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Grand Jury Indicts Alleged Palin Hacker

POSTED: 12:52 PM ET, 10/ 8/2008 by The Editors

A federal grand jury in Tennessee has indicted University of Tennessee student David Kernell, whose apartment was recently raided by the FBI, in connection with the hacking of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's private Yahoo e-mail account.

Kernell, an economics major and the son of a Democratic state lawmaker, reportedly turned himself in to the FBI this morning. He pleaded not guilty and is to be tried in December.

The indictment charges that Kernell figured out how to gain access to Palin's e-mail account, changed the password to "popcorn" and then posted the new password on the Web for others to see. At least one other person successfully used it, the indictment says.

The indictment alleges that Kernell "removed, altered, concealed and covered up" files on his laptop computer after he grew worried about an investigation into the hacking.

If convicted, Kernell faces a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a three-year term of supervised release.


Download This Document (PDF) | More Investigations Documents

The Knoxville News reports that at the arraignment today, U.S. Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley ordered Kernell not to leave eastern Tennessee without written permission from his probation officer and told him to avoid discussing the case with any potential witnesses.

Kernell, who will be unable to visit his home in Memphis, asked the judge if the gag order applied to a girl he's dating in South Carolina. Kernell is the son of state Rep. Mike Kernell.

By The Editors |  October 8, 2008; 12:52 PM ET Hot Documents
Previous: Nevada Voter Fraud Probe, Bailout Contracting, Gitmo Detainees | Next: FCC Probes Ties Between Military and Pundits

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



Can you be indicted for "hacking" an "illegal" (Under State and Federal Law)web-site?

Posted by: Rober10561 | October 8, 2008 1:06 PM

Well, it wasn't an illegal site, but sure, if you think somebody's a murderer you can kill them.

Posted by: Jeff_N | October 8, 2008 1:12 PM

"Well, it wasn't an illegal site, but sure, if you think somebody's a murderer you can kill them."

You can if you want to spend life in jail. You are not the judge and jury, you can not just kill someone because you think they are a murderer. And it is illegal to hack other people's e-mail accounts.

Posted by: Where-is-our-morality? | October 8, 2008 1:24 PM

Morality,

I was being sarcastic.

Posted by: Jeff_N | October 8, 2008 1:26 PM

"five years in prison, a $250,000 fine"

And the Wall St. fatcats sail away on golden parachutes provided by the American taxpayer, go figure.

Posted by: Justice? LOL | October 8, 2008 1:35 PM

It's illegal to hack into someone's email account? Since when, and where where the police when someone hacked into mine? Guess I'm not important enough. And they didn't divulge any national security secrets, so what's the big deal? I'm annoyed.

Posted by: tlawrenceva | October 8, 2008 1:36 PM

I say give him the same sentence that you would if he hacked anyone else's yahoo account. There is nothing special about palin, she is just a person like you or I. Not to mention she made the account on a public site, so it has nothing to do with government, it is a personal email account.

Posted by: Person | October 8, 2008 1:38 PM

THIS IS FUNNY !
.
The FBI, ignores gang stalkers poisoning people but busts a student who hacked an email account !
.
Gotta love those easy busts. They look good on the resume. Otherwise people might wonder what we are paying those worthless dicks for.
.

Posted by: avraam jack | October 8, 2008 1:38 PM

Why is it this kid gets indicted but Palin walks away after it is proven she broke an Alaskan law by using a personal email account for government business? And where are we on the investigation into her other shady decisions?

Leave this kid alone.

Posted by: Shawn | October 8, 2008 1:43 PM

Investigate the democrat politico old-man. He was probably responsible. A stiff sentence will deter others from hacking. I feel better already.

Posted by: v racer | October 8, 2008 1:44 PM

Great! If he did it, I hope they throw the book at him. Hacking passwords is no different than bumping someone's house or car lock. If you're going to do the crime -- don't be surprised to do the time.

Beyond that, the question becomes whether or not there was a criminal conspiracy with political motivation. Rather than do 5 years, he ought to cut a deal and give up anyone else involved.

This could even be a Watergate....

Posted by: hiscity | October 8, 2008 1:54 PM

Meddling with people's mail has always been a serious crime. It doesn't make any difference whether it is electronic, or on paper. Electronic crime is the new frontier, and it is wise of the FBI to take this realm of operations seriously.

