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DOX: The FBI’s 2008 investigation of Anonymous and its attacks on the Church of Scientology

A new release of government documents shows that the FBI took very seriously the Church of Scientology’s complaints about the Anonymous movement when it burst on the scene in January 2008, and the law enforcement agency spent months trying to find, in particular, the person who sent more than 20 letters to Southern California Scientology churches that contained a white powder.

We have two FBI files for you to pore through today, at 268 and 180 pages they’re additional releases that we’re getting thanks to journalist Emma Best, who is suing the FBI over numerous document requests she has made.

(The rise of Anonymous has been documented heavily, and we recommend McGill University professor Gabriella Coleman’s 2014 book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous as the most readable version of it.)

On January 14, 2008, a bizarre 9-minute video of Tom Cruise was first posted to YouTube by Mark Bunker which quickly began to proliferate and within days was gaining millions of views in various places, and Church of Scientology lawyers tried, in vain, to get the video pulled down. (See our history of that video, which was actually part of a 2004 Scientology celebration of Cruise.)


Here’s how Newsweek described what happened next…

Now, a loose-knit consortium of hackers and activists calling itself “Anonymous” has declared “war” on the organization. In a creepy YouTube clip addressed to the “leaders of Scientology,” a robotic voice announces “with the leakage of your latest propaganda video into mainstream circulation, the extent of your malign influence over those who trust you as leaders has been made clear to us. Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed.”

Anonymous responded to Scientology’s attempt to pull down the Cruise video with a massive, leaderless campaign of pranks and harassment, which Newsweek described as “phone, fax and e-mail spamming, ‘Google bombing’ (rigging searches so the church’s official site is the first result on a search for, say, ‘dangerous cult’), flooding the news aggregator with anti-Scientology articles and launching ‘distributed denial of service attacks’ — the illegal practice of using networks of computers to bombard the church’s various Web sites and servers with bogus requests for data, causing them to crash.”

Scientology complained that it was under attack by a “terrorist” organization, and Newsweek reported on the mailing of the white-powder letters: “Last week a suspicious white powder was mailed to several church locations in Southern California, and the FBI is investigating whether the mailings are connected to previous hacking. On its Web site and in the local press, Anonymous has denied sending the powder.”

Now we have the documents showing that the FBI did take the church’s complaints very seriously.

On January 30, 2008, 25 envelopes arrived at Scientology facilities in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties which contained the white powder. The file documents how each of them was handled, and the interviews that the agency did of the Scientology workers who had received and handled them. The FBI suspected that the white-powder envelopes were all mailed in Santa Clarita on Jan 29, 2008, but tests by the FBI’s crime lab showed that the powder was probably just starch. Fingerprints and DNA samples were obtained from the envelopes, but they didn’t match anyone on crime databases, and no one was ever arrested.

The file we have today actually starts with the FBI’s investigation in San Diego, where no white powder had been received, but the church had been subjected to harassing emails, phone calls, and faxes.

“The San Diego church offices have also received black facsimiles. The church has received 20 to 30 of these facsimiles. They included images of Guy Fawkes (17th century Englishman notorious for plotting to blow up parliament as part of an extremist Catholic campaign against Protestant rule), various cartoons, et cetera, all of which had the result of consuming a large amount of ink.”

The San Diego Scientologists were also concerned about a suspicious incident involving a woman and a backpack. According to the file, the FBI was told the woman might be someone who was a “chronic picketer” of the church.

“[Redacted] thought that the description of the unidentified female was consistent with a chronic picketer of the church named [redacted] has picked the church in San Diego for several years. She has also traveled to Los Angeles to participate in picketing activity against the church located there. She has been seen picketing in a [redacted] thought he saw someone in a [redacted] at the [redacted] protests at the San Diego church, which may have been [redacted] couldn’t provide any definite identifiers for [redacted] but thought that she was mentioned on a website identified as She may also be living at an address on [redacted] in San Diego.”

When we read that, we immediately thought of Barbara Graham, a longtime San Diego critic who goes by the nom de guerre “Xenubarb.”

