Saturday, September 27, 2003

More handkerchiefs, please

The Free Republic is about to sue the city of Fresno and its Human Relations Commission for designating the Freepers as a "hate group." Here is the "Notice of Claim" (the first step in a lawsuit) it filed:
On or about September 12, 2003, the City of Fresno disseminated a News Release entitled, "Human Relations Commission News Release," a true and correct copy of which is attached hereto as Exhibit "A" and made a part hereof (hereinafter, the "Release"). The Release refers to claimant as "a hate group." In addition, the Release states: "This group has also planned a ‘Free Republic Hate Rally Picnic’ in District 6," and accuses claimant of making "threats of violence toward any minority groups that interfere with their rally or picnic." The Release constitutes a false and unprivileged fixed representation to the eye which exposes claimant to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, causes it to be shunned or avoided, and has a tendency to injure claimant in its occupation, trade or business. In addition, the Release charges claimant with a crime in that it accuses claimant of making "threats of violence" towards minority groups.

I'm not sure what criteria the Fresno HRC employs in determining what constitutes a "hate" group, but the Southern Poverty Law Center's is that such a group "attacks or maligns an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics." The SPLC does not list Free Republic as a hate group, but at various and multiple times, Freepers have engaged in such behavior, especially in the site's comments. Of particular note is the relentless attacks on homosexuals.

However, the site's owners have been fairly adept at quickly removing not only any liberal who dares post there, but also egregious and open cases of racism and anti-Semitism from its Web pages. What has resulted instead is a lot of rhetoric that treads up to those boundaries but only occasionally wanders over into overt racism.

Nonetheless, knowing the proclivities of the Freepers, the claims made by the Fresno HRC sound perfectly credible. Moreover, considering the massive amount of dis- and misinformation that is regularly peddled at the site, anything claimed to contrary by the Free Republic must be viewed skeptically.

Let's get out the popcorn and watch this case. I'd like some butter on it.

The Jean Lewis connection

It turns out that there is indeed a connection between the dismissal of the "Arlington Three" from the Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General and the arrival there of L. Jean Lewis.

Indeed, at the time of their forcible removal, Lewis in fact was employed by the IG as a private "consultant" -- and she specifically was assigned to help handle the case.

See this story from Insight, a publication of the ultra-conservative Washington Times, which reported approvingly on the removal:
According to a source close to the investigation the three were "given memos signed by Mr. Schmitz, which said they would be assigned special projects through Ms. Jean Lewis," who according to the source "is a special consultant to Mr. Schmitz working under a contract with the OIG DoD." The source stated that the memos told the three "not to engage in any contact with the Office of Inspector General, DoD (including all of its components) or its members in their official capacity. ... Any contact with this organization will be through Ms. Lewis."

In other words, Lewis -- who was herself a federal Resolution Trust Corporation investigator who engaged in numerous violations of federal laws, and then claimed the resulting charges against her were "reprisals" for her "whistleblowing" activity -- was in charge of handling a case in which another "whistleblower" also broke federal laws and claimed he was being harassed.

The smell emanating from the IG's office is becoming especially pungent.

Still more to come, as details emerge.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Eliminationism Watch

Well, we've always suspected just what the mouth-foamers on the right have in mind for the rest of us ...

But it's always worth taking notice when they demonstrate again that they're getting their inspiration from The Turner Diaries.

[Link via Not Geniuses.]

Whistleblowers and the DoD

It appears that the hiring of L. Jean Lewis is not the only time the Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General has engaged in behavior that raises questions about its ethics.

As I noted previously, Lewis' hiring -- elevating a low-level investigator to a high-level staff-oversight position -- raises serious doubts about the judgment of the IG, Joseph H. Schmitz, and casts some of his bureaucratic moves in a more ominous light, considering that his office is responsible for auditing the billions of dollars' worth of private contracts that the DoD is relying upon in rebuilding Iraq. This is especially cause for concern, since Halliburton -- a corporation with extensive ties to the Bush administration -- is at the forefront of these contractors.

Worthy of particular attention, it appears, is Schmitz's "reorganization" of his department. Shortly after taking office in April 2002, Schmitz hired a team of outside "consultants" to conduct a review of the Inspector General's Office. This "assessment team" was provided by Military Professional Resources Inc. of Alexandria, Va., a "private military" organization that provides training and other services to militaries around the world. According to CitizenWorks:
MPRI reported annual sales of $95 million from numerous contracts with the U.S. and foreign governments to provide military training and consulting, according to the Center for Public Integrity. MPRI, which boasts of having "more generals per square foot than in the Pentagon," has trained local forces in Croatia that went on to conduct one of the worst episodes of "ethnic cleansing" in an event that left more than 150,000 ethnic Serbs homeless and hundreds dead, according the Center for Public Integrity.

