Attkisson v. DOJ and FBI for the Government Computer Intrusions: The Definitive Summary
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Multiple forensics exams concluded that numerous devices used by Attkisson were remotely compromised including, but not limited to:
CBS Toshiba Laptop
Apple iMac Desktop
Mobile devices, including Blackberry
Forensics exams were conducted from 2013 to present by:
Confidential government source (CBS Toshiba Laptop)
CBS-hired forensics firm (CBS Toshiba Laptop and iMac Desktop)
Independent forensic examiner #1 (CBS Toshiba Laptop, iMac Desktop and other devices)
Department of Justice Inspector General (iMac Desktop, only)
Independent forensic examiner #2 (CBS Toshiba Laptop, iMac Desktop and other devices)
Independent forensic firm (CBS Toshiba Laptop, iMac Desktop and other devices)
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Table of contents and full details below.
Watch a video update here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCJVDIhtU-Y&feature=youtu.be
Click the link below and watch the original CBS News announcement confirming the computer intrusions in June 2013. (Print story here.)
The Genesis: Fast and Furious
The First Forensic Exam of CBS Toshiba Laptop
FBI and DOJ Secretly “Investigate”
The False “Stuck Back Space Key” Narrative
The DOJ IG iMac Exam
The DOJ IG’s Obstruction
The iMac Evidence
The CBS Toshiba Laptop Evidence
The Lawsuit Latest
During the time of the government computer intrusions, Sharyl Attkisson was an investigative journalist at CBS News. Starting in approximately 2011, officials at the White House and various federal agencies began frequently contacting her and CBS management via telephone and email in attempts to controversialize or stop her reporting on a number of topics.
Government officials sometimes attempted to bully Attkisson, demanded to know the identities of her confidential government sources, and emailed one another about the need to stop or control her.
During the same time period, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) vastly expanded its offensive cyber capabilities in the name of national security, including the extraordinary decision to actively target journalists and news organizations with electronic surveillance as part of leak investigations. The FBI was the primary DOJ agency tasked with carrying out these national security investigations, using a combination of legal and illegal means.
Multiple forensic exams show that numerous electronic devices used by Attkisson and her family during this time frame were hacked or remotely compromised. Unauthorized parties used government Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to access Attkisson?s computers; placed government surveillance spyware on her devices; and illegally accessed her professional and personal information over an extended period of time.
The First Amendment protects the rights of American citizens to engage in free and open discussions, and to associate with persons of their choosing. The Fourth Amendment guarantees that citizens will be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. The government expressly interfered with the Attkissons? constitutional rights. The responsible government officials deployed surreptitious collection techniques, including highly sophisticated forms of electronic surveillance, to achieve overly broad intelligence targeting and collection objectives in violation of law.
The Genesis: Fast and Furious
On September 21, 2010 executives with Stratfor, a global intelligence firm doing business with government agencies, emailed internally about an alleged Obama administration initiative to target journalists. One email was titled: “Obama leak investigations.” The email stated: “Brennan is behind the witch hunts of investigative journalists learning information from inside the beltway sources…(t)here is a specific tasker from the [White House] to go after anyone printing materials negative to the Obama agenda (oh my.) Even the FBI is shocked.”
A few months later, in early 2011, Attkisson began investigating the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking story involving federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) improperly permitting weapons to pass into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels.
On February 22, 2011, Attkisson’s first Fast and Furious report aired on CBS. The report quoted and relied upon numerous government confidential sources who criticized the Fast and Furious gun-walking strategy deployed by ATF and DOJ. ATF falsely told other reporters who queried that the CBS report was untrue.
On March 3, 2011, Attkisson reported a landmark follow-up to her original story. This report, which appeared on the CBS Evening News, featured an interview with a then-lead ATF special agent on Operation Fast and Furious. He admitted that the allegations against ATF were true, and alleged that government officials were lying about them.
ATF Special Agent John Dodson
Shortly after the CBS report, ATF issued an internal memorandum instigating an orchestrated campaign against Attkisson’s CBS News reporting, including efforts to discredit it; and outlined a strategy for the ATF to push “positive stories” in order to “preempt some negative reporting.”
In response to the February and March 2011 reports, federal officials initiated a longterm campaign to target and harass Attkisson, and to discredit and stop her reporting on the gun walking operations and federal officials? role in it.
When contacted for comment, DOJ officials persisted in their denial of the allegations and continued efforts to unveil Attkisson’s confidential sources. Sources told Attkisson that the DOJ was actively seeking to identify government insiders who were providing information or “leaking” to her and CBS.
