This is Part 6 of the “Tampered but True?” series.
In Part 6, I reprint an interview I had with cyber expert, digital forensics examiner and instructor and attorney, Steven M. Abrams.
He says the Cami picture evidence should never have been admitted as evidence at the trial.
Yes, he was paid by supporters of Raniere or by Raniere and, therefore, it is not surprising to hear him say the Cami pictures are unreliable evidence. Still, he does have credentials. Check out his Curriculum Vitae
And when I spoke to him, he made sense. He spoke as if he knew what he was talking about, Maybe you can judge for yourself.
Abrams: It does appear that way. I mean, it appears, first of all, that the evidence was grossly mishandled to start with. And by the time the FBI figured out that somebody had written over the data after they seized it, at that point, they probably knew that they had a problem. I want to be clear: I do believe that the data most likely has been tampered with.
I don’t necessarily think that it was necessarily the FBI that tampered with it. It was tampered with somewhere along the line.
It could have been tampered with before they [the FBI] got it, and then they then could have made matters worse by writing over some of the access tape before they had logged the hard drive and the compact flash card into their evidence.
At that point, that evidence should have been excluded. It’s just not valid at that point. And there’s really nothing they can do to resuscitate the validity of it. Part of the problem is that you don’t know when some of their date and timestamps were changed.
But you have the admission by the [FBI] agent in the transcript from the trial that he – that somebody – accessed the devices on the 19th of September of 2018, six months after they had it in their possession. And they know that because some of the access dates were changed to that day.
At that point, you say “Well, this evidence is no longer valid. It’s been written on, and it’s been written on by an unknown person – so your chain of custody now has a break in it.” There’s no way to fix that. There’s no way to say that the evidence goes back to the person you’re alleging it goes back to at that point. Because there have been intervening persons who have had access to that evidence between the person you’re alleging put the things onto it and the time that your examiner got to it.
Abrams: They grossly mishandled the evidence.
Parlato: They grossly mishandled the evidence?
Abrams: One thing I don’t understand is how the FBI can take this evidence into their possession in March and not log it into their evidence system for months and months and months after they have it. That makes no sense to me at all. It should go directly from whoever seizes it to evidence and be logged in and have an appropriate chain of custody travel with it throughout the FBI for the entire time it’s there. And that was not the case here.
Parlato: So, just the very fact that the agent himself [Senior Forensic Examiner Brian Booth], in testimony in the trial, admitted that somebody got into it. Shouldn’t just that alone have made the evidence unreliable?
Abrams: I believe that. In fact, I think I say that: I think that evidence is unreliable and should not have been relied on for anything, and should have been excluded.
Parlato: Even without any forensic work, just the agent’s testimony in the case itself, right, would be enough to raise a serious red flag, right?
Abrams: Right, exactly. Just the evidence that was testified to by the agent – that somebody had access, he doesn’t know who it was – should be enough to say, “That’s the end of this piece of evidence.”
Abrams: It’s possible. Once you have no control – once you lose control over the evidence, there’s no limit to the range of types of mischief that could occur to it… Anything could have happened to those pictures at that point because they hadn’t [been] logged it in yet, they hadn’t made a forensic copy of it yet. So, they don’t know what they’re starting from. And then somebody gets access to it. Now they have no way of getting back to where it was before whoever touched it, touched it. At that point, it’s irreparable, the harm is irreparable – there’s no way to fix it.
Parlato: So, they could have swapped a picture, right? They could have taken an adult woman’s picture and tossed in a girl’s picture if they wanted to – a child’s picture – and still be called the same file, or no?
Abrams: If what is alleged that they’ve changed the metadata on these pictures, then it is possible you could add additional pictures into the collection as long as you change the filename to be consistent with the pictures in that collection. And they would appear that they were part of a collection…Now we also have the situation that the EXIF file that’s on the hard drive shows that the picture was created with Adobe. And so that says to me that somebody has altered some of that metadata along the way and that the image has been altered because it went through Photoshop.
END OF ABRAMS INTERVIEW
It is true that Abrams was paid by supporters of Raniere. Yet, what he says cannot be entirely discounted. The evidence was grossly mishandled. It happened to be the linchpin evidence in the entire case.