Sharyl Attkisson refused to answer questions from Politico about the inconsistencies in her story of alleged government hacking into her computer. Instead, she once again lashed out at Media Matters.
Sharyl Attkisson is now claiming she doesn't know who was behind the hack of her computer, after writing in her book that her sources gave her "the name of the person responsible for my computer intrusions."
Attkisson's former employer CBS News confirmed in June 2013 that her CBS-issued Toshiba laptop was compromised by an unknown party. Attkisson has since claimed that the hack was conducted by a government agency. She has not produced evidence of this, but she claims the Department of Justice's Inspector General is currently investigating her personal Apple computer.
During a November 5 interview with HuffPostLive, Attkisson was asked "how much do you think that it really is the administration doing this to you, or people within the government spying on you because of your reporting?" In response, Attkisson claimed she had evidence of a "government tie," but did not know who or what organization had specifically conducted the cyberattack:
ATTKISSON: I can only tell you what the forensics shows. And I'm not a forensics expert. We've had three separate computer forensics exams by three different people that have showed highly sophisticated remote intrusion of my computers.
The forensics says that there was a government tie to this, because there was, as one of them said, proprietary software to one of the four federal government agencies. Doesn't mean I know who was on the other end or was it an organization or was it a person, a rogue person, I don't have the answer to those questions, I just know that there's that government tie.
But in her new book Stonewalled, Attkisson writes that a source gave her the name of the individual responsible:
On May 6, 2013, I make contact with an excellent source who has crucial information: the name of the person responsible for my computer intrusions. He provides me the name and I recognize it. I'm not surprised. It strikes me as desperate and cowardly that those responsible would resort to these tactics. That's all I can say about that for now.
Two paragraphs later, a source code-named "Number One" tells Attkisson that the inspector general's office "works for the people who did this to you." (In May 2013, the Justice Department said it had never compromised Attkisson's computers.)
Attkisson has also reversed herself on whether various technological problems she experienced in 2012 and 2013 were tied to the intrusion on her system. In the book, she suggested her phone, television, personal laptop, and cable systems had all malfunctioned due to the hacking by a government agency. But on November 4, she told radio host Don Imus that those "disruptions happening in my electrical systems at home may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusion."
Challenged on that reversal during her HuffPostLive interview, Attkisson claimed:
I was trying to explain, because there were so many people anxious without full information, and I understand, to try to discredit and poke holes and controversialize all of this. And, I had heard it said mistakenly that if all of that stuff was just normal miss-wiring, which I don't believe it was, then nothing really happened. And I was making the point that take all of that aside, that was just a symptom that I saw that had nothing to do with the forensics which proved the remote intrusions. That was just the thing that triggered me and my sources to say, "something is indeed probably happening to you, let's take a look." So even if you scoop those out, even if you want to say, I was holding my backspace key down or whatever they said, you have to look at the forensics from the three separate experts, and you really can't argue with that.
After Attkisson released a video she had taken that reportedly showed text from a Microsoft Word document on her laptop being erased, Media Matters asked computer security experts to review that video. Those experts said that rather than showing evidence of hacking, the video seemed to show her computer "malfunction[ing]," likely due to a stuck backspace key.
The epigraph of Stonewalled is "The truth eventually finds a way to be told."
Watch Attkisson saying she didn't know who was responsible for the hack on HuffPostLive:
Sharyl Attkisson is now claiming that the various technology problems chronicled in her book "may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusions" into her computer, after she previously suggested her phone, television, personal laptop, and cable systems had all malfunctioned due to hacking by a government agency.
In June 2013, CBS News confirmed that then-reporter Attkisson's CBS News-issued Toshiba laptop was breached using what the network said were "sophisticated" methods. But Attkisson has taken this further, stating in her new book Stonewalled that unnamed sources have confirmed for her that an unnamed government agency was behind the attack, and that it also breached her personal Apple laptop and affected her other household electronics.
