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Monday, November 14, 2016

RIGGED: the SUSPICIOUS SURPRISE!

This election of Donald Trump is not only a huge nightmarish surprise; it is a suspicious surprise!  Before I tell you why, allow me to put forth a thought that bears on my suspicions.
Have you noticed that the Donald has a habit (an established pattern) of projecting his own short-comings onto the candidate he happens to be running against?  Almost from the beginning of his Campaign against Hillary, he has labeled her a crook, supposedly because

--of the “scrubbing” of personal emails by her team after she received a government subpoena
-- she solicited money from foreign governments for the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State, possibly putting foreign entities in a favorable position
--a bevy of charges of (supposed) criminal activity, ranging from Ben Ghazi to lying or giving false information to the FBI
What I think the Donald was saying is: “look at Hillary – she’s worse than I am; she’s worse than anybody, so I must be OK!” What he was doing is taking his own past full of criminal behavior and criminal charges and projecting it upon Hillary.  A list of some of the charges against him would have to include:
a.       Ties to the Mafia/Cosa Nostra/the Mob, and to some Russian mobsters as well
b.       Sexual harassment and assault upon women
c.       Racial discrimination against African-American renters
d.       Use of undocumented aliens in his workforce
e.       Trump University fraud – charges & trial pending
f.        Trump Foundation questionable practices
g.       Owning Beauty Pageants that led to harassment of contestants
h.       Non-payment of money owed to workers, developers, lawyers, and others
i.         Use of the courts to sue and intimidate others 

The Donald doesn’t mince words: he’s called Hillary Clinton the 'worst Secretary of State' ever (and Barack Obama our worst President) – reckless and of poor judgment; divisive and someone who has done nothing in 30 years to help the middle or working class.  He has said that the Ben Ghazi deaths are her fault.  He says her other failures include a mess in Syria, a horrendous Agreement with Iran, and the growth of ISIS which he said she created! 
What Donald doesn’t tell us is that he hasn’t had a lot of success overseas himself.  His meeting with the Mexican President produced a denunciation of Trump for even considering the notion that Mexico would pay for an American wall built in opposition to Mexican immigrants.  At meetings with the Prime Minister of England and Mayor of London, Trump couldn’t avoid controversy and negative results because of his big, undiplomatic mouth.

