Computer security experts say that a video released by former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson appears to show her computer "malfunction[ing]," likely due to a stuck backspace key, not being hacked by government agents as she had suggested.
In her new book Stonewalled, Attkisson claims that her personal Apple laptop, personal Apple desktop, and a CBS News-issued Toshiba laptop were hacked in late 2012 while she was reporting on the Benghazi terrorist attacks. In June 2013, CBS News confirmed that the CBS News computer was breached, using what the network said were "sophisticated" methods. According to the book, unnamed sources confirmed for Attkisson that an unnamed government agency was behind the attack. She also claims that she has submitted her personal Apple desktop to the Department of Justice's Inspector General for additional review.*
On October 31, Politico reported that Attkisson had released "a video she took with her cellphone of one apparent hack" of her personal Apple laptop. The video shows words typed into a Microsoft Word document rapidly disappearing. During the video, Attkisson's voice can be heard saying she's "not touching it," as the camera pans down to the keyboard. As Politico reported, "There is no way to confirm from the video alone that a hack is actually taking place, and there's reason to doubt that Attkisson was hacked at all," but "Attkisson's decision to release the video suggests she plans on using it to make her case."
Computer security experts who reviewed the video suggested to Media Matters that it seemed to show the results of a stuck backspace key rather than hacking, and said the government and other sophisticated hacking enterprises were unlikely to use such methods.
Matthew Brothers-McGrew, a senior specialist at Interhack Corp. in Columbus, Ohio, said that sometimes computers "malfunction, a key can get stuck, sometimes dirt can get under a keyboard and a key will inadvertently be held down." He explained that sometimes there can be software issues "where the computer will think a key is held down in fact it is not," and said that his firm tested holding down the backspace key on a computer in their offices, and found "if you have Word open it will continually backspace text at about the same rate we are seeing in the video."
Brad Moore, also a senior specialist at Interhack Corp., agreed, noting, "From what we looked at and what we were able to replicate, from that piece of video we don't see what we would call evidence of hacking. There are multiple explanations and we were able to demonstrate quickly and easily one possibil[ity], the backspace key."
Peter Theobald, computer forensics investigator with TC Forensics in Syosset N.Y., said that while he would not be "terribly surprised to find out that someone in the government could or would hack her," he also did not think the video proved "anything."
"If a hacker were to infiltrate her laptop and delete her files there would be better ways to do it, it wouldn't be so obvious to her," Theobald said. "It did not look like a hacker attack to me."
All of the experts agreed that hackers would more typically use other methods to delete documents from a computer.
"The way to do it wouldn't be to hold down the delete key," explained Sam Plainfield, of Syntax Technical Computer Forensics in San Francisco, which is what he thinks appears to be happening in the video. Instead, "you wouldn't see a visual indicator that files are deleting, [they are] just gone."
Brothers-McGrew noted "in our experience if you have the ability to be able to access and submit keystrokes on someone's computer, you generally have system level access where you can just delete or modify the file yourself. The user would not ordinarily see what is going on."
He added, "If the government were in there they would most likely be doing it without making themselves known."
Theobald concurred, saying that the government "would be able to access the files on her hard drive and manipulate and delete them without having to remote control her screen and keyboard while she is sitting at the keyboard."
*The language in this post has been updated to clarify that Attkisson submitted her personal Apple desktop computer to the DOJ for review, not her personal laptop.
George Will has been dropped by a major newspaper and had a planned speech at a California college canceled for his recent comments dismissing the epidemic of sexual assault. The comments are nothing new for Will, who belittled victims, mocked efforts to codify consent, and attacked what he calls "rape crisis feminists" over two decades ago.
UPDATE: Politico Magazine added an editor's note to the end of Kessler's piece, claiming readers had "misinterpreted" the conclusion:
Editor's note: Some readers have misinterpreted the original last line of Kessler's article as somehow suggesting that the president should be held responsible in the event of his own assassination. That couldn't be further from the truth, and we're sorry if anyone interpreted Kessler's meaning in any other way.
The note did not explain what a correct interpretation of the line would be.
Politico Magazine published a piece by Ron Kessler, a discredited conservative journalist with a history of pushing conspiracy theories, which suggested that President Obama would be to blame for his own assassination and that the president's death could be necessary for the reform of the Secret Service.