(You can read the core data compiled by CPI on Military Professional Resources' activities here.)

In any event, the report provided by the MPRI team was, according Defense Week, "highly critical of IG leaders, though it was short on specific examples of their alleged failures." Indeed, employees at the IG's office reportedly widely felt that the "assessment team" had arrived with the conclusions it wanted to reach ahead of time, and set about finding "facts" to support them.

Into this mix fell the Alan White matter.

White was director of Investigative Operations at the Defense Criminal Investigative Service Headquarters, the DCIS being one of the DoD IG's office main bureaus, until July 2002.

White was also closely associated with Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley has been one of the sharpest critics of the DoD IG's office in recent years, and White appeared several times as a witness in support of Grassley's positions in committee hearings, and he reportedly has been a major source for Grassley.

Was the IG's office performing as terribly as Grassley often proclaimed? It's difficult to say for certain. In at least one instance, he uncovered a case in which a dozen or so of the auditors in the IG's office were reportedly involved in doctoring working papers in order to bolster their scores in a performance review.

In other regards, it is clear the office was doing excellent work in uncovering fraudulent military contracts. In March of 2001, it had released a report that found the following examples of gross overcharges in the Pentagon's accounting system:
-- The Pentagon paid $2.10 for a body screw that cost the vendor 48 cents, a 335 percent mark-up.

-- The Pentagon paid 25 cents for a dust protection plug that cost the vendor 3 cents, a 699 percent mark-up

-- The Department paid $409.15 for a washroom sink that cost the vendor $39.17, a 945 percent mark-up.

At the time, Grassley denounced the waste:
"The Pentagon does not know how much it spends. It does not know if it gets what it orders in goods and services. And the Pentagon, additionally, does not have a handle on its inventory. If the Pentagon does not know what it owns and spends, then how does the Pentagon know if it needs more money? . . . Ramping up the Pentagon budget when the books are a mess is highly questionable at best. To some it might seem crazy."

But a few months later, he was busy blaming the Inspector General's office for the problem. Indeed, Grassley devoted a great deal of time during Schmitz's nomination hearings demanding that the next IG address "serious leadership and morale problems in that office" and otherwise "clean house."

In the spring of 2002, while still working for the IG's office, Alan White decided to run for the school board in Fairfax, Va., where he lived. He told his bosses he was running for a non-partisan position, but in fact White ran as a Republican, obtaining in the process both financial contributions and services while running, both of which are in direct violation of the Hatch Act, which bars senior federal employees from such activities.

In July of 2002 -- just as White was leaving the DoD for a new assignment at the United Nations -- the Office of Special Counsel announced it was filing a petition for disciplinary action against White for his Hatch Act violations. The OSC, apparently, had been tipped off to White's illegal actions by an anonymous hotline caller.

The DoD Inspector General's Office had also received such a tip. Three top IG investigators -- Carol Levy, assistant IG for investigations and director of the DCIS; Tom Bonnar, Levy’s deputy; and Joel Leson, the IG’s director of administration and information management -- began looking into the matter in early July of 2002.

They did not, apparently, inform Schmitz about the information they had received. Instead, Schmitz apparently received a call from Grassley inquiring about whether retaliation against White was in the works. Within days, two other investigators -- both from Schmitz's Departmental Inquiries office -- descended on the DCIS investigators and began interrogating them about what they knew about the case. They were reportedly asked: "Were you the anonymous source of the initial allegations to the OSC and the DOD Hotline about Alan White's school board candidacy?" and whether any of them had exacted reprisal against White for disclosures he "allegedly previously made to Sen. Charles Grassley." They were also asked about whether they had made any contact with the OSC.

Not only had the interrogators attempted to determine if their own colleagues were the anonymous hotline informants, but, according to a complaint the three later filed, the two investigators had attempted to determine the identity of an anonymous hotline tipster in a separate case. Violating that anonymity, of course, would constitute a gross breach of the federal rules intended to protect federal whistleblowers, and if Schmitz indeed attempted to obtain such information, it raises grave questions about the standards of ethics being applied under his tenure.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should. It brings immediately to mind another notable case in which a supposed Republican "whistleblower" used her "investigations" as an excuse for a panoply of illegal activity and then claimed she was facing "retaliation" when those activities came to light.

In August, the three veteran investigators were given a rude greeting at their longtime workplace: They were removed from their offices, forced to relinquish their guns, badges, credentials, pagers, and cell phones, and their computers were seized. Schmitz distributed their photos to security guards with orders to keep them from the premises.