Trump has belittled, smeared and excoriated every candidate he has come up against, including all the Republicans who vied for the GOP nomination.  Every time he levels a charge, one only needs to know that he has projected his own short-comings onto his opponents.  Why? Either he rids himself of feelings of inferiority because he can pretend that “they are worse than he is.”   Or, he is projecting upon others what he so despises in himself – perhaps what others have thrown at him.  Enough said at this point (but if you want to read a lot more about his worst charges and epithets against all manner of people and organizations, check out:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/28/upshot/donald-trump-twitter-insults.html?_r=0 )
 In the last weeks of the presidential campaign, when Clinton had taken a more prominent lead, Trump basically accused her of somehow “rigging” the election, although he made it quite general in terms of “the system is rigged” or “they are rigging the election.”  Looking back at my point that Trump has a pattern of projecting his own failings and flaws onto others, I wonder if this “rigging” charge is a clue to something he was projecting onto Hillary to protect himself; to divert attention from the real scheme being hatched?  This leads me to the main concern of this posting:
Did the Donald know something about his own campaign that he immediately projected onto the establishment, represented in his mind by Hillary Clinton?  Was the election rigged, not by Clinton, but by the Trump Team in concert with the Russians?  To me, it has looked very suspicious from the moment that the momentum on election night began to shift in Trump’s favor.  The more I have thought about it, the more suspicious I am that foul play has occurred here, but very few  watchdogs seem to be questioning the circumstances. 
We have somewhat ignored, or underestimated, the incidents of Cyber hacking that took place leading up to Election Day.  Were those incidents completely separate incidents, or were they related to the election in a way that we have not investigated (according to CNN, there is an FBI investigation underway)?  I admit I do not know the answer, but I suspect they did not stand alone, but were “dry runs” “rehearsals” or tests for what was (and may still be) to come. 
So, let’s review a few of those circumstances as possible clues to what may have happened on election night.
a)       Back in August, it was reported by NBC NEWS that U.S. Intelligence officials had determined that “hackers based in Russia were behind two attempts to breach state voter registration databases, fueling concerns the Russian government might be trying to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.”  Although the intelligence agencies did not reveal the names of the states, “officials” told NBC that the theft of data included 200,000 voter records in Illinois, and a separate use of malicious software in Arizona, but the latter attempt to breach that state’s online voter registration database was unsuccessful. 
Nonetheless, local Boards of Elections and state election officials across the country were notified to secure their voter systems.  However, NBC reported that “voting systems have not been considered “critical infrastructure” by the Department of Homeland Security, “so they are not subject to federal government protections.” 
NBC NEWS concluded: “Independent assessments have found that many state and local voting systems are extremely vulnerable to hacking.
b)      Before the latter two incidents occurred, U.S. intelligence officials reported that Russian intelligence agencies were behind hacks into the Democratic National Committee records and those of related organizations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as the campaign records of Hillary Clinton made public on WikiLeaks.  Some emails belonging to Clinton Campaign Director, John Podesta, were harsh and embarrassing, while some of those attributed to DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were devastating to her chairmanship since there were revelations of the supposedly neutral DNC backing Hillary and denouncing any similar backing of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. 
c)       Unfortunately, Russia’s involvement in our electoral process seems to go much beyond what we have already heard.  Although the Russian government denies any state involvement in hacking or trying to undermine the US voting process, per CNN, “hacking groups linked with different wings of the Russian intelligence services – code-named ‘Cozy Bear’ and ‘Fancy Bear’ – were detected inside a Democratic Party server earlier this year, according to CrowdStrike, the US internet security firm hired to investigate the DNC theft of thousands of emails.”
CNN again: “allegations have surfaced of Russian hackers attempting to access US voter records, to sabotage the physical ballot, and of unleashing its troll army – internet bloggers paid by the Kremlin – to spread false information online – in support of Donald Trump.”
The question remains:  just how deep does this Russian intervention and penetration go?  Allow me to present some findings from an article titled “RUSSIAN ‘DUKES’ OF HACKERS POUNCE ON TRUMP WIN” from securitynewspaper.com.
“Less than six hours after Donald Trump became the presumptive president-elect of the United States, a Russian hacker gang perhaps best known for breaking into computer networks at the Democratic National Committee, launched a volley of targeted phishing campaigns against American political think-tanks and non-government organizations (NGOs).  That’s according to a new report from Washington, DC-based cyber incident response firm Volexity.”  That firm has been closely monitoring the activities of a well-established Russian malware development gang known variously as Cozy Bear, APT29, and The Dukes.
Volexity CEO Steven Adair said The Dukes have launched “at least five sorties of email-based malware phishing attacks since Trump’s acceptance speech, and that the malware campaigns are on-going.  The last attack claimed to be a link to a PDF download on ‘Why American Elections are Flawed’.”
Adair also said that the “more typical attacks from The Dukes come in the form of slightly less targeted email blasts that include booby-trapped Microsoft Office documents…that hackers can use to automatically download and run malicious code on a Windows system, that then provides a powerful foothold for the attacker.”
NOW, let us briefly add to this preliminary groundwork, another set of happenings that may bear on this case:
  • Trump’s admiration and praise of Putin; Putin’s praise and support for Trump for President of the US.  In addition, the tightly controlled-by-government Russian media have made it quite clear that Russia supports the candidacy of Donald Trump.