Attkisson continued investigating Fast and Furious, publishing dozens of reports over the course of 2011.
On May 4, 2011, Attkisson published a report revealing that DOJ had authorized a wiretap in the Fast and Furious case indicating top agency officials knew that the controversial tactic was being used, despite their denials.
Seized weapons in Naco, Sonora related to Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious
Also in May 2011, the White House assigned political operative Eric Schultz to manage and coordinate pushback on the Fast and Furious story.
On September 9, 2011, Attkisson reported on the Fast and Furious investigation expanding to White House officials.
In September and October of 2011, Attkisson published several FBI-related Fast and Furious stories based on information from confidential informants connected to the government. One report pointed to an alleged discrepancy in the FBI?s handling of evidence in the related murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Another story reported on the alleged role of an FBI informant in the Fast and Furious case.
In October 2011, Attkisson reported on evidence contradicting Attorney General Holder’s sworn testimony several months before, wherein he claimed that he had only heard of Fast and Furious for the first time in the past couple of weeks.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder
In December 2011, Attkisson reported on the DOJ’s formal retraction of a letter and misrepresentation DOJ made to Congress the previous February, which had incorrectly stated there had been no gun-walking.
On June 28, 2012, Attorney General Holder became the first sitting member of the Cabinet of the United States to be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over subpoenaed documents about Fast and Furious. President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege for the first time in his presidency to withhold the documents.
Unknown to Attkisson at the time, beginning on approximately February 23, 2011, she and her Fast and Furious reporting became a frequent target of critical private discussions among high-ranking DOJ and ATF officials; and also the White House’s Schultz.
On February 23, 2011, ATF’s chief public affairs officer emailed DOJ officials ?We just watched the piece,? referring to Attkisson’s CBS News report, and stated, “We agree that it’s time to go on the offensive.” (p. 79)
On February 24, 2011, DOJ Deputy Asst. Attorney General Jason Weinstein emailed the link to Attkisson’s report to other officials and set up a conference call to discuss it, commenting that the Attkisson report was “very specific which makes it more troubling and likely to get more traction.” (p. 80)
On March 9, 2011, a senior adviser to Attorney General Eric Holder wrote DOJ colleagues on how to “push back” on Attkisson?s reporting. (p.99)
On October 3, 2011, DOJ officials emailed about Attkisson’s upcoming report on documents showing that Attorney General Holder had been sent briefings on Fast and Furious despite his testimony otherwise. “Bad story coming on CBS Evening News tonight,” wrote one official. (p. 232)
Also on October 3, 2011, the Obama administration secretly changed longstanding policy to create a “loophole,” according to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct “backdoor searches” of U.S. citizens’ domestic communications. Previously, NSA spying was publicly believed to be confined to foreign terrorist threats and foreign territory.
On October 4, 2011, a Holder senior adviser emailed White House official Schultz. The Holder adviser called Attkisson “out of control” and stated that she, the adviser, was going to call Attkisson’s “editor.” Schultz replied, “Good. Her piece was really bad for the [Attorney General].” (p. 232)
“Her piece was really bad for the [Attorney General]”
White House official Eric Schutz, Oct. 4, 2011
The Holder adviser tells Schultz they have to “take over the storyline.” (p. 234)
On October 5, 2011, Holder emailed his senior adviser in response to an Attkisson report about his briefings on Fast and Furious: ?Holder briefed!!!???? (p. 238)
In other emails with Attorney General Holder, government officials expressed anger that Attkisson’s Fast and Furious story is gaining traction. “You need to stop it from snowballing now” and “The coverage is starting to break through.” (pp. 229-230)
During the time of Attkisson’s Fast and Furious reporting and the government’s campaign against her, in mid-to-late 2011, Attkisson began to notice anomalies in numerous electronic devices at their home in Virginia. These anomalies were detected initially on at least two computers: a CBS Toshiba laptop computer and a family Apple iMac desktop computer.
Among other anomalies, the CBS Toshiba laptop and Apple iMac desktop turned on and off at night without input from anyone in the household, the house alarm chirped nightly at different times, often indicating “phone line trouble,” and there were numerous mobile and landline telephone disruptions, and television problems, including interference. All of the referenced devices used the Verizon FiOS line installed in Attkisson?s home. Yet, Verizon was unable to cure the problems, despite multiple attempts over a period of more than a year.
