Federal authorities are investigating how a Washington state man was able to secure a .gov Web address for an organization that appears to have no link to the U.S. government.
The General Services Administration, which oversees the .gov registry, has shut down AONN.gov to investigate whether it is a valid governmental Web site.
"There is question about the authenticity of the Web site that includes the AONN name," a GSA spokesperson said. "Until the situation is resolved, we have eliminated the URL from the .gov directory name server."
The Olympia man who calls himself the chief information officer of Access One Network Northwest, Robert L. Taylor III, claims that AONN is a cover for a clandestine Defense Department entity called the U.S. Defense Security Intelligence Network.
"We’re spies," Taylor said in an e-mail interview with Foxnews.com. "The Pentagon knows about this even if they claim they don’t."
A Defense Department official who asked not to be identified said a thorough look into the matter turned up no connection whatsoever between DSIN and the DOD.
"You get nothing," the spokesman said. "The answer I got back was, 'Not one of our agencies.’ As far as I was able to ascertain, there is not a direct relationship."
Though a recent news article about Taylor on the online technology news site CNET News.com suggested this might be the first-ever .gov site hijacking, one information technology consultant said he doesn’t think that’s the case.
"It is my opinion that the AONN.gov Web site was not likely hijacked," said the consultant, Michael Palage. "Someone probably submitted the paperwork and it slipped through the cracks."
In other words, Palage said, Taylor may well have legitimately applied for the .gov URL with the GSA and the application was somehow approved, even though AONN/DSIN appears to be a bogus operation.
"Hijacking Web sites is generally not a common occurrence," Palage said. "It was probably just an inappropriate registration and security is not an issue here."
"He used a loophole in registration procedures to get a .gov Web site," the DOD spokesman said.
Taylor, for his part, insists that AONN/DSIN is legit, and claims the network is involved in counterspying and detecting moles.
"DSIN operates foreign sources in order to gain intelligence information from overseas," he wrote.
But if Taylor really were part of a secret, governmental global espionage network, would he make a statement like "We’re spies" and run a Web site (www.dsispecialaccess.net) with strange photographs of himself and bizarre, lengthy descriptions of what his organization does?
For instance, the Web site reads: "AONN DSIN is closer to Star Trekkies than anything ... We are geeks, but in the best possible sense … We are Warfighters -- those who fight to prevent worldwide war and global instability."
The Pentagon spokesman said he doubts a true spy agency would make such assertions. He also found it curious that AONN is allegedly a record label, AONN Records, which Taylor says is the front for DSIN.
"I think he’s just a very creative guy," the spokesman said, acknowledging that he has spoken with Taylor once when Taylor called to ask what he knew about him.
The spokesman said Pentagon colleagues were barraged with so many calls from Taylor that they stopped answering them.
"They’d had enough nuisance phone calls from him -- they won’t give him the time of day," he said.
Taylor contends that AONN and DSIN are supported by and registered with the Department of Defense and the Defense Logistics Agency. He claims that a secret arrangement was made with the Pentagon to secure the .gov site through GSA.
No matter how the .gov site was secured, the incident casts doubt on whether GSA can be expected to monitor registrations and administer the .gov database.
"It begins to raise questions over what role the registration authorities should have," Palage said. "They cannot be the policeman. To hold them to that legal standard would be a potential nightmare."
The Pentagon spokesman said it’s up to the GSA to potentially tighten registration procedures and it's the Justice Department’s domain to investigate whether any crime was committed.
"This is now out of our lane. It’s up to them to look into it," he said.
But the Defense Department doesn’t seem particularly concerned about or embarrassed by the AONN situation, which isn’t at the top of the priority list, especially considering the possibility of war with Iraq.
"At this point, I’m not sure how high on the excitement radar he rates," the official said of Taylor.