Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

Wanted by the FBI

I got my FBI file today. (Request yours!) As I hoped, it’s truly delightful. It has only minor redactions for reasons of personal privacy (basically, they deleted agents’ names and so on). It all started when the—actually, I’ll let the file tell the story:

February 6, from Washington Field to Chicago:



Precedence: ROUTINE

Case ID #: 288A-WF-238343 (Pending)


Synopsis: To set lead to locate Aaron Swartz.

Enclosure(s): Attached is an Accurint Report for Swartz.

Details: The U.S. Courts implemented a pilot project offering free access to federal court records through the PACER system at seventeen federal depository libraries. Library personnel maintain login and password security and provide access to users from computers within the library. PACER normally carries an eight cents per page fee, however, by accessing from one of the seventeen libraries, users may search and download data for free.

Between September 4, 2008 and September 22, 2008, PACER was accessed by computers from outside the library utilizing login information from two libraries participating in the pilot project. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reported that the PACER system was being inundated with requests. One request was being made every three seconds.

[…] The two accounts were responsible for downloading more than eighteen million pages with an approximate value of $1.5 million.

[…] Data that was exfiltrated went to one of two Amazon IP addresses.

Investigation has determined that the Amazon IP address used to access the PACER system belongs to Aaron Swartz.

The following information was provided for the IP address:

Name: Aaron Swartz
Address: 349 Marshman Avenue, Highland Park, IL 60035
Telephone: 847-432-8857

A search in Accurint and Swartz’s personal webpage confirmed this information. Swartz’s social security account number is […]. The telephone subscriber for telephone number [REDACTED] is [REDACTED].

NCIS report for Aaron Swartz was negative. A search for wages for Swartz at the Department of Labor was negative.


Washington Field Office requests that the North RA attempt to locate AARON SWARTZ, his vehicles, drivers license information and picture, and others, at 349 Marshman Avenue, Highland Park, IL 60035. Since SWARTZ is the potential subject of an ongoing investigation, it is requested that SWARTZ not be approached by agents.

February 15, Manassas, VA:

Set Lead 1: (Info)


AARON SWARTZ has a profile on the website LINKEDIN, at www.linkedin.com/in/aaronsw. SWARTZ is listed as a writer, hacker and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. SWARTZ’s education includes Stanford University, Sociology, 2004. SWARTZ’s experience includes the following:


SWARTZ has a profile on the website FACEBOOK. His networks include Stanford ‘08 and Boston, MA. The picture used in his profile was also used in an article about SWARTZ in THE NEW YORK TIMES.

SWARTZ’s personal webpage, www.aaronsw.com, includes a section titled “Aaron Swartz: a life time of dubious accomplishments”. In 2007, SWARTZ began working full-time as a member of the Long-Term Planning Committee for the Human Race (LTPCHR).

February 19, Manassas, VA:

On February 17, 2008 [sic], SA [REDACTED] received an email from [REACTED] Administrative Office of the US Courts, with links to two published articles regarding the compromise of the PACER system.

On February 12, 2009, [REACTED] published an article in THE NEW YORK TIMES titled “An Effort to Upgrade a Court Archive to Free and Easy”. For the article, [REDACTED] interviewed [REDACTED] and AARON SWARTZ regarding the compromise of the PACER system.

The following information is found in the article: […]

February 24, Chicago:

Synopsis: Lead covered by Chicago North RA

Enclosure(s): Illinois DL/ID Image of Swartz and Accurint Vehicle/Residence Reports for Swartz address.

Details: Attempted to locate AARON SWARTZ, his vehicles, drivers license information and picture, and others at 349 Marshman Avenue, Highland Park, IL 60035.

