Monday, October 20, 2003

Democracy & Voting

Obviously a core feature that Democratic governments depend on is their ability to gaurantee free and fair elections to their citizens. If the citizens will is thwarted because the voting system is rigged, then it's not a democracy is it?

The year 2000 elections ended with a voting fiasco. At the surface the election results were "too close to call" in many races, most specifically the Presidential election. If ever there were a demonstration of your vote always counts, the 500 or so vote margin in the Florida Presidential election results is it. If only a few hundred more voters showed up, the election could have gone a different way.

Part of the fiasco was the recount. Many Florida counties relied on a punch card system which was probably the Cool New Thing when it was first unveiled, but in todays Internet Age they are so 60's it's pathetic. The issue in Florida is that the chad's don't always come off cleanly, which left the recount workers struggling to determine the will of the voter based on the condition of those chads.

Across the country an effort was made to replace older styles of voting systems with newer ones. A prominent suggestion was

Touch Screen Voting

These are a kiosk through which to vote. It has a computer screen, easy to use computerized menus, and you interact by touching the screen. What could be more Cool New Thing than that, I ask you?

[November 1, 2004; During the 2000 election Ralph Nader strongly promoted "instant runoff" voting. Instant runoff voting would have made for a different way to solve the 2000 election fiasco than the "touch screen voting" system examined on this page.]

Touch screen voting has the potential to be great, but for the security issues. The design they have rolled out has no paper trail. The obvious question being begged is, what if someone were to rig the machines? If there's no paper trail, there's no way to independantly verify anything. Any election with the possibility of impropriety, well, we have the experience of Florida in 2000 to guide us. That was a difficult time, with two candidates who believed they had been elected, both demanding a fair count, and the fair count being fraught with error. Wind ourselves a few years into the future, with no paper trail and the possibility of election fraud, and what would happen?

[Oct 13, 2003; Wired News;,1283,60563,00.html] Did E-Vote Firm Patch Election? Diebold Election Systems has had a tumultuous year, and it doesn't look like it's getting any better.

... Now a former worker in Diebold's Georgia warehouse says the company installed patches on its machines before the state's 2002 gubernatorial election that were never certified by independent testing authorities or cleared with Georgia election officials.

If the charges are true, Diebold could be in violation of federal and state election-certification rules. The charges also raise questions about the integrity of the Georgia election results and any other election that uses patched Diebold systems that have not been re-certified.

The article goes on for three pages, and has these points to make:

  • A former worker is alleging that Deibold patched the voting machines just before the election.
  • The Republican won the race in a result that went far against the predicted outcome from polling. Further it is the first Republican win for the Georgia Governors seat in over 150 years, and a rare time when a Democratic Governor lost his bid for a second term.
  • The former worker claimed that 25-30 percent of the voting machines were malfunctioning, and the patches were needed to make them reliable.
  • Patches were applied without recertifying the machines. The patches were applied 1 month before the election, and recertification would take 6 months.
  • The former worker alleges being in meetings where Deibold employees debated how much truth to tell the Georgia officials.
  • Both Deibold and Georgia officials either deny the allegations, or refuse to comment.

Obviously a computer system needs to be updated as bugs are found. However for something as sensitive as an election, you must tread very carefully around these issues.

That the machines were not recertified after patching is troublesome. Presumably the certification process is thorough enough to prevent fraud by anybody. But any time you update (patch) a computer system not only can the beneficial code be added, the code can be harmful. The patch could be any software, and doesn't have to be just the changes needed to fix a bug. Hence, someone could sneak a back door into the voting systems to rig the outcome of the election. That is, unless the machines are formerly certified and software changes rigorously controlled.

But, that's only because there is no paper trail.

If the machines produced an easily verifiable piece of paper, then the machines couldn't be a source of election fraud. And it wouldn't be all that hard, and it could still be a Cool touch screen voting machine. Here's what you would have to do:

  • Touch screen voting machine lets voter pick their candidates with great ease.
  • The voting machine has no wires, or other network connectivity, other than a power cable.
  • When the user is done voting, the machine prints out a summary sheet listing their vote.
  • The summary sheet is printed with a controlled text font making it both easy to scan using an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) computer, and easy to read by humans.
  • The person voting reviews what's printed on the sheet, and then carries it to the poll worker who puts it in a box as is currently done.
  • The elections commission has OCR computers to scan all the vote printouts. If there's a misfeed, it's trivial to check what the intended vote was and could be a normal part of the process to manually enter any votes that misfeed.
  • If the election results are called into question, the election officials can easily read what the intended vote is.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Man who Knew: More about the Lies

[2003 October 15]

The story is still the same as the previous reports; the War in Iraq is still struggling, there is still daily geurilla attacks, nearly daily deaths of American soldiers, and still no proof for any of the claims used to create this war.

