Behind an indicted Bethesda millionaire’s fascination with tunnels under his house

Daniel Beckwitt addresses a 2016 hacker conference in a flame-retardant suit. (Courtesy Michail S. via YouTube)
Daniel Beckwitt addresses a 2016 hacker conference in a flame-retardant suit. (Courtesy Michail S. via YouTube)
A fire is seen in what appears to be a tunnel, taken from the video of Daniel Beckwitt addressing a hacker conference in 2016. (Courtesy Michail S. via YouTube)
Daniel Beckwitt addresses a 2016 hacker conference in a flame-retardant suit. (Courtesy Michail S. via YouTube)

ROCKVILLE, Md. — A Bethesda millionaire indicted in the death of a man who prosecutors say dug tunnels under his Maryland house is expected to post bond and be released. In court, prosecutors revealed more about Daniel Beckwitt and the reason behind the network of tunnels.

Hours after a grand jury indicted Beckwitt on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the death of Askia Khafra, 21, at Beckwitt’s home, state prosecutors and Beckwitt’s attorney revealed previously unknown personal details about Beckwitt to argue his bond. Prosecutors said Khafra died in a fire while digging tunnels underneath Beckwitt’s Bethesda house.

At the hearing Thursday, Montgomery County prosecutors said Beckwitt is the man disguised in an aluminum fire retardant suit seen presenting at a hacking conference on YouTube. In his presentation about how to destroy electronics, Beckwitt shows an explosion inside what appears to be a tunnel.

“Believe it or not, that was only 7 grams of this stuff. It’s really freaking potent,” Beckwitt said following a thermate-induced explosion in the video.

While he does not say where the explosion takes place, Beckwitt said in the video that he made the thermate for his experiment using a piece of rotten steak from his refrigerator which was carbonized by the chemical explosion.

“You probably don’t have your foil hat on tight enough if you think crypto is enough,” Beckwitt joked while giving the presentation, referring to encrypting data as opposed to physically destroying it.

Assistant State’s Attorney Douglas Wink told a Judge Sharon Burrell that the 27-year-old “teaches others how to make thermite bombs in order to get away with hacking.” Thermate is a variation of thermite that burns at higher temperatures.

“These were bunkers because of his concern about international threats, including from North Korea,” said defense attorney Robert Bonsib.

Bonsib said Beckwitt lived at his family’s house on Bethesda’s Danbury Road his entire life, except for when he was in college at the University of Illinois. He is a day trader, and Bonsib said Beckwitt has made millions in the stock market. He has no passport and has never traveled internationally, Bonsib told the judge.

“Mr. Beckwitt is an unusual individual. He participates in online communities with interesting theories on world events. Some could call them conspiratorial,” Bonsib said in court.

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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