It’s been a rough patch for Democrats. In the last few years they’ve lost majority control on Capitol Hill. They’ve lost the White House to Donald Trump. They’ve lost sway over the future of the Supreme Court. And they’ve lost the confidence of many that they were the effective voice of the little guy in the U.S. economy. Yesterday, Democrats rolled out a new appeal. They call it a "better deal." It’s their comeback cry, they hope. This hour On Point: The Democrats’ "better deal." -- Tom Ashbrook
Michael Sandel, professor of political philosophy at Harvard University.
Stephanie Kelton, economics professor at Stony Brook University. Consultant on the Democrats’ “A Better Deal” policy agenda. Former economic advisor to Bernie Sanders. Former chief economist for Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee. (@StephanieKelton)
Steve Phillips, founder of Democracy in Color. Senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Author of, "Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority." (@StevePtweets)
Washington Post: Trump had ‘The Art of the Deal.’ Now Democrats say their economic a... — "The campaign-style motto, panned by some liberal activists as details began to trickle out ahead of the Monday rollout, is designed to revive a party desperate to win back at least some control next year. The push comes months earlier than most campaign-year sales pitches begin — an acknowledgment of the need to shore up public opinion of the Democratic Party in the faster pace of modern politics."
Democracy Journal: The State of the Resistance — "Despite the floundering first months of Donald Trump’s presidency, Democrats have not begun to win the argument. Yes, Democrats in Congress have displayed unity in opposing the repeal of Obamacare and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But they have not changed many minds. Despite Trump’s low approval ratings, few of his voters regret their choice. In fact, one poll in early April showed that, were the election rerun, Trump would now defeat Hillary Clinton in the popular vote."
New York Times: The Democratic Party’s Billion-Dollar Mistake — "The Democratic Party is at risk of repeating the billion-dollar blunder that helped create its devastating losses of 2016. With its obsessive focus on wooing voters who supported Donald Trump, it is neglecting the cornerstone of its coalition and failing to take the steps necessary to win back the House of Representatives and state houses in 2018."
Vox: Democrats’ Better Deal, explained — "The plan is a populist turn for the party, less than a year after it ran — and lost to Donald Trump — on a platform that largely defended the economic status quo under President Barack Obama. The Better Deal’s first step is a plan to create 10 million jobs through a mixture of tax credits for employers who hire at high wages, and a national infrastructure program similar to the one Hillary Clinton proposed in the presidential campaign." http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2017/07/25/a-better-deal-for-democrats
This program aired on July 25, 2017.
Representative Dave Lobesack (D-IA) on NPR suggested dissecting Election 2016; now he can extend this to Georgia 2017. In 2016, as a democrat, my heart was with Bernie, but as a Democrat, voted for Party standard-bearer Hillary. However, the first time I saw Hillary in ICPL, I got this feeling that she was running on the rim. Even a year later, I don't know what she was campaigning on. They said she was running on Obama's record. 2017, Jon Ossoff, ran as a Centrist. After Bill Clinton, Centrism is death-on Democratic candidates.
Thomas Frank (Listen, Liberal) agrees on Centrism, but in his issue-preclusion is baffled, "Trying to figure out exactly where Hillary Clinton actually stands on political issues can be crazy-making"--believing she's too invested in maintaining the "facade of goodness."
Hillary, until Bernie's (Income Inequality) success pushed her to the Left, was a Centrist. Bill Clinton's centrism brought us NAFTA and took Reaganomics where Reagan did not dare-to-tread. Kim Phillips-Fein (Invisible Hands) states: "Bill Clinton completed what Reagan began--winning Barry Goldwater's admiration." Thus insured that White lives have not mattered since the 1980s.
I have several issues with Hillary: her condemnation of Qaddafi allowed Libya's descent into chaos. Under Neocons' sway seeing Qaddafi as "another Hitler," she ignored his prophetic: "I am standing between Europe and the Islamist extremists." Like the majority of imperialists' contact with native peoples-of-color, Secretary Clinton saw Qaddafi as irrelevant. Thereby in the tradition of Neo-colonialism, she supported the French no-fly-zone and importing Hill Tribes as boots-on-the-ground to overthrow Qaddafi's regime. Her strategic-error is blatant. However, regardless of the Western human-rights-hype, Qaddafi had to be gotten-rid-of because of his plans to diversify Libya's economy (Forbes 11/29/10) threatened petrodollars/Big Oil.