A month later, their lawyers filed a complaint with the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which is the watchdog of the federal IG community, and another with the Office of Special Counsel. The complaints alleged that the IG's office had retaliated against them for their investigation of White. According to William Bransford, their lawyer, Schmitz may have been "improperly politicized" in handling the matter. "There's an appearance of reprisal, of improper legislative political influence, and of arbitrary and capricious treatment of a senior executive, which is illegal," Bransford said.

The matter finally hit the press when John M. Donnelly of Defense Week began reporting on the complaint. His September 23 report, "IG Under fire for Treatment of Execs" (available here from the Google cache), covered most of the essentials of the case. He followed up with another report in the Oct. 7, 2002, edition, titled "IG, Senior Execs Battle Over Alleged 'Purge' ". (I must point out here that the bulk of this report originates from Donnelly's reportage, which is first-rate; I managed, moreover, to corroborate nearly everything in his pieces through secondary sources, some of which are linked here. Defense Week is only available online to subscribers, and its material is copyrighted.)

Significantly, Donnelly interviewed some 12 veteran employees in the IG's office who told him the purge had created "confusion and fear" and extremely low morale. Donnelly also quoted Robert Lieberman, Schmitz's immediate predecessor:
"The way in which those three senior executives have been treated is simply uncalled for. The kinds of changes he [Schmitz] is making and the methods he's using, in my mind, go far beyond anything that is constructive or appropriate. I fear for the future of the organization."

As it happened, the removal of the "Arlington Three" (as they came to be known) coincided with Schmitz's announcement of the results of his reorganization plan. And as it also happened, one of the departments most significantly affected by the reorg was the DCIS. Carol Levy's dual positions were broken into two offices, with the DCIS chief now reporting to the Assistant IG for Investigations.

Also noteworthy were the changes that Schmitz introduced to the auditing system. Under the old system, possible crimes that were uncovered by auditors were reported to various agencies under a variety of means. As Donnelly reported in his Sept. 23 sidebar, "Inspector General Reorganizes Watchdog Organization":
The IG act requires that the IG promptly notify the Attorney General when he has reason to believe violation of federal criminal law.

Up to now, Schmitz said, the criminal investigators within the IG were doing that "apparently pretty well on a case-by-case basis with the local U.S. attorneys." But the IG's auditors and internal, non-criminal investigators had their own ways of reporting possible crimes, he said. Under the IG statute, the IG is supposed to notify the Attorney General. Schmitz said he doesn't intend to micromanage the process, just to think through more clearly how it's done via a "single implementing regulation."

Actually, what it sounds like Schmitz is proposing is that all crimes uncovered by auditors be channeled through a single controlling function within the IG's office, rather than under the fairly open system that existed previously. It may have the advantage of organizing the audits' reporting; but it may also close the audit system down and squelch the uncovering of abuses. This becomes significant when one considers that auditors are those most likely to uncover irregularities in such dealings as those now being underwritten in Iraq.

In the mid-October followup report, Donnelly also reported that Schmitz explained the "detailing" of the three senior investigators, claiming that the action was not "punitive or adverse," even though it plainly was. He claimed they had been removed because they has withheld "important information involving an ... ongoing criminal investigation" -- even though, as the trio's lawyer pointed out, such delays in relaying information are regular occurrences.

Leson, it turned out, had been singled out for removal because he reportedly had made disparaging remarks about both Schmitz and his "assessment team." As Donnelly reported:
The lawyers denied several aspects of the IG's memo to Leson, but they confirmed that Leson had expressed concerns that the assessment team seemed to be seeking only negative information about the IG office and had "determined its conclusions" prior to investigating. Many officials in the IG's office hold that view.

That same assessment team, it turned out, had made a pre-emptive strike in the direction of the Office of Special Counsel. As Donnelly reported in another Oct. 15 piece, "Special Counsel, Hit In IG-Sponsored Report, Hits Back," the report had gone out of its way to belittle the OSC's work, charging that the office's work in protecting whistleblowers had become "increasingly discredited." As Elaine Kaplan wrote in a letter to Schmitz:
"I am unaware of the basis for the report's negative comments about OSC. … We were not consulted by the team that prepared the report, and there is no source provided for the opinion. More to the point, the view of OSC's effectiveness expressed in the report is an outdated one that is not shared by knowledgeable observers and practitioners. It would be unfortunate indeed if the very whistleblowers the report suggests should be protected and encouraged gave any credence to this erroneous assertion that OSC will not effectively protect them."

One can only imagine, of course, what would have happened had a top official of a Clinton or Gore administration participated in such hamhanded antics (remember Travelgate?). The story, however, never gained any attention in the mainstream press. And Schmitz's apparent misbehavior has in the intervening months fallen into the memory hole.

