“If I can’t use this information, then what good is it to have it?! Why even collect it in the first place?!” It’s a cry of frustration, an angry rhetorical exclamation I heard many times during my 30-year career as an operations officer at the CIA. Usually it comes from ambassadors or senior members of the national security apparatus in Washington, and occasionally even from analysts in the intelligence community who have been provided with a truly stunning piece of information acquired clandestinely from human or technical sources. The sense of frustration among these consumers of intelligence is heightened when the topic is critical and timely, and when both the government and the American public are clamoring for answers to difficult questions. This is precisely where we as a nation find ourselves when discussing the claim by the U.S. intelligence community that Russian hackers attempted to influence the U.S. presidential elections. The White House has ordered a report on what the hackers did, and to what extent they were trying to help Donald Trump, before Trump is sworn in as president Jan. 20. News reports say officials at the FBI and the CIA have agreed that hackers targeted the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, to boost Trump. President Obama suggested this month that Russian President Vladimir Putin knew about the hacks. But proving that case to the public at large will get complicated. The discussion about the cyber intrusions and what U.S. intelligence agencies know about them goes directly to some of the most sensitive questions in the business: the best way to protect sources and methods, and how to use clandestinely acquired information to resolve a politically charged issue. Secrets intelligence agencies want to keep compete with an understandable desire to reveal them. Facts may help resolve the matter, but in revealing the facts, the government may also reveal how we got them. It is truly not an overstatement to say that technical capabilities we have spent years and millions to develop could be rendered useless in one news cycle if disclosure is not handled correctly. Worse — and I do not exaggerate — if it were human sources that provided the information, they could lose their lives.
There’s no question that this has been a big year for government hacking. Not a day has gone by without some mention of it in the news. 2016 may forever be remembered as the year when government hacking went so mainstream that Stephen Colbert cracked jokes about Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear on The Late Show. The Obama administration has publicly blamed the Russian government for a series of compromises of U.S. political institutions and individuals in this election year, including the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, and John Podesta, former Chairman of the Hillary Clinton election campaign. Political espionage is nothing new, but what distinguishes this series of attacks is the element of publication. This election cycle was dominated by news stories stemming from DNC and Podesta emails leaked to and published by Wikileaks, which has repeatedly said that it will not comment on sources but denies that the source of the documents is Russian.
Starting Jan. 1, 16 and 17-year-olds can pre-register to vote before they begin casting ballots at age 18. It’s just one of several changes to voter laws in the new year that aim to encourage citizen engagement and make voting more efficient. The first of the year also will see another law take effect that allows voters to head to their county’s election office on Election Day to register and vote. Currently, voters need to register about two weeks before the primary and general elections. “This creates a fail-safe for people who missed the 15 day deadline and still want to vote,” said Kim Alexander, the California Voter Foundation’s founder and president. Lawmakers passed the new same-day registration law in 2012, but it was placed on hold until the state certified the California voter registration database known as VoteCal. VoteCal was certified in the fall, so same-day registration — already in place in other states to boost voter participation — can now go forward.
Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman says one of the main questions she gets is what her department does between elections. “I kind of laugh and say, ‘When are we between elections?’ ” she said. Sedgwick County was supposed to have a longer break before its next countywide election. Then President-elect Trump nominated 4th District Congressman Mike Pompeo to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. “We were supposed to be ‘between elections’ right now,” Lehman said at a county commission meeting this month. “We no longer are.” If Pompeo is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, his replacement will be chosen by the voters of the 4th District, which includes Sedgwick County and most of south-central Kansas. Officials will need to work quickly to set up polling locations and get workers for the polls. And if the county’s new voting machines aren’t ready in time, most voters will cast paper ballots.
