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The Shocking Sharyl Attkisson Story

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Erik Wemple of the Washington Post has an advance copy of former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s forthcoming book. If what she says is true, it’s jaw-dropping stuff. From Wemple’s column:

The story debuted in May 2013, when Attkisson appeared on a Philadelphia radio show and declared that there may be “some relationship” between her computer troubles and the sort of tracking that descended upon Fox News reporter James Rosen in a much-discussed leak case. On a subsequent appearance on Fox News’s “O’Reilly Factor,” Attkisson said she thought she knew who was responsible for the ruckus.

All of which was just enough to whet the appetite for the treatment in “Stonewalled.” On one level, the book is a reminder of all the ways people can mess with you. It’s not just her computers that showed signs of tampering, says Attkisson, who bolted CBS News earlier this year. “[B]y November 2012,” she writes, “there are so many disruptions on my home phone line, I often can’t use it. I call home from my mobile phone and it rings on my end, but not at the house.” More devices on the fritz at Attkisson Central: “My television is misbehaving. It spontaneously jitters, mutes, and freeze-frames,” she writes, noting that the computers, TVs and phone all use Verizon’s FiOS service. At one point, “Jeff” inspects the back of Attkisson’s house and finds a “stray cable” attached to her FiOS box. That cable, he explains, could be used to download data.


Next big moment: Attkisson gets her computer checked out by someone identified as “Number One,” who’s described as a “confidential source inside the government.” A climactic meeting takes place at a McDonald’s outlet at which Attkisson and “Number One” “look around” for possibly suspicious things. Finding nothing, they talk. “First just let me say again I’m shocked. Flabbergasted. All of us are. This is outrageous. Worse than anything Nixon ever did. I wouldn’t have believed something like this could happen in the United States of America.” That’s all coming from “Number One.”

The breaches on Attkisson’s computer, says this source, are coming from a “sophisticated entity that used commercial, nonattributable spyware that’s proprietary to a government agency: either the CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, or the National Security Agency (NSA).” Attkisson learns from “Number One” that one intrusion was launched from the WiFi at a Ritz Carlton Hotel and the “intruders discovered my Skype account handle, stole the password, activated the audio, and made heavy use of it, presumably as a listening tool.”

To round out the revelations of “Number One,” he informs Attkisson that he’d found three classified documents deep inside her operating system, such that she’d never know they were even there. “Why? To frame me?” Attkisson asks in the book.

Another tidbit, in which Attkisson observes and records with her iPhone someone hacking into her computer and cleaning documents off her hard drive. She calls a computer consultant in to examine her computer:

Don Allison, a security specialist at Kore Logic, takes a close look at Attkisson’s iMac. The results turn up scandalous, as Attkisson writes: “While a great deal of data has been expertly wiped in an attempt to cover-up the deed, Don is able to find remnants of what was once there. There’s key evidence of a government computer connection to my computer. A sort of backdoor link that leads to an ISP address for a government computer that can’t be accessed by the general public on the Web. It’s an undeniable link to the U.S. government.”

Read all of Wemple’s piece here.  In fact, follow this link to his blog for all of his stuff on Attkisson’s experiences with government surveillance. He promised the other day, in his initial Attkisson piece (the one I quote from here), to write a lot about this story. He’s delivering.

In the book, Attkisson blasts her former employer, CBS News, for spinning the Benghazi story in ways favorable to Obama before the 2012 election. Her allegations are specific and detailed. Steve Kroft, a correspondent for “60 Minutes”, had the president on videotape in a Benghazi interview saying something that undermined the White House’s subsequent spin about the president’s reaction to Benghazi. It was a relatively small thing, but as they say, the cover-up is often worse than the crime. If Attkisson’s allegations against her former employer (she resigned in March) in this matter are true, it is hard to deny that CBS News withheld valid news in the final weeks leading up to an election, because it made President Obama look dishonest.

Lloyd Grove of the Daily Beastreports Washington gossip that CBS News is conducting a whisper campaign to discredit Attkisson, who has a reputation for being an aggressive reporter, as a right-wing nut. Grove:

A senior manager in the CBS Washington Bureau, where the 53-year-old Attkisson toiled for two decades, winning a number of prestigious journalism awards, until her abrupt resignation in March out of frustration with her bosses, has supposedly “been going around doing a whisper campaign against her,” says an Attkisson loyalist who claims to have heard about it from various “prominent D.C. journalists” who are considering interviewing her as part of her book tour. “The word is she’s crazy, she’s a kook, you can’t trust her, she lies, she makes up stories.”

Attkisson has defenders:

Former Washington Post investigative reporter Susan Schmidt, who shared the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for the stories that brought down super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, counts herself a fan.

“I admire her guts,” Schmidt says. “She’s basically an aggressive reporter, and if she’s covered stuff that other people–except for right-wingers–weren’t covering, they were real stories…I think she’s got good instincts, and she’s willing to take on some sacred cows.”

Schmidt adds that she agrees with Attkisson’s assertion that much of the mainstream media, until recently, has given Obama a pass on such issues as federal government largesse awarded to green energy companies run by Obama campaign fundraisers, the mishandling of the attack the American diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and the troubled launch of the Obamacare web site—stories on which Attkisson led the pack.

“With some exceptions, people don’t seem to be digging as hard as they have in other administrations,” says Schmidt, now a corporate consultant. “Obama came into office saying he was going to make his administration the most accessible and transparent in history; in fact, the opposite has happened.”

Here’s a link to Grove’s entire piece.  Susan Schmidt says it’s telling that the media celebrate Glenn Greenwald for his reporting on Edward Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance, but turn their nose up at Sharyl Attkisson’s work on what the government allegedly did to her to stop her Benghazi reporting. Says Schmidt, “I don’t mean to sound like a right-winger, but you go have to go where the story leads you.”

Here’s a link to Attkisson’s personal website.

UPDATE: A conservative friend with experience in computer networking writes:

The reason nobody is talking about Sharyl Attkisson’s story is that the consensus–which I agree with–is that she’s at best a naive technophobe who doesn’t understand how the black boxes work, and at worst has gone off the deep end into some sort of paranoid break . . . or perhaps even worse, that she knows she’s lying and is doing this for attention.

What she describes is not how hacking works.  It does not make your TV act funny, and it does not involve wires attached to your cable box.  If the government wanted to surveil Sheryl Attkisson, they would just put completely unnoticeable software on her computer, either by breaking in with a warrant when she wasn’t home, or by hacking in remotely.  I found her story totally ridiculous when I read it. What she’s describing is kind of how they used to tap phones in 1978, but it’s not even true of phones any more, much less computers.  Every other tech person I’ve talked to or read thinks she is a raving loonie.  And this taints her other, more plausible allegations about liberal bias.

Here’s a somewhat more technical version of [what I just told you].

Thank you, reader. That helps a lot.

Hey everyone, sorry I’ve not approved comments this morning. I’ve been on the road back and forth to Baton Rouge for doctor’s appointments. I’m about to take my dad back down for his 1 pm appointment. I have a lot of blogging to do when I get back, so come back later this afternoon.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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