitated the SWATting. Two gamers were playing Call of Duty online and got into an argument. One gamer (we’ll call him Gamer #1) gave a fake address to the other gamer (we’ll call him Gamer #2) and challenged Gamer #2 to SWAT him. Gamer #2 then contacted the SWATter and said, basically, some guy gave me an address and thinks he isn’t going to get SWATted. Want to prove him wrong? The SWATter said sure; after all, he SWATs people all the time. Then Gamer #1 contacted the SWATter on Twitter and taunted him, further spurring the SWATter to make the SWATting call.
If this story is to be believed, several other people were involved in this incident, from the police officer who fired the fatal shot, to Gamer #1 who provided the fake address, to Gamer #2 who solicited the SWATting.
But never mind all that. If it’s Barriss, I want him to go down for murder.

Reporting by Brian Krebs indicates that Barriss was behind the handles “SWauTistic” and “GoredTutor36” on Twitter:

KrebsOnSecurity managed to obtain several weeks’ worth of tweets from Swautistic before his account was renamed. Those tweets indicate that Swautistic is a serial swatter — meaning he has claimed responsibility for a number of other recent false reports to the police.
Among the recent hoaxes he’s taken credit for include a false report of a bomb threat at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that disrupted a high-profile public meeting on the net neutrality debate. Swautistic also has claimed responsibility for a hoax bomb threat that forced the evacuation of the Dallas Convention Center, and another bomb threat at a high school in Panama City, Fla, among others.
After tweeting about the incident extensively this afternoon, KrebsOnSecurity was contacted by someone in control of the @GoredTutor36 Twitter account. GoredTutor36 said he’s been the victim of swatting attempts himself, and that this was the reason he decided to start swatting others.
He said the thrill of it “comes from having to hide from police via net connections.” Asked about the FCC incident, @GoredTutor36 acknowledged it was his bomb threat. “Yep. Raped em,” he wrote.
“Bomb threats are more fun and cooler than swats in my opinion and I should have just stuck to that,” he wrote. “But I began making $ doing some swat requests.”

If this is true — that Barriss was a serial hoaxer, who targeted a federal agency and was actually paid for SWATting other people — his arrest should be the beginning of a serious crackdown on such crimes. As my friend Pete Da Tech Guy points out, the mainstream media ignored the menace of SWATting five years ago, when conservatives were being targeted for harassment. Perhaps they’ll pay attention now.



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