Benghazi wasn't Hillary's fault--but the Tea-Party/GOP's inadequate budgeting for military protection. (Max Bergman alluded to this ideological-driven-budget-gutting on Morning Edition 7/5/17.) However, Ambassador Stevens was gay; he shouldn't have been posted in an Islamic country, where thanks to British-French colonialism, homosexuality is a death-sentence/criminal-offense.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Donald Trump gets on Air Force One, bound for Europe, today. He'll go to Poland first, then Germany, where he'll meet with leaders from the world's 20 biggest economies, including Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin. The meeting is the highest form of foreign diplomacy. And our next guest says it comes as the American diplomatic corps is being hollowed out.
Max Bergmann worked at the State Department from 2011 until this year. He is now a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. And he's focused a lot of his work on U.S.-Russian relations. He is in our studio this morning. Thanks so much for coming in.
MAX BERGMANN: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: I want to get to your take on what's happening within the State Department. But first, let's talk policy and all the diplomacy that's happening this week, specifically this meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. They've been around each other...
MARTIN: ...For a long time, now, at these international meetings. This is the first time they're actually going to sit down face-to-face. Can you game out for us what you think is likely to come up and what is not likely to come up?
BERGMANN: Well, I think the main - the main thing is that we don't actually really know. I think if this were an addition - another administration, we would have a pretty clear sense of what they were going to talk about, what was - what would be on the agenda. The fact that Trump is coming in, saying that he has no agenda for the meeting means that someone has an agenda for the meeting. And that's Vladimir Putin.
And I think what Putin will want to talk about is trying to establish cooperation in Syria between the U.S. and Russian forces to counter ISIS, which isn't inherently a bad thing. But frankly, the Russians have very little to offer us. I think Putin will also bring up other issues involving Europe and NATO - his sort of long-standing complaints of U.S. support for democracy-promotion programs in Ukraine.
But frankly, I think it's rather concerning that the United States is going into a meeting in which the Russian president has, for the last sort of number of elections - not just our election, but the election in France, the election in Holland - has clearly intervened in those electoral processes of our allies and that that doesn't appear to be a concern to President Trump and doesn't appear to be - going to be brought up by the United States because Putin is not going to bring that up.
MARTIN: This is the kind of meeting that top diplomats would spend a lot of time strategizing for, as you mentioned. But you wrote this long piece in Politico the other day that said, quote, "the deconstruction of the State Department is well underway." Explain what you mean.
BERGMANN: So what is effectively happening is the Trump administration, led by Secretary Tillerson, are in the process of implementing their budget. And usually what happens is that a president - a presidential administration proposes a budget, and then Congress sort of accepts or rejects. When Trump proposed his budget, Lindsey Graham, and others in Congress, called it dead on arrival. And then what - but what we're seeing here is that the administration is actually just going about doing these cuts.
MARTIN: So how are you seeing that?
BERGMANN: So you're seeing that with the amount of people retiring, the amount of people leaving. The...
MARTIN: These are people who presumably wouldn't have left otherwise?
BERGMANN: Yes, and so there's people being effectively forced out. Their retirement dates have been been moved up. There's a total block on all hiring even if you have open slots.
MARTIN: So shrinking the workforce, though, that sounds like - to a typical American, you know, when you think about bloated federal bureaucracies...
MARTIN: ...And what President Trump promised he would do, to shrink the federal bureaucracy.
MARTIN: It sounds like a promise he's just keeping.
BERGMANN: Look, there's no doubt that any large, sprawling organization could always use a reorg and a rethink. And the State Department is no different. But what is happening is that they've come in with - setting a clear target of one third of the department will be cut. They're going to lose at least 2,000 employees. And I think anyone who works at any organization, if you just took away one third of that organization, it would severely hamper it.
And this also comes after six years of the State Department being - operating under an austerity budget. People think the State Department grew rapidly under Obama years. But it's just not true - that with Congress - with the Republican-controlled Congress, there was the Budget Control Act. And for six years, the State Department has been sort of chafing under that and has been struggling to meet a lot of the missions that have come about, with all that is happening in the world.
