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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Filed Under: benghazi, cybersecurity, doj, eric holder, hacking, sharyl attkisson


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  1. identicon
    Jasmine Charter, 7 Jan 2015 @ 5:47am

    Techdirt FAIL

    Looks like a politically based techdirt fail to me.

    I expected better.

    It's pretty obvious (prosecution of reporters, spying on Congress, etc) that this administration is both petty and vindictive. Let's not make excuses for them.

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