Donnelly did file a brief followup piece in the June 23, 2003 Defense Week which reported that Levy, Bonnar and Leson had all managed to settle into other work. Levy chose to work on projects from her home, Bonnar found a criminology teaching post at the University of Maryland, and Leson went to work for the International Association of Police Chiefs.

Their complaint to the OSC, Donnelly reported, had been dropped.

Thus it has never been officially resolved, one way or another, whether or not Schmitz attempted to obtain the identity of anonymous whistleblowers, or whether the removal of the "Arlington Three" was in retaliation for their investigation of Alan White.

But it must also be noted that if anyone was likely to view a "whistleblower" caught using their political connections to advance their careers, it certainly would be the IG's new chief of staff.

Still unanswered, of course, is whether or not the dismissal of the "Arlington Three" just happened to coincide with the arrival of L. Jean Lewis in the IG's office. (According to the Newsweek report, she was hired sometime "last year.")

As for Al White? Well, according to Stephen Barr of the Washington Post, Republican Rep. Thomas Davis of Virginia snuck into the fiscal 2004 defense-appropriations bill a rider that would stop the prosecution of White:
[OSC chief Elaine] Kaplan, in a letter to lawmakers before her term in office ended, called the provision "ill-advised" and said "the use of the legislative process to interfere with a specific matter in litigation sets a poor example that may undermine our ability to effectively enforce the Hatch Act."

Asked about Kaplan's criticism, David Marin, a spokesman for Davis, said: "There are larger issues here. Congress never intended the Hatch Act to be enforced against people who are not current members of the federal service. . . . Apparently the Office of Special Counsel thinks it has the authority to pursue people after they have left office."

As a reader suggested a week later in an online chat with Barr:
This seems to be an abuse of legislative power to circumvent the checks and balances that make our government as ethical as possible. It also appears that Tom Davis must owe Mr. White a favor and that he is championing this bill. Through bartering, it appears that what was originally a proposed change to the Hatch Act, it applies to just Al White.

I'll be digging further and letting you all know the results.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Pissed-off centrists

One of my favorite reads this week is Jonathan Chait's piece in The New Republic, "Mad About You: The Case for Bush Hatred:
Conservatives believe liberals resent Bush in part because he is a rough-hewn Texan. In fact, they hate him because they believe he is not a rough-hewn Texan but rather a pampered frat boy masquerading as one, with his pickup truck and blue jeans serving as the perfect props to disguise his plutocratic nature. The liberal view of Bush was captured by Washington Post (and former tnr) cartoonist Tom Toles, who once depicted Bush being informed by an adviser that he "didn't hit a triple. You were born on third base." A puzzled Bush replies, "I thought I was born at my beloved hardscrabble Crawford ranch," at which point his subordinate reminds him, "You bought that place a couple years ago for your presidential campaign."

Chait elaborates on his thesis in his online debate over the topic with Ramesh Ponnuru, "Bush Hatred" in his Sept. 22 post:
You, like most conservatives, claim that liberals see Bush as a hapless rube from the sticks. My experience is that liberals see Bush as a phony--a rich kid who had everything handed to him by his parents' cronies, and who compensates for it by posing as a plan old ranch hand. It's not just that he benefited from nepotism. Jeb Bush and George H.W. Bush both benefited from nepotism, but liberals don't loathe either of them. The reason is that H.W. and Jeb, while benefiting from a big leg up, are reasonably intelligent men who earned something on their own. Neither is manifestly ignorant or pointedly anti-intellectual, and both managed to win office the old-fashioned way, by garnering more votes than their opponent.

[The last paragraph of this rejoinder, by the way, is especially good for those needing a chortle.]

Chait -- who by most definitions is a moderate liberal himself -- touches on something that is starting to become apparent regarding the vehement opposition to George W. Bush: It is emanating not so much from the "far left," as Bush's multitude of apologists would have you think, but from centrist liberals.

E.J. Dionne devoted a column to this topic the other day at the Washington Post titled "Anti-Bush Moderates":
Nor can former Vermont governor Howard Dean be seen as some kind of leftist. Yes, he won many left-wing hearts by opposing Bush on Iraq. But Dean has been a moderate, even conservative, Democrat on many issues, including Medicare and Social Security. Rep. Dick Gephardt is going at Dean hard on these questions.

If the rebellion in the Democratic Party were primarily ideological, closet centrist Dean would be going nowhere. What Dean understood earlier than his rivals is that Democrats wanted someone who did not seem intimidated by Bush. Iraq became both a substantive issue and a symbol. If Dean was willing to fight Bush on Iraq, many Democrats reasoned that he'd be tough enough to take him on across the board.