On January 13, 2012, while continuing to cover the Fast and Furious case, Attkisson began a series of reports for CBS News spanning several months, which examined the Obama Administration’s “green energy” initiatives, including the Executive Branch’s failed investment in solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra. Obama administration officials and their partners, including the smear group Media Matters, embarked upon a campaign to controversialize and stop Attkisson’s reporting on the topic.
On January 23, 2012, Attkisson’s intermittent Intenet connectivity and persistent drop offs in the FiOS residential internet service had become so disruptive, she contacted Verizon. Verizon sent a new router, which was immediately installed at the Attkisson’s home but failed to resolve the issues.
In February 2012, Attkisson contacted Verizon yet again to complain about continuing anomalies with her FiOS Internet, voice, and video services.
On Feb. 13, 2012, unknown to Attkisson at the time but later revealed through forensic exams, remote intruders downloaded new spyware into Attkisson’s CBS Toshiba laptop at approximately 10:30 p.m. EDT after she downloaded an mp3 file and clicked on an email. The spyware corrupted Firefox and caused it to crash intermittently thereafter.
In March 2012, a Verizon representative visited the Attkissons home and replaced the router a second time. The representative also replaced the entire outside FiOS service box. Despite Verizon’s efforts, however, the anomalies persisted.
In April 2012, the Attkissons continued to report ongoing issues with TV interference, which Verizon attempted to troubleshoot.
In April and May 2012, the DOJ and FBI publicly announced a new effort to vastly expand cyber-related efforts to address alleged “national security-related cyber issues.”
In May 2012, without notice and in violation of longstanding DOJ practice, DOJ seized personal and business phone records belonging to journalists from the Associated Press news agency. The records seizure was not publicly known at the time, but was later revealed by the media.
In July 2012, the DOJ stepped up cyber efforts in the name of national security, designating U.S. Attorneys’ offices to act as “force multipliers.”
That same month, on July 15, 2012, remote intruders “refreshed” the ongoing surveillance of Attkisson’s CBS Toshiba laptop. Again, the access was unknown to Attkisson at the time, but was revealed later through computer forensic analysis. This remote intrusion was accomplished through use of a B-GAN satellite terminal, according to forensics.
On October 5, 2012, CBS News aired Attkisson’s first Benghazi story, which relied in part on confidential Obama administration sources critical of the Obama Administration’s handling of the security requests at the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were murdered by terrorists on September 11, 2012.
Above image: the aftermath Islamic extremist terrorist attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
On October 8, 2012, CBS aired another Attkisson report on Benghazi that included an interview with whistleblower Col. Andrew Wood. During the weeks following the airing of Col. Wood’s interview, Attkisson made personal contact with numerous confidential sources within the Federal government (or who had links to intelligence agencies within the U.S. government). Confidential government sources reported to Attkisson that efforts were being made by the Obama Administration to clamp down on leaks and to track the leaking of information by federal government employees to specific reporters regarding the Benghazi terrorist attacks.
Also in October 2012, the DOJ continued its stepped-up cyber tactics with its National Security Division, providing specialized training at DOJ headquarters for the National Security Cyber Specialists (“NSCS”) network and the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (?CCIPS?).
On October 16, 2012, President Obama issued a top secret presidential directive ordering intelligence officials to draw up a list of overseas targets for cyberattacks. According to The Guardian, the directive also “contemplates the possible use of cyber actions inside the U.S.”
Also in October 2012, a month before the presidential election, White House officials began contacting Attkisson directly to tell her that President Obama did not call the Benghazi attacks “terrorist”-related the day after they happened. (Unknown to Attkisson at the time, the President had called the assaults “terrorist” attacks the day after they happened, in an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes that was not yet public.)
In the latter part of October 2012, the Attkissons began noticing an escalation of electronic problems at their residence in Leesburg, Virginia, including stepped up interference in home and mobile phone lines, computer interference, and digital television signal interference. However, they were still unaware of any intrusion by Defendants.
President Obama was re-elected on November 6, 2012.
From November 7-9, 2012, Attorney General Holder hosted a national training conference at DOJ headquarters regarding the expanded efforts of DOJ’s National Security Cyber Specialists (“NSCS”).
On November 13, 2012, the FBI initiated several cyber security case investigations that Attkissons’ computer intrusion case would later be grouped under.
Also in October and November 2012, White House officials initiated heated exchanges with Attkisson on the telephone and via email regarding her Benghazi reporting, as she continued breaking stories with assistance from multiple government confidential sources.
