Sharyl Attkisson on Hacking and Intentional Bias at CBS News

Sharyl Attkisson on Hacking and Intentional Bias at CBS News

This week Sharyl Attkisson released Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington. The book offers an insiders perspective on some of the major stories she has been involved in over the last few years, one which is often critical of the behavior of the current administration toward the media (criticism in which Attkisson is far from alone).

Last night, I had the chance to interview Attkisson about the book. Our conversation mostly focused on the hacking of her computers and an experience at CBS News which showed intentional bias by highly placed individuals within the company. I also ask her about the whisper campaign that is reportedly taking place in an attempt to controversialize her during the book roll out. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Breitbart News: I’d like to dive in on all the hacking stuff. There were three computers that were involved?

Sharyl Attkisson: At least three, yes.

BN: So two personal and one work, is that it?

SA: Yes and two, the one work and one personal, had forensic exams conducted on them. One personal, the one you saw the video about which I’m still using, I never had a forensics exam done on that. That’s just a sort of a visual anecdote. But the forensics exams involved one CBS Toshiba laptop and one Apple personal desktop.

BN: Walk me through the various people. There were at least four different people that looked at these computers, right?

SA: So the first analysis was done by somebody that “Number One” was able to put me in touch with. The second analysis was done by a CBS hired forensics firm.

BN: Was the CBS firm the one that you refer to as Jerry Patel?

SA: Yes, that’s Jerry Patel.

BN: That’s not his real name.

SA: Right.

BN: He didn’t want to have his real name in the book?

SA: Well, CBS…I didn’t push it with them. They claim ownership over the forensics material and the details and there was a confidentiality agreement signed with the company.

BN: You have a copy of his final report?

SA: Yes.

BN: Is there any doubt on his part that there had been some kind of intrusion?

SA: No. There was no doubt. It was absolutely and explicitly stated that there had been highly sophisticated remote intrusions of my computer. CBS issued a press release that confirmed…it was a brief statement that basically made it unequivocal.

BN: Can you say anything else about Jerry Patel’s qualifications?

SA: I can only tell you CBS was very comfortable with him. I didn’t research him on my own. CBS chose him. He seemed knowledgeable although he was not able to dig as deeply as my first source or the forensic source Don Allison from Kore Logic. So he was helpful because he could confirm the remote intrusion but since he was hired by CBS they dictated what his parameters were and his parameters, as far as I know, did not include helping me dissect what had happened on my home system, helping me protect my sources. It was just sort of confirming that this intrusion occurred as far as the corporation was concerned. They were very comfortable with him. I liked him when he came to my house. He was great. He seemed to know what he was doing.

BN: Don Allison at Kore Logic. The Post did a story on this last week and he said that he was unable to talk about what he had found in any detail. He seemed to indicate he had some kind of non-disclosure agreement.

SA: Yes. He signed a standard agreement. He hasn’t asked to but I don’t think my attorney would release him to talk about it at this point. And that’s just a standard process for an investigation that we have underway.

BN: That’s an investigation that you are organizing?

SA: That’s right. That’s my team. I found him and I did check out his qualifications. He came highly recommended from a source that I have. I don’t claim to know much about computer forensics but for people to be able to get to the bottom of what happened with me it has to be somebody with a special set of skills not just a great computer forensics guy but someone who is familiar with and had information about proprietary government practices. There are such hidden and sophisticated things that can be done, you really have to find the right people to go after and Don came highly recommended. And what he found mirrored what the first analysis had found and then he’s able to dig even deeper and there’s been continuing evidence coming in.

BN: So is he done or is he still working?

SA: No, he’s not done. He’s still working.

BN: At one point in the book there was a surprising line where you say a source came and told you who had intruded on your computer. Is that correct?

SA: That’s right. It may not be the ultimate and the only person who conceived of the idea or ordered it. It’s just somebody who was definitely behind it in some fashion.

BN: And this was somebody whose name you recognized?

SA: That’s right.

BN: Is this somebody that most people who follow the news would recognize their name?

SA: I’m not trying to be cagey but because we’re still very much embroiled in this, and I’m following my attorney’s advice, all I want to say about that right now is in the book.

BN: One of your computers was taken away by the IG for the Justice Department?

SA: That’s right.

BN: I didn’t see that they had gotten back to you with an answer.

