Wayne Madsen Is At It Again (‘Vote Switching” Software???)

I still think Wayne Madsen is not a nut, and that's why I have to give some credence to this well researched, and highly suggestive albeit not dispositive piece of reporting: Texas to Florida: White House-linked clandestine operation paid for “vote switching” software:

An exhaustive investigation has turned up a link between current Florida Republican Representative Tom Feeney, a customized Windows-based program to suppress Democratic votes on touch screen voting machines, a Florida computer services company with whom Feeney worked as a general counsel and registered lobbyist while he was Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and top level officials of the Bush administration.

According to a notarized affidavit signed by Clint Curtis, while he was employed by the NASA Kennedy Space Center contractor, Yang Enterprises, Inc., during 2000, Feeney solicited him to write a program to “control the vote.” At the time, Curtis was of the opinion that the program was to be used for preventing fraud in the in the 2002 election in Palm Beach County, Florida. His mind was changed, however, when the true intentions of Feeney became clear: the computer program was going to be used to suppress the Democratic vote in counties with large Democratic registrations.

According to Curtis, Feeney and other top brass at Yang Enterprises, a company located in a three-story building in Oviedo, Florida, wanted the prototype written in Visual Basic 5 (VB.5) in Microsoft Windows and the end-product designed to be portable across different Unix-based vote tabulation systems and to be “undetectable” to voters and election supervisors.

I just hope he's wrong — and I worry that the same hope may cause other people to dismiss this one out of hand rather then trying to find out where the facts lead.

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13 Responses to Wayne Madsen Is At It Again (‘Vote Switching” Software???)

  1. Pingback: Ken Sain

  2. Steve says:

    Madsen’s account doesn’t pass the sniff test. Which I don’t suppose the scenario that he weaves, as such, is completely impossible, there are far too many loose ends, “reportedlys”, anonymous sources, and bizarre leaps of logic to be credible.

    For instance, the software he alleges was developed “in Visual Basic (VB.5) in Microsoft Windows and the end-product designed to be portable across different Unix-based vote tabluation systems. . .”. Say what? Why on earth would you prototype in VB if the target system was some flavor of Unix? Perhaps I missed out on some software development effort, but I know of no Unix system which runs VB. This just makes no sense at all. In addition, I doubt that there are many vote tabulation systems running on Unix hosts, if any at all, so targeting Unix seems unlikely.

    How this program is supposed to “flip votes around on touch screen machines” is left entirely to the imagination. Is it a worm or virus? A modification of the tabulation software? The touch screen user interface?

    This is all just to vague to be believable.

    Now, this is not to suggest that manipulation of the election results did not occur. But this was done the old-fashioned way, through voter roll skullduggery and brute force intimidation.

    Software isn’t magic, no matter how many Star Treks, Forbin Projects, and Mission Impossibles you might have seen on the tube or in movie theaters.

  3. cmg says:

    Re: Steve’s comments — I suspect that something gets lost in the techno-to-journo translation. Check out the programmer’s actual affidavit. It reads more credibly since it’s first-person. It’s every bit as chilling.

    http://rawstory.com/images/pdfs/CC_Affidavit_120604.pdf

  4. For instance, the software he alleges was developed “in Visual Basic (VB.5) in Microsoft Windows and the end-product designed to be portable across different Unix-based vote tabluation systems. . .”. Say what? Why on earth would you prototype in VB if the target system was some flavor of Unix?

    because the programming he did was a demonstration program, to show Feeney how easily it would be to create blind buttons—and how they could then be utilized.

    How this program is supposed to “flip votes around on touch screen machines” is left entirely to the imagination. Is it a worm or virus? A modification of the tabulation software? The touch screen user interface?

    if you can’t figure out the various ways that computers can be programmed to create vote fraud, its difficult to credit your criticism of the technical WB/windows/Unix question as someone other than what you copied from another site.

    But here is one way….write a subprogram that would operate only between 9AM and 6 PM on election day (logic and accuracy tests are done before, and occasionally immediately after, the polls close), and would delete itself at 6PM. The program would switch every 50th vote for “Kerry” to “Bush” based on the precise time the vote was cast…if the clock indicated that a Kerry vote was cast on the first two hundredths of a given second, it would be recorded as a Bush vote—and the fraud would be virtually undectable. But it would make a difference of 4% in the final outcome….

