Last summer, when the website Deadspin posted a story about ten months' worth of information from the Houston Astros' internal database "Ground Control" being leaked onto the Internet (posted on an anonymous posing site called Anonbin), we all got a big chuckle out of it. For the Astros, it was just the latest song in the box set of futility that the franchise had become.
On the radio, we joked for a day or two about how Astros GM Jeff Luhnow needed to change his password from "1234," and we debated whether or not he should have consummated the leaked trade proposal of Carlos Correa and George Springer for Giancarlo Stanton (thank God he didn't!), but eventually, like most stories in the ADD-addled era in which we live, it came and went and was never really discussed again.
However, behind the closed doors of Houston's FBI chapter, the hacking of "Ground Control" continued to be discussed extensively. Discussed and investigated, and, as it turns out, it appears all roads may lead right back to Luhnow's former employer, of all places.
According to an article this morning in The New York Times, the FBI and the Justice Department are investigating the St. Louis Cardinals' front office for hacking into the Astros' "Ground Control" internal network in an effort to steal information and notes on player personnel matters, such as trades, statistics and scouting reports. The Astros and Major League Baseball are both reportedly cooperating with the investigation.
The Times article cites officials involved with the probe who say that investigators have unearthed evidence that employees within the Cardinals' front office hacked into the Astros' network and gained access to proprietary information. Prior to coming to Houston in December 2011, Luhnow was an employee of the Cardinals' front office for nearly a decade and was instrumental in the construction and maintenance of a similar database for the Cardinals' usage, a network called "Redbird," which the team used as the fulcrum to its analytical approach to personnel decisions.
FBI officials would not comment on which Cardinal employees were the target of the investigation or to what level of the organization's knowledge and/or authorization of the breach extends. However, they did confirm that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and MLB for electronic correspondence.
In a statement, MLB confirmed its awareness of and cooperation with the investigation:
“Major League Baseball has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database. Once the investigative process has been completed by federal law enforcement officials, we will evaluate the next steps and will make decisions promptly.”
The attempts at breaching the Astros' database reportedly began last summer after an article about "Ground Control" appeared in the Houston Chronicle. In that article, there was a URL shown in one of the pictures, which is believed to be the impetus for the hacking. According to the Times article today, agents learned that the Astros' network was hacked from a computer in a home in which some Cardinals' officials had lived, which led to their focus on the team's front office as the possible source of the hacking.
Speaking on behalf of the organization, Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, via Mark Berman of FOX 26, said, "This is a pending FBI investigation. We've been cooperating with the FBI solely on this matter. Because it is ongoing, we cannot comment."
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.
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