Tom Tomorrow mentioned this as well, regarding the blogosphere, in his recent interview in Salon:
The blogs, I have to say, are very helpful because you have a whole army of unpaid researchers digging up all these wonderful nuggets of information.

Any of them that you really like?

Atrios' site, Daily Kos, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo -- they all have silly names. Then again, I'm Tom Tomorrow so I can't exactly say anything about that. A lot of the sites are the radical center expressing its voice. They seem pretty much to be centrist Democrats but with an anger that you haven't seen from centrist Democrats in years. That's a wonderful and healthy development. A lot of my problem with the Democratic Party over the last few years has been the fact that there doesn't seem to be one.

I was glad someone finally noticed.

I understand that in, say, the context of Idaho politics, I would be considered something of a flaming radical. (I think "commie" was the description of choice when I lived there.) But I am a former Republican and I do come out of that rather centrist, Western Democrat style of politics practiced by people like Cecil Andrus. In the context of Seattle politics, I'm very middle of the road if not conservative. (In Eugene I'd be hopeless.)

I have to say that before the 2000 election, I always voted a mixed ticket. I tried especially to reward moderate Republicans where they could be found. That has become nigh impossible in recent years (though I did briefly consider supporting John McCain). After the Bush v. Gore ruling, however, I will no longer do so.

I believe the Republicans, in the Florida debacle, proved themselves so hellbent for power that they were willing to severely compromise major democratic institutions, from the credibility of the Supreme Court to the sanctity of the vote to the very real (and not imagined) principles of states' rights. Moreover, I don't think I'm being wild-eyed about this. I think anyone knowledgeable about the voting process and the events that took place in Florida could come reasonably to just that conclusion. Vincent Bugliosi, no radical himself after all, reached the same conclusion.

What does a genuinely patriotic centrist do when confronted with a plainly illegitimate presidency wrought through cronyism of the worst sort, which has in turn thrust upon us an incompetent, self-deluded and ideologically rigid phony, and given him the world's most powerful position at a time of great international historical moment? "Getting over it" isn't an option, not morally speaking. "Getting rid of him" is the only option.

For many centrists, it means becoming politically active for the first times in their lives. The chief beneficiary of that so far is Howard Dean.

In my case, I do what I can: Disseminate information.

And no, I'm not getting over it. Not anytime soon.

Electronic voting: The Empire Strikes Back

Two major fronts have opened up in the battle over the use of potentially vulnerable voting technologies in just the past couple of days. Both of them warrant significant media attention, but seem at present to be going ignored. So we'll document them here in the hopes it will finally surface.

Diebold threatens to sue over links

On Monday, Diebold sent a letter to the hosting company where Bev Harris' Black Box Voting had posted a link to the documents that Harris cites in her Salon interview. Diebold isn't claiming any falsity here -- only copyright infringement. And compared to other cases currently in the courts, Diebold's grounds are even shakier. It's a clear case of attempting to silence their critics even if everything they say is perfectly accurate.

As Harris herself noted in the Democratic Underground forum linked above:
1) These are memos which document numerous violations of the law

2) This is clearly an issue with public interest law

3) The discussion is under a public interest exclusion, fair use

Moreover, Harris is exactly right about the most disturbing aspect of this:
Everyone on the Internet will raise holy hell on this, if they get away with this -- the Internet will come to a screeching halt if this was allowed to stand.

If merely posting a link to another site violates its copyrights, the Internet -- and the blogosphere particularly -- will indeed be rendered moot.

Of course, it appears that this is simply a typical harassment suit, because its legal grounding seems somewhat dubious, but it does force the people dealing with the threats to hire lawyers and face both the bills and the little knots in their stomachs.

Fox News recently got a hard lesson in the rewards of legal thuggery. One can hope Diebold will as well. Because once Diebold actually sues Harris or anyone else, they in turn can proceed with discovery -- which means getting a look at Diebold's internal files.

In the meantime, Daily Kos has posted instructions on how to get to BBV despite the shutdown by Diebold. (Here's a handy link.)

Also worth noting: The tech-heads at Slashdot's discussion forums are all over this too.

Maryland proceeds with Diebold system

Diebold announced in a press release today that the state of Maryland was proceeding apace with its installation of the Diebold system in its voting machines. Note the subhed: Independent Analyst Submits Positive Review of Diebold Machine -- as well as the glowing words from (Republican) Governor Ehrlich, and the text of the release:
Governor Ehrlich in August ordered Science Application International Corp., (SAIC), under an existing contract for security services with the State, to conduct the independent analysis of the Diebold machine and its source code. The SAIC review responded in part to a report published by Aviel Rubin of Johns Hopkins University that questioned the use of the Diebold source code.