In November 2012, Attkisson’s phone line became nearly unusable because of anomalies and interruptions. Her mobile phones also experienced regular interruptions and interference, making telephone communications unreliable, and, at times, virtually impossible.
During the same general time frame, several sources with close ties to the U.S. Intelligence Community privately approached Attkisson and informed her that the federal government would likely be monitoring her electronically in an effort to identify her confidential sources, and also to monitor her continued reporting on the Fast and Furious and Benghazi stories. These sources stated that the Obama administration was pushing the limits of surveillance on private citizens in a way that would shock most Americans.
In late November 2012, a contact of Attkisson offered to connect her with a government expert source that could accomplish a thorough forensic examination of her CBS Toshiba laptop. Attkisson accepted the offer. The contact initiated efforts to connect Attkisson with the expert.
In approximately December 2012, Attkisson began discussing her phone and computer issues with friends, contacts, and sources, via her home phone, mobile phones, and email. She decided to begin logging the times and dates that the computers turned on at night without her input. Soon after these phone and email discussions, the computer nighttime activity stopped.
Computer forensic analysis later revealed that in the time frame when Attkisson began discussing the possibility of government intrusions with friends, contacts and sources; in December 2012; the intruders remotely executed actions in an attempt to remove all evidence of the intrusions from Attkisson’s computers, mobile phones, and home electronic equipment.
Also in December 2012, another contact of Attkisson’s with U.S. government intelligence experience offered to conduct an inspection of the Attkisson?s exterior home. During the course of the inspection, the contact discovered an anomaly with Attkissons? Verizon FiOS box: an extra fiber-optic cable dangling from the exterior of the box.
Based on this odd finding, Attkisson contacted Verizon on December 31, 2012. However, the Verizon customer service representative denied Verizon had installed, or had knowledge of, the extraneous fiber-optics cable affixed to the FiOS equipment at the Attkissons’ home. Furthermore, the Verizon representative directed Attkisson to contact local law enforcement authorities. Shortly thereafter, a person identifying herself as a Verizon supervisor telephoned Attkisson to advise her that Verizon was dispatching a service technician the next day, New Year’s Day, to investigate the fiber-optic cable issue. Attkisson informed the purported Verizon supervisor that it was unnecessary to dispatch a technician on a holiday, and offered to send Verizon a photograph of the fiber-optic cable to save Verizon the trip. However, the supervisor declined the photograph and insisted that a technician would be present on New Year’s Day.
On January 1, 2013, a person representing himself to be a Verizon technician visited the Attkisson’s home and removed the additional fiber-optic cable dangling from the outdoor FiOS box. Attkisson asked the technician to leave the cable for possible forensic analysis. The technician initially objected, but left the cable when Attkisson insisted. He placed it next to the equipment and left the home. When Attkisson’s husband later went to retrieve the extraneous cable to deliver to a forensic expert, the cable was no longer on the premises.
Throughout the month of January 2012, Attkisson repeatedly contacted the Verizon service technician to seek the location of the missing cable. The person representing himself as a technician never returned any of the calls at the number he had provided.
In January and February of 2013, the Attkisson’s continued to experience phone and Internet usage issues, including drop-offs, noises, and other interference. They notified Verizon of these service issues, and technicians and supervisors made additional contacts and visits.
The First Forensic Exam of CBS Toshiba Laptop
On January 8, 2013, Attkisson delivered her CBS Toshiba work laptop to an individual with special expertise in government intelligence computer forensics, as arranged by the contact who offered to connect her in November 2012.
On January 9, 2013, the concerned contact reported to Attkisson that her CBS Toshiba laptop showed clear evidence of outside and unauthorized “intrusion,” and that, based on the sophisticated nature of the technology used and the nature of the software, which was proprietary to the a US intelligence agency, the source of the intrusion and electronic surveillance was likely the US government.
On January 10, 2013, the concerned contact returned Attkisson’s CBS Toshiba laptop and provided a summary of findings. According to the findings, the forensics computer expert found that sophisticated malicious software (“malware”) had been used to accomplish the intrusion, and the software fingerprint indicated the malware was proprietary to the federal government. The intrusion included, among other types of electronic surveillance, keystroke monitoring, exfiltration of data, audio surveillance of Attkisson?s conversations and activities at home through secret activation of Skype, mining of personal passwords, monitoring work and personal email, and likely compromise of Attkisson?s work and personal smartphones.
