How Something as Seemingly Benign as White House Email Can Have Freaky National Security Consequences
Welcome back, faithful OpEdNews readers, for the final installment of our interview with technology expert, David Gewirtz.
Let’s see. What haven’t we talked about yet, David? You claim that you have no political/partisan axe to grind. Can you prove that?
>Well, I admit to voting both Democratic and Republican and generally being annoyed by both parties. One way to judge a person is by actions and while I've criticized the Bush administration for management of White House email and security, I also pointed the finger at some of Bill Clinton's policies. I also recently ran an editorial critical of Senator Leahy's call for a truth squad to investigate the Bush administration and I've been regularly critical of the House Oversight Committee for overlooking some key elements of testimony -- when that committee was run by Democrats.
So, basically, I've picked on both sides. What I have found infinitely amusing is that when I've done radio interviews with both whack-job super right-wing Republicans and completely looney-tunes, totally left-wing Democrats, both have thought I was arguing their side. I've also had editorials written on conservative Web sites claiming I was a liberal and liberal Web sites claiming I was forwarding the conservative agenda. My agenda is America's security -- that and a quest for chocolate.
Your two-point agenda sounds reasonable to me. What were you aiming for with Where Have All the Emails Gone?
>My goal for the book is nothing less than fixing serious problems at the White House as it pertains to their IT [Information Technology] policy. I make six strong recommendations, but it really boils down to two key issues: revising the Hatch Act and establishing an administration-spanning professional IT division unrelated to the political process.
On another but related topic: Who are Mike Connell and SmarTech? What do they have to do with the missing emails?
>I covered SmarTech extensively in the book. They're the ISP [Internet Service Provider] I traced much of the RNC [Republican National Committee] and White House email traffic through. Before I go further, I need to say that the forensics I used didn't do any sort of penetration or anything either illegal or unethical. I gathered data from open sources like domain registry information and whois queries -- data that's available to anyone on the Internet. I believe that more than 100 million messages traveled through SmarTech from and to the White House.
I didn't cover Connell much, although the conspiracy theorists are having a field day. Connell was an IT guy for the GOP, designing Web sites and doing other IT stuff. He was involved in an investigation into vote tampering in Ohio in 2004's Presidential election*. The reason the conspiracy people are all wired about this is Connell died in a plane crash right in the middle of the investigation. You can draw your own conclusions, but I, personally, believe this to be just the sad accident it was reported to be.
Is it a strange coincidence that Connell was in charge of the routing of Ohio's votes through Chattanooga, Tennessee on Election Day 2004 and then back to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's website?
>I don't have any evidence of that, so I can't really discuss it. I did find a few strange coincidences, however. First, I found public-facing evidence of two PDF files belonging to the Office of the Ohio Secretary of State on IP [Internet Protocol] addresses owned and operated by SmarTech (who happen to be in Chattanooga).
It is, however, curious that official state election documents do appear on a server operated by a firm under contract to the RNC. It is also curious that the senior election official in Ohio was also running for Governor of Ohio while this went on. It is further somewhat curious that a finance oversight agency of HUD runs its Web site on SmarTech's servers and that Mr. Blackwell (Ohio's Secretary of State at the time of the 2004 election) was previously undersecretary of HUD. Nothing of this, however, represents anything even close to a smoking gun.
For the record, I've offered the founder of SmarTech the opportunity to tell his side of the story a few separate times, including in the book. The offer has never been accepted.
>I have no evidence this was done, so I don't have much intelligent to say about it.
Personally, though, as a formally trained computer scientist, the idea of electronic voting machines with no paper trail seems the height of irresponsibility and, frankly, stupidity. First, they're computers, so they could fail. But we also know almost any system is easy to hack and the risk of an unauditable voting machine being hacked and perhaps changing an election is far too high. Let's be clear: people will always try to swing elections -- they always have. But we don't need to make it ridiculously easy for them.
I agree completely with your last point. And that’s an excellent place to wrap up our interview. You’ve been very generous with your time, David. Thank you. I look forward to seeing where your research takes you. All of us have benefited from your extensive investigation of the many unanticipated security risks inherent in the technology we use.
*King Lincoln Bronzeville v. Blackwell is an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging voting right violations in Ohio during the 2004 Presidential Election.
Part One of Exclusive Interview with David Gewirtz, Author of Where Have All The Emails Gone?
Part Two of Interview with Gewirtz
Where Have All the Emails Gone? website