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


Reader Comments

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  1. identicon
    Michael, 6 Jan 2015 @ 12:45pm

    "My television is misbehaving. It spontaneously jitters, mutes, and freeze-frames"

    Amazing. My computer is misbehaving. It just played a video of a woman spouting some of the craziest bulls*** I have ever heard in a way that made it sound like she actually believed what she was saying.

    I must have been hacked too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2015 @ 12:47pm

    Honestly,

    the biggest flaw here is messing with all her technology would be far harder than just making the brakes in her car fail. Problem solved (especially if she uses a GM car), since brakes fail all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2015 @ 1:02pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Name, 6 Jan 2015 @ 1:07pm

    "Even Though That Didn't Happen"

    That old saying applies here:

    "Just because she's paranoid, it doesn't mean they aren't out to get her."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2015 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Phone ringing

    That depends on how big your value is for "many". I distinctly remember as a child in the 1970's hearing different ring signals depending on who I called. While that could be due to different COs, I always assumed it was due to different phones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    McCrea (profile), 6 Jan 2015 @ 1:14pm

    h4x0rs ate my baby!

    She shows symptoms vertical video syndrome which may indicate potentially severe brain degeneration.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2015 @ 1:27pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2015 @ 1:31pm

    Sounds to me like Michele Bachmann and Sharyl Attkisson are eating at the same sandwich shop.

    I sure don't want what they're having.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Rikuo (profile), 6 Jan 2015 @ 1:36pm

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2015 @ 1:54pm

    Re:

    Actually, it's that part of Scientology as well. Wacky media waves influence you, so you need to pay to be audited, et al...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    tomczerniawski, 6 Jan 2015 @ 2:00pm

    This must be USGov's strategy. Have certifiable loons sue the government over surveillance and intrusion, so that any legitimate groups thinking of doing the same, won't, out of fear with being associated with the loons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 6 Jan 2015 @ 2:01pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    tomczerniawski, 6 Jan 2015 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Honestly,

    I suspect the government saves brake failures for actual, legitimate reporters approaching a major break (i.e. Michael Hastings) rather than talking heads on TV with the IQ of a cucumber.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 6 Jan 2015 @ 2:10pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    LauraTee (profile), 6 Jan 2015 @ 2:20pm

    I couldn't make it through the video without yelling. It's like watching my dad try to use a computer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2015 @ 2:25pm

    Dude, don't use foil to wrap your meat for storage in the fridge, k?

    It'll taste "tinny", like the sound of the government Sunchip crumbs stuck under your backspace key.

    - A public service announcement from the Ziplock Information Conservation Consortium.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 6 Jan 2015 @ 3:21pm

    Re: Re:

    Actually, with TVs these days incorporating "smart" features and wi-fi networking, it's not as preposterous anymore as it used to be...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2015 @ 1:09am

    “clear evidence” of an “intrusion” from “sources” that appeared to be “state-supported” because of the “the nature of the technology used.”


    To be fair, the government itself thinks similarities to previous malware is enough to start accusing North Korea of hacking Sony.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2015 @ 2:06am

    Looks like Regin malware to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2015 @ 4:01am

    I actually expect a better level of analysis from techdirt than I saw in either the article or the comments. Why would you think this lawsuit is anything other than a way to get the government to disclose documents that they are currently refusing to disclose?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2015 @ 5:44am

    Re: "Even Though That Didn't Happen"

    That was my thought. Yes, she sounds like a nut case, and none of her evidence is convincing.

    Yet, it seems almost certain that the gov't spooks did, in fact, intercept her communications and copy her data. All then needed to do then was the proper query.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2015 @ 6:43am

    my lights flickered

    damn DOJ spies!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Berenerd (profile), 7 Jan 2015 @ 9:02am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Berenerd (profile), 7 Jan 2015 @ 9:06am

    Re: Re: Honestly,

    but seriously, why didn't they delete the video of them deleting shit off her computer from her phone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 7 Jan 2015 @ 10:35am

    "My television is misbehaving. It spontaneously jitters, mutes, and freeze-frames."
    My TV's doing that right now. Have I been hacked, or is it simply the case that digital signals just don't travel through high winds as good as analogue signals used to?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    nasch (profile), 7 Jan 2015 @ 11:36am

    Re: Techdirt FAIL

    Let's not make excuses for them.

    How is pointing out the flaws in a lawsuit making excuses for the administration?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    nasch (profile), 7 Jan 2015 @ 11:37am

    Re:

    Why would you think this lawsuit is anything other than a way to get the government to disclose documents that they are currently refusing to disclose?

    Is there any credible evidence that any documents she's asking for exist?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2015 @ 2:27pm

    The real evidence can't be shown as it is a matter of national security.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 7 Jan 2015 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Re: Techdirt FAIL

    Because that person hates all things Democrat, for some reason assumes I'm politically aligned with Democrats, ergo the article sucks because I'm all up Obummer's butthole or something....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Pragmatic, 9 Jan 2015 @ 5:59am

    So she wouldn't say it was hackers... but it was hackers. Seems legit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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