Posted by: David E. Connolly, Jr. | October 8, 2008 1:55 PM

It figures the hacker was a Democrat. The GOP followers follow their Presidential nominee in not having a clue about the internet, cell phones or the modern world. It does not pay to be smart, just be a dumb Creationist and you get off like Palin.

Posted by: RWO | October 8, 2008 1:55 PM

amazing. and yet, those who have so degraded our system of governance through their corruption and cronyism will walk away unhindered.

why am i not surprised by this display of bush 'justice'.

Posted by: linda | October 8, 2008 2:00 PM

US Code Title 18, section 1030 seems to imply illegality of unauthorized access of a computer, especially a computer or account or files used by any government agency, as in executive of the State of Alaska. There may be circumstances in favor of the hacker: the account being private, "government" might not come into play; the account being accessed through Yahoo's web interface, such access might have been unintentional, as it did not involve expert knowledge; or were he acting as part of an authorized government investigation or framed by someone closer to Palin who could answer the security questions, he would be guiltless. However, whoever posted the altered password is an attempted accomplice to anything that might have been done by third parties, and violated Yahoo's terms of use.

Posted by: not-a-lawyer | October 8, 2008 2:07 PM

Conspiracy, they should threaten torture, so he can link it back to Obama. I knew that terrorist would have a corrupt, immoral devise surface eventually.

Posted by: More Educated Than Thou | October 8, 2008 2:10 PM

He's just a kid. Once he gets a teen pregnant, Ms Palin will drop all charges, just you'all wait and see....

http://www.theweeklydonut.com/index.php/2008/10/06/you-betcha/

Posted by: dante | October 8, 2008 2:11 PM

I be we'll find out this kid has been marinating in partisan hate speech at home, assumed he was bullet proof behind a computer screen, and took in upon himself to Save America from the Supremely Evil Sarah Palin.

The poor sap has been brainwashed by his parents, and of all of US who continually throw rhetorical hand grenades at each other in bulletin boards and blogs like this.

The dehumanizing rhetoric is not good, folks. We're hurting ourselves and our kids with this ridiculous polarization and hateful blogging. This cannot end well--for anyone.

Posted by: RK | October 8, 2008 2:13 PM

Self-correction; he was probably marinating in partisan hate-speech at college.

Posted by: RK | October 8, 2008 2:17 PM

He is not a boy or child, if over 18 and I guess he is, he is a man and not entitled to any get out of jail free card...
Guess his parents didn't rear him right, because he doesn't seem to know the difference between right or wrong...

Posted by: Dwight | October 8, 2008 2:26 PM

The fine and prison time is just way too high for this type of "illegal" action, especially if Ppalin is not going to be actively investigated for her various improprieties. It is too bad that the hacker had to waste his time and effort on such a joke of a person. Palin really is not worth it; she screws herself up every time she opens her mouth, thus, having someone else try to get her to look bad is redundant.

Posted by: Susan | October 8, 2008 2:28 PM

Someone hacked into my email account and the "authorities" would do nothing about it! They said the laws are not on the books for that kind of thing yet. Have laws been enacted in the last two months?
Palin, should not have been using Yahoo for government business communications anyway.

Posted by: Marian | October 8, 2008 2:33 PM

Give me a break.
He is not a teenager and is a university student. He should have known the consequences and getting into the account and posting personal information itself is a crime and whether being a democrat's son or not should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Posted by: ak331 | October 8, 2008 2:34 PM

Were it not for "hacks" such as this, awareness of security vulnerabilities relative to computer usage would be poor to non-existent. Were this type of relatively benign hacking to be successfully discouraged, our security exposure would be unbelievable.

Does anyone believe for a moment that countries such as Iran, North Korea, China, etc. are not attempting to hack our systems? They have the resources and the time. Were it not for the benign hacking that has taken place against our computer systems during the past fifteen or so years, few organizations could have been successfully convinced to spend the dollars necessary to have computer/Internet security.

Even the major vendors (such as Microsoft) dragged their feet as much as possible to avoid the cost of fixing insecure systems.

Benign hackers such as this guy deserve mild plaudits, not punishments.

Posted by: BillSecure | October 8, 2008 2:42 PM

Dear Marian and Tlawrenceva, I advise you to find a lawyer or consult the FBI; chances are the police can do nothing to enforce laws on cyber crime. Did I forget to mention section 2701? I think these laws have been in place for at least a year, probably much longer. I hope you've all read the Post's rules, by the way.

