Texas man sentenced to 10 years for plotting to attack data centers

Published 1:00 pm Friday, October 1, 2021

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A Texas man who plotted to blow up a data center in Virginia was sentenced today to 10 years in federal prison, announced Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Prerak Shah.

Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested in April after attempting to obtain an explosive device from an undercover FBI employee in Fort Worth. He pleaded guilty in June to malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive and was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Reed C. O’Connor.

“The Justice Department is constantly on guard for threats posed by violent domestic extremists,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah. “As this case shows, radicals are lurking on the internet, looking for ways to lash out – and far too often, they move their plans off of the web and into the real world. We are indebted to the FBI employee who put his life on the line to disrupt Mr. Pendley’s plot before he could inflict real harm on data center workers, and are proud of today’s sentence.”

“Seth Aaron Pendley’s sentence is an affirmation of the work the North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force performs around the clock to disrupt threats while keeping our community safe from harm,” said FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno. “The public’s vigilance in reporting suspicious or threatening behavior is key to law enforcement’s ability to take quick action to prevent injuries and the destruction of property.”

In plea papers, Mr. Pendley admitted that he disclosed his plan to blow up an Amazon data center to a confidential source in January.

In late February, he sent the source a list of potential targets and said he hoped a successful attack could “kill off about 70% of the internet.”  When the source offered to help him obtain C4 explosives to use in the attack, Mr. Pendley responded enthusiastically. He later showed the source a hand-drawn map of his chosen data center and described how he planned to disguise his car to evade detection by law enforcement.

In late March, the confidential source introduced Mr. Pendley to an individual who he claimed was his explosives supplier, but was actually an undercover FBI employee. In recorded conversations, Mr. Pendley allegedly told the employee he planned to attack web servers that he believed provided services to the FBI, CIA, and other federal agencies.

“The main objective is to f*** up the Amazon servers,” he said, adding that he hoped to anger “the oligarchy” enough to provoke a reaction that would convince the American people to take action against what he perceived to be a “dictatorship.”

During that same conversation, Mr. Pendley claimed to have been present at the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He said that although he did not enter the building, he came prepared with a sawed off AR rifle, which he left in his car.

On April 8,  Mr. Pendley again met with the undercover FBI employee to pick up what he believed to be explosive devices. (In actuality, however, the undercover gave Mr. Pendley inert devices.) After the employee showed Mr. Pendley how to arm and detonate the devices, the defendant loaded them into his car. He was then arrested.

A subsequent search of his residence in Wichita Falls turned up an AR-15 receiver with a sawed off barrel, a pistol painted to look like a toy gun, masks, wigs, notes, and flashcards related to the planned attack.

The FBI’s Dallas Field Office, Wichita Falls Resident Agency and FBI’s North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Boudreau and Jay Weimer of the Northern District of Texas are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Trial Attorney Alexandra Hughes of the National Security Division.