MARTIN: So you mentioned the budget cuts. There were cuts that had been implemented during the Obama years. Hillary Clinton herself was critical of those cuts. But a lot of people would point to her and say she was a good secretary of state. It didn't exactly affect or undermine her work. So where do you point to to show a real-world example of the effects of these cuts on diplomacy now?
BERGMANN: Well, I think there's been clear examples of U.S. effectively missing international meetings, such as on arms control. When the former acting undersecretary of state, Tom Countryman, was basically pulled off a plane headed to an international meeting in Italy and told that he was forced - he was going to be forced out. His resignation was accepted, which meant that there was very few people - there was no one there to actually attend the meeting - or at least a very junior staffer.
And so that is - the U.S. is going to be very stretched to just simply attend a lot of the meetings around the world and to manage the multimillion-dollar programs that the State Department manages. If you cut your workforce, and you're managing a million-dollar program to do demining in Mosul, you may not be able to implement that program. So it's going to have real-world effects, but it's going to be very gradual.
MARTIN: You said that Rex Tillerson - in your piece, you wrote that he's operating on his gut, that he's making these cuts based on just instinct. But this isn't a guy who has no experience, right? He was the CEO of Exxon Mobil, had 74,000 employees. So he does have experience managing big organizations.
BERGMANN: Sure, and that is why many in the State Department were actually very excited at his appointment. But what we're seeing is that Tillerson is sort of - walled himself off from the expertise in much of the building, especially when it comes to the reorganization that they're doing behind closed doors.
MARTIN: So he's not getting the information he needs to make the decisions.
BERGMANN: In my view, what Tillerson needs to do is simply open his door to the talent and knowledge that is existing in his midst, and he's effectively cut himself off from that. And that leads to a reorganization that is being done with - by people that have a clear ideological objective but aren't actually getting the input - don't actually, I feel like, know what they're doing. And that is what I've heard from numerous State Department officers, especially after I wrote that article. The feedback has been overwhelming where people say it's actually much worse than what I wrote.
MARTIN: Former State Department official Max Bergmann. He's now at the Center for American Progress. Thanks so much for coming in.
BERGMANN: Thank you.
Copyright © 2017 NPR. http://www.npr.org/2017/07/05/535593608/u-s-diplomatic-corps-is-bei...
Politically, Hillary believed being female was in-invitum--always having to prove herself--displaying the "Objectivism" of political-manhood forgetting the betrayal of men in her life: her father and her husband. Hillary's mannish behavior so angered Molly Ivins who wrote, I Will Not support Hillary Clinton for President, January 20, 2006:
|Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist.|
AUSTIN, Texas (Creators Syndicate) -- I'd like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president.
Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone This is not a Dick Morris election. Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.
The recent death of Gene McCarthy reminded me of a lesson I spent a long, long time unlearning, so now I have to re-learn it. It's about political courage and heroes, and when a country is desperate for leadership. There are times when regular politics will not do, and this is one of those times. There are times a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief.
If no one in conventional-wisdom politics has the courage to speak up and say what needs to be said, then you go out and find some obscure junior senator from Minnesota with the guts to do it. In 1968, Gene McCarthy was the little boy who said out loud, "Look, the emperor isn't wearing any clothes." Bobby Kennedy -- rough, tough Bobby Kennedy -- didn't do it. Just this quiet man trained by Benedictines who liked to quote poetry.
What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake? The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority (66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.
The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?
I listen to people like Rahm Emanuel superciliously explaining elementary politics to us clueless naifs outside the Beltway ("First, you have to win elections"). Can't you even read the damn polls?
Here's a prize example by someone named Barry Casselman, who writes, "There is an invisible civil war in the Democratic Party, and it is between those who are attempting to satisfy the defeatist and pacifist left base of the party and those who are attempting to prepare the party for successful elections in 2006 and 2008."
This supposedly pits Howard Dean, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, emboldened by "a string of bad new from the Middle East ... into calling for premature retreat from Iraq," versus those pragmatic folk like Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emmanuel, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman.
