Sharyl Attkisson Sues Justice Department For Hacking Her CBS Laptop Over Benghazi Reports Even Though That Didn't Happen

from the crazypants! dept

Let’s dispense with the formalities and get right to the heart of this matter: Sharyl Attkisson, former CNN and CBS journalist, appears to be losing control. Sharyl, purportedly a human, thinking person, has filed a lawsuit against Eric Holder and the justice department for hacking into her computer a few years back, ostensibly because she was reporting on the Benghazi attacks.

Investigative Journalist Sharyl Attkisson has filed administrative claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Postal Service, and certain unnamed employees and/or agents of the federal government. Attkisson has also filed a lawsuit in the District of Columbia alleging certain violations of her constitutional rights based on information implicating the federal government in illegal electronic monitoring and surveillance of her home and business computers and phones from 2011 to 2013.

Now, look, the United States government’s horrific domestic surveillance policies have done it no favors in this instance. After all, the trust the average American places in our DC-based overlords has fallen measurably over the past few years. That said, the evidence Attkisson has been offering up these past several years, first in a book she wrote and now in a lawsuit, isn’t so much evidence of government surveillance as it is jumping at technological shadows. First, the claims in her book make no sense. Robert Graham from Errata Security broke them down to demonstrate the problems:

Attkisson says “My television is misbehaving. It spontaneously jitters, mutes, and freeze-frames”. This is not a symptom of hackers. Instead, it’s a common consumer complaint caused by the fact that cables leading to homes (and inside the home) are often bad. My TV behaves like this on certain channels.

She says “I call home from my mobile phone and it rings on my end, but not at the house”, implying that her phone call is being redirected elsewhere. This is a common problem with VoIP technologies. Old analog phones echoed back the ring signal, so the other side had to actually ring for you to hear it. New VoIP technologies can’t do that. The ringing is therefore simulated and has nothing to do with whether it’s ringing on the other end. This is a common consumer complaint with VoIP systems, and is not a symptom of hacking.

It goes on like that. What most of this appears to amount to is the everyday technological hiccups that most of us recognize as “that machine acting funky, so I’ll just reboot or try again”, unless we’re the type to don a hat made of stuff that is supposed to keep the meat fresh in the fridge. Like so many of these types of conspiracy claims, the entire thing rests on a logical criss-cross: the goverment is so all-powerful that they have managed to get into all my tech and are personally screwing with me because I’m so important, but they’re also so completely terrible at it that I can see all the signs of their nefarious deeds around me. You can actually see this fallacy at work within her book, as she goes on to quote the “experts” she’s “consulted” but won’t name.

Attkisson quotes one expert as saying intrusions of this caliber are “far beyond the the abilities of even the best nongovernment hackers”, while at the same time quoting another expert saying the “ISP address” is a smoking gun pointing to a government computer.

Both can’t be true. Hiding ones IP address is the first step in any hack. You can’t simultaneously believe that these are the most expert hackers ever for deleting log files, but that they make the rookie mistake of using their own IP address rather than anonymizing it through Tor or a VPN. It’s almost always the other way around: everyone (except those like the Chinese who don’t care) hides their IP address first, and some forget to delete the log files.

Notable as well are the lack of technical details within the book’s claims. Also notable was the awesomeness of this video that Attkisson released.

Oooooh, spooky! What could possibly explain this if not MiB h4x0rs?

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.”

Not that any of this has slowed Attkisson down, of course. She has since moved forward with her lawsuit against the government, in which she would like $35 million dollars, please. Most everyone covering the story are equally as unimpressed with the lawsuit as they were with the book. Here’s one nice summary.

Let’s break this down. Attkisson supplied her laptop to an unnamed “government forensics computer expert in the intelligence community”—via an unnamed “contact”—who later asserted “clear evidence” of an “intrusion” from “sources” that appeared to be “state-supported” because of the “the nature of the technology used.” Later, Attkisson received her laptop and the expert’s report through another unnamed “intermediary.” Believing that any of this is true, or even slightly true, requires faith in the judgment and ability of three individuals that Attkisson refuses to name—one of whom she apparently has never met in person.

Seems legit. Actually, no, no it doesn’t. What this seems like is a sensational lawsuit aimed at self-aggrandization. Now, I know what you’re thinking: But, Tim, all this means is that you’re part of the lizard-people Benghazi-death conspiracy, too! Maybe I am and maybe I ain’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sharyl Attkisson’s lawsuit is a big bucket of unsubstantiated nonsense.

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Comments on “Sharyl Attkisson Sues Justice Department For Hacking Her CBS Laptop Over Benghazi Reports Even Though That Didn't Happen”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Personally, I cut her some slack on this. Yes, it’s a preposterous notion that your computer getting hacked would cause your television to misbehave, but if you are sufficiently ignorant of how this technology all works then the connection doesn’t seem so crazy.

And most people are, or are almost, sufficiently ignorant. I frequently hear equally preposterous misperceptions of technology from people I know are intelligent.

What I find harder to understand is that she must have no tech-savvy friends who are willing to correct her or she ignores them when they do. Either one of those is a larger problem than the original ignorance, I think.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Honestly,

Ah, but a government critic suffering a car accident from failed brakes draws suspicion of the government attempting to silence a critic. Which lends weight to what she says.

The government harassing her by messing with all her tech on the other hand, just makes her look batshit crazy, and everyone proceeds to dismiss basically everything she says. Critic silenced without messy risks like “survived the accident with only minor injuries”, “signs of tampering found on brake system”.

Sure it seems unnecessarily wasteful, and the hard way to do things. But remember, people that know the truth about the Apollo program and the Kennedy assassination are starting to die off, and no longer need to be payed off or watched. If they don’t use that budget somehow, they’ll lose it. Besides, when was the last time the government didn’t do something the wastefully expensive way?

Anonymous Coward says:

Phone ringing

Old analog phones echoed back the ring signal, so the other side had to actually ring for you to hear it.

Does anyone know whether this is actually true? It seems unbelieveable to me, unless it’s talking about many decades ago. I thought the called party’s CO, not their phone, generated the ring signal for the caller—so even if you’re phoning a house with no phones plugged in you’ll hear ringing.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Phone ringing

No, it’s not true. On POTS systems, there are dedicated “ring generators” that make the other end’s phone ring. The only connection between that and the ringing sound you hear in earpiece (which are made by different ring generators) is that they are both triggered during the call setup process. They are very distinct processes performed by different machines, often in different locations.

Rikuo (profile) says:

“the goverment is so all-powerful that they have managed to get into all my tech and are personally screwing with me because I’m so important, but they’re also so completely terrible at it that I can see all the signs of their nefarious deeds around me.”

Sounds like the Vigilant Christian on Youtube. He’s a guy who constantly releases videos talking about Satanic Illuminati influences in the media. Apparently, in his world, the Illuminati are skilled enough and powerful enough to control the entertainment industry as a whole and insert subliminal messages to trick people into worshipping Satan…but they’re also inept enough that this nobody can somehow discern all the signs and not evil enough to arrange for a fatal accident for him.

Berenerd (profile) says:

TV jitters? Stop forcing Coffee down it’s throat! It freezes? Willing to be its a signal issue because mine does that too and if the government is hacking the TV at my house they must really like Firefly reruns and Startrek.
As for her computer, mine did that one when a hacker, we will call him, Mr Snuggles, ran across my keyboard on his way to the food dish. The movie Hackers was based on Mr Snuggles. He was PhantomPHreak, the king of Nynex!

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