New Voting Systems Assailed
As election officials rush to spend billions to update the country's voting machines with electronic systems, computer scientists are mounting a challenge to the new devices, saying they are less reliable and less secure from fraud than the equipment they are replacing.
Prompted by the demands of state and federal election reforms, officials in Maryland, Georgia, Florida and Texas installed the high-tech voting systems last fall. Officials in those states, and other proponents of electronic voting, said the computer scientists' concerns are far-fetched.
"These systems, because of the level of testing they go through, are the most reliable systems available," said Michael Barnes, who oversaw Georgia's statewide upgrade. "People were happy with how they operated."
In Maryland, "the system performed flawlessly in the two statewide elections last year," said Joseph Torre, the official overseeing the purchase of the state's new systems. "The public has a lot of confidence in it, and they love it."
But the scientists' campaign, which began in California's Silicon Valley in January, has gathered signatures from more than 300 experts, and the pressure has induced the industry to begin changing course.
Electronic terminals eliminate hanging chads, pencil erasure marks and the chance that a voter might accidentally select too many candidates. Under the new systems, voters touch the screen or turn a dial to make their choices and see a confirmation of those choices before casting their votes, which are tallied right in the terminal. Recounts are just a matter of retrieving the data from the computer again. The only record of the vote is what is stored there.
Critics of such systems say that they are vulnerable to tampering, to human error and to computer malfunctions -- and that they lack the most obvious protection, a separate, paper receipt that a voter can confirm after voting and that can be recounted if problems are suspected.
Officials who have worked with touch-screen systems say these concerns are unfounded and, in certain cases, somewhat paranoid.
David Dill, the Stanford University professor of computer science who launched the petition drive, said, "What people have learned repeatedly, the hard way, is that the prudent practice -- if you want to escape with your data intact -- is what other people would perceive as paranoia."
Other computer scientists, including Rebecca Mercuri of Bryn Mawr College, say that problems are so likely that they are virtually guaranteed to occur -- and already have.
Lost and Found
Mercuri, who has studied voting security for more than a decade, points to a November 2000 election in South Brunswick, N.J., in which touch-screen equipment manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems was used.
In a race in which voters could pick two candidates from a pair of Republicans and a pair of Democrats, one machine recorded a vote pattern that was out of sync with the pattern recorded elsewhere -- no votes whatsoever for one Republican and one Democrat. Sequoia said at the time that no votes were lost -- they were just never registered. Local officials said it didn't matter whether the fault was the voters' or the machine's, the expected votes were gone.
In October, election officials in Raleigh, N.C., discovered that early voters had to try several times to record their votes on iVotronic touch screens from Election Systems and Software. Told of the problems, officials compared the number of voters to the number of votes counted and realized that 294 votes had apparently been lost.
When Georgia debuted 22,000 Diebold touch screens last fall, some people touched one candidate's name on the screen and saw another candidate's name appear as their choice. Voters who were paying attention had a chance to correct the error before finalizing their vote, but those who weren't did not.
Chris Rigall, spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said that the machines were quickly replaced, but that there was no way of knowing how many votes were incorrectly counted.
In September in Florida, Miami-Dade and Broward counties had a different kind of vote loss with ES&S touch-screen equipment: At the end of the day, precincts that reported hundreds of voters also listed virtually no votes counted. In that case, technicians were able to retrieve the votes from the machines.
"If the only way you know that it's working incorrectly is when there's four votes instead of 1,200 votes, then how do you know that if it's 1,100 votes instead of 1,200 votes? You'll never know," said Mercuri.
Because humans are imperfect and computers are complicated, said Ben Bederson, a professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, mistakes will always be made. With no backup to test, the scientists say, mistakes will go undetected.
"I'm not concerned about elections that are a mess," Dill said. "I'm concerned about elections that appear to go smoothly, and no one knows that it was all messed up inside the machine."
"We're not paranoid," said Mercuri. "They're avoiding computational realities. That's the computer science part of it. We can't avoid it any more than physical scientists can avoid gravity."
The Miami-Dade and Georgia terminals were reprogrammed right up until the eve of the fall elections. The last-minute patches don't go through sufficient review, Mercuri said, and any computer that can be reprogrammed simply by inserting an update cartridge cannot be considered secure or reliable.