I agree with RK. You'll note that the legal system doesn't allow this kind of back-and-forth; the defendant can't say "but your honor, the plaintiff is more guilty than I!" That's how we (try to) keep politics out of justice, as we should keep politics out of politics.

Posted by: not-a-lawyer | October 8, 2008 2:46 PM

The kid committed a crime, probably out of political motivation. Whatever that political motivation was it appears to have failed.

Perhaps he believed someone's propaganda and imagined that if he personally were to discover the smoking gun proving Sarah Palin to be as evil and her enemies protray her to be - well, he would be a hero. Hippie chicks would adore him. Obama would shake his hand. Oh whatever, the stupid things we believe and the stupid things we do when we're young.

He should spend some time behind bars so we can learn from his mistake.

Posted by: ZZim | October 8, 2008 2:47 PM

Why is it this kid gets indicted but Palin walks away after it is proven she broke an Alaskan law by using a personal email account for government business? And where are we on the investigation into her other shady decisions?

Leave this kid alone.

Are you actually this stupid? One has nothing to do with the other. Apparently you are retarded

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2008 2:47 PM

I hear Prison really hurts!

Posted by: Oh poor baby. . . | October 8, 2008 2:47 PM

It's good the FBI and NSA diverted as many cyber experts as possible from worthless surveillance of Al Qaeda "chatter," or tracing the sponsors of its websites, to zero in on this insidious Tennessee (Gore-land) menace to life and liberty. Maybe the GOP will agree to suspension of sentence and probation, provided the kid agrees to help the RNC access Democrats' email.

Posted by: Jkoch | October 8, 2008 3:00 PM

So, if I go and guess correctly someone else' yahoo email questions, would i be indicted as well? Isn't this why you have security questions so that others would NOT be able to guess them easily? This is ridiculous. It's not even hacking, per se - he didn't use any hacking programs to do it - just publicly available information.

Guard your email account better next time, especially if you plan on corresponding with other gov't officials!

Also, "Up to 5 years in prison?!" what the hell is that? This equates him to violent criminals. I wonder who's on the grand jury and if they thought about it before indicting him.

Posted by: Maxzwell | October 8, 2008 3:13 PM

this is ridiculous.

they go after the this guy in record time.. but then, nobody addresses the root of this issue. the fact that this bimbo and her staff were using public email to avoid potential subpoenas for illegal or questionable activities such as troopergate.. hiring improprieties.. illegal gifts.. maybe even bribes.

absurd.

palin did the same thing george bush and his staff did to avoid the same things. PLUS bush and his staff "accidentally" lost over ONE MILLION emails that were REQUIRED to be kept for archive. (reason #1 for using the public email servers).

doubly absurd.

Posted by: BOB | October 8, 2008 3:15 PM

amazing. and yet, those who have so degraded our system of governance through their corruption and cronyism will walk away unhindered.

why am i not surprised by this display of bush 'justice'.

Linda, your comments are ridiculous. They have nothing to do with the situation. I guess according to your logic. If I smashed your window in I shouldn't be punished because the administration (in some peoples eyes) broke the law. That's just plain stupid. Do you even read the BS you posting?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2008 3:44 PM

So, if I go and guess correctly someone else' yahoo email questions, would i be indicted as well? Isn't this why you have security questions so that others would NOT be able to guess them easily? This is ridiculous. It's not even hacking, per se - he didn't use any hacking programs to do it - just publicly available information.

Guard your email account better next time, especially if you plan on corresponding with other gov't officials!

Also, "Up to 5 years in prison?!" what the hell is that? This equates him to violent criminals. I wonder who's on the grand jury and if they thought about it before indicting him.


So the grand jury should consider the criminals feelings. And sorry, accessing someone else's email or mail is illegal. You don’t have to use so called hacking programs as you tried to through into the mix. It's irrelevant. And yes if you guess someone's questions and access their mail then you will be sharing a cell with David.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2008 3:48 PM

Were it not for "hacks" such as this, awareness of security vulnerabilities relative to computer usage would be poor to non-existent. Were this type of relatively benign hacking to be successfully discouraged, our security exposure would be unbelievable.