Oh come on, people -- get a grip on the concept of leadership. Look at this war -- from the lies that led us into it, to the lies they continue to dump on us daily.
You sit there in Washington so frightened of the big, bad Republican machine you have no idea what people are thinking. I'm telling you right now, Tom DeLay is going to lose in his district. If Democrats in Washington haven't got enough sense to OWN the issue of political reform, I give up on them entirely.
Do it all, go long, go for public campaign financing for Congress. I'm serious as a stroke about this -- that is the only reform that will work, and you know it, as well as everyone else who's ever studied this. Do all the goo-goo stuff everybody has made fun of all these years: embrace redistricting reform, electoral reform, House rules changes, the whole package. Put up, or shut up. Own this issue, or let Jack Abramoff politics continue to run your town.
Bush, Cheney and Co. will continue to play the patriotic bully card just as long as you let them. I've said it before: War brings out the patriotic bullies. In World War I, they went around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that dachshunds were "German dogs." They did not, however, go around kicking German shepherds. The MINUTE someone impugns your patriotism for opposing this war, turn on them like a snarling dog and explain what loving your country really means. That, or you could just piss on them elegantly, as Rep. John Murtha did. Or eviscerate them with wit (look up Mark Twain on the war in the Philippines). Or point out the latest in the endless "string of bad news."
Do not sit there cowering and pretending the only way to win is as Republican-lite. If the Washington-based party can't get up and fight, we'll find someone who can. http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/01/20/ivins.hillary/
Emailgate: Hillary's propensity for secrecy: using a "private" email service, when secured government service was sine-qua-non--knowing she was under GOP surveillance for improprieties. Snowden's employment at the NSA: her emails would have been Wickileaked along with the rest--not mentioned in self-defense.
Comey's threat to re-open Emailgate so close to the election-date, broke the law. Hillary should have sued him. Worse, she played nice. This niceness caused her forfeiture debates to Trump. Instead of debating him like a street-fighter, she debated this bully like a good-girl. At Trump's remarks about Bill Clinton's former paramours sitting in the audience, she should have challenged Trump: "There's Bill sitting in the audience; if you have a beef with him, go tell him. I'm here to debate you!"
Trump would have folded. Following her nature instead of listening to handlers, Hillary would be in the White House instead of Trump--so unsure of himself that he cannot even display his bald-pate publicly.
Nazi Germany: the mustache; Fascist America: the comb-over.
Bernie, unlike Hillary, ran on his record--came out firing-on-all-cylinders. As David A. Stockman (Trumped!) "The U.S. is in deep financial trouble, and continuing to go down Wall Street cutting taxes--whistling-in-the-dark won't do." Bernie, like economists--Left and Right for decades--declares that income inequality is base-to-superstructure of crippling student-debt and middle-class decline.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. I want you to think back to the computer you had 10 years ago. It's a long time in computer years, right? That old computer would be pretty out-of-date now. Well, consider America's voting infrastructure. Most of the electronic touch screens and optical scan voting systems are more than 10 years old. They're too old to download the latest security patches. Our election system was already hacked by Russia.
My guest Kim Zetter has been writing about our voting system's vulnerabilities since 2003, in the aftermath of the contested Bush v. Gore election. Last month, before the special election in Georgia between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, Zetter wrote a long article in Politico about critical security problems in Georgia's election systems, which are representative of the larger problem. She's a former reporter for Wired and wrote the 2014 book "Countdown To Zero Day: Stuxnet And The Launch Of The World's First Digital Weapon."
Kim Zetter, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, there's so much news to keep straight. So help us out here, if you will, and just sum up what we know about what was hacked by Russia in our voting system - in our election system.
KIM ZETTER: All we have right now are, you know, a few published reports that have coming out of intelligence agencies and news outlets. And those focus right now, not on the voting systems where the votes are cast or tallied but on voter registration systems, or, essentially, the servers that store voter registration databases and also, in one case in Florida, with a company that creates voting registration software and interacts with election officials.
And so what we know is that - from reports - is that hackers somehow connected to Russian intelligence accessed or probed those kinds of systems in 39 states. Now when we say probe, what we mean is that they are looking for - and sometimes it can be simply an automated scan, and they're looking for any kind of vulnerability in the server to see if they actually can get into it.