A proposed half-million-dollar-plus purchase of new voting equipment by the Reno County Clerk’s Office will move the county back to all paper ballots. The Reno County Commission will vote today on awarding the purchase contract, and County Clerk Donna Patton and Election Officer Jenna Fager are recommending equipment from Michigan-based ElectionSource, despite it being the highest of three bids. They anticipate savings in printing costs will more than offset the $13,000 in additional costs, Patton advised the commission last week. Overall, the contract – including discounts for trade-in, a multi-county group discount and signing a contract before the end of the year – is for $538,830. Reoccurring annual fees, after the first year, for software and firmware licenses and annual maintenance, total some $60,265.
Editorials: North Carolina’s HB2 impasse has its roots in gerrymandering | Bob Phillips/News & Observer
When state lawmakers couldn’t come together to repeal House Bill 2, it was just another sorry reminder of the toxic partisan divide that often renders the N.C. General Assembly dysfunctional. Compromise, trust and honest brokering seem to be out of reach for this body of elected officials that arguably has more impact on our lives than any other level of government. So what happened and why? The inability to repeal HB2 is a symptom of what is a grave threat to our democracy: partisan gerrymandering. When the majority party, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, gets to draw its own districts for its own advantage, our whole elective system becomes unfair. The proof is in the legislative maps – illogically shaped districts creating a jigsaw puzzle covering our state, making lawmakers virtually unaccountable to voters. Consider our incoming legislature that will be sworn in this January. More than 90 percent of them ran uncontested in November or won their election by a comfortable double-digit margin. Largely because of gerrymandering, citizens have no choice and no voice in our elections.
The Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow has called on long-serving ruler Yahya Jammeh to give up power peacefully, like former colonial power Britain did in 1965. Mr Barrow, a property developer, said he did not want to lead a nation that was not at “peace with itself”. Mr Jammeh initially accepted defeat in the 1 December poll but then launched court action to annul the result. The Gambia has not had a smooth transfer of power since independence.
Alireza Barati, deputy Interior Minister for e-governance and IT, has said the interior ministry is ready to hold electronic voting in the forthcoming presidential election if the Guardian Council gives the go-head. “Electronic voting offers advantages such as speed, accuracy and precision and we are ready to use it in the upcoming presidential election provided that the Guardian Council approves it,” ISNA quoted Barati as saying on Monday. There is an economic dimension to electronic voting as it remove the need to print ballots and count votes, the official added.
Mexico: Safran Identity & Security to Modernize Mexico’s Biometric Voter ID System | American Security Today
Safran Identity & Security has been awarded a five-year contract by the National Electoral Institute of Mexico (INE) for its multi-biometric identification system and related services. With this new contract, INE confirms its trust in Safran to conform and update the Mexican national voter registry that enables fair and efficient elections. As one of the world’s largest systems of its kind, the multi-biometric identification system ensures each voter has a unique identity by detecting false or double-identity cases in real time. It uses both fingerprint and facial recognition to help ensure that each Mexican citizen is registered only once in the national voter rolls.
Somalia has decided to delay its presidential election for a fourth time amid allegations of fraud and intimidation, an electoral official said Monday. The vote had been set for Wednesday, but the official said it likely will be Jan. 24 instead, though leaders were discussing the specific timing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. This Horn of Africa nation is riven by clan rivalries and threatened by al-Shabab Islamic extremists opposed to Western-style democracy.
United Kingdom: Voters in local elections will be required to show ID in anti-fraud trials | The Guardian
UK voters will have to take ID to the ballot box at local elections in pilot areas under new plans to combat electoral fraud. Chris Skidmore, minister for the constitution, announced the trials would start from 2018 after a report on voting fraud by Sir Eric Pickles, the anti-corruption tsar and former communities secretary. Ministers will also consider Pickles’ recommendations about measures to check nationality of voters, creating safe zones around polling stations to stop intimidation, and ending vote “harvesting”, in which postal votes are submitted in bulk. Some of the key recommendations under consideration include a ban on the handling of completed postal ballots by political campaigners, limiting it to family members or carers, and requiring people to reregister for postal votes every three years.