FBI agents served a federal search warrant to 20-year-old University of Tennessee student David Kernell early Sunday morning in their investigation into the hacking of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's e-mail last week. According to WBIR TV, an unidentified witness told the station that several FBI agents entered Kernell's Fort Sanders, Tennessee, residence around midnight, looking for clues that might tie the son of Democratic State Representative Mike Kernell to the case.
A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed some "investigatory activity" in the Knoxville area related to the Palin case, but said no charges have been filed.
Last week, someone broke into Palin's Yahoo! e-mail account and publicly posted a number of her private messages. The FBI and Secret Service immediately opened an investigation, but were initially stymied when The Associated Press refused to hand over copies of the e-mails.
While some controversy has erupted over the fact that Palin has used the private e-mail account to do some of her official business as Alaska's governor, the posted messages were almost all of a private nature. Months before Palin became became Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain's surprise VP pick, it was reported that she used the Yahoo! account for government business.
McCain's campaign reacted angrily to the breach, releasing a statement condemning the act. "This is a shocking invasion of the governor's privacy and a violation of law. The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities, and we hope that anyone in possession of these e-mails will destroy them."
Copies of the messages were posted on the Gawker Web site last week.
A witness told WBIR that when the agents arrived at Kernell's apartment, the student and his friends — who were having a party at the time — attempted to flee the premises. The investigators took down the names of those present and asked those who did not live in the unit, and the witness, to wait outside while they spent nearly two hours taking pictures of everything in the apartment. Kernell's three roommates were subpoenaed and ordered to testify in a Chattanooga, Tennessee, courtroom this week.
Wired magazine has reported that someone named "Rubico" admitted in an Internet posting to hacking Palin's e-mail, bragging that it was easy to access the account using information like her ZIP code and birth date. Once the information on "Rubico" leaked, Kernell's name quickly became associated with the story; one of his past blogs included the use of the handle "Rubicox."
The hacked account — which is not the same Yahoo! account that the Washington Post previously reported Palin had used for state business and which has come under scrutiny — was deleted following the incident. The New York Times recently reported that Palin's staff looked into whether using the private accounts "could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records."
The Palin hack, in turn, inspired another hack on Friday targeting Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who railed against Web sites that posted the e-mails. According to Wired, a hacker claimed to have cracked O'Reilly's Web site and stolen a list of its subscribers, which included the names, e-mail addresses, cities, states and passwords used to register for the site.