  • A broader story has also been put forward by some media of Trump’s relationship (and that of others on his team) to Russia and their leadership.  There is also a rumor of Trump’s probable obligation to high-level donors from Russia’s millionaire class, from whom he has allegedly borrowed or received money.  Just what might be requested of him from such lenders?
  • And lest we forget, Donald Trump did call upon Vladimir Putin and his army of hackers (after the DNC incident) to aid in finding the missing 30,000 personal emails from Clinton’s private server!
  • Polls from 15 polling organizations/individual pollsters at the 270towin.com website indicated a consensus on Nov. 8th that the night would belong to Hillary Clinton by a small but fairly comfortable margin.  Only Nate Silver’s polling (FiveThirtyEight) gave as much as a 30% chance of winning to Trump.
  • Then on Oct. 24th came a letter from the FBI Director, James Comey, to the committee heads and Party Leaders in the Senate, explaining the find of more Clinton personal emails on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s laptop.  This probably set off a trend toward Trump among undecided voters that was not seen in the polls.  Another letter from Comey on Sunday Oct. 30th said there was nothing new in the emails and that the FBI’s stance of “no charges” taken in July would stand.  But the damage was done by the first letter, and the Trump camp jumped all over it.
  • Now recall the extraordinary Trump visits at the end of the campaign to the states that were traditionally Democrat blue, like Michigan and Wisconsin.  Did the polls suggest that Clinton’s lead was vulnerable enough in those states to warrant these visits, or was there some other reason, like providing a cover for hacking into the vote count on Tuesday night making a Trump comeback and lead look like a trend rather than a hack?  Although Clinton was still seemingly leading in each state, perhaps Trump camp data showed what Silver was seeing: that there were far “more undecided and third party voters than in recent past elections: About 12 percent of the electorate wasn’t committed to either Trump or Clinton in final national polls, as compared with just 3 percent in 2012."
  • On Election night, a surge in Trump fortunes in certain traditionally blue states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin) threatened to change those Democratic states to Republican states (blue to red).  The lead seemed to shift back & forth between the candidates as the votes came in from different areas of each state
  • Indeed, late-deciding voters broke toward Trump, according to exit polls of most swing states. Or at least, that was the case in states where Trump outperformed his polls, such as in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
  • Throw in New Hampshire (where the Democratic candidate for the Senate was leading the incumbent Republican) and the last-minute change in the lead in states like Georgia, Florida and North Carolina in the evening hours, and you begin to wonder what was really happening? 
  • Were those earlier hacks into voter records in Illinois and Arizona dry runs to help develop their voter record-hacking capabilities?  Were hacks against the DNC and DCCC part of a broader plan, and maybe a dry run of a modified and improved cyber-attack software?  Were they rehearsals for the big event of hacking into the actual presidential vote?  Why haven’t more media outlets researched this possibility?   Probably because it is very difficult to obtain information on such activity.
One question must be asked:  was it even possible for the Russians to have hacked into polling machines on or before Election night to change the momentum of the election in Rust Belt states so that Trump could count on winning the magic number of 270 electoral college votes?  Could a chip with a certain software have been inserted into unwatched machines locally?  Again, let’s take a closer look:
TIME magazine: “In August, the FBI’s Cyber Division issued a “flash” alert to election officials warning that states must take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems.  As to probability: “It’s a threat we take very, very seriously,” Tom Hicks, a Commissioner at the EAC told TIME.  “But,” he added, ”from a cyber perspective, this election may actually be less vulnerable to cyber mischief than the elections in 2008 and 2012.”  That rather optimistic viewpoint was then challenged by the next expert cited:
“The real problem, said Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice Democracy Program, lies with the nearly 40 million Americans who won’t be voting on paper, again based on 2012 figures.  Those voters will instead be saddled with electronic voting machines, many of which are more than a decade old, lack basic cybersecurity protections, and utilize software no more sophisticated than a stripped-down, Bush-era laptop.  In 42 states, electronic voting machines are more than a decade old, according to Norden’s research.”
N.Y. TIMES:  On Nov. 3rd published an article on “Five Hacks To Worry About on Election Day." The good news is that it is not something that you can easily do from Russia… But the bad news is that it really is possible to do locally." For our purposes, two methods stand out:
Manipulating the count reported to news organizations (A significant risk, but detectable)
“Consider this possibility: It is Tuesday evening, and the networks and other news organizations are clamoring for “unofficial” results so they can call the races in swing states. The precincts report returns to regional centers, and that data flows to The Associated Press, the clearinghouse for unverified returns. If hackers could flip such “data in motion,” they could alter the first call, even if it is an unofficial one.
“Sound far-fetched? It happened recently in Ukraine, in an attack organized by Russia, experts believe. As Ben Buchanan and Michael Sulmeyer note in a Harvard Cyber Security Project report, investigations revealed that “offenders were trying by means of previously installed software to fake election results.” The effort was discovered 40 minutes before the results were scheduled for announcement.
Tinkering with voting machines (Unlikely, but possible)
At every opportunity, federal and state officials have reminded everyone that voting differs from state to state, or even county to county. That makes it hard to hack.  “The voting machines themselves are offline, and we think the system is so diversified it is secure,” said Suzanne E. Spaulding, the under- secretary of Homeland Security who oversees cybersecurity efforts.
Outside election experts fear, however, that this nothing-to-see-here confidence fails to consider known vulnerabilities. “While most voting machines are not connected to the internet while voting is underway, they are often connected before Election Day, to update their ballots and software.
