High possibility of US presidential election results getting rigged : Attorney Andrew Updegrove
By Prabalta Rijal
Andrew Updegrove is an attorney, who has been representing technology companies, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists for more than thirty years and works with many of the organizations seeking to thwart cyber-attacks before they occur. Updegrove in his latest book Lafayette Campaign, looks at the eerily high possibility of election results being hacked and votes being changed without anyone noticing the cyber fraud.
The Oslo Times Chief International Correspondent Prabalta Rijal in an exclusive interview with Attorney and Author Andrew Updegrove, explores this shocking reality.
With less than ten days to go before the Iowa caucuses, who do you think will take the lead, will Sanders and Trump dominate the caucus or will Mrs. Clinton make her mark here?
It’s rather difficult to call the result at this point. The number of undecided voters is still very high, and the polls can often be poor indicators of results. In Iowa, most of Sanders’ supporters are young people living in the cities – that means they’re a big influence in only three counties out of 99. And Cruz’s supporters are much more organized than Trump’s. That matters in Iowa, because caucuses are different than primaries. You have to organize teams in each county in order to win there, not just get people out to vote. Either way, it’s worth remembering that Iowa and New Hampshire often produce very different results than the primaries that follow, so the winners here may fade later.
Which actually brings me to your book, can you tell us a little bit about Lafayette Campaign?
Although I wrote the book before this year’s electoral circus began, it’s proving to be eerily prophetic. The plot begins when a series of ridiculous candidates announce their intention to run – and immediately jump to the top of the polls, one after another. A secret government agency determines that the polls are being hacked, and recruits the protagonist to find out how. Later, he determines that the votes are being hacked as well, and has to figure out how to stop the hackers before they steal the election. As with any good thriller, there are a lot of twists and turns along the way to the surprise conclusion.
It's, "hard to believe such a small piece of code is about to change the world," do you think there is a real possibility that election results could be rigged, is ballot box hacking a possibility?
It’s more than a possibility – it’s a certainty that an election could be hacked. For example, last year Virginia abruptly ruled that its voting machines had to be replaced immediately, because anyone with basic computer skills could switch the votes from outside the building where the machines were located using nothing more sophisticated than a Wifi-enabled laptop. Voting machines are bought and maintained by counties and towns that have very limited budgets and very little sophistication when it comes to computer equipment. That means that it would not only be easy to attack the machines, but highly unlikely that anyone would ever find out.
The American Presidential election is the most watched and observed presidential election in the world, and with so much money being spent by all the candidates, do you think the candidates behind the ballot box hacking may be able to get away with it?
Due to the odd way we elect presidents in the U.S., switching just a few hundred votes can be enough to change the result of an election. When a candidate wins the majority of the votes in a state, all of that state’s “electoral votes” (the number is based on population) are awarded to that candidate. When the primaries are over, the candidate with the most electoral votes wins – even if the losing candidate got fewer citizen votes overall than the winner, as Al Gore did when he lost to George W. Bush.When you consider that spending a billion dollars doesn’t guarantee your candidate will win, you have to wonder whether someone, sometime, won’t spend a few hundred thousand to ensure the result. For all we know, maybe someone already has. I say that because it would be impossible to tell whether any votes had been switched on many of the voting machines in use today. In my book, I show exactly how it could be done, using methods that have been confirmed as feasible by cybersecurity experts.
What inspired you to write this book?
Both my first and second books (and my current work in process) are meant to not only be hard to put down thrillers with interesting characters and surprising plots, but also serious efforts to expose critical cybersecurity risks in society today. It seems that individuals and businesses all want the latest and coolest technology whether or not it’s been proven to be safe to rely on. We’re like kids – we want the candy now, and we’ll worry about the cavities later. The technology companies, of course are happy to oblige.The thought that inspired me to write this book was that if I was someone in Europe or elsewhere, I’d be horrified watching a typical American election. As Josette, the young French woman who is one of the principal characters in the book says, “You know, if you Americans want to think that you elect the ‘Leader of the Free World,’ you really ought to be more careful who you pick.” Spoiler alert: she decides to do something about that.
Donald Trump is probably the most controversial candidate and with Sarah Palin now backing him things could get better for him, but what percentage of the American population do you think will actually vote for him?