In todays news is an interview with several former U.S. Intelligence officials who are aghast at the misrepresentations used to create this war.
[Oct. 15, 2003; CBS News;] The Man Who Knew In the run-up to the war in Iraq, one moment seemed to be a turning point: the day Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the United Nations to make the case for the invasion.
I covered the evidence he presented on this page: The "case" for War
The article interviews the following people:
  • Greg Thielmann, a former expert on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. ... Thielmann's last job at the State Department was director of the Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, which was responsible for analyzing the Iraqi weapons threat for Secretary Powell.
  • Houston Wood was a consultant who worked on the Oak Ridge analysis of the tubes. [The aluminum tubes claimed to be for centrifuging Uranium.]
  • Steve Allinson, a U.N. inspector in Iraq in the months leading up to war.
The first interesting thing is the range of reactions these Intelligence officials had to Powell's testimony to the U.N. in Feb 2003. This testimony was intended to lay a serious and believable case to justify war. So how did these high ranking Intelligence officials react?
“I had a couple of initial reactions. Then I had a more mature reaction,” says Thielmann, commenting on Powell's presentation to the United Nations. “I think my conclusion now is that it's probably one of the low points in his long, distinguished service to the nation.”
“I guess I was angry, that’s the best way to describe my emotions. I was angry at that,” says Wood, who is among the world’s authorities on uranium enrichment by centrifuge. He found the tubes couldn’t be what the CIA thought they were. They were too heavy, three times too thick and certain to leak.
Allinson watched Powell’s speech in Iraq with a dozen U.N. inspectors. There was great anticipation in the room. Like waiting for the Super Bowl, they always suspected the U.S. was holding back its most damning evidence for this moment. What was the reaction among the inspectors as they watched the speech? “Various people would laugh at various times because the information he was presenting was just, you know, didn't mean anything, had no meaning,” says Allinson.
Hardly encouraging, is it?

As Powell said at the time:
“The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction pose to the world,” said Powell.
Yes, it was a very grave moment. The steps to create a war are ones which ought to be taken carefully, because people will be dieing as a result of your decision. Thousands of people have died since the decision to launch this war. I would wish that the claims he made that day were true, and that I did not have to be writing this. I would rather know that those people had died in a just cause, not a misbegotten lie.
But Thielmann also says that he believes the decision to go to war was made first, and then the intelligence was interpreted to fit that conclusion. For example, he points to the evidence behind Powell’s charge that Iraq was importing aluminum tubes to use in a program to build nuclear weapons.

... Intelligence agents intercepted the tubes in 2001, and the CIA said they were parts for a centrifuge to enrich uranium - fuel for an atom bomb. But Thielmann wasn’t so sure. Experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the scientists who enriched uranium for American bombs, advised that the tubes were all wrong for a bomb program. At about the same time, Thielmann’s office was working on another explanation. It turned out the tubes' dimensions perfectly matched an Iraqi conventional rocket.
“The aluminum was exactly, I think, what the Iraqis wanted for artillery,” recalls Thielmann, who says he sent that word up to the Secretary of State months before.
It wasn't just the fateful 16 words everybody points at, the ones claiming that Iraq was seeking Uranium when the administration knew very well Iraq was doing no such thing. The administration also knew the tubes could not be used for centrifuging Uranium, the Uranium the administration knew didn't exist, but were instead rocket parts.
“Science was not pushing this forward. Scientists had made their determination their evaluation and now we didn’t know what was happening,” says Wood.

In his U.N. speech, Secretary Powell acknowledged there was disagreement about the tubes, but he said most experts agreed with the nuclear theory.

“There is controversy about what these tubes are for. Most U.S. experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium,” said Powell.
“Most experts are located at Oak Ridge and that was not the position there,” says Wood, who claims he doesn’t know anyone in academia or foreign government who would disagree with his appraisal. “I don’t know a single one anywhere.”
Colin Powell also gave an interview with a BBC reporter, in which he gave a rebuttal to the above claims.

Friday, October 3, 2003

It's Official - No WMD Found

To readers of the other sections of these reports on the war in Iraq, it should not be surprising to learn of an interim report stating that no Weapons of Mass Destruction had been found. This week the leader of the inspection team, David Kay, made just that report to Congress.

[Oct 2, 2003; CNN;] Text of David Kay's unclassified statement ... The text of his testimony to congress.

There's too much in his testimony to adequately quote and stay within fair use. So I'll summarize, and point out at the offset that the following articles in the press are not reporting the full story.

