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Microsoft’s ElectionGuard a Trojan Horse for a military-industrial takeover of US elections

“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.” — Investigative journalist Yasha Levine

by Whitney Webb 

Part 3 - 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.

A Galois spin-off company called Free & Fair, which develops election technology, partnered with Microsoft to produce ElectionGuard. Free & Fair’s website lists its partners as DARPA, Microsoft, voting machine manufacturer VotingWorks, vote tallying software developer Verificatum, the state government of Colorado, and the OSET (Open Source Election Technology) Institute. VotingWorks is a “non-profit” voting machine manufacturer founded by a former Mozilla director of engineering and closely affiliated with the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT). In addition to Colorado, other states like Minnesota have partnered with Microsoft’s “Defending Democracy” program, but it is unclear if they have adopted or plan to adopt ElectionGuard as a consequence of that partnership.

According to the CDT’s announcement of VotingWorks’ launch: "CDT will serve as a home for VotingWorks until it becomes its own non-profit entity. This partnership means VotingWorks is working closely with the CDT’s experienced team to rapidly ramp up operations and begin in earnest the development of affordable, secure, open-source voting machines for use in US public elections.

The president and CEO of CDT is Nuala O’Connor, who was Amazon’s Vice President for Compliance and Customer Trust before becoming CDT president. O’Connor was also formerly chief privacy officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and has also worked at General Electric and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

CDT’s board includes former Deputy Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator for the White House under Obama and current Principal Counsel at Apple Philippa Scarlett; Microsoft’s corporate vice president, Julie Brill; and Mozilla’s vice president of global policy, Alan Davidson. More troubling, however, is its advisory council, which includes representatives of RAND Corporation, Walmart, Verizon, the Charles Koch Institute, Facebook and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). MintPress readers are likely familiar with AEI, one of the country’s most notorious neoconservative think tanks, known for employing John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz, among others. One of Newsguard’s co-founders, Louis Gordon Crovitz, is also affiliated with the AEI.

Another partner of Galois’ Free & Fair is the Open Source Election Technology Institute (OSET Institute, or OSETI), whose flagship initiative is called “TrustTheVote.” One of OSETI’s co-founders and its current CTO is E. John Sebes, who has previously done work for DARPA and DHS. OSETI’s strategic board of advisors includes Chris Barr of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which is a top investor in Newsguard; former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling; former Deputy Director of the NSA William Cromwell; former head of DHS’ Cybersecurity Directorate and former DARPA project manager Doug Maughan; and Norm Ornstein of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and co-director of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project.

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

Free & Fair’s partnerships with groups tied to DHS seem to further undermine its stated mission of providing secure and trustworthy election technology, in addition to its parent company’s deep ties to the Department of Defense, especially DARPA. 

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 DARPA and 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.

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