According to the report, the electronic surveillance by the identified malware spanned most of 2012, at least. The findings also stated the intruders had accessed CBS’s internal networks, computer systems, and enterprise software applications, such as the ENPS program, and that the perpetrator had also placed three (3) classified documents deep in the computer’s operating system. Attkisson thereafter notified her direct supervisor at CBS News.
On February 2, 2013, an independent forensic computer analyst retained by CBS News spent approximately six (6) hours at the Attkisson’s home, during which time he reported finding evidence on both Attkisson’s CBS Toshiba laptop and personal Apple iMac desktop computers of a coordinated, highly-skilled series of actions and cyber-attacks directed at the operation of the computers and the storage and access of data thereon. The analyst also reported finding attempts by the remote intruder(s) to “cover their tracks” and erase files that would reveal their activities.
On February 4, 2013, the CBS-hired forensic analyst notified Attkisson and CBS via email: “It is my professional opinion that a coordinated action (or series of actions) have taken place. I don’t wish to go into details because the integrity of email is now in question. . . . It bothers me that I was not able to leave Sharyl with an increased sense of security Saturday evening, but hopefully we can all work together to remedy this ASAP.”
It is my professional opinion that a coordinated action (or series of actions) have taken place. I don’t wish to go into details because the integrity of email is now in question.
CBS-hired forensic examiner, Feb. 4, 2013
CBS engaged the cyber-company to conduct further analysis of the CBS Toshiba laptop in an attempt to recover wiped data and determine the methods used compromise the system.
In March 2013, Attkisson’s Apple iMac desktop computer began malfunctioning and, after several days of it freezing and emitting a burning odor, it shut down. She was unable to turn the Apple computer back on after this event.
On April 3, 2013, Attkisson filed a complaint with the DOJ Inspector General regarding the incidents of suspected government electronic surveillance and cyber-stalking described above.
On May 6, 2013, an official with the DOJ’s Inspector General (“IG”) office called Attkisson in response to her complaint, and stated that he had checked with the FBI, and the FBI denied any knowledge of any operations concerning her computers or phone lines.
The DOJ IG official also stated that there was no Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) or PATRIOT Act related order authorizing electronic surveillance against her. (The DOJ IG’s office later refused to provide details as to who it spoke to at DOJ or FBI, or regarding the FISA question and other key details, and each agency has been unresponsive to Attkisson’s Freedom of Information Act requests for this information.)
Coincident with this time frame, the first half of 2013, there were multiple revelations about previously unknown government surveillance activities including the following:
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed mass surveillance of American citizens, contrary to the sworn testimony of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (Clapper then corrected his testimony and apologized.)
News that DOJ had departed from longstanding policy and secretly obtained records of Associated Press journalists the previous years, in an attempt to track down government leakers or whistleblowers;
News that DOJ had secretly named Fox News reported James Rosen a possible criminal target in another government leak investigation, and had obtained phone records belonging to him and his family. (DOJ ultimately apologized and conducted a review to examine its policies and practices regarding surveillance of journalists.)
On May 21, 2013, Attkisson had not publicly disclosed the computer intrusions, but a radio interviewer asked her whether she thought she, too, had been under government surveilled. She stated that she did think so, but did not provide details.
Subsequently, a news outlet sought a statement from the DOJ regarding Attkisson’s assertions. The DOJ issued a written response stating, “To our knowledge, the Justice Department has never compromised Ms. Attkisson’s computers, or otherwise sought any information from or concerning any telephone, computer or other media device she may own or use.” (The DOJ has refused to provide information as to who drafted its statement and who was consulted, and the agency has failed to provide the information in response to Attkisson’s Freedom of Information requests.)
On June 10, 2013, the independent cyber-security firm hired by CBS issued a formal report to CBS confirming that there was a highly sophisticated intrusion into Attkisson’s CBS Toshiba laptop.
The cyber-security firm also reported the remote intruders had changed the internal clock of the CBS Toshiba computer 1,358 times in an apparent attempt to confuse any forensic efforts.
Moreover, the cyber-security firm confirmed that in December 2012, the perpetrators of the cyber-attacks remotely initiated “clean-up” actions in an attempt to delete all evidence of the intrusion and electronic surveillance.
On June 11, 2013, CBS News issued a public statement, based on the forensics report from the independent cyber-security firm, confirming that Attkisson’s work laptop was accessed by an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions in late 2012, and that the party used sophisticated methods to attempt to remove all possible indications of unauthorized activity.