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David Garrett Jr.: CNN hacker prank leads to holiday visit from FBI for Knoxville man

Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-02 07:57:44-05

A Knoxville man’s Internet jab at what he says is an unquestioning media put him in the national spotlight and, on Thursday, the cross hairs of the FBI.

Freelance writer and Web designer David Garrett Jr. began his New Year’s Day at the Knoxville headquarters of the FBI, where two agents questioned whether he was a hacker involved with the Guardians of the Peace, a group claiming responsibility for the recent hacking of Sony.

“I’m pretty smart, but I’m not a hacker,” Garrett told the News Sentinel after his visit with the FBI.

The FBI confirmed earlier Thursday a planned interview with Garrett, and the News Sentinel was at the agency’s facility in West Knoxville when Garrett was escorted into the building and when he exited an hour later. However, the agency did not respond to a request for comment.

Garrett’s story begins with his opinion the FBI blamed North Korea for the Sony hack and a threat of unspecified action against any theater that aired the movie, “The Interview,” sans any real proof, and the national media accepted the conclusion without demanding any proof. The movie, a comedy, depicted the assassination of North Korean leader Jim Jong-Un. Garrett was particularly miffed at CNN, which he said gave heavy play to the story.

On Dec. 20, Garrett copied the Guardians of the Peace post threatening action against theaters, changed the wording and then reposted it on Pastebin, a website used by the purported Sony hackers.

In it, he wrote, “By GOP, the result of investigation by CNN is so excellent that you might have seen what we were doing with your own eyes. We congratulate you (sic) success. CNN is the BEST in the world. You will find the gift for CNN at the following address.” The “address” was a link to a YouTube video showing dancing animated figures chanting, “You’re an idiot.” He concluded the post with, “You have 24 hours to give us the Wolf,” which one could conclude was CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. Garrett is now, given the FBI scrutiny, noncommittal on the connection.

Four days later — well after the 24-hour deadline had passed — the FBI issued an internal bulletin warning in which the agency said the Guardians of the Peace’s threats “have extended to a news media organization.”

The Intercept, an online news organization, on Wednesday posted a story about the bulletin with the headline, “Sony hackers threaten U.S. media organization.” Hours later, Matthew Keys, a writer for The Desk news website, linked the bulletin’s warning to Garrett’s fake Guardians of the Peace CNN post, and several news outlets began reporting the Sony hackers were targeting CNN and Blitzer.

Garrett saw the reports so he notified the FBI the post was his.

“I didn’t want the FBI to spend time investigating a fake posting,” he said.

He also contacted some of the news sites reporting the threat to CNN to make clear he was the source of the post.

Having outed himself to the media and the FBI, Garrett on Wednesday night settled in with family to celebrate New Year’s Eve. At 9 p.m., he received a phone call from a Knoxville FBI agent asking him to come to agency headquarters the next morning for an interview. He was rattled, though he said he tried not to panic.

“I’m just trying to look at everything with a sense of humor,” he said.

In the interview, Garrett said the agents asked about his work, his computer skills, whether he was a hacker and what media organizations he had contacted.

“They said, ‘Why CNN?’ I said Fox News is too easy,” Garrett said.

Garrett said by the end of the interview the agents “came off as they realized it was a joke” but added they may need to contact him in the future.

“I know they really will be watching me now,” he said.

Garrett has two decorated war heroes in his family, one from the Korean War and one from World War II, so he takes a bit of umbrage at the idea of being labeled a possible threat and believes his original proposition of a gullible media has now been proven.

“I think I just proved my point maybe news organizations should do a little bit more fact checking before they jump to conclusions,” he said.