"It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran." – George Orwell, "1984"
WASHINGTON – The woman who is perhaps the nation's top investigative journalist is fighting back against Big Brother.
Sharyl Attkisson shared with WND a detailed and harrowing description of what it was like to experience a reality straight out of Orwell: The reporter claims she was spied on by the Obama administration while investigating its scandals.
What tipped her off?
Imagine what it must be like to watch your computer turn itself on and off.
"That's one visible sign I noticed over many months," Attkisson told WND in an email interview.
"At the time, I suspected it was some sort of phishing program seeking my passwords and contacts, and was confident my computer had sufficient protections. I never suspected it was connected to an intrusion of my systems until sources and forensics told me that it was."
She also watched a different computer that she used delete files by itself.
After Attkisson released a video showing that as it was happening, Vox's Max Fisher claimed it was more likely that she had a stuck backspace key.
WND asked, as an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist and now the anchor of her own Sunday morning national TV news program, "Full Measure,"did she find Fisher's claim that she was confused by a keyboard plausible?
"It was just a silly attempt by a noted propagandist blog that had no firsthand information to deflect from the surveillance," she replied dismissively.
"The ‘expert' didn't even know enough to understand there is no ‘backspace' key on the computer shown, and - in any event - that holding down such a key cannot duplicate the super fast deletions demonstrated at the beginning of that particular video clip."
The five-time Emmy Award winner and recipient of the Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting announced in January she is suing the Justice Department and seeking $35 million in damages for illegally hacking her computers and monitoring her work between 2011 and 2013.
Three separate computer forensic exams of her computers revealed what appears to be stunning evidence pointing straight to the Obama administration.
"The most important and irrefutable finding is: forensic evidence of a government-owned I.P. (internet protocol) address accessing my computer," Attkisson told WND.
She said she was told that was "better evidence than the U.S. had when it accused China of various acts of hacking into our government, which the government accepts as proven."
Her computers were examined by three independent forensics examiners including: a confidential source, an examiner hired by CBS News, and an examiner hired by her attorney.
What they found is just stunning.
Attkisson provided an itemized overview of some of their findings, and described what a confidential source and examiner hired by her attorney found:
- "A government-owned I.P. address was used to access my computer."
- "We are able to see instances of exact date and time that the intruders entered my computers, and the methods they used to do so."
- "They used commercial, non-attributable software proprietary to the CIA, FBI, NSA or DIA."
- "The malware was constantly running on my computers. It included a feature that logged my keystrokes, accessed all my emails and collected my passwords."
- "Skype was surreptitiously used to listen in on audio."
- "My smartphone was also infected."
- "Three classified documents had been put on my computer."
- "Once sources notified me that I was likely being surveilled, and I discussed this in emails, the intruders took steps to erase evidence of their presence. However, the deletions themselves create a record of evidence."
CBS and its analyst found:
- "Attkisson's computer was accessed by an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions in late 2012."
- "Evidence suggests this party performed all access remotely using Attkisson's accounts."
- "An intruder had executed commands that appeared to involve search and exfiltration of data."
- "This party also used sophisticated methods to remove all possible indications of unauthorized activity, and alter system times to cause further confusion."
- "[Attkisson's] systems were indeed subject to non-standard interactions between June 2012 and January 2013."
- "Definitive evidence that shows commands were run from Sharyl's user account that she did not personally authorize."
- "This history has been deliberately removed from Sharyl's hard drive."
- The intruders conducted an inordinate number of internal computer clock "time stamp" changes, likely to try to confuse any forensics that might be conducted.
WND asked the former CBS Washington bureau investigative correspondent, did she think the administration considered her a foe? And acted to stop her out of purely political concerns?
"I have no idea, the perpetrators would have to answer that question and they certainly aren't stepping forward," she replied.
"But," she continued, "my computer intrusions occurred in context of the Obama administration's crackdown on whistleblowers and a lot of my work deals with whistleblowers."
"Additionally, we know the administration was aggressively trying to control the narrative on a number of stories it saw as damaging, especially as the re-election year of 2012 shaped up."
Attkisson detailed her experience under surveillance in 2014 in her highly acclaimed New York Times bestseller, "Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington."
Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, records previously obtained by the government watchdog group Judicial Watch indicate Attkisson was targeted by the Obama administration because of critical reporting.