And that doesn't mean that they actually breached those. We know from one of the hearings on Capitol Hill that there were actually only two states where they breached the networks and looked like they were making attempts to either delete data or change data.
GROSS: So this could be laying the groundwork for a future attack.
ZETTER: Sure. And it - and in some cases, it can be a jumping off point to getting further into more critical systems. I'll just address, first of all, what you can do by getting into the voter registration databases. You could delete voters' records, or you could alter them in some way that creates problems for voters when they go to the polls that disenfranchises them. Maybe it indicates that they should be voting at a different polling place, and so they end up running around in the morning, from polling place to polling place, trying to find their correct polling place. Or officials tell them you're not registered.
So a lot of things can cause delays and backups and chaos. But sometimes these voter registration systems are connected to systems that are used to program the voting machines. Now, this shouldn't be the case. And in many cases, election officials will assure us publicly that that's not the case.
But security is very difficult to get right. And security is not - is sort of the enemy of efficiency. If you want to do things efficient, security is sort of against that because it requires you to take all of these extra precautions. And so quite often, you'll find that systems that should be separated aren't always securely separated.
GROSS: Now, you've emphasized that we know what we know largely through reporters uncovering it and through leaks that the reporters receive. Do you think that American citizens should know exactly what's going on with our voting and election system?
ZETTER: Yes. And I think that - I mean, you know, not just the public but election officials right now are in the dark as well. Those 39 states that were probed, you know, not all of that information has been disclosed specifically to the ones who were targeted there.
And I think that in some cases, you know, election officials don't have security clearances. So if there is more significant information that the intelligence agencies have, election officials right now aren't - and even secretaries of states, who are considered the top election official in most states - they don't have the clearances to actually get more information.
GROSS: Let's talk about some of the things you've added to our knowledge of what's gone wrong with our election system. You reported on Georgia's election system before the special election last month. And it was discovered inadvertently by someone named Logan Lamb, a cybersecurity expert, that there were problems in the electronic election system. Can you explain what he uncovered and how he did it?
ZETTER: Yeah. So this was entirely random. Logan got curious about - when the news reports came out in August that there had been some probes against voter registration databases, Logan got curious about the voting systems themselves. And he decided to approach some election officials in Georgia to see if he could actually get his hands on a machine. And he was told that there was an election center at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta that oversaw elections and voting machines in state.
So before he contacted them, he just decided to check out their website and see what all, you know, what are all of their functions? And in doing that, he discovered some files that he felt he shouldn't be able to access. And that included what looked like county-level files that were related to elections in 2016.
So he decided to write a random script, a program, to basically scrape the website and see exactly what was on there and what was available to him. And he did that during his lunch hour. He wrote the script, set it operating and went out to lunch. And when he came back, he discovered that it had downloaded about 15 gigabytes of data, a humongous amount of data, for every county in the state.
And that included the entire voter registration - voter roll for the state - for all of the nearly 6 million voters in the state. It also included some files that looked like they were database files from the voting system that would essentially include the tallies. It included a file that gave - it was in clear text; it wasn't encrypted - that listed passwords and usernames that election officials should use to sign into a central server on Election Day.
So there was a lot there that clearly shouldn't have been there, and he discovered that it had been configured incorrectly so that he could actually - it was supposed to be password-protected, but he could actually bypass - or his script bypassed any kind of password protection.
And he also discovered that the software used on the server had a 2-year-old security vulnerability that had been uncovered in 2014. It's actually a pretty severe vulnerability in that software, and a patch had been released almost immediately. And there were warnings at the time, back in 2014, that anyone who was using this Drupal software should update with the patch immediately. Or they should be - they should assume that they had already been hacked.
GROSS: So hackers could have gotten in as easily as Logan Lamb did. And they could have done a lot of damage.
ZETTER: They could have gotten, essentially, into the center systems, yes. Whether or not they could have actually gone into the software that's used on the voting machines and manipulated votes in some way, there's still some questions about that. And I don't think that Georgia has been very transparent about exactly the entire setup of how that server is configured.
GROSS: Have any changes been made since this was discovered?