  5. marcus says:

    I haven’t read the essay yet, but I did look at Madsen’s bio, and he has been inside, so to speak.
    Having worked at State and the NSA lends some credibility in my eyes. Where there is smoke, there’s fire.
    As for the programming? please, I know enough to know that that was the easy part.

  6. Patrick (G) says:

    See this critique of this story from Black Box Voting:

    http://www.blackboxvoting.org/#feeney

  7. Steve says:

    Thanks to cmg for the pointer to the PDF. I’ve read it and there are a few more details which provide a certain amount of verisimilitude to the account and certainly what is described is more or less how I might go about writing similar code. However, there are still gaping holes in the story that make me wonder whether it’s specious.

    In response to paul lukasiak: I’ve been a programmer and a software engineer for the better part of twenty-five years and have several successful software projects under my belt to prove it, starting with IBM 1620s and 7094s, through various pieces of mainframe hardware, PCs (I had one of the original XTs), and up through various Windows and Linux boxes. Among other things, I’ve been a consultant on projects for the US Navy’s SPAWAR command, the Lawrence Livermore National Lab and, on one very brief occasion, for an activity of the National Security Agency. I think I can say I do understand how it is possible to jigger a voting system, almost trivially.

    I confess I don’t follow, or indeed even completely parse, your statement “its difficult to credit your criticism of the technical WB/windows/Unix question as someone other than what you copied from another site.” I was indeed quoting from the article referred to in the posting. I assumed that the quotation marks around the phrase “flip votes around on touch screen machines” would make it clear that these were not intended to be interpreted as my own words. Perhaps I should have included a specific link to make that clear. However, I’m writing a web posting, not a research article, and while one should always strive for accuracy and full attribution of sources, the standards are somewhat different than when producing a peer-reviewed journal submission. How that calls into question my technical expertise is not completely clear.

    My point in looking somewhat askance at the article is that the mechanisms for inserting or deploying this malicious code are not made terribly clear. Indeed, from reading the article, one might be led to believe that some form of “action over distance” might be involved. Why involve a third party in jiggering the election when it would be much easier to get to the actual programmer writing the code in the first place?

    I’m not suggesting any of this didn’t happen. What I am asking for is a bit more direct evidence.

  8. My point in looking somewhat askance at the article is that the mechanisms for inserting or deploying this malicious code are not made terribly clear. Indeed, from reading the article, one might be led to believe that some form of “action over distance” might be involved. Why involve a third party in jiggering the election when it would be much easier to get to the actual programmer writing the code in the first place?

    the issue of distribution of the “fraud code” is key. And there is a reason why it would be done on a state level, rather than as part of the code promulgated by Diebold in all of its machines—and that reason is “control”. Inserting a backdoor (or other “fraud code”) into code that is distributed nationally means that every state in the country that uses Diebold would be able to examine that code, and discovery of the “fraud code” would be inevitable.

    In Florida (and probably in most states) election technologies (including hardware and software) are controlled by the state. State law sets the overall requirements for voting systems, and the Division of Elections (under the Secretary of State) creates the specific rules and regulations regarding the specific technologies.

    Under Florida law, it is the DoE that examines and certifies the source code (which is considered “proprietary”, and not available for public inspection) on the various election systems—and under Florida law, the DoE can also create and distribute its own code for these systems. (This “DoE” code is considered a “public document” and is open for inspection, however.)

    Thus, we have the mechanism by which “fraud code” can be inserted by the state elections aparatus in various counties—without the counties even knowing about it. “Patches” for the source code created by the vendor would be distributed by the state, and not subject to public examination. And although any code created by the state is subject to public examination, its not that difficult to imagine that a “non-fraud” version of state code would be made available to the public, while the “fraud” version is actually installed in the various machines.

    As to the question of “why would Feeney be involved”, the answer is rather simple. Clay Roberts, who was head of the Florida Division of Elections in 2002, was a protoge of Feeney’s. Before becoming DoE head, Roberts worked for the Florida House of Representatives under Feeney—in fact, Clay Roberts was the author of the “summary” prepared for the Florida House of the legislation that resulted in the notorious “Felons list” law.

