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.