Some machines, like the DS200, an optical scanning model used in many districts, comes with an optional wireless ability. The good news: They can report results automatically. The bad news: Any wireless connection is a vulnerability.”
There are other worries. Six states (Texas, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina) do not have paper backups to create an audit trail if the electronic ballots are questioned. Pennsylvania, a swing state, has paper backups in only some communities.
TheFederalist.com reminds us of something that has occurred before: complaints of current software on the voting machines changing votes. In early voting this year in Texas, for example, “Voters, after selecting an “all-Republican ticket,” reviewed their ballot when they finished only to find that their presidential selection was not Republican at all, but instead Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.”  Similar complaints had also been reported in Nevada and North Carolina.  Apparently, the software company responsible for the Texas incidents, known as ES&S, is “a rapidly growing software programing company based in Omaha, Nebraska, with voting machines in 90 percent of the states. They have counted roughly 50 percent of the votes cast in the major elections within the last 10 years.  This is also not the first time that an ES&S system malfunction was reported to have switched votes, with complaints in the 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections. This software has been in use for several previous elections, and still reports errors in its reliability.”  Of course, 10-year-old voting machines are not helpful for the efficient operation of software, either.
FOX NEWS:  "If you replace the computer program in a voting machine, then it will add up the votes in a different way," said Princeton University Professor Andrew Appel.  Appel, who is the Eugene Higgins professor of computer science, focuses on computer security and voting systems -- and says he needs just "seven minutes alone" with a voting machine to tamper with it. "[Replacing the program] could shift votes around from one candidate to another, before the polls close ... There is the potential for fraud in touch-screen voting machines that are still used in six to ten states," he said. 
“Appel in 2008 first conducted a demonstration on how to hack a touch-screen voting machine, as part of a lawsuit against New Jersey officials. His test… recently has gained renewed attention in the wake of the hacks of Democratic National Committee emails, and the suspected hacking of state election systems in Arizona and Illinois this summer.
While Appel notes there has been no documented case of a voting machine being hacked in the manner that he did, he warns it could happen simply by replacing the machine's computer chip -- which costs about $4 -- with one that is pre-programmed to change the votes. "I figured out how to make a slightly different computer program that just before the close of the polls shifts some votes around from one candidate to another, and I wrote that computer program onto a memory chip ... and now to hack the voting machine, you have to get seven minutes alone with it with a screwdriver."
Appel's video shows that while voters cast ballots for the candidate of their choice, the machine allotted different results when the votes were counted. John Brzozowski, the deputy superintendent of elections in Hudson County, N.J., insists that in real-life, such chip-switching cannot really be done.  The good news is that it is not something that you can easily do from Russia," Appel said. "But the bad news is that it really is possible to do locally."
So, just what might we have learned from this foray into cyber attacks on our political system?  I’ll suggest a few items, briefly:
ü  there has been, and continues to be, an on-going campaign of cyber activity, called ‘hacking’ involving groups connected with the Russian government, since July for sure, (reported by more than one source as being years in the making).
ü  state voting records had already been hacked in Illinois in July; DNC records and member emails at the DNC, the DCCC, and the Clinton Campaign in August which prompted a response from our intelligence community
ü  DNC and DCCC records and emails have been hacked by one of the Russian operative groups known as The DUKES, who are also responsible for hacking of records and emails of other government and non-government organizations; along with the possibility of altering or destroying individual political Blogs if they so choose. 
ü  The Russian hackers were back intervening in our post-election process by hacking into the records and contents of prominent Think-tanks and NGOs just six hours after Trump’s acceptance speech; a remarkable show of on-going interest in another country’s election. 
ü  Changing votes on a voting machine is not all that difficult, as demonstrated by faulty software in old machines, and by newly-created software able to be installed in a voting machine in about seven minutes.
Russian interference in our election process is not just a fling at changing votes to favor Donald Trump, because there is one egotistic, self-aggrandizing world leader who may outshine Trump as a narcissist, and that is Vladimir Putin.  As one article on NDTV put it: “Russian Hacking (is) A Question of Revenge and Respect.”  One must understand this whole attempt at interference and disruption of our most cherished democratic process in the context of Putin’s response to years of “what he sees as U.S. efforts to weaken and embarrass him on the world stage and with his own people.  Moscow appears to be looking to demonstrate its importance as a dominant regional player and world leader… Russia also seeks to counter U.S. leadership and influence in the international system.”
According to one senior U.S. intelligence officer, “Russia is using the same playbook it has used in Europe to try to destabilize public trust in government, weaken support for the NATO military alliance and sway voters to candidates more amenable to Putin’s views and goals.”
 It is therefore important to realize that this Blog post is not simply to blame Russian hacking for the election of our own narcissistic President.  More importantly, it is meant to be a call for greater diligence on the part of our intelligence community, heightened awareness from our voting public, and deeper investigation by our media and our government into the cyber warfare that is now making lasting and destructive inroads into our democratic processes.
 Living with this unfortunate, nightmarish electoral result is shocking enough, but living with the consequences of a Trump presidency, a Republican Congress and an ultra-right Supreme Court, acting together to produce a potential police-state ruled by oligarchs and hate groups, is more than anyone with progressive values can tolerate.

