Judge Tosses Reporter’s Claim of Obama-Era Wiretaps

Former CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson during a broadcast of “CBS This Morning” on Jan. 13, 2002. (Associated Press/CBS, John P. Filo)

(CN) – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson did not have her rights violated by Obama administration officials when she was allegedly wiretapped by them for over a year.

Attkisson, now the host of “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson,” which is broadcast by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, sued former Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Postmaster Ron Donahoe in February 2015.

She claimed the officials were directly responsible for tapping her Blackberry, laptop and desktop computer, and that these actions violated her rights under the First and Fourth Amendments, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Stored Communication Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Virginia Computer Crimes Act and common law trespass.

But in a Nov. 1 ruling, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema dismissed the case, explaining that resolving the claims would require an “inquiry into the sensitive executive branch discussions and decisions” and that would overstep the authority of the court.

Attkisson claimed the Obama administration began spying on her after she published a story about the federal government’s botched Operation Fast and Furious, a so-called “gun-walking operation” in which firearms were sold to straw buyers in the hope they’d eventually be tracked to Mexican drug cartel leaders, leading to their arrests.

The operation ended in the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Attkisson also reported extensively on the Benghazi embassy attack in which diplomat Christopher Stevens and others were killed.

The stories focused on alleged discrepancies in the FBI’s account of Terry’s death; purported problems with Holder’s sworn testimony before Congress; and the DOJ’s retraction of a letter it previously sent to Congress containing alleged misinformation about the program.

The stories relied on confidential sources, many of whom were outwardly critical of the Justice Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Attkisson claimed that after the stories were published, she noticed anomalies with her electronics: bad reception, clicking sounds; a lap top turning on and off on its own and television interference.

Attkisson said after she found a fiber optic cable dangling from the service box outside her home, she called her internet service provider to fix it. The technician that responded removed the cable and took it with him when he left, despite her request that he leave it behind, her complaint said.

Attkisson said she was spooked and hired a forensic analyst to examine her laptop and Blackberry. The computer was discovered to be infiltrated with “sophisticated software whose fingerprint indicated [it] was proprietary to the federal government,” Brinkema’s ruling says.

Attkisson claimed it took over two years to unravel the sophisticated  surveillance techniques she believes were deployed against her.

“Some of these intrusions were apparently executed via an IP address owned and operated by the USPS,” Brinkema wrote.

When Attkisson made her discovery public, the Justice Department’s inspector general asked to review her computers and devices personally. She later testified before Congress about her fears in early 2015. Prior to her testimony, the Justice Department released a “partial report upon congressional request,” which noted a great deal of “advanced computer mode activity” but found “no evidence of intrusion on the desktop.”

On Wednesday, Brinkema said that since Attkisson did not file her lawsuit against the United States, choosing only to sue Holder and Donahoe individually, it is impossible to prove either man was directly responsible for the alleged surveillance.

“[Holder and Donahoe] correctly argue that the complaint fails to allege sufficient facts [which] make a plausible claim that either defendant personally engaged in the alleged surveillance,” Brinkema wrote.

Neither party is responsible for violating the Stored Communication Act, either, Brinkema said.

“Using a service provider’s network to access an end-users device is not a violation … instead, the intrusion must be to a facility that the service provider itself uses to store the data … not on the portions of a service provider’s network that merely connects the end user to the service provider.”

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