First, as is obvious, no existing and immediately usable WMD's (chemical, biological or nuclear) were found in Iraq. If they had existed, perhaps the defenders would have used them during the U.S. invasion.

Next, as to programs to produce such weapons. He gives a number of excuses such as the massive looting after the invasion (true) and the small size of the things being searched for (also true). What's interesting is their discovery of a range of programs previously undeclared to the U.N. and which, at the least, were preserving the skeleton of WMD programs.

  • A clandestine network of laboratories run by the IIS (secret service).
  • A prison laboratory complex "possibly" used for biological weapons testing on the prisoners.
  • Preserved "reference strains" of biological agents, from which weapons could be regrown later.
  • Plans for missiles with 1000km range, well beyond the allowed 150km under the UN sanctions. Further, talks with North Korea about supplying missiles to Iraq.
  • Unmanned aircraft (UAV) with ranges well beyond the allowed maximum.

Everything discussed was more ambition than in a stage of producing results.

[Oct 3, 2003; The Independant (London);] 1,200 weapons inspectors spent 90 days in Iraq. The exercise cost $300m. And the number of weapons found? 0 Five months after the end of the war in Iraq, a CIA adviser has admitted that his 1,200-strong team of inspectors has discovered none of Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

"We have not yet found stocks of weapons," David Kay, the head of the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group ... 90 days after the arrival of his group in Iraq. Mr Kay insisted that lines of inquiry on which the group were working might yet yield concrete proof. He hoped to "draw a line" under his work in six to nine months. In the report he argued that the bulkiest material that inspectors were searching for could be hidden in spaces little larger than a two-car garage. ...

He said: "Much evidence is irretrievably lost." He also blamed the slow progress on the way Iraq had arranged its WMD activities, the widespread destruction of materials and documents before the war, and looting of suspect sites afterwards.

[Oct 3, 2003; The Independant (London);] 'We found nothing, despite Saddam's ambitions' The interim report of America's chief weapons inspector is a damning blow to those who argued the case for war against Iraq based on the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime.

... While there was some evidence that Iraq had retained the template of a weapons programme, in all the areas in which the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) has been looking ? biological, chemical and nuclear ? Mr Kay conceded that his staff had found nothing that proved Saddam ever actually possessed such weapons. He also admitted that the pre-war intelligence on Iraq had proved to be in sharp contrast to the reality on the ground.

... Mr Kay said: "We have not yet found stocks of weapons but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapons stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone." He laid out six reasons for his team's failure to find proof of WMD, ranging from "WMD personnel" crossing borders before and after the conflict, to the relatively small size of any such weapons in contrast to Saddam's conventional weapons.

In regard to biological weapons (BW), Mr Kay claimed his team had uncovered "significant information" pointing towards the development of "BW-applicable organisms". Yet he said the team was still working to ascertain what these represented. The report said teams have discovered a network of clandestine laboratories and found live botulinum toxin ? which could be used to make biological weapons ? at an Iraqi scientist's home.

[Oct 2, 2003; Financial Times;] Iraq team finds no illegal weapons "We have not found at this point actual weapons," David Kay said after briefing members of Congress on his three-month investigation. "We have found substantial evidence of an intent of senior level Iraqi officials, including Saddam, to continue production at some future point in time of weapons of mass destruction."

Saddam Hussein's regime held high-level talks about gaining long-range missile technology from North Korea as recently as October 2000, Mr Kay's interim report states.

The Iraq Survey Group, the US-led team looking for Iraq's WMD, said Iraq and North Korea discussed missile technology, probably related to North Korea's long-range No Dong missile. The missile has a range of 1,300km, which would have provided Baghdad with strike power beyond the 150km limit set by the United Nations.

Nothing found, unsurprisingly. But they were in talks with North Korea? Hmmm... Not good, especially given that North Korea is currently heading towards nuclear weapon ownership given the U.S. distraction with Iraq.

[Oct 3, 2003; The Independant (London);] Survey chief led calls to oust Iraqi dictator When the Bush administration was searching for someone to lead the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the name of David Kay quickly surfaced. He seemed the perfect candidate. He had experience in Iraq and, best of all, he was completely in tune with White House thinking.

... What appealed to the White House was not just Mr Kay's experience, but his distrust of the Saddam Hussein regime. And he had long given up on the UN inspection body, Unscom. Even in 1994, after he had left the IAEA, Mr Kay was making arguments the Bush administration used to justify the war

"There is no ultimate success that involves Unscom. It's got to be a change of regime. It's got to be a change of Saddam," Mr Kay wrote at the time.

It should not be surprising that the person selected to head the inspection team turns out to be biased against Saddam Hussein's regime. On the other hand, that just serves to emphasize the result, that no WMD's have been found.