A Right-Wing Troll Appears To Have Tweeted About An FBI Investigation Into The Michigan Kidnapping Plot Before It Went Public
Adding to the confusion, one of the lead FBI agents in the case is listed as the owner of an “internet intelligence company” for which the troll claims to be CEO. No one is talking.
On the afternoon of Oct. 7, 2020, a Twitter account known for right-wing trolling issued an enigmatic warning: “Don’t worry Michigan I told ya A LOT more coming soon.”
The account, @ravagiing, provided no further details, but just hours later, the FBI executed coordinated raids throughout Michigan, arresting nearly a dozen people it said were involved in a plot to kidnap the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer.
The next day, after the alleged plot had made international headlines, the account tweeted again: “I told ya ahead of time, Michigan.” And, indeed, @ravagiing — whose Twitter bio describes the individual or individuals as CEO of a cyber intelligence firm called Exeintel — had been dropping hints for months. “Soon….MICHIGAN Soon,” the account tweeted on Sept. 24.
The tweets could be dismissed as little more than an odd coincidence. But government records show that Exeintel is owned by Jayson Chambers — one of the lead FBI agents on the Michigan case.
The trademark for Exeintel, meanwhile, is held by a man named Jaime Chanaga, a cybersecurity expert who also volunteers for Infragard, a government-funded nonprofit that collaborates directly with the FBI on “counterterrorism, counter intelligence, cybercrime, and other matters relevant to informed reporting of potential crimes and attacks on the nation,” according to its tax filings.
Chambers declined to comment on the matter. A spokesperson for the FBI also declined to comment. The identity of the individual or individuals behind the @ravagiing account could not be ascertained, and multiple attempts to contact them, as well as Exeintel, were also unsuccessful. The Exeintel website went offline soon after BuzzFeed News sent in queries, and it is not cached online because it has been “excluded” from the Internet Archive. The Twitter account for @exeintel, meanwhile, has been suspended.
Reached by phone, the cybersecurity expert, Chanaga, acknowledged having filed the paperwork for the Exeintel trademark but claimed it was for a venture that he didn’t end up launching. He denied knowing anyone associated with Exeintel, said he had “no affiliation” with Chambers or the person or people behind @ravagiing, and claimed he has for several years been the victim of doxxing attempts to fraudulently link him to the company. Chanaga offered no explanation for why his own company, which owns the Exeintel trademark, is registered at the same rural New Mexico address as the Exeintel LLC registered to Chambers. Chanaga promised to send answers to additional questions in writing, but never did.
There is no indication that the tweets by @ravagiing had any impact on the FBI probe, which relied on at least a dozen confidential informants and eventually resulted in the arrest of 14 people in Michigan, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. Many of the defendants now face charges related to domestic terrorism. But the apparent connections between the Twitter account and the FBI case are another puzzling facet of what has become one of the most closely watched domestic terrorism investigations in a generation.
Last month, one of the other FBI agents working the case, Richard Trask, was charged with felony assault in state court for allegedly beating his wife. He has pleaded not guilty, according to his lawyer Sarissa Montague. One of the primary confidential informants in the case was indicted on a gun charge in March but has pleaded not guilty, claiming that the FBI gave him "authorization" for his actions. Many of the defendants, meanwhile, are now arguing that they were entrapped by the FBI, and, in particular, by the informant handled by Chambers.
A review of activity from the @ravagiing account reveals a long history of boosting conspiracy theories including climate change denialism as well as attacks on Democratic politicians, so-called antifa, and Muslims. The account, which currently has more than 47,000 followers, claims to be based in the United Kingdom and the US. Among its followers is former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and its intel has been publicly cited by conservative journalist Andy Ngo.
On his Facebook page, Chambers does not mention the FBI but instead describes himself as a “Sheepdog at Sheep Protection Services.” His LinkedIn profile, meanwhile, says he has been a special agent since 2010 and lists considerable experience in counterterrorism while at the bureau. Court documents show that he is one of two agents who handled a confidential informant who infiltrated an armed extremist group called the Wolverine Watchmen that is at the center of the alleged kidnapping plot. On Wednesday, a defendant in the case, Ty Garbin, was sentenced to 75 months in prison after pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate.
Until its website was taken down, Exeintel described itself as “a group of dedicated professionals working in the shadows of cyberspace to provide actionable counterterrorism intelligence to law enforcement worldwide” and published research notes on groups including al-Qaeda.
Among the first public references to Exeintel was in connection to a terrorist attack in Barcelona, Spain, in August 2017 that killed 14 people and injured more than 100 when a man drove a van down Las Ramblas, a popular pedestrian street. Soon thereafter, an online Spanish newspaper reported that Exeintel claimed to have been in direct contact with the terrorists behind the attack weeks beforehand and had warned authorities. A second article identified Chanaga, linking him to Exeintel as its presumptive owner.
Chanaga, who lives outside Dallas, has worked in corporate internet security since the early 2000s. According to his LinkedIn page, he attended the FBI Citizens Academy and is a member of the North Texas Electronic Crimes Task Force, among other activities. He has also served as an official for InfraGard, an FBI-funded nonprofit that shares information between the public and private sectors on threats to national security.
He told BuzzFeed News that he was contacted by a Spanish reporter soon after the terrorist attack in Barcelona, but denied knowing anything about the incident. Soon after that article was published, the website for a company owned by Chanaga, Counter Global Defense LLC, was taken offline. LIke the Exeintel website, it is “excluded” from the Internet Archive.
A Twitter account that hasn’t posted since 2017 and is followed by @ravagiing features a logo identical to the one found on the Exeintel website and its research reports, along with the inscription “Exeintel Group Intelligence Service Counter Global Defense.”
Chanaga acknowledged to BuzzFeed News that Counter Global Defense is one of his companies. It and several others he owns are registered at the same address in Española, New Mexico, as Exeintel LLC, the company registered in the name of the FBI agent. In May 2018, Chanaga applied for trademark protection for Exeintel, listing it as a company that provides “intelligence and information to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies relating to organized crime networks,” federal records show.
Despite Chanaga’s denial of any connection between the trademark he owns and the entity by the same name, federal records show that at the time he applied for the trademark, he submitted a screenshot of the Exeintel website as evidence that it was already being used by him in commerce. The @ravagiing account links to the same site, as do other Twitter accounts identifying themselves as connected to Exeintel.
New Mexico Secretary of State records show that Exeintel LLC was registered in Chambers’ name in April 2019 at the same address as Chanaga’s companies and using the same third-party registered agent. Its purpose, records show, is to “operate as an Internet intelligence company.” Chambers’ mailing address in the filing is a PO Box at a UPS Store in Clarkston, Michigan, not far from the FBI’s Detroit field office. A review of public records found no other companies in the US or the UK registered under the name Exeintel.
According to FBI policy, agents need formal permission to have any job outside the bureau or to own a business. The FBI did not comment as to whether Chambers had received such approval.
Emails and encrypted texts reviewed by BuzzFeed News show that Chambers, as far back as 2015, appeared to be in direct communication with individuals who described themselves as ISIS hunters, seeking information about the online activity of suspected terrorists.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents about Exeintel, the FBI said it was “unable to identify records responsive to your request.”