ZETTER: Well, Georgia officials announced last week that they will be discontinuing the contract with the Center for Election Systems. They're renewing the contract for another year. And over the course of this next year, the secretary of state's office is working on moving that functionality that the center previously managed - moving that into the secretary of state's office. That, of course, creates new concerns because the secretary of state in Georgia is running for governor next year.
And so if you have a single voting system used throughout the estate, and the secretary of state's office - that governor candidate - his office is responsible for programming all of those machines, you need special assurances for voters that, within that secretary of state's office, those voting machines can't be manipulated to favor the outcome of either this secretary of state or any other candidate or secretary of state that might run for office in the future.
GROSS: Wow. So do you think that what happened in Georgia and the problems Georgia has had with its election system is representative of larger problems in the U.S.?
ZETTER: It is. The - you know, the specific circumstances in Georgia don't necessarily replicate elsewhere. Georgia is, you know, the only state that is using, statewide, these paperless, touch-screen voting machines made by Diebold. And it is the only state that I'm aware of that actually has some kind of outside university like this programming all of the state's machines.
There are other states, of course, that have different setups that are equally concerning. Many states will use sort of third-party companies - not a university, like in this case but a third-party company - that helps them program the machines, helps them set up and maintain machines. And so that's a concern as well, when you have, you know, not election officials themselves managing the machines and managing the election and managing the programming of those machines, but you have a third-party company that itself could be vulnerable to hacking in the way that Kennesaw State University's was.
GROSS: So one of the problems that we're facing, in terms of voting, is that 42 states - I think I have that number right - now use systems that are at least a decade old. The software is outdated. Microsoft no longer supports the software with security updates. So that - I mean, that's a really long time. It's so - and it - those systems are really out of date.
ZETTER: Yeah, and most of us replace our machines, right? We - at least every five years or so, if not sooner. You know, your laptop gets out of date pretty quickly - desktop system, as well. And so if you can imagine hardware that dates back to 2002 or earlier, and software. In the case of Georgia, the software that is currently on those voting systems is - was last certified in 2005.
And, of course, a lot of vulnerabilities have been uncovered in that software since then, as well. And so you can assume that this is sort of the state in a lot of different counties and jurisdictions across the country.
GROSS: And in terms of the technology being outdated, it's not just the system's technology. It's the actual voting machines we're talking about too this time around, right?
ZETTER: Yes, and also, the - many of these machines were certified years ago. And they were tested and certified under a voting system standard that didn't have security requirements in it. Now, as I point out in Georgia, those systems, that software and that hardware was certified under standards the last time in 2005.
Well, those standards have since been updated in 2015. But those standards - the new standards that actually have more security in them - only apply to new machines that would be purchased. So that doesn't apply, as you point out, to those 42 states that have equipment that's 10 years old. Those are still certified under standards that never had security in them.
GROSS: You know, elections are considered a state issue, not a federal issue. So every state has its own system. They can buy their own machinery. It could be run by different kinds of officials. So if you look at the big picture, like, who runs the elections in America?
ZETTER: Oh, this is a great question. And I think it's a question that - I think the answer is something that most Americans aren't aware of, and that is, it really depends on the jurisdiction where you are. In some cases, it is an elected official that is running the election, and doing the election management and actually doing the programming of the voting machines.
In quite a lot of cases, though, and in quite a lot of states, it is some third party. It is either - when I first started covering this in 2003 and for many years after that, the people actually running the elections were the voting machine vendors, like Diebold and Election Systems & Software. The election staff didn't have the technical knowledge or skill to be programming the machines. And Diebold would come in, or they would hire a local third-party company to act as their consultants, and would program the machines for election officials.
That's still the case, in many cases, that can't afford their own technical staff. And this is one of the issues that we have nationwide with the U.S. is that elections are notoriously underfunded. And in most cases, it does come down to a couple of people in a local election office, maybe supplemented during, you know, the high election season with outside workers that they bring in - hopefully, in some cases, with IT people that have a security background. In most cases, that's not the circumstance, though.
