Sharyl Attkisson is about to publish a book about her experience reporting on various Obama-era scandals for CBS News, from which she resigned earlier this year. Today Media Matters reports that one of the more dramatic scandals, involving Attkisson’s personal laptop, exists entirely within its owner’s head.
Some background first: Attkisson has claimed for over a year to have obtained evidence that in late 2012 a malevolent force repeatedly hacked into her work and personal computers, apparently in retaliation for her reporting on the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. (Her former employer would only confirm that her work computer was “accessed by an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions.”) On October 27, Attkisson told the New York Post that an unnamed source confidently blamed an unnamed “government-related entity” for the breaches.
As White House officials pressure CBS News executives over Attkisson’s Benghazi reporting, something goes haywire with her computer. “That very night, with [White House spokesman Eric] Schultz, [White House Press Secretary Jay] Carney and company freshly steaming over my Benghazi reporting, I’m home doing final research and crafting questions for the next day’s interview with [Thomas] Pickering. Suddenly data in my computer file begins wiping at hyperspeed before my very eyes. Deleted line by line in a split second: it’s gone, gone, gone.” Attkisson grabbed her iPhone to record the madness.
So what’s going on here? Probably not hacking. Media Matters researcher Hannah Groch-Begley asked several security experts to watch the video and assess whether Attkisson’s laptop was actually under attack. Their response:
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.
One analyst told Groch-Begley: “From what we looked at and what we were able to replicate, from that piece of video we don’t see what we would call evidence of hacking. There are multiple explanations and we were able to demonstrate quickly and easily one possibil[ity], the backspace key.”
A stuck backspace key is, unfortunately, a less dramatic explanation than a hidden government conspiracy to surveil reporters who write unflattering things about the President. It is also the more likely one.