Not all insider threats are associated with espionage and the theft of trade secrets. Private Ethan Melzer is truly the enemy within, set upon organizing a mass casualty attack against his own unit being deployed to Turkey.
In the span of just 40 days, from April 19 to May 9, Melzer concocted a plan to provide sensitive U.S. Army information to an occult-based neo-Nazi extremist and racially motivated violent extremist group named the Order of the Nine Angels (O9A) to facilitate an attack against his own unit.
In early-June, the Department of Justice (DoJ), Southern District of New York, filed a criminal complaint and a grand jury presented a sealed six-count indictment against Melzer. He was arrested on June 10.
Who is Private Ethan Phelan Melzer?
We know from court documents that Melzer is a 22-year old from Louisville, KY. Melzer (aka Etil Reggad) entered duty as a private in June 2019. In October 2019, his unit (unspecified) deployed to a U.S. Army facility (Caserma Ederle (Camp Ederle)) located near Vicenza, Italy.
While the court documents do not indicate the name of the unit to which Melzer was assigned, the U.S. Army Garrison in Italy includes Camp Ederle, which hosts the headquarters of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Sky Soldiers. The 173rd serves as the U.S. Army’s Contingency Response Force in Italy.
Fast forward to April 2020, and Melzer’s unit is told that they were being deployed to Turkey to protect a U.S. military facility. The court documents show us how he joined the O9A group in 2019, and the U.S. version of the group, “Atomwaffen Division” which follows the O9A philosophy.
Acting USA Strauss: As alleged, Ethan Melzer, a private in the U.S. Army, was the enemy within. He allegedly attempted to orchestrate a murderous ambush on his own unit, unlawfully revealing its location, strength & armaments to a neo-Nazi, anarchist, white supremacist group.
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) June 22, 2020
“As alleged, Ethan Melzer, a private in the U.S. Army, was the enemy within. Melzer allegedly attempted to orchestrate a murderous ambush on his own unit by unlawfully revealing its location, strength, and armaments to a neo-Nazi, anarchist, white supremacist group. Melzer allegedly provided this potentially deadly information intending that it be conveyed to jihadist terrorists. As alleged, Melzer was motivated by racism and hatred as he attempted to carry out this ultimate act of betrayal,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss.
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. commented: “Melzer declared himself to be a traitor against the United States, and described his own conduct as tantamount to treason. We agree. He turned his back on his county and his unit while aligning himself with members of the neo-Nazi group O9A. Today, he is in custody and facing a lifetime of service – behind bars – which is appropriate given the severity of the conduct we allege today.”
The case against Private Melzer
On May 30, Melzer’s was interviewed by members of the U.S. military and the FBI. He surrendered his iPhone and on June 2nd, a search warrant allowed law enforcement and counterintelligence to search his online iCloud accounts. They found a photo archive which contained images associated with the ISIS attacks on U.S. military personnel (“Harvest of the Soldiers”), as well as imagery of the U.S. facility in Turkey, with the DFAC (dining facility) identified.
He identified the messaging application he used (believed to be Telegram, as the Anti Defamation League in a December 2019 posting referenced “The RapeWaffen Division channel is a white supremacist channel that openly promotes rape and murder as part of the quest for race war.”). Melzer admitted to sharing his information with the O9A group via their chat channel, “Order of the 9 Rapes Chat” and the “Jihadist Caliphate” which morphed to “Jihad” and then “Op Hardrock.”
Included in the information shared was the aforementioned annotated satellite imagery, the unit’s weaponry and defensive capabilities, number of personnel, as well as, suggestions on how to best attack the facility with the 09A co-conspirators to facilitate a mass casualty attack on his unit.
He also noted during the interview how he was fully prepared to die to facilitate the attack. He characterized his own actions as “treasonous, and considered himself to be a traitor.”
Melzer involved in murder of a U.S. military officer/employee?
The indictment indicates that at least one U.S. service member was previously targeted and killed, and that Melzer may have been involved,
“ETHAN PHELAN MELZER, a/k/a “Etil Reggad,” the defendant, and others known and unknown, would and did kill and attempt to kill an officer and employee of the United States — which killing is murder as defined in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1111(a) — including any member of the uniformed services, while such officer and employee was engaged in and on account of the performance of official duties, and any person assisting such an officer and employee in the performance of such duties and on account of that assistance.”
Insider threat and OPSEC
Melzer was identified via a confidential source within the 09A group, according to the indictment. A footnote of the indictment indicates that the source was compensated and had provided information previously.
The insider threat posed by Melzer is among the most difficult to ferret out as nothing is stolen, changed, or adjusted. Unless Melzer goes out of his swim lane and attempts to acquire information to which he does not have natural access, the technological tools associated with identifying unauthorized access to information are of little use. The primary means to identify individuals such as Melzer falls within the realm of personnel being sensitized that if they “see something, say something.”
The court records are focused on Melzer, so we do not have insight into the results of interviews with his fellow servicemembers within his unit and whether or not his behavior/beliefs had been highlighted up the chain of command. Let’s hope they did and the action was the genesis of the effort to neutralize Melzer.