SA: They have not issued any sort of finding to me, any sort of final report.

BN: That was last year that you gave it to them, yes?

SA: Yeah, it has been a while.

BN: Is this all part of some ongoing investigation and maybe that’s why you’re not revealing everything you know at this point.

SA: That’s right. I think I mentioned it in the book…I just think it’s interesting I’m not assigning any particular relevance to it because I don’t know what will come of it, if anything, but learned only on my own through my own sources and information that the FBI opened a case on my computer intrusion listing me as victim but never contacted me to tell me that and never interviewed me and never asked me any questions and never came to my house and never asked for my computers. I thought it was a little bit strange for the FBI to have an open case that I’m completely unaware of in which I’m listed as victim.

BN: Have you ever spoken to them about that?

SA: No.

BN: Do you have a goal with this investigation? Are you thinking down the line where this might lead?

SA: Well, my primary goal, like I stated, in talking to the Inspector General from the Justice Department at all–even though some people said why bother–if nothing else to to put those on notice who might have been involved. There’s no reason not to and I’m not going to just sort of go away quietly and say this is what happened I’m just going to have to not do anything about it. So to the extent that I can at least raise some awareness and put some attention to what I think happened, that’s the least I expect to be able to do.

BN: Let me turn now to a couple of the stories you told in the book. First of all, you tell a story about what happened with C-Span and this story was confirmed last week by a report in the Washington Post. Briefly tell that story for people that haven’t heard it.

SA: This is the quintessential example of how strong-arm this administration in particular has been, not that every administration hasn’t perhaps had an element of it, but nobody had retaliated against C-Span, of all outlets, the way that the Obama administration did after the Obama administration perceived C-Span didn’t go along with something that it wanted them to, that it said other outlets would have gone along with. C-Span went ahead and published an on-the-record, on camera interview with the President that became relevant in light of a news event after being told by White House officials that if they did so the implication was that they would be cut off their access would be limited and so on. But C-Span did what it thought was right from a news standpoint only to face the ire from White House officials including Josh Earnest who is now the White House Press Secretary, who blatantly said other organizations wouldn’t have done this, they would have cooperated. And he threatened a lack of cooperation in the future, only to have C-Span since that time not receive any cooperation from the President or White House officials or interviews with the First Lady or anything. They said this was the biggest dry spell they’ve had from the White House since they came into existence.

BN: It’s four years now.

SA: I think it’s a good example because most people would consider C-Span the fairest of them all. They’re certainly not any sort of partisan or antagonistic group. But the White House is so used to calling the shots with the media that when the media doesn’t react accordingly they show how they flex their muscles and use retaliation and punishment.

BN: Let me turn on that note to another story you tell in the book which has some similar themes and that’s the story about the unaired video clip shot by 60 Minutes. And here again you have an unaired interview with the President shot on-the-record and because of a current news story it becomes relevant and important. But in the case of 60 Minutes, for some reason, that tape remained buried.

SA: That’s right.

BN: That video was shot the same day as the speech in the Rose Garden, the day after the attack. Did you know about that clip at the time?

SA: I did not know about it at the time and wouldn’t have because I wasn’t covering Benghazi. As I began covering Benghazi I wasn’t made aware of the interview, which is not terribly unusual. But once it became relevant, this is primarily after the Romney-Obama debate in which that issue was raised, I still was not made aware of it. And in fact, not long after that debate I and another correspondent were fed a different clip from the same interview, just a piece of it, and directed by New York to use this other piece of the clip. We were directed what words to say leading into it to give the clear impression that President Obama was correct that he had called it an act of terror. Only later did I discover that was contrary to the content of the interview they had kept hidden.

BN: And that’s really the question. Do you believe that they did keep it hidden intentionally?

SA: I do believe some of them kept it hidden intentionally.

BN: In the book it seemed to me you were suggesting Scott Pelley and the people around him at CBS Evening News were involved in that.

SA: That’s right.

BN: And in particular there was one producer there who was known to be fairly left-wing.

SA: That’s right. You know there have been right and left wing producers and managers over time but the difference was this was a producer who people believed let her ideology bleed over into her news decisions. Everybody’s got opinions, the point is you try not to let them bleed over into your news decisions but she was having an issue with that.

BN: Do you know when they knew about that clip and what was decided there?

