Local expert: ‘smells like personal vendetta’

A local expert in public and private government relations, with more than 35 years of experience, doesn’t agree with Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett about who perpetrated the well-publicized “spoofing” attack against him last week.

Susan Richardson Williams, founder of SRW & Associates, said she did not believe any of Burchett’s fellow candidates in the 2nd U.S. Congressional District race were behind thousands of district-wide calls Tuesday evening, Jan. 23, which were falsely identified with a farragutpress phone number.

“I have a hard time believing that Mayor Burchett’s opponents in the Congressional race did this,” she said. “That’s not to say that some of their ardent supporters didn’t do it, however.

“And, if it had been [Republicans] Jason Emert or [state Rep. Jimmy] Matlock [using the push poll methodology], they could have just hired a professional polling company and done a legitimate poll,” Williams added. “They wouldn’t have hacked into [the farragutpress’] phone to do it. I don’t think most candidates would take that kind of chance.”

Instead, “This smells to me of a personal vendetta,” she said. “There are just so many facets to this — and all of the pieces are designed to hurt Tim Burchett.”

Moreover, if the attacks against Burchett were personal, “I suspect there will be a lot more to come,” she said.

Williams said the calls themselves were a variation of “push polling.”

“You will find that many political camps use push polls,” she added. “They are designed to send out a message about your opponent, and to ‘push’ potential voters in a particular direction.”

For example, “the call might pose an ‘If you knew…’ type question, perhaps regarding [a candidate’s stance on] an issue, to gauge how [prospective] voters might respond,” Williams said.

“You see these a lot, but [last week’s calls] do not appear to [have been] done by a professional polling group,” she added.

She said the choice of the farragutpress number to disguise the calls’ origins “could have just been random, or [the perpetrator] may have wanted to legitimize [the calls] by using the paper to do it.”

Using a reputable business as a reference, “They try to create trust and validity in what they’re saying,” said Jason Graf, director of managed security services for Sword & Shield Cyber Security, 1431 CenterPoint Blvd., Suite 150, Knoxville.

“Whatever the case, it hurts [farragutpress] too. It looks bad,” Williams said.

About spoofing, “Unfortunately, it’s not sophisticated at all,” Graf said, adding that catching a spoofing operation “takes money, time and effort” while working with your phone service provider and law enforcement.

Graf said he’s noticed spoofing and other illegal phone activities have grown “in the last five to 10 years.”