A bloodless coup
— Investigative journalist Yasha Levine
Earlier this month, tech giant Microsoft announced its solution to “protect” American elections from interference, which it has named “ElectionGuard.” The election technology is already set to be adopted by half of voting machine manufacturers and some state governments for the 2020 general election. Though it has been heavily promoted by the mainstream media in recent weeks, none of those reports have disclosed that ElectionGuard has several glaring conflicts of interest that greatly undermine its claim aimed at protecting U.S. democracy.
In this investigation, MintPress will reveal how ElectionGuard was developed by companies with deep ties to the U.S. defense and intelligence communities and Israeli military intelligence, as well as the fact that it is far from clear that the technology would prevent foreign or domestic interference with, or the manipulation of, vote totals or other aspects of American election systems.
Election forensics analyst and author Jonathan Simon as well as investigative journalist Yasha Levine, who has written extensively on how the military has long sought to weaponize public technologies including the internet, were consulted for their views on ElectionGuard, its connections to the military-industrial complex and the implication of those connections for American democracy as part of this investigation.
In January, MintPress published an exposé that later went viral on a news-rating company known as Newsguard. Officially aimed at fighting “fake news,” the company’s many connections to U.S. intelligence, a top neoconservative think tank, and self-admitted government propagandists revealed its real intention was to promote corporate media over independent alternatives.
Newsguard was among the first initiatives that comprise Microsoft’s “Defending Democracy” program, a program that the tech giant created under the auspices of protecting American “democratic processes from cyber-enabled interference [which] have become a critical concern.” Through its partnership with Microsoft, Newsguard has been installed in public libraries and universities throughout the country, even while private-sector companies have continued to avoid adopting the problematic browser plug-in.
Now, Microsoft is promoting a new “Defending Democracy” initiative — one equally ridden with glaring conflicts of interest — that threatens American democracy in ways Newsguard never could. ElectionGuard is touted by Microsoft as a system that aims to “make voting secure, more accessible, and more efficient anywhere it’s used in the United States or in democratic nations around the world.” It has since been heavily promoted by mainstream and U.S. government-funded media outlets in preparation for its use in the 2020 general election.
However, according to Jonathan Simon, election forensic analyst and author of CODE RED: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy, this public relations campaign is likely just cover for more insider control over U.S. elections. “It’s encouraging that after close to two decades of ignoring the security issues with computerized voting, there’s suddenly a scramble to protect our next election that suggests those issues are finally being taken seriously,” Simon told MintPress. “Unfortunately the proposed solution is just more computerization and complexity — which translates to more control by experts and insiders, though of course that is not part of the PR campaign.”
As to the likely identity of those insiders, the fact that Microsoft’s ElectionGuard was developed in tandem with a private military and intelligence contractor whose only investor is the U.S. Department of Defense offers a troubling clue. As a consequence, ElectionGuard’s promise to “secure” elections is dubious, especially given that Microsoft itself is a U.S. military contractor. Furthermore, amid the unfolding scandal of Israeli meddling in foreign elections, Microsoft’s growing ties to Israeli military intelligence and private Israeli cybersecurity firms raise even more concerns about whether ElectionGuard’s real purpose is to “secure” American elections for candidates friendly to the establishment, especially the military-industrial complex.
According to an announcement made in early May by Tom Burt, Microsoft’s Vice President for Customer Security and Trust, ElectionGuard is “a free open-source software development kit (SDK)” that “will make voting secure, more accessible, and more efficient anywhere it’s used.” Burt’s statement further claims that the ElectionGuard system “will enable end-to-end verification of elections, open results to third-party organizations for secure validation, and allow individual voters to confirm their votes were correctly counted.” While ElectionGuard may appear to concern itself only with electronic ballots, the announcement states that the system “is designed to work with systems that use paper ballots” through the use of an optical scanner.
Notably, Microsoft chose to announce ElectionGuard only after it had already partnered “with major election technology suppliers who are exploring the integration of ElectionGuard into their voting systems.” Burt further noted that Microsoft now has “partnerships with election technology suppliers responsible for more than half of the voting machines sold in the U.S.” ElectionGuard partner companies include Democracy Live, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic, BPro, MicroVote, and VotingWorks.
Another interesting, and deeply troubling, admission in the Microsoft announcement is that Microsoft’s ElectionGuard development partner, the Portland-based cybersecurity firm Galois, “recently received $10 million in funding from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to build a demonstration voting system to help evaluate secure hardware DARPA researchers are developing as part of a separate DARPA program.”