Dill said hackers constantly defeat sophisticated protections for electronic transactions, bank records, credit reports and software. "Someone sufficiently unscrupulous, with an investment of $50,000, could put together a team of people who could very easily subvert all of the security mechanisms that we've heard about on these [voting] machines," he said.
People who have sold or administered electronic voting systems, however, say the scenarios of fraud or widespread, election-changing error were not of the real world.
'We'd Detect It'
Howard Cramer, vice president for sales at Sequoia, one of the nation's largest suppliers of electronic voting systems, noted that his company has been supplying the systems for a decade and a half. "Our existing approach is verifiably accurate, 100 percent," he said. "Some of the things they're saying are flat-out wrong. Some are conceivable, but outside the likelihood of possibility."
The designer of Georgia's security system, for example, said nobody could insert a secret program to steal an election when the machines are created, because no one even knows at that time who the candidates will be, and the only people with access to the machines at the last minute are local officials.
"They're talking about what they could do if they had access to the [computer program] code, if we had no procedures in place and no physical security in place," said Brit Williams, a computer scientist at Kennesaw State University. "I'm not arguing with that. But they're not going to get access to that code. Even if they did, we'd detect it."
He also said that Georgia's patch was checked before it was installed and did not affect the tallying of votes. And no one, he said, could reprogram Georgia's terminals by inserting a cartridge.
"On our machine, the port is in a locked compartment. The only person in the precinct who has a key to that locked compartment is the precinct manager. [Critics are] looking at it from a purely computer science point of view, saying the system is vulnerable, and it would be vulnerable if we let anyone walk up and stick a card into it, but that doesn't happen."
After Dill launched his campaign, officials in the Silicon Valley county of Santa Clara delayed a purchase of 5,000 touch-screen voting machines. Despite insisting that their systems are reliable and secure, the nation's leading vendors all immediately agreed to provide paper receipts, and the California secretary of state announced a task force to review the security concerns. A month ago, Santa Clara went ahead with its $20 million purchase, insisting that receipts be provided once the state approves the new equipment.
Georgia and Maryland officials said that providing paper receipts may create more problems than it solves -- that paper would have to be transported and monitored with security, and printers could jam. Cramer of Sequoia said paper is unnecessary, costly and may pose a problem for blind voters.
But if customers want receipts, he said, his company will supply them. And Williams said receipts may have a place in the system. "The advantage of a hard piece of paper -- one that a voter would hold in his hand and say, 'That is who I voted for' -- that is psychological, and there certainly is value to that. We need public confidence in our elections," he said.
Similarly, the official overseeing Maryland's program would accept paper if it were available.
"I've been doing voting systems for 15 years," Torre said. "I don't care if they give voters a piece of paper or not. If they come out with a receipt, that's fine. Maybe with the momentum out of California, we'll have receipts before too long."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Media giant's rally sponsorship raises questions
Some of the biggest rallies this month have endorsed President Bush's strategy against Saddam Hussein, and the common thread linking most of them is Clear Channel Worldwide Inc., the nation's largest owner of radio stations.
In a move that has raised eyebrows in some legal and journalistic circles, Clear Channel radio stations in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Antonio, Cincinnati and other cities have sponsored rallies attended by up to 20,000 people. The events have served as a loud rebuttal to the more numerous but generally smaller anti-war rallies.
The sponsorship of large rallies by Clear Channel stations is unique among major media companies, which have confined their activities in the war debate to reporting and occasionally commenting on the news. The San Antonio-based broadcaster owns more than 1,200 stations in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
While labor unions and special interest groups have organized and hosted rallies for decades, the involvement of a big publicly regulated broadcasting company breaks new ground in public demonstrations.
"I think this is pretty extraordinary," said former Federal Communications Commissioner Glen Robinson, who teaches law at the University of Virginia. "I can't say that this violates any of a broadcaster's obligations, but it sounds like borderline manufacturing of the news."
A spokeswoman for Clear Channel said the rallies, called "Rally for America," are the idea of Glenn Beck, a Philadelphia talk show host whose program is syndicated by Premier Radio Networks, a Clear Channel subsidiary.
'Just patriotic rallies'
A weekend rally in Atlanta drew an estimated 20,000 people, with some carrying signs reading "God Bless the USA" and other signs condemning France and the group Dixie Chicks, one of whose members recently criticized President Bush.
