In a shocking turn of events, it has been revealed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employed a hacker with a prior conviction related to child sexual abuse material as a crucial source, Your Content has learned.
The information came to light through a recently discovered search warrant, shedding light on an investigation surrounding a dark web hitman-for-hire site.
According to the warrant, an individual using the username “Bonfire” sought to pay a significant sum to orchestrate the murder of a Louisiana man, disguising it as a drug overdose.
Unbeknownst to Bonfire, the hitman-for-hire site was not only a scam, but it had also been breached by a hacker.
The details of Bonfire’s illicit transaction were consequently handed over to federal investigators.
The FBI identified Julia Coda, a Los Angeles hairdresser and founder of a beautician school, as the person believed to be behind the Bonfire persona.
Coda stands accused of ordering the targeted assassination due to her belief that the victim had forcibly abducted her niece following the death of Coda’s sister earlier in 2021.
While Coda has pleaded not guilty, she has declined to provide any further comment on the matter.
The search warrant highlights the critical role played by a hacker who had previously breached the hitman-for-hire site.
However, this hacker has a troubling criminal history.
The individual, referred to as an “HSI source” in the warrant, had been convicted of offenses related to child sexual abuse material in a foreign country prior to becoming a source for the Department of Homeland Security Investigations agency in 2018.
The warrant does not provide specific details about the source’s crimes or prior collaboration with the DHS.
This raises questions about the government’s decision to rely on an individual with a previous conviction, especially considering their alleged involvement in an unauthorized hacking incident.
Even the FBI expressed reservations about utilizing the DHS source.
In a footnote within a search of Coda’s Google account, the FBI stated that they had considered working with the HSI source as a confidential human source in 2018 but ultimately decided against it due to concerns about controlling the source’s activities.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to comment on the matter, and the DHS did not respond to requests for a statement.
Tim Howard, a former Justice Department prosecutor, emphasized that the legality of utilizing data from such a source depends on whether the government incentivized the hacker in any way.
If the hacker, without prior ties to the government, voluntarily provides documents, the FBI can employ those materials.
However, if the government influenced the source by promising non-prosecution for their previous crimes in exchange for information relevant to an ongoing investigation, investigators could find themselves in a legal gray area.
According to the search warrant, the DHS did not compensate the source directly but instead signed a “proffer agreement,” which typically outlines promises regarding the informant’s prosecution or lack thereof.
Howard suggests that, in Coda’s case, the government likely acted within the bounds of the law.
The hacker functioned as a “sub-source,” with the FBI receiving the information from an anonymous informant separate from the hacker.
This distancing from the actual hacker implies that the government did not encourage any illegal hacking activities, potentially safeguarding them against fourth amendment violations, which protect citizens from unreasonable searches.
Jennifer Granick, counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, noted the FBI’s insistence on relying on the source rather than the sub-source, highlighting their avoidance of potential litigation concerning the sub-source’s credibility.
Furthermore, the FBI made it clear in the warrant that they had amassed sufficient evidence from interviews and cryptocurrency tracing of the scam dark web site.
This evidence enabled them to pursue the investigation without relying heavily on, according Forbes.