Computers weren’t the only devices on which former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson observed suspicious activity as she pursued stories about Benghazi. In her new book, “Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington,” she writes about strangeness across other personal tech platforms.
Her deep dive into the integrity of her connections with the wired world comes after she receives a tip from one “Jeff” (that’s a pseudonym), a “well-informed acquaintance” who tells Attkisson that she should “watch out.” “The average American would be shocked at the extent to which this administration is conducting surveillance on private citizens. Spying on them,” “Jeff” says.
Now for the phone problems. By November 2012, writes Attkisson, disruptions on her home phone line were so frequent as to render it unusable: “I call home from my mobile phone and it rings on my end, but not at the house. Or it rings at home once but when my husband or daughter answers, they just hear a dial tone. At the same time, on my end, it keeps ringing and then connects somewhere, just not at my house. Sometimes, when my call connects to that mystery-place-that’s-not-my-house, I hear an electronic sounding buzz,” reads one passage in “Stonewalled.” She also alleges that her television set “spontaneously jitters, mutes, and freeze-frames.” The home alarm, too, “sounds at a different time every night” and when she checks with the alarm system, it indicates that there’s “trouble with the phone line.”
Phone, TV and computer service chez Attkisson all run on Verizon’s FiOS service. “Jeff” asks to inspect the exterior of the house in a check for anything suspicious. He finds a “stray cable dangling from the FiOS box attached to the brick wall on the outside of my house. It doesn’t belong.” “Jeff” says the cable in question is an “extra” fiber-optic line that could be used to download data and then send it off to another spot.
Attkisson takes a picture of the cable. Then she calls Verizon, which tells her that it’s not something they would have installed; they refer her to law enforcement. Attkisson doesn’t feel its a matter for the cops, and in any case Verizon calls back to say that they want to have a look for themselves as soon as possible — on New Year’s Day, no less. “Yeah, that shouldn’t be there,” the Verizon technician tells Attkisson.
The technician removes the cable and prepares to take it with him. Attkisson stops him and instructs him to leave it; he “seems hesitant but puts down the cable on top of the air-conditioning fan next to us.”
Days later, on her commute to work, Attkisson remembers that cable on top of the fan and calls her husband to go out and collect it. “It’s gone,” reports the husband. Attkisson’s efforts to get through to the Verizon technician fail.
A firm hired by CBS News to investigate Attkisson’s computer problems counsels Attkisson to have her FiOS box moved to the interior of her house. When the company’s technicians visit the house, they refuse to perform that request. “It’s not necessary, they say,” writes Attkisson in “Stonewalled.” “They know their business. As adamant as I am about moving the box, they’re just as adamant about not doing so.”
At one point, Attkisson gets a visit from pseudonymous “Terry,” who has “connections to the three-letter agencies.” “Stonewalled” takes it from here:
Terry tells me of a conversation he’d had with my husband back in 2011. He’d noticed a white utility truck parked up the street by a pond. “I didn’t like that. I didn’t like it at all,” he tells me now, shaking his head. . . . “I didn’t like it because I recognized the type of truck and the type of antennae it had. And if you look” — he points up the street — “there’s a direct line of sight from where it was parked to your house.” My husband, who once worked in law enforcement intelligence, had on several occasions in the past couple of years mentioned the presence of nondescript utility trucks parked in our neighborhood — trucks that were working on no known utility projects. Neighbors noticed, too. Ours is a small community filled with people who pay attention to such things. Some of them worked for the three-letter agencies.”
Could those utility trucks have had something to do with the extra cable? Who knows.
An inquiry to Verizon is pending.