"They're not intended to be pro-military. It's more of a thank you to the troops. They're just patriotic rallies," said Clear Channel spokeswoman Lisa Dollinger.
Rallies sponsored by Clear Channel radio stations are scheduled for this weekend in Sacramento, Charleston, S.C., and Richmond, Va. Although Clear Channel promoted two of the recent rallies on its corporate Web site, Dollinger said there is no corporate directive that stations organize rallies.
"Any rallies that our stations have been a part of have been of their own initiative and in response to the expressed desires of their listeners and communities," Dollinger said.
Clear Channel is by far the largest owner of radio stations in the nation. The company owned only 43 in 1995, but when Congress removed many of the ownership limits in 1996, Clear Channel was quickly on the highway to radio dominance. The company owns and operates 1,233 radio stations (including six in Chicago) and claims 100 million listeners. Clear Channel generated about 20 percent of the radio industry's $16 billion in 2001 revenues.
Size sparks criticism
The media giant's size also has generated criticism. Some recording artists have charged that Clear Channel's dominance in radio and concert promotions is hurting the recording industry. Congress is investigating the effects of radio consolidation. And the FCC is considering ownership rule changes, among them changes that could allow Clear Channel to expand its reach.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) has introduced a bill that could halt further deregulation in the radio industry and limit each company's audience share and percent of advertising dollars. These measures could limit Clear Channel's meteoric growth and hinder its future profitability.
Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, said the company's support of the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq makes it "hard to escape the concern that this may in part be motivated by issues that Clear Channel has before the FCC and Congress."
Dollinger denied there is a connection between the rallies and the company's pending regulatory matters.
Rick Morris, an associate professor of communications at Northwestern University, said these actions by Clear Channel stations are a logical extension of changes in the radio industry over the last 20 years, including the blurring of lines between journalism and entertainment.
From a business perspective, Morris said, the rallies are a natural fit for many stations, especially talk-radio stations where hosts usually espouse politically conservative views.
"Nobody should be surprised by this," Morris said.
In 1987 the FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to cover controversial issues in their community and to do so by offering balancing views. With that obligation gone, Morris said, "radio can behave more like newspapers, with opinion pages and editorials."
"They've just begun stretching their legs, being more politically active," Morris said.
Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune
Dueling protests in Orlando grow heated
Marie Falbostood toe to toe with Mark Kendall on an Orlando street corner Saturday, shouting that the war in Iraq is wrong and immoral.
Kendall, a stocky biker with a clean-shaven head and a goatee, shouted back with as much fury that the U.S. military effort is not only just, but that Falbo should move to the war-torn nation if she liked it so much.
Dozens of other bikers and protesters looked on as Falbo argued intensely with Kendall, half a foot taller and more than 25 years younger, at Orange Avenue and Colonial Drive.
"They were itching for a fight," the Winter Park woman said of the nearly two dozen bikers who stopped at the weekly protest en route to a pro-U.S. rally that attracted several thousand people to the Orlando Harley-Davidson dealership.
"I figured I would let them start with an old grandmother."
Kendall, 39, of Orlando said he and his friends from the Nam-Knights motorcycle club were just trying to get their point across.
"I have friends over there fighting for us to be able to live the way we do," Kendall said while wiping sweat from his brow and trying to calm himself after several arguments on the corner.
Kendall was one of more than 400 bikers who rolled through the intersection Saturday as part of group ride from Sanford to Orlando to show support for troops serving in the Persian Gulf.
For nearly 10 minutes, a steady stream of bikers revved their engines, honked their horns and at times cursed the two dozen protesters lining all four corners of the downtown intersection with antiwar signs.
Shannon Burke, a talk-show host for 540 AM (WFLA), organized the ride and said the detour off Interstate 4 to the war protest was intentional.
"It was a public street, and there was a weak counter-protest that needed support," Burke said.
At the much-larger pro-U.S. rally, Burke told the boisterous crowd that they needed to keep up their support for the thousands of troops fighting Iraq. His request was greeted with cheers and chants of "U-S-A."
Burke and others read names of the wounded, killed or captured soldiers. They made special mention of Army Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, the former Orlando resident who was captured in Iraq earlier this week.
In a statement read to people in the crowd, the Williams family thanked them for their support since news of his capture was made public.
Photographs of Williams and others serving in the Middle East were also on display -- as a reminder, Burke said, of the men and women fighting on the front lines.