In a chapter titled "Big Brother," Attkisson highlights the warning of a pseudonymous "well-informed acquaintance" who is "connected to a three-letter agency" who tells her that the government is likely monitoring her due to her reporting on the Benghazi attacks. Attkisson writes that the "warning sheds new light on all the trouble I've been having with my phones and computers." She details a variety of ongoing technology problems she experienced at her home starting in the autumn of 2012, including strange sounds on her telephone (which unnamed sources tell her may be tapped), a television that "spontaneously jitters, mutes, and freeze-frames," a house alarm that repeatedly goes off at night, and a mysterious fiber optics cable cord that appears behind her house. Her Verizon FiOS system controls her internet, phone, and home security systems, which Attkisson suggests links these electronic malfunctions to her computer problems.
Now, Attkisson seems to be reversing the sinister suggestion that these electronic malfunctions are all the work of "Big Brother." In a November 4 interview on Imus in the Morning, Attkisson said that "all these disruptions happening in my electrical systems at home may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusion," suggesting instead it was a "gift" to experience these problems so that experts could find the legitimate hack into her computer (emphasis added):
DON IMUS: A big story out of all of this, apparently, is somebody is hacking your computer? Tell me about that.
ATTKISSON: It sounded very far-fetched at first, because the news hadn't come out yet about the government spying on Fox News reporter and confiscating personal records or phone records of Associated Press reporters and Ed Snowden so in that era, when I was having disruptions and things happening in my systems at home, I certainly didn't imagine the government was behind any of it but I had sources come to me and a couple of them, inside sources, say similar things, that I was probably being monitored because they had been seeing the work I had been doing on Benghazi and so on.
IMUS: Inside sources from CBS News?
ATTKISSON: No, from government-connected people and...
ATTKISSON: I don't want to say.
ATTKISSON: But they use very similar wording, two of them, in retrospect, they said something like the public would be shocked at the extent to which the government is spying on private citizens or monitoring private citizens and that kind of rang in my head especially when the second person used similar language, and just by coincidence all these disruptions happening in my electrical systems at home may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusions but it was enough to alert people that said something may be happening and it gave me the gift of being able to connect with someone who could do a forensic examination on my computer and discover apart from these disruptions in my house, they found forensic evidence of highly sophisticated remote intrusions into my home computer and my CBS laptop computer. In all I had three forensic exams done which all found evidence of the remote intrusions into these computers, not garden variety hackers, phishers, or that sort of thing.
As computer experts have noted, many of Attkisson's electronic problems may have non-suspicious causes. Security expert Robert Graham went through each example offered by Attkisson and concluded none were "credible" evidence of hacking -- instead, he thought they were likely the result of "common" problems like bad cables and old systems:
It's not that hackers can't cause these problems, it's that they usually don't. Even if hackers have thoroughly infested your electronics, these symptoms are still more likely to be caused by normal failure than by the hackers themselves. Moreover, even if a hacker caused any one of these symptoms, it's insane to think they caused them all.
Media Matters also asked several computer experts to review a video Attkisson has offered as evidence that her personal laptop was being tampered with. According to them, her computer "malfunction[ing]" was likely due to a stuck backspace key, not hacking by government agents.
From the November 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
From the November 3 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Sharyl Attkisson's new book attempts to cast the former CBS News reporter as an intrepid reporter fighting against intractable barriers. But the book's sloppy inaccuracies and absent context reinforce her image as a journalist more interested in a biased narrative than uncovering the facts.
Attkisson resigned this year after two decades at CBS and promptly launched a media tour attacking her former employer for supposedly protecting the Obama administration from her reporting. Her new book has been published and promoted by conservative interests, who clearly see this narrative as a confirmation of their worldview that the "liberal" media is biased against them.
