FBI Says San Francisco Bomb Suspect Ryan Chamberlain Sought Toxins Via ‘Deep Web’
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Authorities said Friday that the San Francisco man who was the subject of a recent three-day manhunt planned to do more than make bombs. Court documents said he bought a poison so lethal, it’s considered a weapon of terror.
The warrant for the May 31 search of the apartment of public relations consultant Ryan Kelly Chamberlain II, 42, was unsealed by U.S. Magistrate Nathaniel Cousins at a hearing in San Francisco.
Cousins also ordered a full psychiatric evaluation for Chamberlain, to be conducted in jail, where he is being held in pretrial custody following his arrest Monday.
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The May 30 search warrant application was written by FBI agent Michael Eldridge.
He alleged, “The investigation has revealed that Chamberlain has utilized an anonymous, Internet-based market place known as Black Market Reloaded to facility the unlawful acquisition and possession of biological agents and lethal toxins in California and Florida.”
Black Market Reloaded is a successor to the website Silk Road, a marketplace of illegal products and services that was taken down last winter.
Kyle Russell of TechCrunch described the website to KPIX 5 as “A site kind of like Amazon or eBay, except for it’s anonymous and you can buy things like drugs, guns.”
The site is accessed via the Tor network, a dark corner of the web that is encrypted and bounces traffic all over the globe. Paying with Bitcoin, buyers are virtually undetectable.
“It’s not even something you sign up for. You download the software and instantly you have access to this world of dark sites where you can buy illegal substances or guns and there’s nothing law enforcement can really do about it,” Russell said.
Russell told KPIX 5 that he is surprised that the feds were able to track Chamberlain and his activities, given the shroud of darkness and anonymity around Black Market Reloaded and Bitcoin.
“Bitcoin, the way it operates is, that you can verify that transactions happen between two Bitcoin wallets, but you don’t necessarily know the identity of either person on either end – so it’s interesting they were able to get his identity from his transactions,” he said.
The document alleges that Chamberlain purchased abrin, a toxin made from the seeds of the rosary pea plant, from a seller in Sacramento in December.
“It is toxic, it is licensed, you just can’t buy it. People don’t have it in their possession without some sort of ill will,” Rick Smith, a former FBI agent told KPIX 5.
Eldridge said Chamberlain allegedly complained to the vendor that the abrin did not work. But the agent said he believe Chamberlain may have retained some of the material, and said the substance is so lethal and even a small portion “could have been sufficient to kill a human being.”
The document also alleges Chamberlain purchased pure nicotine, which can be poisonous at high doses, from a vendor in Florida in June of last year.
Eldridge alleged in the document that the vendors, who have now been arrested, said they shipped the packages to a Ryan Kelly at Chamberlain’s address.
Eldridge said the investigation that led to the search warrant request began after a New York state resident told New York City police and the FBI that he had bought cyanide and abrin from the Sacramento vendor for the purpose of committing suicide.
Eldridge said in the application he believes Chamberlain “made multiple attempts to acquire such toxins over an extended period” and may have been continuing to do so.
A second document by Eldridge that was unsealed earlier this week did not include any toxins on a list of items found during the search of Chamberlain’s Nob Hill apartment.
That document, an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint filed on Monday, alleges that agents conducting the search found the essential ingredients of a homemade bomb.
The complaint charges Chamberlain with one count of possessing an illegal destructive device. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
Eldridge wrote in the affidavit that FBI officials who examined the materials “believe the device was intended to kill or maim a human being or human beings.”
The items found included a glass jar with a wire extending from its lid; batteries, a powdery green substance believed to be explosive material and a model rocket motor inside the jar; an electric ignition device; ball bearings and screws believed to be intended as projectiles; and a circuit board configured as a remote-controlled receiver, the affidavit said.
The FBI announced on Sunday that Chamberlain was wanted on suspicion of possessing explosives.
On Monday, Chamberlain posted what appeared to be a suicide note on social media detailing his struggles with depression and troubles with family and work. He then posted a follow-up note saying he was not armed and angerous and that “no one was ever in danger.”
Chamberlain was arrested Monday evening near Crissy Field.
Cousins ordered the psychiatric examination during a morning hearing and then at a second hearing later in the day decided that it would be conducted in jail, rather than at San Francisco General Hospital as requested by Chamberlain’s defense lawyer.
In the second hearing, Assistant Federal Public Defender Jodi Linker gave Cousins a confidential letter from a defense-hired psychiatrist, Dr. Pablo Stewart, who met with Chamberlain on Thursday.
“This confirms Mr. Chamberlain needs a mental health assessment,” Cousins said after reading the letter, which is now filed under seal.
Chamberlain, who appeared in court in orange jail clothing but did not speak at the sessions, is currently being held in San Francisco jail at the Hall of Justice, under a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service.
Linker, who referred several times to “an urgent care situation” and the risk of “further deterioration while in custody,” without giving details, argued that Chamberlain could receive the best evaluation along with treatment in a locked facility at the hospital.
But Cousins opted for the jail setting, at least for the time being, after being told by Supervisory Deputy Marshal Frank Conroy that jail officials wanted to evaluate Chamberlain in custody for several days before determining whether he should be transferred to a hospital.
Conroy also told Cousins that Chamberlain is closely monitored in jail and that if a psychiatric emergency were to arise, officials there would have the authority to transfer Chamberlain to a hospital without needing a court order.
Cousins said the assessment could be carried out partly by Stewart and partly by other experts to be designated by the federal court’s pretrial services staff.
He scheduled a further hearing on June 16 for an update on the case and a possible detention hearing on whether Chamberlain could be released on bail.
Linker told Cousins during the morning hearing, “I don’t think any of us are in a position to say whether he should be locked up or not locked up until we have information on his psychiatric condition.”
An affidavit prepared by FBI agent Michael Eldridge on Sunday alleges that during the search of Chamberlain’s Nob Hill apartment, agents found the essential ingredients of a homemade bomb.
FBI technicians who examined the items “believe the device was intended to kill or maim a human being or human beings,” Eldridge wrote.
Also on Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Kearney confirmed that an additional search of Chamberlain’s apartment was carried out Thursday, but said the results have not been made public.
While unsealing the search warrant application Friday, Cousins said an X-ray of the alleged improvised bomb should remain under seal.
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