SAIC’s independent review states, "While many of the statements made by Mr. Rubin were technically correct, it is clear that Mr. Rubin did not have a complete understanding of the State of Maryland’s implementation of the AccuVote-TS voting system…The State of Maryland’s procedural controls and general voting environment reduce or eliminate many of the vulnerabilities identified in the Rubin report."

Note that the sentence immediately following this in the report is omitted from Diebold's press release:
However, these controls, while sufficient to help mitigate the weaknesses identified in the July 23 report, do not, in many cases meet the standard of best practice or the State of Maryland Security Policy.

It also piles further on regarding Rubin:
SAIC’s report continues, "Rubin states repeatedly that he does not know how the [Diebold] system operates in an election and he further identifies the assumptions that he used to reach his conclusions. In those cases where these assumptions concerning operational or management controls were incorrect, the resultant conclusions were, unsurprisingly, also incorrect."

Here's what the rest of this passage actually says in the report:
In general, most of Mr. Rubin’s findings are not relevant to the State of Maryland’s implementation of the AccuVote-TS system because the voting terminals are not connected to a network. In addition, LBE procedures and the openness of the DRE voting booth mitigate a large portion of his remaining findings.

We do concur with Mr. Rubin’s assessment that if the AccuVote-TS voting system were connected to a network that several high-risk vulnerabilities would be introduced. We also concur with Mr. Rubin’s assessment that transmissions of data are not encrypted in transit, and we have recommended that this be rectified.

The State of Maryland procedural controls and general voting environment reduce or eliminate many of the vulnerabilities identified in the Rubin report. However, these controls, while sufficient to help mitigate the weaknesses identified in the July 23 report, do not, in many cases meet the standard of best practice or the State of Maryland Security Policy.

The report later stresses that point in its recommendations:
Remove the SBE GEMS server immediately from any network connections. Rebuild the server from trusted media to assure and validate that the system has not been compromised. Remove all extraneous software not required for AccuVote-TS operation. Move the server to a secure location.

And yet, remarkably, ensuring that the server is not connected to a network is notably missing from the recommended steps listed by Diebold in its press release.

Diebold's release is, frankly, a bizarre and remarkably incomplete characterization of the SAIC report. If you go back through the report (available here as a PDF), here's what you find:
This Risk Assessment has identified several high-risk vulnerabilities in the implementation of the managerial, operational, and technical controls for AccuVote-TS voting system. If these vulnerabilities are exploited, significant impact could occur on the accuracy, integrity, and availability of election results. In addition, successful exploitation of these vulnerabilities could also damage the reputation and interests of the SBE and the LBEs. This Risk Assessment also identified numerous vulnerabilities with a risk rating of medium and low that may have an impact upon AccuVote-TS voting if exploited.


2.1.1 AccuVote-TS voting system is not compliant with State of Maryland Information Security Policy & Standards

Failure to meet the minimum security requirements set forth in the State of Maryland Information Security Policy and Standards indicates that the system is vulnerable to exploitation. The results of a successful attack could result in voting results being released too soon, altered, or destroyed. The impact of exploitation could lead to a failure of the elections process by failing to elect to office, or decide in a ballot measure, according to the will of the people. The impact could be a loss of voter confidence, embarrassment to the State, or release of incomplete or inaccurate election results to the media.

2.5. Overall Risk Rating

The system, as implemented in policy, procedure, and technology, is at high risk of compromise. Application of the listed mitigations will reduce the risk to the system. Any computerized voting system implemented using the present set of policies and procedures would require these same mitigations.

If I were a Maryland voter, I'd be demanding answers to the disparities in the SAIC report and what government and Diebold officials say it reports.

One would think that Maryland journalists, or perhaps those from, say, adjacent metropolitan areas, might be interested as well. We'll see. But I shan't waste my lungs holding my breath.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Get out your handkerchiefs

David Horowitz has taken exception to Chip Berlet's inclusion of him and his nonprofit Center for the Study of Popular Culture in the incisive Southern Poverty Law Center report, Into the Mainstream: An array of right-wing foundations and think tanks support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable:
David Horowitz, a former leftist born again as a right-wing conservative, founded the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in 1989, and is also the editor of the Net publication Although he makes much of his past working for civil rights for blacks and others, he more recently has blamed slavery on "black Africans … abetted by dark-skinned Arabs" - a selective rewriting of history. He also claims that "there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians -- Englishmen and Americans -- created one." That, of course, is false. Critics note that Horowitz is ignoring everything from the slave revolt led by Spartacus against the Romans and Moses' rebellion against the Pharaoh to the role of American blacks in the abolition movement. He has attacked minority "demands for special treatment" as "only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others," rejecting the idea that they could be the victims of lingering racism.

