by Bruce A. Smith
I have come under cyber attack for my work on the DB Cooper case. These attacks also involve another DB Cooper investigator, attorney Galen Cook.
The intrusions are varied, and include file theft, email blocking, sending emails in my name to the FBI HQ in New York City, and document destruction.
The assault began in June 2012, hit a crescendo in August and then went dormant, but has now re-intensified in January 2013 as I write my book in earnest.
The first evidence of the attack I encountered was discovering in June that some of my email files were empty. When I discovered the problem I thought it trivial. The files were inconsequential, just old correspondence between colleagues of years past.
Somebody hacking I guess, one of the problems of being an open-sourced journalist? I thought.
Or somebody sending me a message? You are not secure, I can hack into your files and take them if I want.
That latter thought was unsettling, but still relatively minor as nothing substantial in my life or writings were affected. Besides, I was still recovering from a heart attack, so I had plenty of other things to think about, such as what new vegan concoction to cook for dinner.
However, the Big Enchilada hit in mid-August while I was with family in New York. A couple of days before I was scheduled to return home to Washington, I was checking my emails at a public library near my mom’s home. In the midst of my perusing, nature called, so I shut down my computer and headed to the restroom. When I returned I fired up my library rig and returned to the emails.
Surprisingly, about a dozen new emails had come in during my brief sojourn. They were all robo-type messages from the FBI office in New York City, and were a response to somebody sending them a bunch of my emails, oddly, all of which I had just deleted from my inbox before I headed to the bathroom. The FBI emails said that they had received them on an account identified as “AGNY” and the message asked me to please remove the address from my “distribution list.” In effect, the FBI didn’t want my “spam.”
Not realizing their importance, I deleted the robo-emails. I would have lost them anyway because when I returned home to Washington two days later all my emails that I had read in New York and thought would still be waiting for me were all gone. Totally vanished.
I was stunned. In years past I had read my emails in New York using web mail access to my email account and never had a problem before – they were always there when I got home.
I called the phone company that provides my emails and Internet connection. They told me they had downloaded my emails to the public library system and didn’t save any copies. I don’t know if that was a change in policy or procedures, but I seemed to have no recourse at that point. Perhaps to cheer me up, the technician I spoke with said that he had never heard of any similar event, and suggested that I change my password on my email account, which I did.
Next, I called the library in New York and asked them for advice. They had none, and added that they had never heard of a similar experience.
I then called my pc security guy in Washington, a local fellow who has an excellent reputation and makes house calls, which I find invaluable. He said he would look into it, but I never heard anything definitive back from him. He recommended that I call the FBI in New York and ask them for assistance.
In the midst of this process, Galen emailed me.
“I just got an email from the FBI office in New York! CALL ME- ASAP!”
Galen had received the same type of robo email that I had received a few days prior in New York, and it informed him that FBI wanted to be taken off his distribution list. However, the email that had been sent to the AGNY address in New York was a snippet of four emails that Galen and I had exchanged two years prior. The content of the emails was about DB Cooper, but there was no significant information in them – certainly no earth-shaking findings.
So, someone was able to hack into my email account, take four emails out and send them to the FBI via Galen’s email server. Hence, the FBI in New York thought they were coming from Galen, which was clearly erroneous.
Galen was furious, and impressed upon me the seriousness of the situation – not only had my personal security been breached, but private correspondence between an attorney and a potential client, me, had been stolen and re-distributed publicly. Galen insisted that I take further action, so I called the FBI.
Somewhat trepidatiously, I picked up the phone and called the FBI in New York.
Fortunately, the first FBI guy I spoke to in New York was polite and listened attentively to my story. He asked a question or two and then announced that he was going to bump me to another agent who had more cyber savvy than he was.
The next agent listened again to my story, but with a much keener level of interest. Nevertheless, he didn’t have any answers for me, other than to suggest I change passwords on my email account. He also reassured me that he and the FBI were taking my issues seriously, and that the event seemed to be a “head-scratchier.” Further, he said he would ask others in his office what they thought was going on and what I should do about it. He was also reassured to learn that I had already changed my password.
Additionally, Galen sent me the email that the FBI had sent to him, and this is now the only evidence I have of the robo-emails from the FBI.
Galen and I talked further and agreed to refrain from sending emails to each other that contained important information unless we are willing to have them hacked and misused. We have followed that scheme to this day, but we have exchanged plenty of tidbits, such as the pilot chute story and Galen’s finding that two fellows other than Brian Ingram claim to have seen Cooper money at Tina’s Bar. Nevertheless, Galen and I have not experienced any obvious intrusions.
We also talked extensively about who would do this and why. What could be gained by hacking my computer files when most of the information I have on DB Cooper is posted on the Mountain News? Galen wondered if perhaps a wannabe Cooper writer was trying to get a jump-start on his research, but that possibility seemed spurious.
The FBI playing head games with us? Maybe, but why?
If someone really wanted to mess up my investigation, why not just clean out my hard drive? Why send spammie-stuff to 26 Federal Plaza?
Someone was sending me a warning? Letting me know I was about to step on some very large toes?
Regardless, the issue faded away as I stopped writing in the face of health issues that emerged in early September. Although I was re-hospitalized my heart was fine, but my soul was not. After a rough night in Good Sam I trudged onward through the fall of 2012. Eventually, I took some anti-depressants to assuage my inertia, then went back to New York to spend the holidays with family. Now, in January 2013, I have returned to my writing with determination.
In response, the hacker has returned as well.
I arrived from New York on January 8, and after a few days of getting re-settled at home I started writing again.
First off, I hadn’t read any emails in New York, so I had 1,200 of them to review. One of them warmed me – an email from a literary agent who was interested in reading three chapters of my DB Cooper book, but was giving me a head’s up that my attachments containing the work hadn’t arrived with the email I had sent her in early December. Hmmmm.
I was glad she was still interested, but the hacker was active again, apparently, and was now intercepting my emails, even blocking my correspondence with publishers and agents.
Nevertheless, I revisited my three chapters and began to polish them a bit more before I sent them off to the agent. In the process, my computer speeds dropped dramatically. Some days I had to wait ten seconds for every change in function. It was maddening.
“I’ve got to call my tech guy and get rid of those damn cookies! I thought.
Then, on Sunday, January 13, the hacker struck hard. I had created a new word document for a revision of my Chapter 3. The first one disappeared during the time I had initially saved it and made a cup of tea. By the time I returned to my desk it was gone.
Damn, I thought I had saved it. Maybe not?
I re-formed it and began writing. I was inspired and wrote for two hours. Then my mouse began to act funky and I was unable to scroll down my page. I popped the cover plate off the mouse and began cleaning out the accumulated gunk on the wheels. By the time I finished, the whole document was gone – I could find no trace of it.
I searched my computer using every function I could think of. Then I went to bed.
Oh, well, I’ll deal with it tomorrow, and save everything in sight to hard disks.
I also resolved to alert the FBI and tell them that I had been a victim of a theft that is focused on the DB Cooper case and involves the FBI.
Now I have.
Lastly, as I began writing this document my mouse lost its ability to scroll. Sensing trouble, I shut down my rig, then fired it back up and finished this piece using my computer only as a word processor -without any Internet connections. Blissfully, my mouse worked perfectly.
By the way, the FBI today informed me that anyone who suspects Internet fraud or criminal activity should consult the Bureau’s “ic3” web site and file a complaint. That’s where I’m going next.
© 2013 Bruce A. Smith