Microsoft’s announcement then notes that “the agency views ensuring the integrity and security of the election process as a critical national security concern and plans to implement the ElectionGuard SDK as part of their effort to enable an end-to-end verifiable component in future versions of their demonstration voting system.”
As deeply troubling as DARPA’s $10 million indirect investment in ElectionGuard may seem, it is merely scratching the surface, as Galois itself is essentially an extension of DARPA in the private cybersecurity industry.
The “private” company whose only investor is the Pentagon
Founded in 1999 by John Launchbury, Galois quickly became close to numerous government agencies that now – according to the Galois website – form the vast majority of its clientele. In fact, Galois currently only lists the following U.S. government agencies in its “clients” section: DARPA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, “Intelligence Community” (i.e., CIA, NSA, etc.) and NASA. However, other clients of Galois include top U.S. weapons manufacturer General Dynamics. Galois’ stated focus as a company is research and development in advanced computer science, with an emphasis on securing critical systems and cybersecurity. It also dabbles in artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, and machine learning.
Though it describes itself as “a privately held U.S.-owned and -operated company,” public records indicate that Galois’ only investors are DARPA and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), both of which are divisions of the Department of Defense. In other words, while “officially” a private company, its only investor is the U.S. government, more specifically the Pentagon.
However, the company’s connections to DARPA go even further. The company’s founder and chief scientist John Launchbury, left Galois in 2014 to become program manager and subsequently the director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office, which deals with “nation-scale investments in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.” In 2017, he left DARPA and went back to work at Galois as the company’s chief scientist. DARPA’s Information Innovation Office’s official purpose is to develop advanced technology for issues of national security interest, but it also focuses on enhancing “human/machine partnership.”
Aside from the numerous links to major corporations, government agencies and neoconservative think tanks, of particular concern to Free & Fair’s mission to develop “secure” election technology are its connections to DHS. This is because, before, during and after the 2016 election, DHS was caught attempting to hack into state electoral systems in at least three states — Georgia, Indiana and Idaho — with similar accusations also being made in Kentucky and West Virginia. In Indiana’s case, the DHS’ attempted hacks occurred nearly 15,000 times over a 46 day period. In an official answer to Georgia’s claim the DHS had tried to penetrate its electoral system’s firewall, DHS which initially denied being behind the attempted hack, later responded that the attempted breach was “legitimate business” aimed at “verifying a professional license administered by the state.” Some of the states targeted by DHS had turned down the department’s offer to “shore up” election systems prior to the 2016 election.
Compare this to the alleged Russian hacking into state electoral systems, which – to date – includes only the claim from the FBI that hackers alleged to be affiliated with Russian military intelligence penetrated voter registration data in two counties in Florida. That alleged hack, the details of which remain classified and for which no evidence of it even happening has been made publicly available, did not result in any alterations to data or other manipulation of those systems, per FBI officials. The DHS, in contrast, attempted to hack into the systems, not of individual counties, but entire states and acknowledged that it did so, even though they chose not to use the work “hack” and defended their activity. While focusing on foreign — and especially Russian — interference may make for a more patriotic story, the dangers posed by domestic actors with at least as great a stake in U.S. election outcomes appear to have been grossly underestimated and virtually ignored by the media.
Russian-American investigative journalist, and author of Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet, Yasha Levine explained to MintPress why DARPA is likely interested in U.S. election system software like ElectionGuard and why the agency’s interest is dangerous for American democracy:
Election systems are now being increasingly seen as a theater for warfare between competing nation states. So, if you are DARPAand your reason for existence is to create hi-tech weapons for the future, then you are going to be looking at electronic voting systems as a theater of war where the country could be attacked by a foreign adversary. That explains why DARPA is involved.
But DARPA and some of these companies involved can also be seen as foes of Americans’ popular will… We can hypothesize about what’s really going on and what their intentions are, but clearly the Pentagon R&D Lab for war should not be anywhere near America’s electoral system because it represents a huge and powerful and unaccountable force in the American political system whose interests often run counter to democracy.
The fact that we are handing over the keys of American democracy to the military-industrial complex — it’s like giving the keys to the henhouse to a fox and saying, ‘here come in and take whatever you want.’ It’s obviously dangerous.”
While homomorphic encryption seems a reasonable choice in one sense, for allowing votes to be tallied without decrypting, there is an added layer of concern given Microsoft’s past, particularly Microsoft’s history of actually working with U.S. government agencies to bypass encryption.