With each patriotic song or reference of support to the troops, members of the crowd roared their approval and waved flags. They snacked on free cotton candy and icees while deriding war protesters as "anti-American."
The crowd also cheered when Burke smashed the plastic case of a Dixie Chicks compact disk. The singers have been boycotted because of an onstage comment in which one of them said she was ashamed that President Bush was from Texas.
Alicia A. Caldwell can be reached at email@example.com or 386-851-7924.
Growing resentment at British 'liberators' in Basra
Signs of resentment against British forces surrounding Basra are bubbling to the surface as Iraq's second city seethes under bombing and shell-fire.
"People see this as an occupation. If the government gives us weapons we will fight the Americans and the British," one local man at a British checkpoint said yesterday.
Contrary to American and British expectations, many of the 1.5 million population are directing their resentment at the invading forces, rather than the regime of Saddam Hussein. "They came here and they bombed innocent families," one man said.
"The Americans and British fired their weapons at our electricity pylons. They cut off fresh water supplies from near the airport," another man said. "Why?"
"The government brought back the electricity two days ago. It is turned off a few hours a day but the service is back."
One young man repeated reports of an uprising against Saddam Hussein in the city several days ago. He said that up to 15 people had been killed, though this could not be confirmed. "The forces of the Iraqi regime seem to be losing day by day but they are still in the city," he added. "Nobody can say Saddam is bad."
His comments showed that fear of the regime remains strong.
Patriot Act 11 - the sequel
Warrantless surveillance. Secret arrests. Indefinite detention. Is this totalitarian Cuba? No, it's what the U.S. Justice Department is planning, based on legislation that Justice lawyers have been secretly drafting for months.
Before the department asks Congress for even broader powers, however, it should first demonstrate how well it has used -- and not abused -- the sweeping authority granted it under the post-9/11 Patriot Act.
This is a critical issue, especially now. In times of war, national-security concerns too easily can overwhelm civil protections. True, the government may need new authority to deal with terrorist threats. But Congress and U.S. courts are expected to restrain the executive branch's excesses. Alas, in this crisis, Congress and courts have shown a disturbing proclivity to acquiesce to the Bush administration's demands for sweeping new powers. It's up to Americans, all of us, to stop the power grab.
How much of your individual freedoms and rights are you willing to give up? How much government secrecy is acceptable? Do you trust the government not to abuse its power? Many complaints and court cases already have challenged tactics that the administration says are necessary. But some of the practices may infringe on constitutional protections.
For example, expanded new authority is used to secretly round up, detain and deport Middle Easterners who aren't U.S. citizens. In addition, immigration officials have banned public access to the deportation hearings of those whom it designates of ''special interest.'' The administration doesn't even disclose how many of those picked up -- whether terrorist suspect or innocent immigrant -- have been deported.
Similarly, we don't know how well Justice has used the broad spying powers granted by the first Patriot Act. The department has given Congress little information about its use of ''sneak-and-peek'' warrants to secretly search homes and less still about its monitoring of attorney-client communications without court orders.
What is evident is a dramatic increase in clandestine searches, surveillance and information gathering -- all with less judicial oversight. The FBI has examined individuals' library records and Internet browsing habits. Without court orders and with new powers, it has demanded that businesses turn over financial and other records, including the names of participants in scuba courses.
Patriot II legislation would go even further. According to a department draft leaked in February, the measures would:
• Allow local police to spy on civil-rights and other groups, despite any existing court-ordered consent decrees against doing so imposed because of past abuses.
• Create a database of ''suspected terrorists,'' including anyone associated with any group designated as terrorist by the government.
• Allow the attorney general to revoke the citizenship of anyone who has provided support, even an unknowing donation, to a designated terrorist group -- and then deport or indefinitely detain that person.
No member of Congress, including those on key committees, was aware that the Justice Department was working on the ''Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003'' -- or Patriot Act II, as it has been dubbed -- when a draft was leaked last month. That led to concerns that Justice intended to introduce the measure as a ''stealth bill,'' at a time of high anxiety about national security, as happened with the original Patriot Act.
Some Americans may think that what's happening to Arab Americans and other immigrants innocently caught up in the counter-terrorist dragnet can't happen to them. But it can, if Congress, the courts and citizens do nothing to check the Justice Department's power grab.
