Texas Man Pleads Guilty in Ashburn Data Center Attack Plot

A Wichita Falls man who plotted to blow up an Amazon data center in Ashburn pleaded guilty Wednesday to malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Northern the District of Texas, Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested in April after attempting to obtain an explosive device from an undercover FBI employee in Fort Worth. 

“Due in large part to the meticulous work of the FBI’s undercover agents, the Justice Department was able to expose Mr. Pendley’s twisted plot and apprehend the defendant before he was able to inflict any real harm,” Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah stated. “We may never know how many tech workers’ lives were saved through this operation—and we’re grateful we never had to find out. Bringing to justice domestic extremists remains one of the Department’s top priorities.”

FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno said, “The FBI thoroughly investigates all credible threats, and The North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force acted quickly based on information received from a concerned citizen. The defendant sought to cause destruction with an explosive and investigators devised a strategy to disrupt the threat while keeping the public safe from harm. We ask the public to stay vigilant and to continue reporting suspicious or threatening behavior to law enforcement.”

As part of the plea, Pendley admitted that he disclosed his plan to blow up a prominent tech company’s data center to an individual via the encrypted messaging app Signal in January.

In late February, he sent that source a list of data center addresses and said he hoped a successful attack could “kill off about 70% of the internet”—a figure likely linked to a marketing phrase used by Loudoun leaders for decades to highlight the scale of traffic passing through tech infrastructure in the county.  When the source offered to help him obtain C4 explosives to use in the attack, Pendley responded, “F*** yeah,” according to the court filings.

Pendley then showed the source a hand-drawn map of a data center on Smith Switch Road featuring proposed routes of ingress and egress at the facility. He later described how he planned to disguise his car to evade detection by law enforcement.

In late March, the confidential source introduced Pendley to an FBI employee posing as his explosives supplier. In recorded conversations, Pendley allegedly told the undercover 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,” according to the filings.

During that same conversation, 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 traveled to DC with a sawed-off AR rifle, which he left in his car.

On April 8,Pendley again met with the undercover FBI employee to pick up what he believed to be explosive devices. After the agent showed 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, TX, turned up an AR-15 receiver with a sawed-off barrel, a pistol painted to look like a toy gun, masks, wigs, and notes and flashcards related to the planned attack.

Pendley now faces a sentence of five to 20 years in federal prison. His sentencing hearing has been set for Oct. 1.

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. Attorney Robert J. Boudreau of the Northern District of Texas is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Trial Attorney Alexandra Hughes of the National Security Division.

8 thoughts on “Texas Man Pleads Guilty in Ashburn Data Center Attack Plot

  • 2021-06-10 at 1:11 pm
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    Why didn’t the Biden/Harris Administration’s DOJ charge this violent criminal with crimes related to the firearms?

    A “Sawed off” AR15, more correctly called a “Short barrel rifle” are illegal without going through a lengthy and costly approval process controlled by the BATF.

    Democrats want to reduce and eventually eliminate law-abiding citizens’ rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment, yet CONSISTENTLY fail to pursue convictions for violent crimes with firearms.

    We don’t need more laws. More restrictions. We need to aggressively punish those who violate the laws we already have.

  • 2021-06-10 at 3:59 pm
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    The person who was involved in this bomb plot should be prosecuted to the fullest. But I wonder why the FBI has not vigorously pursued the hundreds of rioters in Seattle, Portland and other cities who have invaded and torched police precincts and federal facilities, including ICE centers and court houses? It’s as if the FBI isn’t quite as interested in each and every violent act against all federal facilities.

  • 2021-06-11 at 12:16 pm
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    This guy deserves the fast track for induction into the Dumbest Criminals in the World Hall of Fame.

    How the feds kept straight faces while indulging this kid’s fantasy is commendable. None of this was ever going to happen. A “sawed off AR?” That’s a cute new misleading term for an illegal short barreled rifle, as Ace points out; pretty sure that’s worth a dime at Club Fed. Why wasn’t he hammered on that?

    • 2021-06-13 at 1:17 am
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      Probably part of his plea deal to only charge him on the biggest crime. Or it may be that the sentence for a federal weapons conviction would have run concurrent with the explosives conviction, so there wasn’t much point in charging him. I’m sure the could still bring more charges.

      • 2021-06-14 at 12:59 pm
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        If I read the story correctly, he possessed two(2) illegal Short-barreled rifles.
        Each crime is punishable with up to ten (10) years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
        These are significant violations of Federal law.

        Punish the criminals to the fullest extent possible, else do away with the NFA.

  • 2021-06-12 at 8:56 pm
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    He only faced 5-20? That is ridiculous. He should spend the rest of his life in prison. If he had carried out his attack, who knows how many people he could have killed? I have felt for a long time that Loudoun Economic Development clowns bragging about how many data centers are in the county now, with more coming, only teases low IQ people like this guy with a gripe against hi tech. Sooner or later someone will succeed and the internet traffic through Loudoun will come to a standstill. Worse, with terrorists knowing about the glut of data centers here, someone will carry out a 9/11 type of assault on Loudoun. Thanks clueless economic development folks for making us such a target so you can have bragging rights. Fools.

  • 2021-06-14 at 10:13 am
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    The LED folks aren’t to blame ‘Cat. The Dumbest Criminal in the World is to blame. I’ll take a ‘data center’ any day over a new housing development.

    As to the structures themselves, they used to be referred to as internet bunkers. I assume data center has a better rig to it. They are bunkers. Their construction is impressive, and it’s meant to be. Some freak show could (implausibly) disable 10 of them, and nothing would change. The ‘Net is diversified now.

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