But Attkisson doesn't portray herself as a conservative folk hero pitted against "liberal bias." In fact, she sees that kind of rhetoric as distracting "from the real issues," and the real reasons she left CBS. Instead, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington is meant to confirm her place in the pantheon of nonpartisan journalists, who will "follow a story wherever it leads, no matter how unpleasant, no matter whom it touches or implicates." In her account, Attkisson is one of the few reporters who have been trying to hold the Obama administration accountable by investigating its supposedly scandalous behavior in the face of "forces" who seek to protect the White House.
Attkisson organizes the book around her coverage of four major news stories -- the botched law enforcement Operation Fast and Furious, the bankruptcy of a few green energy companies that had received federal funding, the Benghazi attacks, and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act's website, Healthcare.gov -- which she casts as symbolic of her desire to investigate administration failures. But Attkisson claims her efforts were repeatedly stymied by CBS.
Attkisson's claims of the opposition she faced at CBS News are difficult to confirm, as they rely on private conversations and anonymous sources. (The Washington Post's Erik Wemple has been attempting to identify and reach out to some of them, but has received few confirmations.) But her account inflates those supposed scandals by hiding key facts in favor of pushing conservative talking points -- the sort of behavior that led CBS officials to fear that she was "wading dangerously close to advocacy" in her reporting.
Attkisson was one of the first reporters to cover Operation Fast and Furious, under which Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents allowed firearms to be trafficked across the U.S. - Mexico border, hoping to follow the guns to high-level Mexican drug cartel targets. ATF lost track of the guns, some of which ended up at crime scenes in Mexico, while others were found at the scene of the fatal shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
Stonewalled details Attkisson's role in reporting the story, for which she won an Emmy. However, her book also floats a number of debunked conservative conspiracy theories about the botched operation, while promoting the 2012 Department of Justice Inspector General report that undermines those same theories.
For instance, Attkisson falsely suggests that her reporting proved Attorney General Eric Holder was lying about his knowledge of Fast and Furious. Holder testified under oath that he was unaware of the operation until it became public knowledge in early 2011, but Attkisson claims Holder was aware several months earlier:
Unfortunately for Holder, it wasn't long after his testimony that we obtained internal documents showing he was actually sent weekly briefings on Fast and Furious as early as July 2010, ten months before. The briefings came from the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center and from Holder's own Assistant Attorney General Breuer.
However, the Inspector General report found that Holder did not personally review those reports, and that those reports did not refer to the agent's major failure to stop the firearms from crossing the border. The report went on to completely exonerate Holder, placing the "primary responsibility" for Fast and Furious on the ATF's Phoenix field office and the Phoenix U.S. Attorney's Office. Even House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) has acknowledged that he has "no evidence" or even a "strong suspicion" that Holder was aware of the gunwalking tactics.
Attkisson calls the Inspector General report "scathing" while acknowledging that its findings contradicted some of her reporting. Nevertheless, she misleadingly concludes by blasting the press for accurately exonerating Holder, accusing them of a "generous interpretation of the facts."
Attkisson goes on to attack the Obama administration's electric vehicle initiative, a part of the Department of Energy's clean energy loan program. She focuses on several failed companies that received federal funds, including Fisker Automotive and A123, and falsely claims their eventual bankruptcies were representative of the entire program:
Were these failed enterprises alone among an overwhelming body of successful green energy initiatives funded by tax dollars? No.
This is false. Despite conservative media's fixation on the few beneficiaries of clean energy loan programs that failed, such as Fisker and Solyndra -- and despite Attkisson's previous error-ridden report on what CBS called "new Solyndras" -- 98 percent of clean energy funds went to successful ventures:
Attkisson criticizes the media for a double standard when covering the bankruptcies, insisting that journalists gave President Obama a pass that they wouldn't have afforded President Bush -- all while insisting that she would have covered each president fairly (emphasis added):
Imagine a parallel scenario in which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney personally appeared at groundbreakings for, and used billions of tax dollars to support, multiple giant corporate ventures whose investors were sometimes major political campaign bundlers, only to have one (or two, or three) go bankrupt. At a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars. During a presidential election. When they knew in advance the companies' credit ratings were junk. News headlines would have been relentless with images of Bush and Cheney smiling and waing at one contrsuction-start ceremony after another, making their invalidated claims about jobs and untold millions...contrasted with images of empty plants and boarded-up warehouses. And I would have been proposing those stories.