“Haha, well I got blamed for a lot of things that happened; grafitto on their walls (which was done by a local gangsta wannabe) and climbing on the bus stop kiosk. (Never happened.) Cops came damn near every time because they called to bawl about us. Yeah, sounds like me. However, the only time I ever talked to the local FBI was during Keith Henson’s court case. They never talked to me about Chanology,” she tells us.

The file suggests that the woman had “previous contact” with a person that sounds like Carnegie Mellon University professor Dave Touretzky. That lead also looks like it went nowhere.

The FBI also was taking seriously that on February 13, 2008, a short video purporting to be from Anonymous threatened to bomb Scientology sites around the world. (The video was quickly taken down and was considered a hoax.) The FBI pursued it enough to order questioning of a London-based ISP where the video had originated, even though the FBI admitted that it probably wouldn’t yield the identification of who had actually made the video.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, the FBI put its “House of Worship Task Force” into action. On March 18, 2008, the task force responded to a strange incident at Scientology’s Hollywood Test Center (formerly the Hollywood Inn) on Hollywood Boulevard.

Someone had spread a flammable substance at the building’s front door in an apparent attempt to light the building on fire.

But after questioning the potential arsonist, the FBI became convinced the suspect didn’t realize that he had tried to damage a “religious location,” and that he didn’t have a connection to Anonymous.

Another document shows that Scientology complained to the FBI about planes flying low and possibly even landing at its remote “Church of Spiritual Technology” vault location near Trementina, New Mexico.


“Dr. Hubbard.” That’s a good one.

The FBI also looked into an incident involving two men who had got into a shouting match with Scientology security guards at the “Big Blue” headquarters location in Los Angeles. One of the men was interviewed in Arizona. But both denied knowing anything about the Anonymous movement, and the FBI dropped the matter.

As vigorously as the FBI looked into the various complaints made by the Church of Scientology, however, the file indicates that the agency struggled to get the church to produce witnesses for interviews, and that the investigation was slowed down by it.

“After approximately two years, no investigative leads of value have been developed. Based upon the age of the case, lack of an articulated threat and the lack of any additional investigative leads writer requests that this matter be closed,” the file concludes.

In the second file we have for you today, the FBI details its investigation of DDOS attacks intended to take down Church of Scientology websites. In distributed denial-of-service attacks, websites are overwhelmed by superfluous requests for information, and it is considered a crime. The file includes an interview with a young college student who admitted to taking part in a group effort to hit Scientology with DDOS attacks using what he called an “ion blaster” — a program known as the Low Orbit Ion Cannon.

The interview takes place in Nebraska, and so it appears to be of Brian Thomas Mettenbrink, who went to prison for a year.

The FBI also apparently got frisky with well known New York anon “PokeAnon,” who was rather defiant, the file shows.


On October 15, 2008, the FBI interviewed PokeAnon, and got an education in Chanology. He denied having anything to do with the DDOS attacks.

After the initial wave of pranks and harassment by Anonymous, Mark Bunker posted a YouTube video on January 27, 2008 expressing gratitude for all the new attention on Scientology, but urged the new activists to pursue more traditional forms of non-violent demonstration. Dubbed “Wise Beard Man,” Bunker and his advice had a noticeable effect as Anonymous began protests at Scientology facilities around the world in February 2008.

Hard to believe we’re already coming up on the tenth anniversary of those heady days.

For now, however, have at the FBI files and let us know what you find interesting in them. Here’s the first, about the white-powder letter investigation…


FBI 2008 investigation of white powder letters to Scientology by Tony Ortega on Scribd

And here’s the second file, about the DDOS investigation…


FBI 2008 investigation of Scientology DDOS by Tony Ortega on Scribd


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,854 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,837 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,611 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,957 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,451 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,491 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,203 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 729 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,818 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,958 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,278 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,253 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 609 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,911 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,018 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,420 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,293 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 874 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,379 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,623 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,732 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on August 26, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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