SA: I can’t tell you when they knew but I can tell you that the clip was emailed to her and to Scott Pelley and to others in the fishbowl shortly after the interview happened on September 12th.

BN: It sort of strains credulity that, after the 2nd debate when that was the big moment, no one who had seen that clip realized how important it had become.

SA: What really got me was, when I finally saw the transcript, it was just a short exchange about what had happened the night before in Benghazi and they skipped over the relevant clip that directly answered the question to feed us the out-of-context clip and make it sound like it was something else. That means even when they pulled that interview out and looked at the transcript, they would have had to have seen, re-read and skip over the true clip to instead feed us a clip out-of-context.

BN: So is there any doubt in your mind that this was an intentional decision?

SA: In my opinion, no. There’s no doubt.

BN: You pressured CBS News to release this, once you found out about it.

SA: That’s right.

BN: At what points does CBS News President David Rhodes come into this?

SA: Those of us who thought this needed to be rectified, he’s one of the ones we approached and worked with to help make sure that was published prior to the election.

BN: And there’s a great quote where he admits that they messed up.

SA: That’s right. Nobody claimed otherwise. Nobody argued it was unintentional. Nobody argued it wasn’t really bad. Nobody said this was overreaction. Everybody said to all of us that they agreed it was a big, big screw up and that we had fix it.

BN: I think it’s arguable that was one of the turning points in the election. After the first debate when everyone agreed the President had lost, he couldn’t afford to have two losses in a row. And that exchange on Benghazi became the big moment of that 2nd debate that sort of rallied the troops on his side. I think had it been undercut that night with the release of that 60 Minutes clip people would have assessed things very differently.

SA: I agree and I feel as though, this is just an opinion, the White House already saw that potential trajectory. I describe in the book how I got a call from a White House official prior to the debate, when I wasn’t even covering that aspect, trying to feed to me this notion that he had called it a terror attack. I think they foresaw that as a huge issue and I think that’s why they were trying to spin me ahead of time.

BN: With C-Span, the White House was already aware the interview was out there and that there was potential for embarrassment and they reached out and pressured C-Span not to run it. Do you think it’s possible something similar happened, that the White House reached out to CBS and asked them not to run it?

SA: I don’t know that happened but I will say–how I put it in the book is–what will really bake your noodle as they said in the Matrix is how would the White House have known we weren’t going to use that clip? How did Obama state what he said knowing it could be disproved by an interview he had given to Steve Kroft. How could he have said it the way he did and been so confident that we weren’t going to pull out that clip and prove him wrong? I don’t have the answer but certainly the question has crossed my mind.

BN: You did get complaints and so forth. There was a line of communication going between the White House and CBS.

SA: Constantly.

BN: So it’s possible something did come in but you don’t have first hand knowledge of it.

SA: I don’t have any knowledge of it.

BN: The Daily Beast reported last week that one of your previous producers might be running a whisper campaign designed to discredit you. Have you heard about this?

SA: I’ve had a couple of reporters and colleagues tell me that same thing.

BN: Why do you think that is happening? What’s the motivation?

SA: Well, if they are doing such a thing the motivation would be to try to counteract what they perceive as very damaging observations I’ve made in my book.

BN: You don’t come across to me, from reading the book, as the kind of die hard conservative you’re being portrayed as right now.

SA: The only people who think that or want to perpetuate that notion are those who feel that their interests have been damaged by the reporting I do. I call it a propaganda campaign. They don’t just do it with me an my stories they do it with other things that could prove damaging. Today I did an interview with Huffington Post Live and the young lady was asking me questions straight off the script of liberal media who are trying very hard to portray me as conservative when it would have been very simple to for anybody to research the types of stories I’ve done over the years. She said something about all the conservative stories that I cover and I said to her are you aware that I won an investigative Emmy award last year for investigating the hypocrisy of freshman Republican fundraising. They said they would be changing Washington as we know it and were caught in Key Largo hobnobbing with these big time donors and lobbyists. And are you aware that I won an Emmy award for investigating the bait-and-switch of Bush’s TARP program. And are you aware that Rachel Maddow devoted 7 minutes of a program once to praise an investigation I did of Congressman Steven Buyer and his suspicious charity after which he resigned from Congress. I mean that stuff is Google-able. To sit there and instead repeat talking points from Media Matters kind of proves the point.


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