Agents tell me it's a miracle an assassination has not already occurred. Sadly, given Obama's colossal lack of management judgment, that calamity may be the only catalyst that will reform the Secret Service.
As Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo noted, this implies either that "Obama is at fault for his inevitable assassination, or he's the only thing standing in the way of cleaning up the agency responsible for his inevitable assassination," both "bizarre" and troubling suggestions.
But also bizarre and troubling is why Politico published Kessler in the first place. As Marshall pointed out, while Kessler has written several books on the Secret Service and other national law enforcement agencies, "he's made a hard veer to the right" in recent years and is "a bit of a kook."
Kessler, who left credible newspapers to become the chief Washington correspondent for the right-wing website Newsmax, has been widely been criticized for peddling trashy gossip. He previously accused former first lady Hillary Clinton of "pathological lying" and pushed the conspiracy theory that she drove then-deputy White House counsel Vince Foster to suicide, because Clinton "humiliated him in front of all these White House aides." He also promoted the falsehood that Obama was in attendance at controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright sermons.
As Media Matters has previously noted, numerous book critics have also slammed Kessler for his reliance on "Page Six"-style gossip and innuendo:
National security reporter James Bamford wrote in The Washington Post that for his book In The President's Secret Service, Kessler "milked the agents for the juiciest gossip he could get and mixed it with a rambling list of their complaints," comparing the book's reporting to that of the National Enquirer. New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani called Kessler's Joseph P. Kennedy book The Sins of the Father a "meanspirited, speculation-filled biography ... which purveyed a determinedly poisonous portrait of the man." That book was also described by Globe and Mail's Andrew Cohen as featuring research that "is sometimes suspect" because Kessler "relies too heavily on speculation, gossip, innuendo and secondary sources." Publicity material for Kessler's The Secrets of the FBI, as Bryan Burrough wrote in the Post, even promised it would be "filled with revelations about the Bureau and Page Six tidbits."
Kessler's work over the last few years has solidified his reputation for pushing gossip and conspiracy -- raising questions over Politico Magazine's decision to give him a platform.
Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett wrote a column accurately depicting the college sexual assault epidemic and the fears victims face in reporting these crimes, a stark contrast to his colleagues and fellow conservative media figures who have dismissed, mocked, and stigmatized victims.
In a September 25 column for Fox News' website, Jarrett highlighted the high rate of assault on college campuses, and praised student activists for raising awareness of the often insufficient resources and efforts by colleges to address the problem (emphasis added):
Nearly 20 % of female college students have been sexually assaulted, according to a White House task force.
I suspect the true number is significantly higher. Many young women are reluctant to report it. They keep it secret for fear of embarrassment, shame, retribution, and the trauma of reliving the nightmare during legal or disciplinary proceedings. I get it. There are repercussions. Victims are especially afraid of being stigmatized or ostracized within the tight, insular social circles on campus.
Awareness is on the rise driven, in part, by student activism. Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, angry over how the school adjudicated her claim of rape, has taken to carrying a mattress around campus. Dubbed "Mattress girl" by fellow students and the media, her visually indelible protest has galvanized a growing demand for honesty and transparency. And why not? Schools should be required to publish accurate information about the frequency of assaults. It can be done without breaching individual students' privacy.
Jarrett's column unfortunately stands out among recent commentary about sexual assault in conservative media, where the fact that one in five women are assaulted at college is regularly dismissed. The Daily Caller has called the statistic "bizarre and wholly false," while the Washington Examiner called it "ridiculous."
Moreover, the trust and respect Jarrett treats the victims of these assaults with is unusual. Instead, their stories are often questioned or critiqued, with media figures suggesting that a large number of victims are lying about their assault, or are partly culpable.
The same day that Jarrett's column was published, some of his Fox News colleagues suggested that intoxicated women who are assaulted at college fraternity parties are responsible for their own assaults. Several co-hosts of Fox's Outnumbered defended a Forbes contributor who was fired after claiming that drunk women were "the gravest threat to fraternities" because the fraternity would be liable if a woman was sexually assaulted at a party.
This past summer, Washington Post columnist George Will came under fire for claiming that college efforts to curb sexual assaults were making "victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege." In his column, Will disputed the story of a college rape on Swarthmore's campus, implying he didn't believe the survivor's story qualified as an actual incident of assault. The survivor, Lisa Sendrow, told Media Matters about the violence she had experienced, how Will's dismissal of her story was triggering and damaging to her, and that she was diagnosed with PTSD and received violent threats after her story was first reported.