But the program that started the Fisker loans -- called the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program -- did begin under Bush.
In fact, Fisker itself was approached by the Bush administration and encouraged to apply for the loan, and they were in charge when the application was filed. Attkisson does not mention this context in her description of Fisker; instead, all she offers is a brief note that she had broadly investigated "the backgrounds of some troubled green ventures that benefited from federal tax dollars, whether under Bush or Obama."
Attkisson hides basic facts to suggest the Obama administration is trying to cover up the truth about September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
She narrates a moment in November 2012 when she attempted to find a photograph of President Obama on the night of the Benghazi attacks as a way to account for his "actions that night." Conservative media, and Fox News in particular, have repeatedly questioned the whereabouts of various administration officials the night of the attacks.
Attkisson claims the White House isn't being forthright about the President's whereabouts, which she characterizes as suspicious and politically motivated, given that "tax dollars pay to have a professional photographer cover most every aspect of the president's work life."
A photo of the president in the Oval Office taken the night of the attacks has been available on the public White House Flickr account since October 11, 2012, three weeks before Attkisson claims she started looking for a photo.
The photo depicts Obama meeting with Denis McDonough, then-Deputy National Security Advisor, Vice President Joe Biden, then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and then-Chief of Staff Jack Lew. The existence of the photo has been repeatedly documented. Attkisson apparently did not know about the photo at the time, but she does not attempt to reconcile the facts now.
Attkisson criticizes her CBS bosses for not letting her repeatedly report on theoretical security problems the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchange website faced -- while hiding key testimony that confirmed there had been no security breaches.
Attkisson highlights the closed-door House Oversight Committee testimony of Teresa Fryer, a lead cybersecurity official on the project, who Attkisson holds up as "a knowledgeable insider" whose testimony is worth trusting as a "current, sitting, senior manager." Fryer testified that there had been two high-risk security findings on Healthcare.gov "after it went live October 1" (emphasis original), which Attkisson claims is a "bombshell" and reveals that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has misled journalists when they confirmed that "all fears about security risks in the past never came to pass."
What Attkisson fails to note is that during her testimony Fryer also explained there had been "no successful breaches" of the website; the "several layers of security" in place had performed as expected. The two findings Fryer mentioned were simply red flags -- they did not result in any real security failures, according to Fryer herself.
Attkisson notes that according to HHS one of the findings was a "false alarm" and the second was fixed, but insists "that may or may not be true. No proof is offered." She insists until evidence is produced it's simply the government's "side of the story," and derides media figures who accept the HHS "claims." She does not mention that Fryer made the exact same claims.
From the November 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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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.
Sharyl Attkisson's crusade against Media Matters continues in her new book, Stonewalled, which contains at least 22 references to the organization. Attkisson's grievances include frustration that Media Matters has a reputation as a "serious" media watchdog and a baseless charge that the organization has attacked her with false information.
Discredited former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson appeared on an "endtimes newscast" and entertained the host's suggestion that the United States may soon see "a trigger event" that "justifies a full-blown totalitarian dictatorship where no dissent, no questions are asked." In response to whether such a dictatorship could happen, Attkisson replied: "Gosh, it's hard to say. I just think right now the trend is bad."
Attkisson, author of the upcoming book Stonewalled, was a recent guest on the radio program Trunews. The show describes itself as an "Endtimes Newscast" and "the only nightly newscast reporting the countdown to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ."