And so elections in some places are run by the people you want them to be run by. But in many places, they're run by people we just - we don't even know who they are.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Kim Zetter. She's an investigative journalist who's been covering cybersecurity, privacy and national security for more than a decade. She was a longtime reporter for Wired. She's also the author of the 2014 book, "Countdown To Zero Day: Stuxnet And The Launch Of The World's First Digital Weapon." We'll be back after this break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Kim Zetter, who has been covering cybersecurity, privacy and national security for more than a decade. She's a former reporter for Wired. We're talking about voting security and election systems security. She's been covering that extensively. She's been writing about that since around 2003.
After the Obama administration learned that Russia had hacked us, Jeh Johnson, who was then the Homeland Security director, wanted to help states protect their voting systems against cyberattack. What did he offer to do?
ZETTER: So he was offering to do both - basically, information sharing. And it's unclear to what extents, you know, the - at that late stage - the DHS could have helped states with because really, if you're going to assist states in securing their elections, that really involves doing some kind of risk assessment at a county level or at a state level. And that's not what DHS was doing.
I mean, you really need to come out and visit and see the setup and then advise about network operations and things like that. And so in that case, that wasn't what they were doing. But they were talking about information sharing and producing - distributing checklists of best practices, for instance, not connecting machines to the Internet and other things that they were advising states to do to secure their elections. But that's really not sufficient for what you would hope DHS or any other federal agency might do to help states secure elections.
GROSS: Nevertheless, some states objected to the help that Jeh Johnson was trying to give. What was the objection?
ZETTER: Right. So Georgia, in fact, was one of - there were only, I believe, two states that objected - Maine and Georgia - or Georgia primarily. And the objection there was an interference in states' rights. You know, in our country, elections are handled at the state and local level for, you know, states' rights reasons. We don't want the federal government interfering in elections.
And that's a legitimate concern in general, except that in this case, DHS wasn't asking to take over elections and wasn't looking to take over elections. But this is what Georgia was accusing them of doing - of somehow overstepping their authority and wanting to come in and seize the operations of the elections. And that really wasn't what DHS was doing.
There's a - it's a really misunderstanding of how DHS operates. And a better way to look at it is what DHS currently does with other critical infrastructure systems, known as industrial control systems. DHS has a special program for critical infrastructure and industrial control systems in particular, where they will come out, and they can do - help you do an assessment of the network.
And they will also - they have flyaway teams that will come out to you if you think that you've been hacked or breached. And they have these teams that will come out and help you do an assessment, forensic examination and consultation and things like that. So DHS really is in a much better position than most states - and certainly counties - to know what a secure setup should look like and to assess afterwards, as well, whether or not there has been a breach.
GROSS: So we know that Russia hacked our system. What are some of the concerns that cybersecurity experts have now about what Russia, or another malicious actor, might do in the 2018 midterms or the 2020 presidential election?
ZETTER: Well, I think that - you know, what we have is so far only evidence of them getting into voter registration databases - or at least targeting voter registration databases. And I think that - there has to be this caveat here - is that just because we don't see, or there - or no one has come out with evidence that the voting machines have been hacked doesn't mean that the more critical systems haven't been hacked. It's quite possible that there are adversaries - whether or not it's a nation state or simply other hackers - simple hackers, criminal hackers - in election systems.
We can't rule that out. And we also can't rule out that elections haven't already been manipulated in this way. We just don't have the capabilities, in many cases, to do forensic analysis of the machines. And we don't have the will, in many cases, to examine that. So when you see statements from election officials and from the federal government saying that there's no evidence that the votes were changed or that the voting systems were hacked, it has to be done with the caveat that, actually, no one really looked.
So there is concern then, if they haven't already done that in the past, that looking forward, in 2018 and beyond - that there is this great interest now in election systems. You know, once someone sets the example of what can be done, then that opens the gateway for a lot of other actors to explore further - to do the same kinds of things, either just going into voter registration databases, or to explore going further and trying to see if they can actually get into the voting machines and manipulate them.
GROSS: Well, Kim Zetter, thank you so much for talking with us.
ZETTER: You're welcome.
GROSS: Kim Zetter's article about Georgia's election system was published in Politico. She's also the author of the 2014 book "Countdown To Zero Day: Stuxnet And The Launch Of The World's First Digital Weapon." After we take a short break, we'll listen back to my 1990 interview with actor Martin Landau, who died Saturday. And Maureen Corrigan will review two comic novels. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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