Sunspot Solar Observatory: W.T.F? Kiddie porn?

Sunspot Solar Observatory: W.T.F? Kiddie porn?

All is explained. It was a kiddie porn investigation. Wait.

What?

Child pornography reason behind Sunspot Observatory closure, according to court documents
“A federal search warrant reveals that Sunspot Solar Observatory was shut down as FBI agents conducted computer forensic searches for child pornography.

That struck me as odd, so I wanted to see the warrant. It isn’t in that story. I did a lot of searches, and finally found the first page of it in the UK’s Daily Mail. Sort of.

sso-warrant-cover-9-10-2018

To my old eyes, that is nearly completely illegible. Maybe yours are better. I think it was applied for and granted on September 10, 2018. And that would be a problem.

Let’s look at the time line.

  • July: A federal search warrant revealed that in July, agents began searching a child protection database and found child pornography linked to an IP address at the Sunspot observatory, KRQE reports.
  • Unspecified date: Chief observer finds laptop.
  • Unspecified date: Janitor realizes his laptop is missing.
  • Unspecified date: Janitor started making comments about “lax security at the facility,” said it was “only a matter of time before the facility got hit, and he “believed there was a serial killer in the area” and that killer might enter the facility and execute someone.
  • Unspecified date: Director decides to shutdown and evacuate observatory.
  • September 6, 2018: SSO is shutdown without public explanation. Sheriff observes, “There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas and work crews on towers but nobody would tell us anything.”
  • September 6, 2018: The Sunspot post office is closed.
  • September 10, 2018(?): Warrant is obtained.
  • September 14, 2018: FBI agents removed three cell phones, five laptops, one iPad, an external hard drive, and other electronic devices, from the suspect’s home, FBI records showed.
  • September 17, 2018: SSO reopened.

First, let’s rule out exigent circumstances which would have a judge issuing an emergency telephonic warrant: they claim the investigation had already led to the SSO in July, maybe two months prior to the shutdown. So the first (and only, so far) warrant we’ve seen was apparently issued four days after the sheriff reportedly saw people searching the facility- tower and antennas.

Towers and antennas? For a forensic computer search? Without a warrant?

With a Blackhawk? Those are fairly distinctive; if the sheriff thinks he saw one, I’m inclined to believe him. And other people who saw it.

And why the post office? And a dozen homes?

Again: All before they apparently got a warrant. For anything.

And weirdly — as best as I can tell from that illegible warrant image — no specific location is authorized to be searched. I’ll generously assume that’s in the affidavit, but it’s supposed to be in the warrant proper. I hope a clear copy will… clarify this.

Exactly what kind of forensic computer kiddie porn investigation requires a Blackhawk helicopter, no-warrant searches of antennas, the evacuation of an observatory, post office, and multiple homes; and the deliberate exclusion of local law enforcement?

This reeks of “Shit, people noticed. Somebody go get a warrant to explain all this. Um… call it child porn; people always go all mushy when we ‘do it for the children.’ “

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