Indeed, documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that Microsoft actually helped the National Security Agency bypass its own encryption so the agency could decrypt messages sent via certain Microsoft platforms including Outlook.com Web chat, Hotmail email service, and Skype. In addition, in 2009, a senior NSA official testified before Congress that Microsoft and the NSA worked together to create its Windows 7 operating system, leading some to worry that Microsoft had built a “backdoor” into the operating system to aid government surveillance activities. Now that Microsoft’s ties to the U.S. military and intelligence community are deeper than ever, it begs the question whether Microsoft’s covert cooperation with government agencies to the detriment of consumers is also a factor guiding its role in creating and promoting ElectionGuard.
Microsoft’s ties to Israeli military intelligence
ElectionGuard is currently being promoted as a key step towards preventing the “interference” of a foreign government or state actor in U.S. elections in the future. (LMAO) Yet, there is no guarantee that ElectionGuard itself is free from foreign influence, given that Microsoft has deep ties to the military intelligence community of a foreign nation: Israel.
Microsoft’s links to the Israeli military intelligence unit known as Unit 8200, which will be discussed momentarily, are troubling for more than a few reasons. The first is the fact that the main developer of a new election software system aimed at protecting U.S. elections from “foreign interference” has close ties to a foreign military intelligence agency. It goes without saying that if the main developer of ElectionGuard had such ties with another foreign military intelligence agency, such as Russian military intelligence, the software would not stand a chance of adoption in the U.S. and it would likely be a national scandal. The fact that Microsoft’s ties to Israeli military intelligence have not troubled proponents of ElectionGuard suggests that the problem is not foreign interference or influence as long as the foreign nation involved is an ally, not an adversary.
Arguably yet a graver concern in terms of the Microsoft-Unit 8200 relationship and Electionguard, is the recent slew of scandals surrounding Israeli interference in foreign elections all around the world. The most recent of those scandals involved the Israeli company the Archimedes Group and its social-media influence disinformation campaigns to target the elections in several African and Asian nations. According to the Times of Israel, the CEO of the Archimedes Group, Elinadav Heymann, is a former senior intelligence agent for the Israeli military. The group spent an estimated $800,000 on misleading Facebook ads as part of its disinformation campaign, a sum much larger than the $100,000 alleged to have been spent by a Russian company on a similar disinformation campaign in the 2016 election.
Prior to this latest scandal, several private Israeli companies were accused of seeking to collude with the Trump campaign in 2016, namely the now-shuttered PSY-Group — which was run by former Israeli intelligence operatives — and Wikistrat, which also has close ties to Israeli intelligence. The fact that private Israeli firms with ties to Israeli intelligence and Israeli military intelligence have been caught in recent election meddling scandals, including in the U.S., should be a major red flag when examining the many conflicts of interests that enshroud ElectionGuard’s developers and how those conflicts may inform the program’s functionality.
ElectionGuard a bloodless coup for the military-industrial complex
Following the 2016 election and the heavily promoted concerns about “Russian hackers” infiltrating election systems, federal agencies like the NSA have used that threat to lobby for greater control over American democracy. For instance, during a 2017 hearing then-NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers stated:
If we define election infrastructure as critical to the nation and we are directed by the president or the secretary, I can apply our capabilities in partnership with others – because we won’t be the only ones, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI – I can apply those capabilities proactively with some of the owners of those systems.”
With Rogers — who is now employed by the Microsoft-funded and Israeli military intelligence-connected company Team8 — having lobbied for the direct involvement of U.S. government agencies, including the NSA and DHS, in supervising elections, it seems likely that ElectionGuard will help enable those agencies to surveill U.S. elections with particular ease, especially given Microsoft’s past of behind-the-scenes collaboration with the NSA./blockquote>
It's best if you read this yourself since I've only linked a small portion of it.
This seems to have slipped through the radar. I knew that DHS was going to be put in charge of the elections, but I had no idea that Israel would be involved with it. Israeli military industrial base no less. Between this and the democrat's super delegates system I don't see how we can consider that our elections will ever be fair. We saw what happened during the last primary where thousands of people were kicked off the voting rolls and had their party affiliation changed. We've seen how the republicans have gerrymandered so many states and passed laws that make it difficult for people to vote.
For those who haven't seen my comment on Facebook, Google and Apple moving their companies to Israel this is an excellent read. Tens of thousands of people have already lost their jobs because of this. And the companies are still receiving subsidies and tax breaks from our government. But let's continue with the farce that Russia interfered with the election whilst ignoring the billionaires role in getting their candidates elected and the huge white elephant of Israel's actions in our country.