An investigation by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General found no evidence that Sharyl Attkisson's personal computer was hacked. The former CBS reporter has claimed that her computers had been breached as part of a federal effort to monitor her because she did reporting critical of the Obama administration.
Attkisson, who left CBS News last year and now writes for the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal, previously claimed that her personal Apple laptop, personal Apple desktop, and a CBS News-issued Toshiba laptop were hacked 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. They did not identify the party or parties behind the breach.
But according to her 2014 book Stonewalled, unnamed sources confirmed for Attkisson that an unnamed government agency was behind the attack. Attkisson reiterated her claims in January 29 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As part of that hearing, an abbreviated report of the Office of the Inspector General's review of her allegations was entered into public record and obtained by Media Matters. The investigation, based in part on the OIG's examination of her personal Apple computer, found that the OIG “was not able to substantiate the allegations that Attkisson's computers were subject to remote intrusion by the FBI, other government personnel, or otherwise.” As Post opinion writer Erik Wemple first reported, the review found that “Attkisson is not and has not been under investigation by the FBI.”
Attkisson had provided to the investigators a cellphone video she took of one apparent hack, which showed words typed into a Microsoft Word document on her personal laptop rapidly disappearing. Computer security experts told Media Matters when the video was first made public that it more likely showed her computer malfunctioning due to a stuck backspace key.
The OIG report seems to confirm that suspicion. “The video of text being deleted from a document appeared to be caused by the backspace key being stuck, rather than remote intrusion,” the report states. The OIG found that a second video Attkisson provided of her CBS laptop showed “a standard error prompt.”
Furthermore, the OIG report found that a “suspicious” cable Attkisson had described in the book and to the OIG as potential evidence of a “tap” was “a common cable” used by her internet provider that “could not be used to monitor or otherwise affect the phone or internet service at her residence.”
An individual who examined Attkisson's computer prior to the OIG investigation, according to the report, used a “method of forensic examination” which “is not forensically sound nor is it in accordance with best practices.” This individual's actions “could have obscured potential evidence of unauthorized access.”
Attkisson claims that this individual was hired by CBS News and sent to her house to examine her personal computer, but CBS News told the OIG that they did not conduct any analysis on her personal computer.
Media Matters has previously noted that Attkisson reversed herself on whether various technological problems she experienced 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. But during a radio interview she said the “disruptions happening in my electrical systems at home may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusion.”
Attkisson is currently suing the government for alleged “unauthorized and illegal surveillance of the Plaintiff's laptop computers and telephones from 2011-2013.”