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Westlake Legal Group > Cyberwarfare and Defense

Cloudflare Chief Explains Decision to Ban 8Chan, Despite Reservations

Early Monday, 8chan, the anonymous message board where the man accused of carrying out the El Paso massacre posted his manifesto, went offline.

The man most responsible for the outage wasn’t Jim Watkins, 8chan’s owner, or his son Ronald, the message board’s administrator.

Instead, the decision to take 8chan offline, at least temporarily, fell largely to Matthew Prince, the chief executive of the little-known San Francisco company Cloudflare.

Cloudflare provides tools that protect websites from cyberattacks and allows sites to load content more quickly. It is a critical tool for sites like 8chan where extremists gather. Without the kind of protection that Cloudflare offers, 8chan can be barraged by automated, hard-to-prevent attacks from its critics, making it nearly impossible to stay online.

Mr. Prince has become an unlikely focal point for critics of 8chan and other vile parts of the internet. Cloudflare’s service protects a large chunk of the internet, and for years, the decade-old company avoided making decisions about which sites deserved protection and which did not.

That changed in 2017, after white nationalists held a violent rally in Charlottesville, Va. After the rally, Mr. Prince was pressured to remove The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi hate site, from Cloudflare’s service. He eventually agreed to do so. It was a break from the company’s content-neutral stance, and Mr. Prince expressed reservations about his choice.

“I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the internet,” he said at the time. “No one should have that power.”

[8chan is a megaphone for gunmen. ‘Shut the site down,’ says its creator.]

But as one of several internet executives with control over the web’s most basic infrastructure, Mr. Prince does have that power. And in the wake of the El Paso shooting, the calls for him to exercise it by revoking 8chan’s security protections grew louder. I wanted to talk to him about how he thought through the decision, and about how he eventually chose to effectively kick 8chan off the internet, if only temporarily.

In two interviews on Sunday, Mr. Prince expressed a range of views about Cloudflare’s responsibility with regard to 8chan.

In a phone conversation in the early afternoon, Mr. Prince sounded torn: On one hand, 8chan was clearly reprehensible, and depriving it of the protection Cloudflare provides would rid him of a troublesome customer and a huge headache. On the other hand, banning 8chan could set a bad precedent, and it could make it harder for law enforcement authorities to monitor violent extremists. Cloudflare, like other tech companies with a window onto dark internet activity, can share information about crimes with investigators.

Banning 8chan “would make our lives a lot easier,” Mr. Prince said, “but it would make the job of law enforcement and controlling hate groups online harder.”

[Read the latest updates on the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.]

Among Cloudflare employees, there was disagreement. Some thought that banning 8chan was a clear-cut moral imperative; others thought it could create a slippery slope to censorship. Douglas Kramer, Cloudflare’s general counsel, spent much of Sunday afternoon telling news outlets that Cloudflare would not ban 8chan because of its content, saying, “We’re largely a neutral utility service.”

Hours later, Mr. Prince called me back. He had decided to cut off 8chan. He characterized the site as a “lawless” platform that had willfully ignored warnings about violent extremism. Its tolerance for hate, he said, made 8chan different from other sites where extremists gather, like Facebook or Twitter.

“They’ve been not only actively ignoring complaints they receive, but sometimes weaponizing those complaints against people who are complaining about them,” Mr. Prince said. “That lawlessness feels like a real distinction from the Facebooks of the world.”

Removing 8chan was not a straightforward decision, Mr. Prince said, in part because Cloudflare does not host or promote any of the site’s content. Most people would agree, he said, that a newspaper publisher should be responsible for the stories in the paper. But what about the person who operates the printing press, or the ink supplier? Should that person be responsible, too?

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_122644577_4d5562f5-45b2-4cf2-b3e9-5904f61c5237-articleLarge Cloudflare Chief Explains Decision to Ban 8Chan, Despite Reservations El Paso, Tex, Shooting (2019) Cyberwarfare and Defense Computers and the Internet Computer Security CloudFlare Inc Charlottesville, Va, Violence (August, 2017) 8chan

Cloudflare’s network operations center in San Francisco. The company provides tools that protect against cyberattacks, critical for sites like 8chan where extremists gather.CreditChristie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

“It’s dangerous for infrastructure companies to be making what are editorial decisions,” he said. “The deeper you get into the technology stack, the harder it becomes to make those decisions.”