  9. I am a computer programmer who is well versed in the elements of vote fraud and hacking. I also wrote a book exposing fraud in an election in Chicago in 1999. As believable as it seems when looking atthis document, I believe Clint Curtis’ story lacks credibility for the following reasons:

    * Curtis has a preexisting political axe to grind against Feeney and other Republicans in Florida. He has operated a Web site against Republicans for some time.
    * Curtis does not have the original program – only a later mockup of what he claims to have written. Significantly, he has filled the data with a “Bush vs. Kerry” race, adding weight to the idea that he has a political axe to grind against Republicans. (Why didn’t he use the labels from the original program?)
    * Curtis does not explain why he is coming out with this information only now, when if it were true it would have been crucial for him to air it many months ago when he was battling Feeney publicly. If he truly had this information then, it would have been even more important than his allegations against Feeney at the time.

    This last point is probably the most damning. In perspective, a vote-rigging scandal would be a far more important comment against Feeney than his other conflicts of interest, and Curtis could have – and should have – exposed it then. That he didn’t suggests that he may well have fabricated this. Added to the other points above, it seems that unless Curtis can provide explanations for these questions, we should be very wary about his claims.

    I’m a lifelong Democrat, by the way. I would be happy to know that Clint Curtis’s claims were true, but in the absence of further proof, I am assuming it to be false.

  10. Chris says:

    Peter provides a good example of critical thought–look carefully at who is making the fact claim and what evidence do they produce? Without something more substantial, there isn’t any merit here.

    At the same time, the fact that we’re even having this discussion at all, and no one is arguing that the system is proof against hacking and manipulation, reveals that there the procedures for regulating and auditing these machines are alarmingly inadequate. Looking critically at those defending the integrity of the machines, the only people who seem make this case are those with an interest, and the ability (if they choose), to manipulate the election results. To me, it doesn’t matter if they did tamper with the programming. If they didn’t do it this time, they certainly can later. The fact is, no one can detect it short of an accomplice ratting them out. The only other means of verifying the results–the exit polls–are under attack from the Republicans.

  11. cmg says:

    Re Peter’s three good points:

    1. Curtis pre-existing political axe against Feeney? I’ve seen Curtis’s justaflyonthewall.com, which was registered Jan 04. But I don’t see any evidence for pre-existing anti-Republican sentiment. And if what he says is true, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge him that sentiment now.

    2. Curtis does not have original program. True. I don’t see a problem with this. Frankly the programming part of this whole thing is the easy part. And I’m afraid that without spot-auditing of paper ballots, proper auditing/examining of machines before and after voting (likewise with central tabulating machines), that it may sadly be the ONLY part.

    3. Curtis does not explain why he’s coming out with this now. I read an interview yesterday in which Curtis explained that. He said that he didn’t think it had a chance of flying undetected. Source code would be vetted, etc… From the article: “I can’t believe the Democrats were stupid enough to allow [this],” he says. “I can’t imagine anyone going to a bank and not getting a receipt. But yet we have our voting machines that way. It strikes me as really odd that machines like that could even exist.”

    Interview here: http://www.bluelemur.com/index.php?p=479

    One other thing – Curtis isn’t making the claim that his source code was ever used in this or any other election. He can’t know that. Madsen’s article charges that vote-switching occured. but there’s much more work to be done there to prove it.

    I completely agree with Chris’s point: Regardless of whether election fraud occurred, the voting system as it exists today is unacceptable and unworthy of our trust. We need to fix that. Otherwise, bye-bye Democracy.

  12. re: why Curtis is coming out with this now….

    according to Curtis, he has mentioned this in the past to others in the hopes of having it investigated….including the guy who (supposedly) killed himself. In other words, he’s isn’t suddenly showing up and making these claims.

  13. Fred I. White says:

    Re: Vote switching

    At this point it seems to me the most parsimonious hypothesis is that switching did occur, and rather
    widely, given the anomalous data from various locales. If there is a better hypothesis I’d like to see it.

    The case is circumstantial, but more evidence is coming in all the time. The R’s had the means, the
    motive, and the opportunities. Remember, a lot of people have been convicted on circumstantial evidence.

    The important question now is whether any effective legal action is possible.

    Fred White

    —–

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