Former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson is suing the Department of Justice for illegal surveillance. Attkissons computers were hacked while she was investigating several of the Obama administration scandals.
In a series of legal filings that seek $35 million in damages, Attkisson alleges that three separate computer forensic exams showed that hackers used sophisticated methods to surreptitiously monitor her work between 2011 and 2013.
“I just think it’s important to send a message that people shouldn’t be victimized and throw up their hands and think there’s nothing they can do and they’re powerless,” Attkisson said in an interview.
The department has steadfastly denied any involvement in the hacking, saying in a 2013 statement: “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.”
In the lawsuit and related claims against the Postal Service, filed in Washington, Attkisson says the intruders installed and periodically refreshed software to steal data and obtain passwords on her home and work computers. She also charges that the hackers monitored her audio using a Skype account.
The award-winning reporter says she and her attorneys have “pretty good evidence” that these efforts were “connected” to the Justice Department. She said she was caught in a “Catch-22,” forcing her to use the lawsuit and an administrative complaint to discover more about the surveillance through the discovery process and to learn the identities of the “John Does” named in the complaints.
“The Justice Department has not been very forthcoming with questions,” she said. “The question is, will anybody ever be held responsible?”
The multimillion-dollar damage figure relates to her loss of privacy and that of her husband and family, she said.
Attkisson learned through a Freedom of Information request that the FBI opened an investigation of the hacking case in May 2013, but says the bureau never interviewed her or even notified her of the probe.
The reporter detailed some of the hacking in her book, Stonewalled:
In her book, Stonewalled, Attkisson alleged that a “government-related entity” had planted classified documents on her computer in order to go after her for her reporting that was critical of the Obama Administration. To back up that accusation, in October, she released a disturbing video showing an unknown entity scrolling through her documents and deleting large segments of it. And in emails released last November, a DoJ press aide called Attkisson “out of control.”
There is a surreal quality to the hacking that makes your skin crawl. Double checking a map…yes, this is the United States of America and although getting worn and tattered, the First Amendment hasn’t been repealed that I’ve heard.
But then, it is apparent that, for this administration, the First Amendment only applies to those who are not “out of control” and not freely reporting the facts no matter where they lead. Such rebels should be intimidated and punished for not toeing the line.
Trying to wrest information from this crew during discovery is going to be difficult, if not impossible. The possibility that the FBI itself initiated the hacks cannot be dismissed, which means that any information about the hacks will be behind a national security firewall. Attkisson better hope she gets a bulldog of a judge who won’t stop until the truth is revealed. Otherwise, the probability is whoever violated her First Amendment rights will get away with it.