Hunt for Palin's hacker shaping up to be simple case By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Sep 23, 5:56 AM ET
WASHINGTON - The hunt for the hacker who broke into Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's personal e-mail account is shaping up to be a remarkably simple investigation, by the standards of major cybersecurity whodunits.
U.S. investigators figure the hacker claimed responsibility in a detailed accounting that included his own personal e-mail address and that he tried to cover his trail using a U.S. Internet anonymity service that has been surprisingly cooperative with the FBI in efforts to peel away that anonymity.
Not exactly the plot of a Hollywood thriller.
In what may be a significant break in the case, the FBI searched the residence of the son of a Democratic state lawmaker in Tennessee over the weekend looking for evidence linking the young man to the break-in, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. The apartment the FBI searched is in a complex about five blocks from the University of Tennessee campus, in a neighborhood popular with students.
David Kernell, 20, has not returned repeated phone calls or e-mails from the AP since last week. His lawyer said Monday the family is going through a difficult period. Kernell is an economics major at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
"The Kernell family wants to do the right thing, and they want what is best for their son," said attorney Wade V. Davies of Knoxville. "We are confident that the truth will emerge as we go through the process. David is a decent and intelligent young man, and I look forward to assisting him during this difficult period."
Kernell is the son of state Rep. Mike Kernell, a Memphis Democrat and chairman of Tennessee's House Government Operations Committee. The father declined last week to discuss the possibility his son might be involved in the case.
"I had nothing to do with it, I had no knowledge or anything," Mike Kernell told the AP last week.
"I was not a party to anything of this nature at all," he added. "I wasn't in on this â” and I wouldn't know how to do anything like that."
No one answered the door at Mike Kernell's home in Memphis on Monday, and he did not return repeated phone calls Monday from the AP.
Palin's e-mail account with Yahoo Inc. was compromised last week by a hacker who revealed as evidence a few inconsequential personal messages she has received since John McCain selected her as his running mate. The McCain campaign confirmed the break-in and called it a "shocking invasion of the governor's privacy and a violation of law."
Palin used "gov.sarah" in one of her Yahoo e-mail addresses she sometimes uses to conduct state business. The hacker targeted her separate "gov.palin" account.
During the break-in, the hacker used an Internet address that traced to David Kernell's apartment complex in Knoxville. The FBI obtained logs Saturday establishing the connection from Gabriel Ramuglia of Athens, Ga., who operates an Internet anonymity service used by the hacker.
Ramuglia told the AP the FBI asked him to confirm that the address appeared in his records. Ramuglia said his logs showed the hacker visiting Yahoo's mail service, resetting Palin's password and announcing results of the break-in on a Web site where the hacking was first disclosed.
"I think he just didn't realize the severity of what he was doing until afterwards," Ramuglia said.
After the break-in, a person claiming responsibility published a detailed chronology of the hacking on the same Web site. That person identified his e-mail address as one that has been linked publicly to David Kernell.
Kernell's father, Mike Kernell, has a strait-laced reputation among his colleagues.
"Mike Kernell is your quintessential Boy Scout," said state Rep. John Deberry, another Democrat. "Mike follows the rules. He will almost get on your nerve as far as making sure things are done by the book."
"If Mike had known anything about this, he would have had a fit on his son," Deberry said. "When I saw his reaction when he first heard about it, the absolute fear and shock that was on his face, I realized then he had absolutely nothing to do with it."
Experts said the hacker apparently left an easy trail for investigators.
"He might as well have taken a picture of his house and uploaded it," said Ken Pfeil, an Internet security expert. "He should have just set up a big beacon that said, 'Here's my house,' or confessed. If they can't catch this guy based on all the information posted on the Web then all bets are off."
Associated Press writers Ted Bridis in Washington, Erik Schelzig and Lucas L. Johnson II in Nashville, Tenn., and Beth Rucker in Knoxville contributed to this report.