If the revelations of Edward Snowden didn’t convince you that we’re living in a police state, then Sharyl Attkisson’s book, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington, is the clincher. Indeed, it is more convincing insofar as the reporting that came out of Snowden’s disclosures never definitively demonstrated how such powerful technology in the hands of unrestrained government has led to the targeting of political opponents by government officials. In Attkisson’s book, the ultimate Orwellian nightmare comes true….
It’s 3:14 in the morning when Sharyl Attkisson – star CBS reporter – is wakened by a noise: her computer has come to life, unbidden – again. It’s been happening a lot lately: and it’s not just her desktop Apple. The other night her Toshiba laptop clicked on all by itself. And her phones are so afflicted with clickings and other mysterious noises as to be unusable.
Attkisson, a 20-year veteran of the CBS newsroom, has been investigating some pretty hot stories: "Fast and Furious," the code name for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) program that let US guns "walk" over the border and into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, and the Benghazi incident, among others. She knew the administration considered her an adversary (as these emails prove), an obnoxious pit bull out to trip them up, but she never imagined they would go so far as to spy on her. It’s the fall of 2012, and Snowden’s secrets are still under wraps. A friend with a connection to "a three-letter agency" expresses admiration for her coverage of Benghazi-gate and then clues her in:
"’You know, the administration is likely monitoring you – based on your reporting. I’m sure you realize that.’ He makes deep eye contact for emphasis before adding, ‘The average American would be shocked at the extent to which this administration is conducting surveillance on private citizens. Spying on them.’"
Incredulous, Attkisson asks: "Monitoring me? In what way?"
"Your phones. Your computers. Have you noticed any unusual happenings?"
Come to think of it, she has …
Her friend from the three-letter agency checks out her home, specifically the exterior near the Internet connection box – where he discovers an extra fiber optics line. And when she contacts Verizon to find out what the mysterious wire is doing there, their odd behavior raises all kinds of alarm bells …
CBS brings in technical experts and eventually Attkisson learns the truth: some entity with very sophisticated equipment and top notch skills has penetrated her computers, her phones, her life …
As a conscientious reporter working for CBS News in the Age of Obama, Attkisson is in a sensitive position: she is constantly fighting New York managers whose ideological agenda precludes covering certain stories. And it’s not just the pro-administration politics of liberal executives – it’s the complete lack of interest in doing any sort of investigative reporting, or broadcasting any material that deviates in the slightest from what everyone else is doing. Attkisson rails against the corruption of American journalism that has turned it into a corporate instrument, a form of advertising, and an outlet for government propaganda rather than a tool for the pursuit of truth.
Why would the Obama administration pick Attkisson to spy on? The answer is partially to be found in Chapter 2, where she talks about her investigation into the Justice Department’s "Fast and Furious" scheme. As Attkisson peels away the layers of untruth that coat the story of how the BATF deliberately let lethal firearms fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, the story reads much like the foreign policy disasters I’m used to covering in this space: some Washington bureaucrat comes up with a "brilliant" scheme that reflects both the hubris and the carelessness of our ruling elites, with deadly consequences all around. Aside from boosting the personal careers of the policymakers, their not-so-hidden agenda is also designed to make an ideological point – in the case of "Fast and Furious," the alleged need for stricter gun control legislation.
From "Fast and Furious" to Benghazi to the politics of the Obamacare launch, one thing is clear: Attkisson is a real thorn in the side of this administration, one the White House and some of her own bosses at CBS would just love to see gone – or, at least, effectively neutralized.
The really scary part of this book is the chapter entitled "I Spy," where Attkisson details the evidence that her computers and phones have been compromised. CBS seems weirdly unfazed by the news that the government may very well have intruded on their internal communications network. The real shocker comes when Attkisson discovers that someone has planted classified government documents in the depths of her computer – proof positive someone is trying to frame her. Finally, her computer starts to do some really crazy stuff, erasing data before her eyes even as she videotapes it: as if whoever is watching her is trying to intimidate her, saying "See? We can play with you right out in the open – and there’s not a thing you can do about it!"
Mysterious white vans show up in her Washington, D.C. neighborhood, hanging out on the corner where she lives: the neighbors notice it, too.
All this was going on before Snowden revealed the extent to which the government is spying on its own citizens: one can only imagine the full extent to which Ms. Attkisson’s life has been penetrated by the authorities. And if they’re doing this to her, what are they doing to other reporters who may be on their blacklist?
As a historical document, this book details the decline and fall of American journalism in the age of total surveillance. When America is on the cusp of turning into a police state, how does a reporter with an old-fashioned devotion to truth do her job? Stonewalled gives us the grim answer to that awfully depressing question.