We know a few things for sure, beginning with the fact that quiet changes have been made in the blockbuster report on FBI spying abuse released two weeks ago by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General.
We also know that while the IG has acknowledged many little revisions, one of the most significant has happened without official notice or comment: the odd and mysterious case of Comey vs. Corney.
Before diving into that, as a reporter who has spent years covering the whole Russia-FBI-FISA-Steele-Ohr-Simpson-Comey-et al.-gate story, let me begin by admitting the obvious: It is crazy-making. The regular occurrence of improbable strangenesses is enough to make one think that those with tin chapeaux and aluminum curtains are onto something.
Search the Justice IG report for "Comey" (above) and you get zero hits. But (below) ...
Take the most recent baffling curiosity, the fact that the name “Comey” – as in former FBI Director James B. Comey -- didn’t appear once in the 476 pages of the report released Dec. 9 on the FBI’s abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Or so it seemed. Sure, there are many references to the former FBI director in it. But search for “Comey” and your computer tells you there is no such word in the document. By contrast, search for “Corney” and you get nearly 150 results – results that all look like “Comey.” What gives?
... search for "Corney" and, suffering succotash, you've got dozens of hits! And a cornfield of conspiracy fever dreams.
Perhaps it is just an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) problem. A PDF is not a word-processing document made up of so many individual letters. Instead, a PDF is an image, often an image of text. To search such an image of text, computers use OCR to analyze the shapes of the little squiggles and identify them as letters. Once the letters are known they can be searched.
So, could the Comey/Corney conundrum be an OCR problem? “Nooooooooope!” is the emphatic answer of “u/Lumyai,” writing at the “conspiracy reddit.” The argument that follows is compelling. The poster counted up the 23,851 “m’s” and found the only ones represented as “rn” were those in “Comey.” Also, there are some 2,000 instances of “rn” in the document but only in Corney/Comey is the “rn” combination mistaken for an “m.” u/Lumyai offers examples of some of the many words in the Horowitz report where the computer has no trouble making out “r” and “n” without confusing the two together as an “m”: attorney, government, concerned, international, and earnest.
It’s almost enough to make one agree with u/Lumyai’s conclusion – that someone has doctored the text in “an intentional conspiracy to shield James Comey from key-word searches.” This might be done, a graphic designer who does typesetting for publications tells RealClearInvestigations, by including an invisible layer of searchable text under the unsearchable, visible image of text. For example, the visible layer would have an image that looks like the name “Comey” but under it, in the invisible layer, is the text “Corney.”
But what would be the point? I rather doubt that U.S. Attorney John Durham is going to be fuzzled by a trick keyword search. Chances are he will have read the complete Horowitz report and seen all the passages that reference James Comey, even if Corney/Comey confuses the computer.
If there has been a conspiracy, it has failed, perhaps because of the conspiracy-theorists who have been drawing attention to the strange spelling of Comey in the digital version of the Horowitz report.
But most important, the document has been changed. Sunday evening, I went to show my brother-in-law the Comey/Corney effect and what did I find but that it had disappeared.
When the report was initially released two weeks ago, it was dated, at the bottom of the cover page, “December 2019.” It now reads “December 2019 (Revised).” The revisions are listed on a new page before the Executive Summary. They are mostly persnickety, minute changes meant to make the document, very strictly speaking, correct. For example, the OIG states, “On pages iv, xvi, 400, and 407, we changed the phrase “before and after” to “both during and after the time.” On some four different pages the OIG changed the solid “had no discussion” to a squishy “did not recall any discussion or mention.” And if you check page 370, you’ll find that “assertion” has been replaced with “statement.”
Far more significant is an unheralded change. The Corney/Comey strangeness has largely been fixed. With the new, revised version, my computer now only recognizes two “Corney”s as “Comey”s, and nearly 20 “Comey”s are properly identified by the key-word search function. And yet, though clearly some sort of change has been made affecting word searches, the Corney/Comey conundrum goes entirely without mention in the listing of changes and revisions to the document. RealClearInvestigations contacted Horowitz’s office to ask about the revisions, but were told that anyone who could speak to the issue was out of the office for the holiday week.
The revision has replaced the original report at the OIG website, and with it has gone easy access to the document at the center of the strangeness. But just because there isn’t easy access doesn’t mean there isn’t access. It turns out the Comey/Corney effect resisted eradication. Each inspector general has his or her own website. It was at the Department of Justice OIG site that the Horowitz report was posted with much fanfare on Dec. 9. It was at that same website that -- with rather less fanfare; indeed with no hoopla at all – that the original report was quietly replaced with the revised version.
But for those connoisseurs of conspiracy who would like to peruse the IG report in all its Comey/Corney glory, there may be no need to consult the all-knowing Internet Wayback Machine. Though each IG has a website, the federal government maintains a catch-all site – oversight.gov – that makes available the reports published by every department’s IG. The Horowitz report was published there two weeks ago, and there it remained, for a while at least, untouched by the revisions that tidied up the original. If you searched for “Comey,” there were no results; search for “Corney” and there were dozens.
Maybe the Corney/Comey effect was nothing more than the fever-dream of the conspiracy crowd. But the next time questions are dismissed as reflecting conspiracy theories, it will be worth remembering that the Department of Justice OIG appears to have made a change to his report in response to debates among those who proudly define themselves as conspiratorialists.