Earlier this year, a Weekly Standard contributor blamed feminism for sexual assault, because victims abandoned "feminine modesty" which had provided women "protection" from rape. National Review Online writers claimed rape was "instinctive" among some young men, that assaults involve "a large degree of voluntary behavior" from women, and that women are "being taught to believe they were raped." A New York Post columnist dismissed rape as "regrettable sex."
And Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto went so far as to claim intoxicated sexual assault victims are just as guilty as their attackers.
While Jarrett's column is sadly something of an outlier among conservative commentary on the issue, survivors now have one more voice in the media supporting their efforts to combat this epidemic.
The Atlantic's Molly Ball is the latest media figure to proclaim herself bored of Hillary Clinton, insisting the former Secretary of State offers "nothing new or surprising" and asking, "Has America ever been so thoroughly tired of a candidate before the campaign even began?"
But America isn't tired of Clinton, one of the nation's most popular political figures -- Molly Ball and others in the press corps who insist on obsessing over her every move are.
Polling from Gallup this summer found that a majority of Americans -- and 90 percent of Democrats -- viewed Clinton favorably. Clinton also beat out all of her theoretical Republican challengers in a more recent McClatchy-Marist poll. More than 80 percent of Democrats would be either "excited" or "satisfied" with a Clinton run for president, according to a CNN/ORC poll.
In fact, at the end of 2013, Gallup found Clinton was the "most admired woman" in America -- for the twelfth consecutive year. (Oprah Winfrey came in second, by a wide margin.)
But Ball's September 19 article largely ignored Clinton's widespread popularity to instead claim that there is widespread fatigue with the former secretary of state. Ball's argument centers around the idea that Clinton is not producing enough "spark" or "vision," and criticized her for agreeing with a "laundry list of well-worn leftish ideas" discussed at a recent event at the Center for American Progress, "from raising the minimum wage to paid family leave and affordable childcare":
Granted, these are substantive proposals, and they are controversial in some quarters. But they are broadly popular, and the overall message--that women ought to prosper--is almost impossible to disagree with. The discussion's only spark came from Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York, who made a rousing call to action. "I think we need a Rosie the Riveter moment for this generation!"
So Clinton supports popular, substantive proposals that many can agree on -- ideas that have been stymied by a recalcitrant Republican Congress -- and this is a problem, because Ball isn't entertained?
Recently NBC's Chuck Todd discussed "one thing" he thinks Washington media gets wrong: this idea of "Clinton fatigue." "There is a Clinton fatigue problem," Todd noted, "but it's in the press corps. I think there is much less Clinton fatigue in the Democratic Party than there is in the press corps."
The excitement for Clinton -- and her own "well-worn leftish ideas" -- among Democrats was apparent at another of Clinton's appearances this week, the September 19 Women's Leadership Forum, hosted by the Democratic National Committee. Clinton received a standing ovation before and after her speech, and her support for policies such as paid sick leave, equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, and a living wage received cheers and applause.
A majority of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, support raising the minimum wage and mandating paid sick leave. These ideas that seem tired to Ball are specific policy proposals that Americans want. It would certainly be more interesting for journalists if Clinton decided to support wildly unpopular new proposals, but it's unclear why any politician's priority should be entertaining reporters rather than promoting policies they think will help the country.
Of course, this is a perfect example of what Media Matters has previously termed the "Goldilocks approach to campaign journalism." When Clinton bores journalists by repeating a popular and substantive platform, she gets criticized, but if she did do something surprising or new, the press will pounce on her for that as well.
A press corps that is constantly looking for a new angle to parse, whether it's Clinton's charm, or body language, or clothing, is going to be bored when there's nothing to say and overly-eager to twist controversy out of anything that seems new.
And a media that is quick to attribute its own personal fatigue to the rest of the nation is going to miss out on the real story.
Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck connected an ongoing National Football League controversy surrounding domestic violence to the September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
The Fox & Friends host tweeted September 16, "Imagine if everyone that asked for transparency in the #nfl @nfl Demanded that same #transparency in our #government," adding the hashtags "#Benghazi" and "#IRS," references to the terrorist attack and the alleged targeting by the IRS of tax exempt organizations.
Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice was indefinitely suspended by the NFL after a video of him punching his now-wife and knocking her unconscious leaked, and the organization came under fire for not previously suspending Rice when he initially admitted to the assault. Fifteen female senators have asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to "institute a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence," and questioned whether the commissioner or other league officials may have attempted to "cover-up" evidence of the abuse.
Fox News has repeatedly attempted to claim the Obama administration engaged in a "cover up" of the Benghazi attacks, with the evening lineup alleging a "cover up" in 281 segments in the first 20 months following the attacks. Network personalities have previous invoked Benghazi in relation to meteorologists meeting with President Obama, the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, Gov. Chris Christie's bridge scandal, Yom Kippur, and Monday Night Football.
UPDATE: Hasselbeck later tweeted at the Huffington Post, which wrote up her comments:
Fox News' evening lineup ran nearly 1,100 segments on the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath in the first 20 months following the attacks. Nearly 500 segments focused on a set of Obama administration talking points used in September 2012 interviews; more than 100 linked the attacks to a potential Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential run; and dozens of segments compared the attacks and the administration response to the Watergate or Iran-Contra scandals. The network hosted Republican members of Congress to discuss Benghazi nearly 30 times more frequently than Democrats.
The newly-released 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi documents the experience on the ground the night of the September 2012 terrorist attacks, effectively debunking a number of old media myths surrounding the tragedy.
The book, written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff and five former CIA contractors who defended the diplomatic post and nearby CIA annex during the assault, is an interesting eyewitness portrayal of the attacks and the heroism the men displayed. But while the book has received ample media attention, outlets are largely ignoring several key points from 13 Hours' narrative that undermine false media narratives about the attacks.
On CNN's The Lead, host Jake Tapper interviewed three of the authors and specifically focused on what he called the "biggest point of contention" between the authors and administration officials, which is their description of the so-called "stand down" order. According to the contractors, though they were ready to leave the CIA annex to defend the diplomatic post almost immediately following the initial distress call, they were asked to wait for approximately 20 minutes as their CIA base chief attempted to contact local a Libyan militia for assistance and develop a plan. They disagreed with the delay and wanted to move in more quickly.
This disagreement was eventually politicized and inflated by media and political figures, who insisted that members of the Obama administration, or then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had ordered rescue efforts to "stand down" permanently and leave Americans to die. But as the contractors explained to Tapper, though they believe they could have done more to save American lives that night had they been allowed to leave immediately, they did not view the decision as one of "malice" towards Americans, nor did they place the blame for the decision on anyone higher up than the base chief.
As the New York Times noted, their story "fits with the publicly known facts and chronology" we already knew about the non-existent "stand down" order. For example, the Associated Press reported last year on the disagreement between CIA leaders and security contractors about the delay to try to gather support from militia allies, citing Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland pointing to the disagreement as a possible source of the "stand down" myth.
The "stand down" order dispute has defined the majority of media coverage on the book. Fox News, which produced a special based on the book, has used the "stand down" reporting in 13 Hours to suggest they've been right all along about it. But Fox figures are moving the goalposts -- they network's obsession with a "stand down" order has revolved around the idea that the administration ordered a forces to not respond that night, which does not resemble the story laid out in the book.
While media have been focused on whether the contractors were ordered to "stand down," 13 Hours actually debunks other myths surrounding the attacks.
WND reporter Aaron Klein's history of outrageous conspiracy theories has already cast serious doubt on the credibility of his new book, The REAL Benghazi Story. But the book itself contains major distortions of reality, including selectively-edited evidence and distorted facts, reconfirming Klein's commitment to pushing convoluted hoaxes.
Klein's book, which Media Matters obtained a copy of in advance of its September 9 release, claims to "expose" the "truth" about the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya, revealing "What The White House and Hillary Don't Want You To Know." Included are a few of the more conspiratorial analyses that Klein has previously pushed at the birther website WND, such as the claim that Benghazi is linked to the Boston Marathon bombing -- because a handful of members of a jihadist group may have taken part in the Benghazi attacks, and that group also "is behind" a magazine "thought to have provided bomb-building instructions" for the accused marathon bombers.
Klein's book does include one seemingly "new" Benghazi theory, which is also entirely false. Klein attempts to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for what he claims is her previously "unreported role" in Benghazi, by falsely claiming she must have personally approved security conditions at the Benghazi compound.
