...Sometimes There's Just Smoke.
By Brad Friedman on 11/18/2004, 8:51pm PT  

I've been receiving tips and links concerning the odd story of Jeff Fisher, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate down in Florida ever since Thom Hartmann's Nov. 6th article at CommonDreams.org spoke of Fisher "waiting for the FBI to show up" because he had evidence to prove "the Florida election was hacked" along with "who hacked it and how".

Fisher's story was and is compelling at first blush, though convoluted and spare in key details. He writes at varying lengths and coherency on his own website about mysterious meetings in McDonald's parking lots, a conspiracy played out to hack the vote from a computer lab at the Bay Point School for delinquent boys in Florida, wiretaps, computer professors and informants who feared for their own life.

Wild stuff. But then again, so was the idea that three cuban exiles broke into the Democratic campaign headquarters in a Washington D.C. hotel at the instruction of an ex-CIA guy with funding from an eccentric millionaire down in Key West, Florida that was said to lead all the way up to the President of the United States.

I hadn't reported on the Fisher story at all on these pages, despite many who had emailed me about him, because something in the story just wasn't adding up for me yet. And then I had begun hearing accounts of late about various folks distancing themselves from Fisher.

Both Ralph Nader and investigative journalist Russ Baker had recently been cited --- by Fisher on his website --- as working along with him in pursuing his troubling tale. But Nader's camp has publicly disavowed such a relationship, and an associate of mine who spoke with Baker has told me that Baker also finds Fisher's story to be incredible and that he's not currently pursuing it.

My associate had spoken with Dr. Piotr Blass (a prominent figure in Fisher's story) and encouraged me to call him. With Fisher's phone number in hand as well --- his is posted on his website --- I decided to give them both a call to see what I could learn...

I spoke with Blass first who, from our phone conversation at least, seemed to be a very kind and thoughtful man. A Polish-born professor of Computer Mathematics, according to his own website, with two M.A.'s and a Ph.D from both Harvard and the University of Michigan.

While Blass figures prominently in Fisher's tale --- and he admitted that in fact Fisher had helped him when his son was in trouble in Florida --- Blass was, shall we say, extremely skeptical of both Fisher's story and motives.

While he spoke more directly "off-the-record" about Fisher, he asked that I only quote him as saying "that there is a very low probability that there is anything at all behind manipulating the votes at the Bay Point School" and that he was "not encouraging people to pursue that."

I was ready to bust the story wide-open on the debunking of Jeff Fisher until I next spoke to Fisher himself.

One of the first things Fisher mentioned when we began our conversation --- and he would mention it several more times --- was that his phone lines were "being tapped", and therefore he had to be extremely careful about what he could say over the phone. He explained that he was instructed by the FBI, after giving them whatever information that he had, that he was "told I need to be quiet" about things. Therefore, he could only give me certain information during our phone conversation.

When I explained that I had spoken to Dr. Blass and that he was less than supportive of Fisher's current efforts, Fisher told me right away that Blass was "also under investigation by the FBI". Fisher explained that Blass had tried very hard to reach the Kerry campaign with the information that he was "adamant about" which involved evidence of hacking the vote via the Bay Point School, etc., for weeks before the election. Until suddenly, just ten days before the election, Blass decided he was no longer interested in pursuing the story. His allegiance, Fisher explained, was to his friend Joseph Klock (another prominent figure in Fisher's website tale) instead of his country. Apparently Mr. Klock had also helped Blass' son when he was in trouble.

For his part, Fisher claims that what he's after in all of this "is justice. It's not political." He would like "to have a national revote...Federal, State and Local, and this time on paper. I don't care who wins. As long as it's fair and it can be accounted for."

As to journalist Russ Baker's distancing, when I asked about it, Fisher sounded genuinely surprised. After a pause he said, "Really? That's interesting news to me."

I suppose I should also mention, since Fisher claimed that Blass had a new-found interest in shutting the whole story down --- for whatever reason --- that Blass did suggest several times during our conversation that the best way to deal with Fisher's claims was "simply to ignore them and they would eventually go away."

So can we conclude from all of this that Fisher's information should now be officially considered as "debunked" and set aside from the more reasonable on-going investigations into "VoterGate 2004"? I don't know. He did claim that he was led to believe, presumably by the FBI, that "in the next 72 to 96 hours things should really be breaking."

Yes, Watergate began with an even odder set of circumstances, took quite a while before the truth fully unraveled and featured as many strange and shadowy figures (Woodward and Bernstein had "Deep Throat", Fisher has "The Sender").

So I suppose Fisher's story bears watching should hard evidence be produced to support his claims, but in the short-term, I'd suggest that hanging one's hopes for the "case to break wide open" based on whatever evidence he may have access to would be less than productive right now. Especially with so much developing hourly that does appear to be much more promising in the short term as far as producing verifiable hard evidence that something was amiss in Election 2004.

I've stayed away here from stories such as Fishers. This is the first time I believe I've even mentioned his name on this blog despite all the links I've been sent about him since his story first came to light. And I never once mentioned the infamous "Bush Bulge" on these pages either.

None of that diligence and attempts to check our facts has managed to keep CNN and the rest of the corporate media from referring to many of the investigations, including ours, as anything more than "the conspiracy theories of leftist bloggers".

So be it. We'll keep plowing ahead nonetheless since there's so much out there right now setting off alarm bells that only the na´ve or Faith-Based Community would be interested in not noticing.

In preparing this piece, I found that Thom Hartmann yesterday, wrote a mea culpa for his earlier report which cited Fisher's story. He was, he said, guilty of submitting "an article that was insufficiently fact-checked".

Perhaps that was true. And while understandable with breaking stories such as these, such slip-ups can inadvertently undermine the work of those who understand that there is a very real story here that needs much investigation and bright sunshine.

In the meantime, Hartmann's follow-up provided a bang-up description for the kernel of truth which --- no matter where this particular story of Election 2004 ends up turning --- is the issue at the very heart of this matter. He explains clearly how the corrupt privatization of our public electoral system by unchecked and unregulated for-profit corporations in this country has produced an unmitigated mess of our core democratic process; Voting.

His piece is well worth the read in case you are unaware of how Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have gone out of their way since 2000 to keep bills that would have required such democracy-friendly ideas as voter-verified paper trails and random audits of electronic voting machines from reaching the light of day, much less a simple up or down vote in either house of the U.S. Congress.

We shall keep following this story wherever it goes. And once the current matter of who got how many votes in this election is settled, we will turn our sites directly on Election Reform once and for all.

Though the Powers-That-Be managed to give the idea much lip-service after the debacle of Election 2000, this time it's become crystal-clear to millions of us that the smoke at the heart of all of this is undoubtedly leading to a full-fledged fire.

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