Horowitz first responded by writing "An Open Letter to Morris Dees" in which he decried Berlet's characterization of him as a "smear" and "filth."

Berlet, however, responded with a detailed rebuttal of Horowitz's claims, drawing at length from Horowitz's own words, both spoken and written. It was frankly devastating, particularly since the quantity of citations made clear exactly how bankrupt Horowitz's thinking is.

Horowitz has since retorted that Berlet's response comprised "tendentious mis-readings and misrepresentations of the original report and adds 19 pages of additional quotes wrenched out of context, misrepresented and accompanied by further tendentious claims and further smears."

Of course, it is nothing like this. Berlet's citations are detailed and clearly contextual. It is wondrous, really, how right-wingers hate having their own words thrown back at them.

I expect Chip will at some point respond in detail, but in the meantime, one example from Horowitz's counter is illustrative of his huffing and puffing:
The sentence Berlet mangles is not a historical statement about slavery but a polemical response to the proponents of reparations who are demanding that only whites pay blacks for an institution – slavery – that has been eradicated in the western world (but not Arab and black Africa) for more than 100 years. It is intended to remind people that the slaves transported to America were bought from African and Arab slavers – not to blame Africans and Arabs for sole responsibility for slavery.

Well, this is accurate only if one defines "polemical" as "nakedly false" or "distorted beyond recognizability".

Just for the record, here's exactly what Horowitz said, in the citation by Berlet:
"Slavery itself is the most obvious example. It was not whites but black Africans who first enslaved their brothers and sisters. They were abetted by dark-skinned Arabs (since Robinson and his allies force us into this unpleasant mode of racial discourse) who organized the slave trade."

Is it possible to read this any other way than as clearly arguing that blacks and Arabs organized the slave trade? Or that they had, if not sole responsibility for the slave trade, at least primary responsibility?

One hopes the GOP keeps getting advice on minorities from guys like Horowitz, though. It only compounds their cluelessness.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Manipulating the vote

I've been tracking the issue of the potential abuse of electronic voting techniques as a way of altering the outcome of elections, but haven't blogged about it till now because I wasn't sure if there was any there there.

It's starting to appear that there is indeed.

Salon has a piece up tonight that nicely brings together a lot of the pieces of the puzzle:
An open invitation to election fraud

The bulk of the piece is an interview with a fellow Seattleite named Bev Harris who has enough expertise in the systems to uncover serious questions about the systems that may be in place in many voting booths come November 2004. Here's what Harris says:
Well I work with about 22 computer programmers who have been looking at this stuff -- I'm not that brilliant. Immediately when they began looking at the GEMS program they began commenting on the fact that it has no -- it's something called referential integrity. And what that means is that there are many different ways that it can become vulnerable to hacking. It has to do with how one part of the database is hooked into the next part.

I got a call from one of our more brilliant computer programmers -- he's got quite a few advanced degrees -- and he called me on a weekend and he said, "I want you to go to your computer." And he walked me through it just like a support tech does -- open this panel, click this, do this, do that. And as I'm doing this it was appalling how easy it was. Once you know the steps, a 10-year-old can rig an election. In fact it's so easy that one of our activists, Jim March in California, put together a "rig-a-vote" CD. He's been going around showing it to elections officials, and now this CD has been making its way to Congress members.

It's shocking. All you do is double-click the icon. You go backwards through the Internet to that county computer, and if you have Microsoft Access on your machine you can walk right into that election database while it's open. It's configured for multiple access at the same time. You can be in there changing things and you can change anything you want.

Coupled with this are the recent posts from Mark Crispin Miller, who points us to an incredibly disturbing memo apparently authored by the fine folks at Diebold:
On January 17, 2001, Lana Hines, a county elections official sends out an inquiry as to how Al Gore ended up with a vote-count of -16,022. That's NEGATIVE 16,022—which just happens also to have been the total number of votes cast for various independent and third-party candidates who also ran. (It was the largest number of such votes cast in Volusia County's history.)

Is it really possible that a candidate could be recorded as having negative votes in any precinct? How is this possible? And did this in fact affect the vote totals in Florida? I'll be watching for answers.

I would be remiss if I didn't note that my friend Maia Cowan has been bugging me to get on this story, and have to admit I've only shied away because I've been too damned busy. Maia has been compiling data about these and related stories at her site, Failure is Impossible. As you can see, it's also a very complex story, and separating fact from speculation from fiction isn't going to be easy.

Also worth reading is the material that's being posted in Salon's Table Talk, in particular Maia's posts and those by Fergus, in the Touch Screen "Voting" thread.

But this is, I think, a potentially important story, with really deep implications for the integrity of democratic institutions. It also speaks, again, to the conservative movement's growing antipathy to democacy and the voting process.