Let the protests and counter-measures accelerate because fair debate and compromise have been eliminated by this flawed electoral process! 

UPDATE: 12/13/2016 --NBC NEWS: 
"The CIA has concluded that Russia mounted a covert intelligence operation to influence the U.S. election in an effort to help Donald Trump win, a congressional official knowledgeable on the matter told NBC News.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper briefed senators on the latest intelligence in a closed-door meeting last week, and he described the latest findings on the intentions of the Russian government with regard to the hacks and other interference in the U.S. presidential election, according to the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence.

A Washington Post report published online Friday night first described how the intelligence community has reached a "consensus" that Russia intervened in the presidential election to help Trump win — not just try to sow chaos and undermine the electoral process. The New York Times confirmed the story, as has NBC News.
Related: U.S. Intel Agencies Preparing Dossier to Prove Russian Hacks

Trump not only said he didn't believe the intelligence community's assessment — he suggested that the CIA was not to be believed in general, issuing a statement Friday night noting that "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."
Related: U.S. Publicly Blames Russia for Hacking

Several intelligence officials told NBC News they were deeply disturbed by that statement. There is no historical precedent for a president-elect publicly maligning the intelligence agencies he is about to lead. One big question now is how Trump's pick as CIA director, Mike Pompeo, will bridge the acrimonious gap between his boss and the agency he leads.

President Barack Obama...has ordered that a dossier be assembled on the evidence about the Russian covert operation. A senior Obama administration official told NBC News that portions of that will be made public before January 20th.
Related: Hackers Target Election Systems in 20 States