You can make a difference. Write or telephone your Congress members. Remind them that the Justice Department must account for the expanded authority it already has and must fully justify any request for additional powers. For contact information for Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Bob Graham, go to website, www.senate.gov; or telephone them at 202 224-3121. For contact information on House members, go to the website www.house.gov; or telephone them at 202-225-3121.
US assassins 'kill Iraqi chiefs' in Baghdad
AMERICAN special forces have assassinated several senior Iraqi officials in a series of bomb and sniper attacks in Baghdad and other cities, it was revealed yesterday.
American government sources say that in the past week of covert operations "more than a handful" of Republican Guard commanders and Ba’ath Party officials have been killed.
The ultimate aim of the undercover squads, according to sources, is to kill Saddam Hussein’s closest associates and even the Iraqi president himself.
A source said at least some of the explosions seen and heard in Baghdad were not the result of air strikes, but bombs planted by special forces.
The operations suggest US efforts to destroy the Iraqi government’s leadership are far more extensive than previously known.
CIA officials declined to comment, but Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said: "As we have said before, we have special forces in the north, west and south of the country."
The undercover teams carry sophisticated weapons and communications equipment capable of receiving real-time targeting intelligence to guide them to the locations of sought-after individuals and also of transmitting information about targets with similar speed.
The agents are believed to be getting help from small numbers of trusted Iraqi exiles, who have slipped back into Baghdad, and opponents of the regime in the city.
Former SAS commander Clive Fairweather, who helped plan the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980, said special forces operating in hostile cities would need to have help from Iraqis to stay alive.
He said it would be extremely difficult for Westerners to move around trying to pretend to be locals. A car would probably be used to get from place to place, as this would provide cover and make it less likely anyone would try to speak to the agents.
"You could not really pretend to be an Arab for very long. And just imagine trying to hide in the shed behind someone’s house. In the end, someone is going to come to the shed.
"You would need support, but it might not be much."
He said special forces’ biggest problem, apart from not getting caught, would be getting enough sleep because of the amount of work they would have to do providing targets for warplanes.
"Their main task at the moment will be communications to aircraft, and aircraft will be queuing up like cabs on a rank to use them," Fairweather said.
"They’ve got a whole lot of potential tasks: number one is the removal of Saddam Hussein, which comes down to shaping plans and eating away at the people in his infrastructure.
"But whatever they do, they are waiting on someone to betray Saddam. You can do what you like, but unless you know where he’s going to be in six or eight hours, you don’t have time to plan something. You need to know a future event."
The covert teams are just one part of the so-called invisible war being waged in Iraq by the CIA and the Pentagon’s special operations divisions.
Special forces are also involved in organising tribal groups to fight the Iraqi government from the north.
They are also searching for weapons of mass destruction that would help swing the tide of world opinion behind the war.
American government officials made no request for details of the operations to be withheld from publication in the US, as they have sometimes done in other cases involving on-going covert operations.
Law experts in the US have argued that assassinating enemy soldiers or civilians who engage in military activity is legitimate during war.
America has a policy going back more than 20 years which bans political killings, but the Bush administration has concluded that it does not prevent the president from lawfully singling out a terrorist for death by covert action.
The CIA in particular has been given the go-ahead to undertake much more risky and sensitive operations to kill enemies in the war against terror following the September 11 atrocities.
In November, Hellfire missiles launched from a CIA drone killed six suspected al-Qaeda operatives as they drove through the desert in Yemen. One of them, Ahmed Hijazi, was a naturalised American citizen. The main target of the strike was Abu Ali al-Harithi, who was suspected of masterminding the attack on the destroyer USS Cole in October 2000.
Iraq said on Friday that it had captured at least three Iraqis who it said had been spying for coalition forces.
The men told state television they were paid by the CIA to identify targets for US planes and missiles and scout locations where raids had already occurred.
Meanwhile, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency said yesterday it had been unable to find any evidence that Saddam uses a series of doubles.
The Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) analysed photographs and recordings of the Iraqi leader in an attempt to find out if it was the same person.
Michaela Heber, a spokeswoman for the FIS, said: "We don’t have any evidence for it."
~Did You Miss These?~
Just a Reminder - Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003
Ravyne Is Moving - Friday, Oct. 17, 2003
The Mission - Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003
Siege Heil - Thursday, Oct. 09, 2003
Litany Of Lies - Wednesday, Oct. 08, 2003
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