On November 12th, the website VelvetRevolution.us, posted a letter, which they claimed to "accept at face value" from "The Protectors". This letter claimed that a shadowy hacker group had clandestinely defeated Karl Rove's latest vote rigging machinations. A few weeks earlier, some subset of the hacker group Anonymous posted a video to youtube promising intervention in any Rove directed electronic election fraud. Coupling these claims with Rove's Fox news election night meltdown, and you have just enough speculation to go to print.
Flickr image By JD_WMWM
Somehow "The Protectors" became conflated with Anonymous and thus a myth was born: Anonymous saved American democracy. I was asked to examine this myth by my editor at the Columbus Free Press, Bob Fitrakis, and render an opinion. My opinion as a trained computer security person and as a journalist is that these claims have a number of huge cultural and technical flaws in them. These flaws and improbabilities cast grave doubt over the truthfulness of the claims. So much doubt in fact that I am willing to bet my mouse finger against them.
The Free Press engaged me in late August to provide fresh research, insight and reporting on electronic election fraud. We had done serious reporting on election fraud. We have brought suit. We have published a number of books. What the Free Press wanted from me was a fresh look, not a re-hash of what happened before.
I began by examining the myth circulating in the right wing blogsphere that George Soros owned a Spanish voting machine company called Scytl. I looked at Scytl's technology, their ownership, the owners' histories and their business connections. George Soros wasn't involved, but a number of other people and companies tied to the intelligence community were.
Following the same logic I began to look at Hart InterCivic, famous for its connection to Mitt Romney's campaign finances and his son Taggart.
Late in the election season, we followed up on a disclosure from a source close to the Ohio Secretary of State about a secret software contract. Eventually, the Free Press sued. Although denied an injunction, our case is still open, and we may well bring fresh evidence to court.
It's not that electronic election fraud does not exist. This might be contrary to what some well paid experts say, and contrary to the unresearched opinions of some liberal media pundits. Peer review of our research by Forbes, Banking Insider, The Christian Science Monitor and Computerworld confirm our claims.
When covering the intersection between computer crime and politics as a journalist, one must be very clear about facts. One must also make facts clear to the non-technical reader. After examining the letter from the "Protectors", and examining the reportage surrounding it, I find very few facts. I also find what I consider to be outright lies and misinformation. No journalist should take a c laim from an unknown source at "face value". This is especially true when the claims come from someone with no face.
I have taken the liberty of re-printing claims from the letter, so that I may better explain why I think it is an outright lie, and one open to further misinterpretation. I will list my objections below.
Nowhere in the letter do the authors ("The Protectors") claim to be part of Anonymous. Anonymous always signs its communications the same way: "We are Anonymous, We are legion, We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us." Anonymous did threaten Rove prior to the election. Anonymous did not write this letter.
Anonymous as a whole did not act on election day. This is evidenced by a lack of election day IRC traffic. Also absent is an operational codename. These are typically expressed as a hashtag with an operation name, such as #optunisia (for actions in support of the Tunisian revolution).
Anonymous does not use names. There is a strong cultural bias within the group against using a name in public. This is especially true if the name is cool, or so trying to be cool it's corny. See "The Protectors." Anonymous has a special internal insult for people who do use names in public. The insult is homophobic and will not be repeated here.
There is no evidence that Karl Rove or anyone else attempted to steal the election in Ohio using the same methods as in 2004. One would be a fool to try to commit a crime in exactly the manner that as 8 years ago. This is certainly true when that method is caught. There are a variety of methods to interfere with an election electronically. The sad truth is that the whole system of elections has no security worth respecting and can be attacked at any level. These security flaws (or really, wholesale absence of security) have been documented by every academic panel to examine the equipment. The "Protectors" could not even come up with an original narrative to base their false claims on.
The technical claims made in the letter are impossible. If Rove was really stealing the election utilizing operatives in Chattanooga again, why did Smartech's backup servers in suburban Atlanta not take over? I mapped Smartech's network in September. It is clear to me that the "Protectors" did not.