On today's BradCast, we open with the grim weekend news of the two gun massacres in El Paso, Texas and in Dayton, Ohio, which collectively resulted in at least 30 killed and some four dozen others wounded, before moving to yet another issue of national security being avoided by most Republicans and the White House. [Audio link to show is posted at bottom of article.]
The two domestic terror events in TX and OH, each carried out in minutes by white American men with semi-automatic military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, has once again spurred calls for legislative action by Democrats in Congress and the avoidance of same by the terrorist-enabling, NRA-captured Republican officials.
In addition, Donald Trump spent about 48 hours following the El Paso shooting hoping to avoid the fact that the 21-year old man who carried it out had reportedly driven from his home in Dallas to target immigrants in the border town. An online manifesto attributed to the white nationalist shooter, echoing language and racism frequently used by Trump, describes an "invasion" of Hispanic immigrants. "El Paso and Dayton make 251 mass shootings in the US in 216 days, more shootings than days in the year," notes USA Today.
The incidents also serve as the latest to highlight shameful GOP hypocrisy on matters of national security. Over the past two decades, the U.S. has spent hundreds of millions of dollars under the guise of "national security", even as the focus on international terrorism has resulted in several acute issues of national security such as climate change, gun violence by domestic terrorists, and election security being all but ignored by Republicans. That, even as the public has been asked to sacrifice one freedom after another under disingenuous claims of "national security" while the country has been bankrupted both financially and morally in the bargain.
The latest massacres and lack of willingness by Republicans to take action and confront a real and growing national security threat, is also echoed in their lack of action regarding security in our elections, the only means by which the public may actually hold their failed, hypocritical, and corrupt elected officials accountable. But a week or so ago there was a glimmer of hope, sort of, when the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan --- if absurdly redacted --- report on election security [PDF], concluding that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016. At the same time, the report states that "the Committee has seen no indications that votes were changed" or that "vote-tallying systems were manipulated".
Then again, as we've take great pains to report in detail since 2016, nobody, to our knowledge --- including the FBI, DHS, Robert Mueller's Special Counsel Office or even local and state officials --- has actually bothered to look! Calls for hand-counts of hand-marked paper ballots and forensic analyses of electronic voting systems were blocked after the 2016 election in many states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania which each are said to have flipped to the Republican Presidential candidate that year by incredibly narrow, unverified margins, for the first time in decades. The Senate Intelligence Committee report suggests that while foreign actors were able to gain access to the nation's voting systems and voter registration databases, they took no action to modify them in any way. Really?
We're joined today by cybersecurity and voting system expert RICH DEMILLO, formerly the Chief Technology Officer for Hewlett-Packard, now Professor of Computing at Georgia Tech, where he served as Dean and director of their Information Security Center. DeMillo shares his takeaways from what he describes as a "frustrating" Senate report, which appears to both pull punches and hide much of both its findings and recommendations behind redactions. "There is just a massive amount of evidence that not only were the systems targeted, and in some cases penetrated, but it would take an extraordinarily altruistic spy to resist the opportunity of doing something nasty once they got into these systems," he tells me. "Not going that final step, which is relatively risk-free, of carrying out the mission that you were there to accomplish, just seems to me to strain credibility."
DeMillo, who has co-authored a number of landmark studies on the many dangers posed by the 100% unverifiable touchscreen computer Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) now being deployed before the 2020 election to places like Georgia, Philadelphia, Los Angeles County as well as counties in other key battle-ground states like Ohio, North Carolina and Texas, warns that our vulnerable voting systems are, indeed, an issue of "national security".
"We're in an era where the tools can be turned against the citizens," he cautions. "Where the results of an election in an entire jurisdiction can be changed with literally the flip of a switch." DeMillo, who now serves on the board of the Verified Voting Foundation, is a supporter of hand-marked paper ballots as the only known type of verifiable voting and (like me) is dubious about the push to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars for new "upgraded" computer voting systems. "It's like buying better filters for cigarettes," he says.
And while there are still no federal mandatory standards for voting systems (only voluntary guidelines last updated by the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission in 2005!), the "real obvious vulnerability" to the systems comes from election insiders, local and state officials and contractors hired to program and maintain the systems. "Even in the face of arguments from election officials that 'we vet our people, we do background checks,' every time we look under those covers, what we find is that there's almost no due diligence that's taking place. That the people that we entrust with these systems, in the first place, don't understand the systems, have never been briefed on the threats, and we have no idea what their background and motivations are."
He cites the story we broke on the program last week based on testimony from an official in the Georgia Secretary of State's office who conceded on the witness stand the week before in a federal court hearing that all voting machines in the state are programmed by three outside contractors "in their garage." That new revelation of outsourcing from the ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the security and Constitutionality of the state's unverifiable touchscreen systems underscores that "everything they tell you about the security of their infrastructure, and how well they vet against the insider threat, turns out not to be the case. And that story is repeated over and over again around the country."
DeMillo also relates the story of the "ruckus" he recently caused on social media when relaying a conversation with election officials in a largely rural state "who just happened to mention in an open meeting that the computers that they use to program their ballots were housed on laptop computers that were in the houses of people, without any security clearances, no special security infrastructure. In fact, they were in places where the Internet connections were so bad that some of those people had to go to the local Starbucks in order to connect to the internet." He says his "jaw dropped to the floor" when he learned that many of those officials were programming their voting machines and tabulators on wide open, completely unsecured public networks.
Finally, DeMillo goes on to offer some advice on how to "move the needle" in the continuing fight by election integrity advocates to secure our elections by using systems that can actually be overseen by the public, slamming those --- from Congress to state and local officials to academics to private voting system vendors --- who believe that secrecy and "security by obscurity" can actually work to protect the heartbeat of our nation's fragile and more-threatened-than-ever system of representative democracy...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)