In September 2013, Ambassador Thomas Pickering agrees to do a sit- down interview with me about his work heading up the State Depart- ment Accountability Review Board’s (ARB) controversial Benghazi report. The ARB is under fire for possible conflicts of interest and for its decision not to interview relevant officials, including then–secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
The White House is already panicky over my reporting on the ARB controversies, some of which are raised in a Republican congressional report in advance of a hearing. On September 18, 2013, White House officials deploy the usual tactics. Direct contact with CBS officials. Multipronged approach.
On this occasion, the White House dispatches separate emails to different CBS officials an hour apart. Each email is signed by a different White House official, as if each one had written the email himself. But the text is nearly identical. Clearly they’ve held their regular spin meeting (on the taxpayer’s dime), coordinated their pushback plan, and distributed the wording each spinner would use in his email to various CBS officials and probably others in the media.
First, an email from White House spokesman Carney to Bureau Chief Isham. Carney begins by referring to a prior email he’d already apparently sent to CBS managers complaining about my Benghazi reporting earlier in the week:
Hey Chris—not sure if you saw my email marveling at Sharyl
A’s exclusive preview of a Darrell Issa press release. It got me wondering whether she, or CBS, might be interested in giving equal weight to a Benghazi story based on some hard facts. Since CBS has been relentless in promoting the idea that there’s a scandal and cover-up, I think overlooking the exonerating material after months of heavy coverage of political accusations does a disservice to everybody.
An hour later, White House spinmeister Eric Shultz tries our White House correspondent Major Garrett with this similarly worded email:
Hello sir . . . Yes, I am actually pitching you a Benghazi story and I think this is fairly important. Usually this stuff gets lost in between Hill and WH beats—want to be sure this doesn’t this time. CBS has been relentless on this so I want to make sure you guys don’t overlooking [sic] the exonerating material.
Carney continues to Isham:
Because we know if it was the reverse—we’d be deluged in coverage. So only seems fair to report on the exculpatory material. Three different themes we noticed below (with page number cites!) . . . let me know if we can otherwise be helpful.
And Schultz to Garrett:
And we know if it was the reverse—we’d be deluged in coverage. So only seems fair to report on the exculpatory material. Three different themes we noticed below (with page number cites!) . . . let me know if we can otherwise be helpful.
Both emails include identical spin referring to “Republican conspiracy theories” and quotes that dispel the theories. The material isn’t exculpatory at all in terms of anything that I’ve reported, but the White House must be sending versions of these emails to media representatives all over Washington and New York in hopes that media surrogates and bloggers will adopt the spin and treat it as if it’s factually setting the record straight.
That very night, with Schultz, 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 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.
I press the mouse pad and keyboard to try to stop it, but I have no control. The only time I’ve seen anything like this is in those movies where the protagonist desperately tries to copy crucial files faster than the antagonist can remotely wipe them.
I press down on the mouse pad of my MacBook Air and it pauses. I let up and the warp-speed deletions resume. Interesting. I have to either sit here stuck with my thumb on the mouse pad or lift it and watch my work disappear. The whole file would be erased in a matter of seconds. My iPhone is sitting on the bed next to me and I grab it with my right hand while using the thumb of my left hand to keep the mouse pad depressed and the action paused. Hit the video camera function, record, and lift my thumb off the mouse pad long enough to capture a few seconds of the action on video. Don’t want to let it erase too much. While still holding down the mouse pad with my thumb, I use my index finger to try to work the cursor up to the file button, hoping to save and close the file. But the drop-down menu is disabled. Eventually, I find that all I have the ability to do is close out the file. As soon as it shuts, another file that’s still open begins slow deletions as if the backspace button is being held down. But I’m not touching the keys. I close that file, too, and disconnect the computer from my FiOS Wi-Fi, which stops the weird behavior.
The next day, I show the video recording of the deletions to two experienced computer experts who are familiar with my case. They both agree that it shows someone remotely accessing my computer. Somebody who apparently wanted me to know it.
“I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes,” says one of the technicians. “They’re fucking with you. There’s no other purpose. They want you to know they’re still there.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says the other. “I’d have to agree they’re trying to send you a message. They’re saying, ‘We’re still watching. See what we can do to you.’ ”
[hr]Read excerpt #1 here: The Computer Intrusions: Up at Night
#12: Obama’s War on Leaks
#16: URGENT dispatch
#23: The CBS Connection
#24: Spy Class 101
#25: Flaps and Seals