Almost everyone expected Trump’s support to collapse quickly, like each of the other improbable candidates in this election and the last (Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and so on). But it hasn’t. The way that polls are conducted probably means that his actual popularity is lower than reported, but it’s clear that he’s tapped into strong feelings shared by a significant percentage of the population. Because there are so many candidates still in the race, that means he could win the nomination if the sane voters split their votes among the rational candidates.
The really scary scenario would be – again, this comes straight out of my book – if an independent candidate were to enter the race. Now Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, is talking about doing just that. If that were to happen, then the same scenario could play out that I described in my book: thinking Americans might divide their votes more or less equally between Bloomberg and Clinton and Sanders, handing the election to Trump. And a lot of people (like me) would have to start thinking about moving to Canada.
After reading even just a few chapters from your book, I found myself comparing reality with the plot you created, have any of the characters been created based on Donald Trump?
No, and there’s a simple reason for that. The book is a political satire, and it’s impossible to parody someone who is already a caricature of a human being. Trump would always be more ridiculous than anything I could come up with.
Critics have always complained about the huge sums of money being spent on presidential campaigns while the needs of the local communities go ignored, take for instance the lead poisoning of the water source in Flint Michigan, in your opinion, why are such catastrophic community issues going ignored while millions are being spent on the presidential battle?
The reason reflects one of the sad realities of American political life. Efforts to bring about campaign reform have largely failed, and the currently conservative-dominated Supreme Court made things worse a few years ago by permitting corporations to make unlimited contributions to political campaigns. The wealthy can spend their money however they want, and regrettably they seem to be more interested in contributing massively to political campaigns these days than to more worthwhile causes.This is one of the reasons, by the way, that Bernie Sanders is doing so well. The degree of income inequality in the U.S. is not only shameful, but it allows the rich to stockpile enormous sums of money that can then be spent influencing elections so that they stay the way they are.
John F Kennedy, is by far the most popular president till date yet it is believed that he didn't win the presidential elections fair and square, what do you have to say about this?
Voter fraud has a regrettably long history in the US. It’s generally agreed that John F. Kennedy would not have won his election had not a few ballot boxes in Texas been stolen and the votes altered (remember what I said earlier about how electoral votes work). I can’t think of any reason why people would be less likely to switch votes today than before, especially when it would be so easy to do and so hard to catch.
The United States is considered to be the world's largest working democracy, and the US agencies along with the EU have been campaigning for free and fair elections in the less fortunate countries around the globe, if election results in the US get rigged, what kind of message do you think this would send to the world?
Obviously, a terrible example. But it raises a rather interesting question, doesn’t it? Would it set a worse example to find out that the election was
hacked, or that Americans really were crazy enough to elect Donald Trump?
Who do you think stands a strong chance of becomingthe next US president?
I have to say, and hope, that it would be Hillary Clinton. Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders each represent large and vocal constituencies, but neither is a majority, and neither could put their own policies into practice unless their party won a landslide, which seems unlikely. So from that perspective, even a conservative or a liberal should be hesitant to vote for someone so far off the center.
Donald Trump can only appeal to people who don’t care whether he could govern effectively. That leaves Hillary as the only front runner that the very substantial percentage of independent voters would likely vote for. But the primary season is just beginning, and it could be that a different Republican candidate will come up from behind to win the nomination. That could change everything.
My final question is a little off the beat, but I was just wondering as an author how important is freedom of expression to you, as sadly according to freedom house only 14 percent of the world today enjoys freedom of expression?
In America, we have the great luxury of taking freedom of speech for granted. It is, of course, enormously important. The idea of having to filter what I write is something that I’ve never had to do – this interview being a good example – and it’s a very liberating experience.
Finally, is there anything you would like to say to your readers?
If you’re not from the U.S. and find the whole presidential race bizarre and puzzling, you may want to read my book. When you’re done, the real presidential race will still be bizarre, but you’ll no longer be puzzled.Second, cybersecurity risks are actually much higher than they are portrayed in the press. As my next book will highlight, we are racing headlong into what can only be described as “vulnerability by design.”
And finally, if you’re looking for a good book to read, I hope you’ll try one of mine. You can find both The Lafayette Campaign and The Alexandria Project on Amazon and at my author site, which is here: http://andrew-updegrove.com/
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