Does anyone believe for a moment that countries such as Iran, North Korea, China, etc. are not attempting to hack our systems? They have the resources and the time. Were it not for the benign hacking that has taken place against our computer systems during the past fifteen or so years, few organizations could have been successfully convinced to spend the dollars necessary to have computer/Internet security.

Even the major vendors (such as Microsoft) dragged their feet as much as possible to avoid the cost of fixing insecure systems.

Benign hackers such as this guy deserve mild plaudits, not punishments.


Your an idiot.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2008 3:53 PM

Throw the book at the little punk, show his smart-aleck generation that breaking the law has consequences. And if his father was involved, ditto. If he would have hacked into someone's mailbox, it would be a federal crime with severe consequences. You Obamites are such hipocrits. If this was a guy who hacked into your Chosen One's account, you'd want him executed.

Posted by: thinkwithyourbrain | October 8, 2008 3:56 PM

get this judge to prosecute all the wall street jers we are bailing out, then we will KNOW they are going to jail.

Posted by: greg | October 8, 2008 4:11 PM

For all the "one-way,law-and-order righties" out there.... Wake Up.
Just Regular Americans can't get the time of day, from the F.B.I., for I.D. Theft involving Big $$$!
All they want to know is YOUR PHONE #!!
Yes, to check YOU out.
I see 3 posts on this page that make sense...SUSAN, 2:28 p.m.
MAXWELL, 3:13 p.m.
oh poor baby, 2:47 p.m. wake uuuup..

Posted by: lfthook | October 8, 2008 4:32 PM

Anonymous, I did not imply anything about the jury considering his "feelings." My point is the punishment should suit the crime and it should be equally applied to all people under the governance of the law.

In other words, if someone else does the same thing to an "ordinary" person they should be punished with exactly the same penalty. But if that person is not prosecuted then neither should this one. It should not matter whose public email account it was (a Governor's or a janitor's) if they're both @yahoo.com as long as everyone is judged equally.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2008 4:35 PM

The comment at 4:35 was mine.

Posted by: Maxzwell | October 8, 2008 4:36 PM

CORRECTION....

THAT'S MARIAN 2:33
JKOCH 3:00
BOB 3:15

Read THEM.

Posted by: lfthook | October 8, 2008 4:41 PM

Anonymous is on top of it too!

Not just The Gov. but, THE JANITOR TOO.

Posted by: lfthook | October 8, 2008 4:51 PM

Ok I agree with that however we both know crimes that draw more attention draw harsher sentences. The sentence is a max 5 years 250,000.00 fine. Congress only creates the l aw. It’s up to the judge to decide the sentence. I would figure that in a case like this the kid gets a slap on the wrist. I seriously doubt he gets any jail time or fines. But like I said the law was created with the worst possible scenario used as a guide line. That's why it carries 5 years and a high fine. This way if someone hacks another person’s email then steals their cc number or what ever and causes major financial problems for that person they will more than likely get jail time unlike this kid. So in the end the time will fit the crime. The thing that irritated me the most was all the posts that seem to take to point of view that it's ok to break the law if the laws already be broke. 2 wrongs do not make a right and it’s sad to think we have this many people that have no idea or actually think this would be a good system.

"Sorry we cannot prosecute the guy that raped your sister because your mother was taking illegal prescription drugs"

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2008 5:47 PM

Has anybody taken a good look at this kid? He should get busted by the fashion police. The Bradys called, they want their wardrobe back.

Posted by: Peggy McGilligan | October 8, 2008 7:34 PM

I am very surprised at most of the comments hear, You all must be very left democrats for the most part. I agree with one of the comments...it is a CRIME. Period. If you commit the crime you have to be prepared to do the time and be responsible for your actions. If anyone hacked into your personal mail, I guarantee you that you would be all over it as it is an invasion of privacy at the very least. This "kid" and he is not a kid but a college student is the son of a Democratic leader...hmmmm, he is more savvy than most...I wouldn't be surprised if his dad wasn't behind it...but that is my opinion....you have lost site of right and wrong ....it was wrong and there are laws against it....he knew it ...he probably thinks because his dad is an elected representative he will get special favors......if you steal, you go to jail...he stole her privacy and her mail there are laws against stealing mail...it is no different than if he went into her mailbox and stole her mail.....he was viscious, and calculating and it doesn't even matter if it was Palin or not...his actions were he stole someone's mail...that applies to ANYONE and it is against the law.

Posted by: jassdell | October 9, 2008 4:45 PM

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