In 2014, Judicial Watch said it "obtained an October 4, 2011, email to White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, Attorney General Eric Holder's top press aide, (in which) Tracy Schmaler, described Attkisson as ‘out of control.'
"Schmaler added ominously, ‘I'm also calling Sharryl's [sic] editor and reaching out to Scheiffer' (an apparent reference to CBS' Chief Washington Correspondent and Face the Nation moderator Bob Scheiffer). Schultz responded, ‘Good. Her piece was really bad for the AG' (attorney general.)"
Given that Obama's Justice Department had labeled her as "out of control" and tried to get the reporter's employer to rein her in, WND asked Attkisson: What did she make of an administration that seeks to control reporters?
"I expect it," was the sober response. "But it's our job to resist it and we aren't doing a very good job of that as an industry."
(Attkisson described problems endemic in the news media, including the genesis of fake news, in an interview with WND in December previewing her new book titled "The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote," due to be published on May 22, 2017.)
Did she think her experience and that of the Associated Press and Fox News reporter James Rosen (both spied on by the Obama administration) were part of a pattern?
"Yes. I was informed about my case prior to us knowing about any of the other cases, just before the Snowden revelations, and prior to former DNI (Director of National Intelligence James) Clapper falsely telling Congress that the government was not collecting data of millions of Americans…but all of these events occurred in the same general time frame."
So, was it the administration that was "out of control?"
"You decide!" she replied, echoing a famous news slogan.
Investigating the truth about her own story, the award-winning reporter has faced what she called a Catch-22 dilemma.
"To find out who accessed my computer, we need the government's cooperation, but the government isn't cooperating."
"In my lawsuit, we seek to learn who had access to the I.P. address that was used to infiltrate my computer," she continued. "To date, the Department of Justice has taken multiple steps to block us from finding this answer."
However, her persistence has revealed some compelling results.
"Finally, at my request, the DOJ (Department of Justice) Inspector General's office sent investigators to look at a separate computer, my personal home computer."
Attkisson said that although the Justice Department's inspector general's office will not release their notes and records, "and have improperly failed to respond to my Freedom of Information Act request for the information," their forensics investigators reported to her that they found the following on her personal computer:
- "Evidence of suspicious deletions of files that could not have been done by me.
- "Use of my computer in ‘advanced mode' (which was not done by me)."
- "‘Someone' installed software onto my desktop and executed it and overwrote some important logs effectively covering their tracks and erasing much evidence of their actions."
- "As with my CBS computer, they found a lot of unusual time and date setting changes on my personal computer as well (15 times in four days)."
- "They executed data recovery, recovering previously deleted logs."
Attkisson said the forensics examiners working for the Justice Department's inspector general "told me they believed the intruder(s) were actually working in my house at the computer conducting these acts, rather than conducting them remotely, but, in fact, the acts were conducted remotely, as with the work computers referenced above."
"Furthermore," she continued, "the examiners indicated that prior to their supervisors signing off on their findings, ‘somebody' narrowed their mission to only reporting on any ‘remote' intrusions (i.e. not addressing the suspicious forensics they found by someone they believed was actually in my house working at the computer.)"
And that's when the investigation hit a wall.
"At this point, as their report was sent to higher-ups for approval, they dialed back their communications with me and would not deliver the promised final report or the notes that went with it."
Attkisson said she filed a FOIA to obtain them but it was ignored. Many months went by.
"When Congress pressed the issue, the DOJ IG issued only a summary and emphasized there was no evidence of ‘remote' intrusion in that computer and left out the suspicious forensics they discovered," explained the investigative super-sleuth. "To this day, the DOJ IG has failed to properly respond to my FOIA requests seeking the full information and report."
As a result, "Many in the media misreported that this DOJ IG report was somehow conclusive evidence that my computers had not been infiltrated."
"In fact," she clarified, "the DOJ IG didn't even examine the primary computers in question - referenced in the other exams above- because CBS would not allow them to look at the computers."
Did she think the problem was specific to the previous administration, or was it due the growth of the surveillance community, its powers and lack of oversight?
"I think this is an outgrowth of technology that makes such surveillance possible, politicians and corporate interests who are willing to use it for improper purposes, and a weak and conflicted news media that has done little to stop it."
Finally, WND said it would be remiss if it did not ask the ace reporter if her experience had given her any insight into President Trump's accusations that his campaign had been spied on by the Obama administration.
However, Attkisson said she has not looked at, or reported, on those allegations.