Successfully located drivers license photo for SWARTZ. Drove by address in an attempt to locate SWARTZ or vehicles related to the residence, but was unsuccessful. House is set on a deep lot, behind other houses on Marshman Avenue. This is a heavily wooded, dead-end street, with no other cars parked on the road making continued surveillance difficult to conduct without severely increasing the risk of discovery. However, divers license and Accurint information lists address above. Other family members are listed as current residents and four vehicles are currently registered to Susan Swartz who resides at above address. Illinois database checks for SWARTZ yielded negative results. SWARTZ has no arrests, no registered vehicles or property.

Chicago considers this lead covered.

March 9, Manassas, VA:

AARON SWARTZ posted a weblog titled “NYT Personals” [on February 13 —AS] at http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog. In the weblog, SWARTZ quotes the NEW YORK TIMES article in which he was interviewed. SWARTZ also posts “Want to meet the man behind the headlines? Want to have the F.B.I. open up a file on you as well? Interested in some kind of bizarre celebrity product endorsement? I’m available in Boston and New York all this month”.

March 23, Manassas, VA:

On March 10, 2009, [REDACTED] of THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE US COURTS (US COURTS) provided the following information:

[…] When asked to clarify how a user knows what constitutes unauthorized access and how a user would have known that they had to be in one of the seventeen libraries to access PACER, [REDACTED] had [REDACTED] prepare a response.

[REDACTED] provided the following information:

AARON SWARTZ would have known his access was unauthorized because it was with a password that did not belonged to him.

April 14, Manassas, VA

On 04/14/2009, SA [REDACTED] called (847) 432-8857 in an attempt to speak to AARON SWARTZ. A female answered the telephone and stated that SWARTZ was not available […] SA [REDACTED] left a message for SWARTZ to return her call and the female stated that she would email that message to SWARTZ.

SWARTZ called SA [REDACTED] and left a message on her voicemail stating he could be reached at […]. This number is a T-Mobile cellular number and returned negative results in Telephone Applications.

SA [REACTED] spoke to SWARTZ, at telephone number […], and explained that the FBI is looking for information on how SWARTZ was able to compromise the PACER system so that the US COURTS could implement repairs to the system and get PACER running again. SWARTZ stated that he would have to talk to his attorney first and would call SA [REDACTED] back at a later time.

April 16, Manassas, VA:

On 04/16/2009, SA [REDACTED] returned a telephone call to ANDREW GOOD, (617) […]. GOOD is AARON SWARTZ’s attorney in Boston, MA. GOOD wanted assurance that if SWARTZ was interviewed, what he said would not be used to jeopardize him. SA [REDACTED] explained that assurance could not be given but that we were in an information gathering phase. GOOD refused the interview without the assurance.

April 20, Washington Field Office:

CASE ID #: 288A-WF-238943 (Closed)


CCIPS Attorney [REDACTED] closed the office’s case. Based on the CCIPS closing, Washington Field is closing this case as of this communication.

I’ve just sent away for the CCIPS file.

You should follow me on twitter here.

October 5, 2009


This is so badass.

posted by Bob Lee on October 5, 2009 #

Holy moly…This is awesome. How did you get the file?

posted by Adrian Holovaty on October 5, 2009 #

Ah, I see you just added the link to the request form. Very cool.

posted by Adrian Holovaty on October 5, 2009 #

What was the turn around time for you to get your file? I want to get mine but I’ll only be back in the states for 6 weeks this christmas.

posted by on October 5, 2009 #

I got the notice that they received it August 10, it came in the mail a couple days ago. You could ask them to deliver it to a friend.

posted by Aaron Swartz on October 5, 2009 #

Cool! And note it’s a very good thing you have (lawyer) friends in high places, so it’s an amusing blog post rather than literally a Federal case.

Definitely a situation of don’t-try-this-at-home for the casual reader.

(this == what prompted the file, not getting the file).

posted by Seth Finkelstein on October 5, 2009 #

“PACER system was being inundated with requests. One request was being made every three seconds.”