The Benghazi mission was unusual for government buildings overseas, as it featured a CIA annex that was separate from the diplomatic compound, roughly a mile apart. Typically government agencies are housed together in the same building, which is called "co-location." According to Klein, State Department regulations would have required Clinton to personally sign a waiver permitting the Benghazi mission to be set up like this, and thus provided "personal approval of security conditions at the compound":
...it can now be said that Clinton personally provided the legal waivers for U.S. personnel to occupy that death trap of a mission. This largely unreported detail was confirmed in the Senate's January 2014 report on Benghazi. Senate investigators found the Benghazi facility required a special waiver since it did not meet the minimum official security standards set by the State Department.
Some of the necessary waivers, the Senate affirmed, could have been issued at lower levels within the State Department. However "other departures, such as the co-location requirement, could only be approved by the Secretary of State." ... This means Clinton herself approved some aspects of the U.S. special mission, including separating the mission from the seemingly more protected CIA annex. In doing so, did Clinton know she was approving a woefully unprotected compound? If not, then at the very least she is guilty of dereliction of duty and the diplomatic equivalence of criminal negligence.
But the fact is the Benghazi mission did not require this kind of waiver. The State Department regulations Klein is referencing lay out the responsibilities of the Secretary under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act, or SECCA. But as the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) that investigated Benghazi explained, the Benghazi facility was exempted from SECCA. SECCA applies to diplomatic facilities, such as consulates, that are officially notified to the host government. Instead, the special mission in Benghazi was a "temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government," and as such SECCA rules -- waivable or not -- did not apply.
In fact, the document approving the set up and security conditions for the compound has been public since at least September 2013, when it was posted online by Al Jazeera America. It clearly shows the signature of Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy, as well as clearance from a number of other low-level officials.
State's ARB report acknowledged that the Benghazi mission's "'non-status' as a temporary, residential facility made allocation of resources for security and personnel more difficult." They recommended State develop minimum security standards for temporary facilities and encouraged co-location in the future. Clinton accepted the recommendation and began implementing it before leaving office.
Real flaws in security at Benghazi do not, however, justify Klein's attempt to ignore the facts and claim Clinton personally signed waivers approving the compound.
A central question of Fox News' latest documentary on Benghazi has already been answered by official congressional and State Department investigations into the terrorist attacks.
On August 27, Fox announced "13 Hours at Benghazi," a new documentary hosted by Special Report anchor Bret Baier that will reportedly include "exclusive" interviews with three American security personnel who were present for the September 2012 attacks. The production, scheduled to air September 5, is based on a forthcoming book written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff and the CIA contractors.
According to Fox's announcement, the production will specifically explore "Whether or not military assistance was requested by the security team and whether orders from above hindered their response to the violence that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans."
The problem with this premise is that both of those questions have already been answered by official intelligence investigations.
As the Daily Beast's Eli Lake has explained, on the night of the attacks there was a 23-minute delay between the initial distress call from the diplomatic mission and when the CIA contractors departed the nearby Annex to respond. Despite suggestions from some in the intelligence community that this delay hindered their rescue effort, investigations found no evidence that the CIA operatives were delayed by "orders from above," as Fox's announcement suggests.
Instead, the Senate Intelligence Committee's January 2014 review of the attacks found that during that delay, the CIA's Chief of Base "attempted to secure assistance and heavy weapons" from US allies in the region, and that (emphasis added):
Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.
The State Department's independent Accountability Review Board also found the CIA team was not obstructed by officials:
The departure of the Annex team was not delayed by orders from superiors; the team leader decided on his own to depart the Annex compound once it was apparent, despite a brief delay to permit their continuing efforts, that rapid support from local security elements was not forthcoming.
Finally, the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Republicans, also found no evidence that any response effort was blocked by official orders. According to Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), the "bipartisan, factual, definitive report" on the Intelligence Community's actions the night of the attacks "shows there was no 'stand down order' given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening."
Fox's Bret Baier, the host of the upcoming special, reported on the House Intelligence Committee's findings on August 5.
Baier has hosted previous Fox specials on Benghazi and has repeatedly used his Fox News program to promote myths about the attacks and their aftermath. The false claim that CIA contractors received "orders to wait" was also pushed by 60 Minutes' infamous since-retracted Benghazi report, which featured a discredited "eyewitness" account from a British security contractor.