Of course, I thought L. Jean Lewis' hiring should be an important story too, so take that assessment for all it's worth.

"Manifestly Unfit: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush"

I thought I'd announce today that I'm beginning a new meta-project that, like "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" before it, will produce a mini-book-sized "Web pamphlet" designed to be a central informational resource for anyone needing facts at their fingertips.

As the title suggests, this project is an attempt to catalog the many disasters that have befallen the United States since George Bush's inauguration in January 2001, as well as to give a thorough assessment of his culpability in them. It will also catalog Bush's biography before the 2000 election and assess it in the light of the "character issue" raised throughout Clinton's presidency by Republicans; and it will compile the facts about Bush's behavior during the 2000 campaign, with an emphasis on the Florida debacle.

Unlike the right-wing counterparts devoted to destroying Bill Clinton, this mini-book will be entirely factual, and will eschew any kind of conspiratorial theorizing or vicious attacks on Bush's character -- in no small part because those are precisely the behavior of the right in the 1990s that opened the door for its alliances with extremist elements. To the extent that Bush's critics indulge in same, they run the same risks, and severely damage their credibility.

On the other hand, it will try to thoroughly examine and weigh the evidence regarding Bush's failures, his known actions and actual statements, as well as those of his surrounding team, led by Karl Rove.

Like "Rush," it will be a reader-participation piece in which Orcinus acts as a sort of central information clearing-house. Some of you may recall that I did a similar reader-participation Web-based data-gathering process at Salon's Table Talk which resulted in a pretty good research-based piece about Ted Olson.

This project will be in that same spirit. I'll be posting requests for information from time to time, and then will intermittently publish chapters of the mini-book here at the blog as they are compiled. I hope anyone who spots a data request that they may know something about feels free to write me at .

Along those lines, let me make a first request:

Just on the eve of the 2000 election, Saturday Night Live ran a skit projecting what the respective presidencies of George W. Bush and Al Gore would bring. Gore, of course, was shown reading boring sermons from a self-help book or something like that on national television; Bush, on the other hand, was shown cowering behind his desk as the Capitol behind him was in flames.

I thought the sketch -- at least its core point -- proved eerily prescient, and I'd like to cite it to open the book. If anyone knows where I could obtain a copy of the script to that skit, please contact me at my e-mail.


[Update: I've already received a terrific link to the transcript, thanks to JP the Great. Kudos, JP. We're off to a great start.]

Blogging along

Sometime over the weekend, Orcinus garnered its 200,000th visit. (I wasn't paying attention and missed noting whoever hit the magic number.) I have to admit that I'm somewhat astonished to have gotten that kind of readership in the nine months or so I've been blogging.

I'm also extremely grateful, of course, to the folks who have driven the lion's share of traffic my way: Atrios at Eschaton, Media Whores Online, Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft, Cursor, Eric Alterman and, most recently, Joe Conason.

I also want to say thanks to the army of fellow bloggers who've blogrolled me and continue to link to me throughout. I'm also extremely grateful for the many online friendships that have sprung up as a result. I'm afraid I'm not very good at reciprocating, but hope to amend that over the next few months.

Now that I've finished Death on the Fourth of July: Hate Crimes and the American Landscape -- it's now in the editing stages -- I'm going to have a lot more time to blog. And it looks like I'll continue to have plenty to blog about.

I have to admit that over the years, editors and others I've dealt with have tended to treat the kind of things I write about -- especially right-wing extremism and its various permutations, as well as the machinations of the American right in general, and especially the way these two interconnect -- with a great deal of wariness. They've often expressed the sense that there isn't really much interest in these matters from the general public, and that writing about them provides them with publicity more than it exposes them. And finally, they often doubt the real importance of these issues.

One of the great experiences with Orcinus is that it has confirmed for me, at least, the belief that there is more interest in these matters than most mainstream editors like to believe -- for the primary reason that they are in fact much more significant than the establishment-media view will admit. I think Tucker Carlson summed up neatly exactly what that view is the other day in his Salon interview with Kerry Lauerman:
The classic flipside, which I've seen much more, is that you get some 62-year-old, semi-retarded cracker whose like the lone member of his chapter of the KKK, and he represents white supremacists. How many white supremacists are there in America? There are about nine, and they're all mentally retarded.

As regular readers of Orcinus know, this view is simply counter to the known facts. Of course, this kind of argument is not merely self-serving, it is precisely the kind of camouflage that enables the flow of extremist ideas and agendas from the far right into the mainstream. And that, of course, has been one of the chief topics at this little blog these many months now. As long as it keeps happening, I intend to keep writing about it.

I'm glad you've been reading, and I hope to reward your readership further in the coming months.