I got a good laugh out of that one. I guess they weren’t expecting much of a user base for the system.

posted by Jeff Kubina on October 6, 2009 #

From the FBI FOIA request site: “If your request is for information concerning an organization, business, investigation, historical event, or incident, you may submit your request online”. FBI link: http://foia.fbi.gov/foia_request.htm

I thought it might be interesting to send a request for “Wired” but I vainly tried filling out the online form with both Firefox and IE8. Maybe it’s just me. I’m probably lacking the “critical skills” that the FBI agents possess.

Here’s the mail address one needs for the FOIA request:

Federal Bureau of Investigation Record Information/Dissemination Section 170 Marcel Drive Winchester, VA 22602-4843

posted by Patrick Cotter on October 6, 2009 #

I don’t really understand the need to undergo the pacer project. It’s a trivial expense not exactly designed to source of government profit.. why would they make the records publicly available at libraries. I have a pacer account and I can tell you the info you get from it is pretty dull and not at all hidden from the public. I’m sure you could have made pacer available for free if you just wrote your congressman rather than accessing the open terminals the way you did.

posted by omar on October 6, 2009 #

@Patrick Cotter

No, it wasn’t your fault — the FBI “online entry form” at “http://foia.fbi.gov/foia_request.htm” is a fake page.

It has a “SEND” button at the bottom, but if you look at the HTML, there’s nothing to fill out — the underlined areas are just that; text underlines. There’s no fields to fill out.

I really don’t know if this is just a really bad joke or a really, really bad web programmer. :\

posted by cappy on October 6, 2009 #

@cappy: The text at the very top of the page: “Complete, print, sign, notarize, and mail form”

It’s deliberate.

Why they don’t just save it as a PDF, though. :S

posted by lucjon on October 6, 2009 #

“NCIS report for Aaron Swartz was negative. A search for wages for Swartz at the Department of Labor was negative.”

Dude, you need to find a job or pay your taxes. You don’t want to screw around with the IRS.

posted by calvis on October 6, 2009 #

Maybe he hasnt really worked yet, so why would he declae anything if he never even got a job, probably lives in his mother’s basement still.

posted by anynomous on October 6, 2009 #

Wow, reads like a Stasi (East German Ministry for State Security) report. Well, the term “Homeland Security” isn’t that much different to “State Security” anyway, props to Dubya that the US got an org like the East German one, it was sorely lacking.

Waves to the Gestapo

posted by Bob on October 6, 2009 #

You’re my hero.

posted by Wilkinson on October 6, 2009 #

Wow! The article does now say if, or how much, it costs to request one’s file from the FBI. I know I’ve got one, because the Director of the FBI once had me picked up and taken for a ride in Seattle. I had predicted that the Unabomber would turn out to be a mathematician, based on my linguistic analysis of the Unabomber Manifesto. Anyway, it is very noble to write a Perl script and put $1.5M worth of court documents up on the Amazon cloud. Makes we want to learn Perl to do artificial intelligence. Good-bye for now and good luck foerever!

posted by Mentifex on October 6, 2009 #

There is a PDF version (that you can enter text for most of the fields) located at http://foia.fbi.gov/privacy_request.pdf

posted by Rick Mason on October 6, 2009 #

I don’t think the Stasi were really in the habit of letting East Germans consult with their lawyers before being interviewed and then respecting the lawyer’s decision not to have their client speak.

posted by Marshall Smith on October 7, 2009 #

Your tax dollars at work. thanks for the laugh!


posted by Eric Vitiello on October 7, 2009 #

Dumbfuck Marshall Smith, still imagines his shit hole of a country isn’t third world. Please excercise your second amendment rights and have a firearms accident in your stupid face.

posted by .... on October 7, 2009 #

Yeah, because everyone is trying to LEAVE the USA, not enter it…

Must not be so terrible after all.

posted by ... on October 7, 2009 #

I was wondering if you can let me know how to purchase an Amazon IP…


posted by Kyle Sharpe on October 7, 2009 #

Kyle: I’m assuming it was through EC2. It’s gotten pretty easy to set up, I think.

posted by Adam on October 7, 2009 #

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