Host Rick Wiles, as documented by Right Wing Watch, regularly peddles bizarre and outlandish conspiracies. Wiles has labeled Obama the "Antichrist" and a "stealth jihadist" and called on the military and God to save us from his "tyranny"; claimed "Ebola could solve America's problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion"; warned that Christians in America could soon be "arrested or possibly killed"; and said "Satan launched a D-Day invasion of the United States of America in 2012."
On his October 24 program, Wiles asked Attkisson to predict where things are headed in the United States and if the country might become a "full-blown totalitarian dictatorship":
Sharyl Attkisson's new book shows the common interest between a discredited journalist trying to cash in on right-wing credibility and the conservative machine that wants its media worldview confirmed.
Attkisson resigned in March after two decades at CBS News, reportedly in part because she believed the network had stymied her reporting due to "liberal bias." Staffers there reportedly characterized her work, which often focused on trumped-up claims of Obama administration misdeeds, as "agenda-driven," leading "network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting."
In her forthcoming book, Stonewalled, Attkisson alleges that the press has been protecting Obama from scrutiny for ideological reasons. "Attkisson doesn't explicitly accuse CBS and the rest of the mainstream media of a pervasive liberal bias," writes Fox News' Howard Kurtz in a review. "But that view is clear from sheer accumulation of detail in her book."
Based on press accounts, Attkisson's allegations of CBS News' bias rely largely on her own recollections of conversations she says she had with her former colleagues. The network declined Media Matters' request for comment, but one apparent subject of Attkisson's criticism has denied her account.
Attkisson's credibility is central to determining whether to believe her claims. Given her history of conspiratorial claims and shoddy reporting -- including her false and baseless claim that Media Matters may have been paid to attack her -- it is difficult to take her story at face value. But one thing is clear: her message is very valuable to both right-wing media and Attkisson herself.
Conservative media are lashing out at individuals who have worked with and support Hillary Clinton to attack her by proxy and rehash tired Benghazi smears.
The Washington Post reported this week that WJLA, ABC's Washington, D.C., affiliate, has taken a "subtle but noticeable turn to the right" since being taken over by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group. This conservative tilt was on full display this week when the channel ran a news package promoting a baseless conspiracy theory about Benghazi from reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
The Washington Post piece highlighted the concerns of some staff members of local ABC affiliate WJLA, that following the finalization of the sale to Sinclair in August 2014, "some of the stories ordered by Sinclair on a 'must-run' basis don't meet the station's long tradition of non-partisan reporting." One factor in this shift to conservative partisan reporting was announced in July prior to the sale, when Sinclair hired discredited journalist Sharyl Attkisson as an "independent freelance reporter" to "focus on stories that follow the money and waste watch type of investigations."
However, prior to the September 17 opening hearing of the House Benghazi Special Committee, Attkisson ran a dubious report for Sinclair that appeared on WJLA highlighting the unverifiable claims of former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell alleging that some documents were intentionally withheld from the Accountability Review Board investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi:
The same day Attkisson's report ran on WJLA, Attkisson appeared on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends where she reiterated the report's unsubstantiated accusations. Host Steve Doocy lamented that only a handful of outlets such as Fox and the Daily Signal -- the Heritage Foundation website to which Attkisson occasionally contributes -- were covering this latest so-called "Benghazi bombshell." Attkisson concluded the segment by mentioning that her report was also broadcast to "maybe 30 million local news viewers" through Sinclair's affiliate stations.
Although Sinclair's support of right-wing misinformation has been widely documented and criticized for many years, its increasing influence in local media bodes ill for objective journalism at stations like WJLA.
From the September 16 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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Fox News' coverage of an evidence-free "bombshell" from Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson took just hours to morph from a reiteration of her claim that a disgruntled former State Department employee "couldn't help but wonder" if Hillary Clinton's staff had turned over "scrubbed" Benghazi documents to investigators into full-blown allegations that documents had been "destroyed" -- allegations that remain baseless.