Everyone hopes the Department of Justice’s inspector general (IG) will fairly investigate surveillance activities conducted on U.S. citizens by the FBI and intel agencies. Just like we hope the IG’s office will reach fair conclusions in its probes of alleged FBI misconduct concerning the Hillary Clinton investigation, leaks to the media and conflicts of interest.
But, for me, there’s reason to be wary.
I turned to the IG’s office in 2013 after independent forensics proved my computers had been infiltrated by remote intruders using software proprietary to a federal intel agency. Instead of fair findings, I got a lot of mischief and stonewalling.
And wait until you hear what I recently learned.
By way of background, in 2013, I filed a complaint with the IG’s office asking it to investigate the government-based computer surveillance. CBS News — where I worked at the time — would not allow the IG to examine my CBS laptop, which had been infiltrated (as CBS publicly announced on Aug. 7, 2013). But I asked the IG to examine one of my personal home computers that was also compromised.
Some of my intel sources didn’t want me to hand over any computer. “You can’t trust the inspector general,” they told me.
But I figured there was little downside. We already had our irrefutable forensics findings from our examinations. If the IG probe was competent and honest, as I expected it might be, then it could turn up names of the government actors responsible. If not, no harm done.
I don’t blame the IG computer investigators for what ultimately went wrong. They got briefed up on Apple forensics for their inspection of my computer, visited my house on numerous occasions, communicated freely, shared findings along the way and seemed to earnestly do a thorough job.
But as the investigation neared a conclusion, things changed.
On their last visit to my house, they wanted to be sure to segregate the malicious activity they identified from any work I might have done on the computer. They told me someone operated the computer in advanced mode, something I don’t know how to do. They found that — like the CBS laptop — the intruders had repeatedly altered the computer’s internal system times and dates. And they discovered that — like the CBS laptop — key files had been destroyed. (We already knew these things and more from our own exams.) We went through pages of their notes together. I asked for copies.
“You can get those later,” the lead investigator assured me. “When the investigation is finished.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t count on getting something from the government tomorrow. I made contemporaneous notes of the visit and findings.
The weirdest part of the visit was that, for the first time, the IG investigators began insisting the intruders weren’t working remotely but were in my house, sitting at my computer, doing these things. They had dates and times. I told them that was impossible; nobody was sitting at my computer upstairs in my home for hours while my husband was home on those days, at those times. Besides, we already knew from our own forensics that the intruders had operated remotely. My forensics team said the IG experts were not fully competent on their Apple work and, for some reason, seemed to be misreading the remote intrusions as local intrusions. Still, if nothing else, the IG work provided additional confirmation of some of our more basic forensics. No harm done.
Not long after that, my communications with the IG’s office changed. They notified me that their investigation had been “narrowed,” from looking into an illegal intrusion to determining only if there had been a remote intrusion. Nobody would explain to me who narrowed the scope of the probe or why. You’d think they’d be interested in any intrusion, remote or otherwise. Why the distinction?
In the next few weeks, when I learned the IG had finished its investigation into my Apple computer, I asked for my copy of the report. The investigators told me they’d been ordered to send it to the office of IG general counsel Bill Blier for approval.
Over the coming weeks, I repeatedly asked for the findings but was told it was still in the IG general counsel’s office. I formally requested that the general counsel release a copy to me. No luck.
One investigator had told me I could always file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain my report and notes. I did so; under the law, a response was due within about 30 days. It’s been years.
When the DOJ’s inspector general won’t follow the law, to where can a citizen turn?
Meantime, under pressure from Congress, the IG eventually released what my attorney refers to as a “wiped” summary — not the actual report or notes — with spin that implied there had been no intrusion. This was quickly presented, publicly, by then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who had gotten a copy of the summary with lightning speed; and it was dutifully reported by some in an unquestioning press.
The IG’s obfuscation and stonewalling doesn’t adversely impact my lawsuit against the federal government for the computer intrusions. The case is progressing through court with evidence from multiple forensics exams.
As our lawsuit continues, so do our forensics. New computer investigative tools have become available, and grains of evidence have been solidified into forensic mountains. Our evidence involves multiple computers and government I.P. addresses discovered improperly residing in them.
That brings us to the news.
Not long ago, my forensics team asked if I used that Apple computer after the IG returned it. My team was conducting a new exam. “No,” I replied, “it hasn’t functioned since before I gave it to the IG. I just stored it when they returned it. Why?”
“Because — that’s not your hard drive inside the computer they gave back to you,” they told me. “… We know the serial number on the hard drive when you bought it. We recorded the same serial number on our earlier forensics exams. This is a different hard drive. Completely different serial number. Not even close.”
I would never have known if we hadn’t gone back in that computer for additional forensics.
In addition to somebody changing the scope of the IG investigation midstream, and the office withholding from me the notes and the report on my own complaint, somebody also switched out my hard drive before the IG returned it to me.
What does all this mean to the integrity of the DOJ’s inspector general?
Sharyl Attkisson is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program “Full Measure.” Follow her on Twitter @SharylAttkisson.