Ultimately, Mr. Prince said, he decided that 8chan was too centrally organized around hate, and more willing to ignore laws against violent incitement in order to avoid moderating its platform. The realization, along with the multiple mass murders that the authorities have connected to 8chan, tipped the scale in favor of a ban.

“If we see a bad thing in the world and we can help get in front of it, we have some obligation to do that,” he said.

Mr. Prince, who announced the removal of 8chan from Cloudflare in a 1,300-word blog post on Sunday night, still worries about setting a bad precedent. He theorized that a repressive Middle Eastern government could cite the 8chan example when asking Cloudflare to remove security protections for an L.G.B.T. group inside its borders, since it might technically be “lawless” to promote homosexuality in that country.

“We have to make sure we’re setting policies where we can push back on those things,” he said.

He added that even if a hacker took advantage of 8chan’s lack of defenses, he did not expect the site to stay offline for long. Many companies now offer security services similar to Cloudflare’s, and it might be possible for 8chan to find another provider in short order. (8chan was down for hours on Monday morning, although its administrator said on Twitter that the site would soon be back up after moving to another security provider, BitMitigate.)

It is undeniably true that the underlying problem of online hate is bigger than one website, and that taking 8chan offline, even permanently, would not stop violent hatred from leaping off the internet and onto America’s streets. There will always be another message board, another hosting provider, another security service willing to give harbor to extremists.

But as he prepared to serve 8chan with an eviction notice, Mr. Prince sounded sure of his choice.

“We’ll see how this turns out,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to regret this for a second.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

‘Moscow Mitch’ Tag Enrages McConnell and Squeezes G.O.P. on Election Security

Westlake Legal Group 30dc-mitch-sub-facebookJumbo ‘Moscow Mitch’ Tag Enrages McConnell and Squeezes G.O.P. on Election Security United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Senate Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Presidential Election of 2020 Political Advertising McConnell, Mitch Cyberwarfare and Defense

WASHINGTON — Senator Mitch McConnell is usually impervious to criticism, even celebrating the nasty nicknames that have been bestowed on him by critics. But Mr. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is incensed with his new moniker, “Moscow Mitch,” and even more miffed that he has been called a “Russian asset” by critics who accuse him of single-handedly blocking stronger election security measures after Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Democrats had been making the case for months, but it was supercharged last week by the testimony of Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, who told the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians were back at it “as we sit here.”

Mr. McConnell cites several reasons for his opposition — a longstanding resistance to federal control over state elections, newly enacted security improvements that were shown to have worked in the 2018 voting and his suspicion that Democrats are trying to gain partisan advantage with a host of proposals. Republican colleagues say that Mr. McConnell, a longtime foe of tougher campaign finance restrictions and disclosure requirements, is leery of even entering into legislative negotiation that could touch on fund-raising and campaign spending.

But whatever Mr. McConnell’s reasoning, criticism of him for impeding a number of election proposals has taken hold — even back home in Kentucky, where the majority leader faces re-election next year.

“Democrats want more aggressive legislation to protect America’s elections after Robert Mueller’s stark warning about Russian interference,” began one report aired on a Louisville television station last week. “Mitch McConnell blocked it.”

Even President Trump felt compelled to come to his defense — as only he could.

“Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump,” the president told reporters Tuesday as he was leaving for a speech in Jamestown, Va. “And I know nothing.”

That did not relieve the heat on the majority leader, who on Monday had appeared to open the door ever so slightly to doing more on election preparedness.

“I’m sure all of us will be open to discussing further steps Congress, the executive branch, the states and the private sector might take to defend our elections against foreign interference,” he said as he seethed on the Senate floor over what he described as McCarthy-style attacks on his integrity and distortions of both his position on election security and his hawkish history of challenging Russia.

Throughout his political career, Mr. McConnell has made opposition to the Kremlin a hallmark of his foreign policy stands.

For once, Democrats seemed to be getting to a man who has embraced his portrayal as Darth Vader. When an unsubstantiated West Virginia Senate campaign ad in 2018 called him “Cocaine Mitch,” he began answering his Senate telephone with that identifier. “Moscow Mitch”? Not so much: “I was called unpatriotic, un-American and essentially treasonous,” he said.

Democrats pressed their advantage. And why not? #MoscowMitchMcTraitor was trending on Twitter, and Senate Republicans of all stripes were being asked about the blockade.

“So long as the Senate Republicans prevent legislation from reaching the floor, so long as they oppose additional appropriations to the states, so long as they malign election security provisions as, quote, partisan wish lists, the critics are right to say Leader McConnell and Republican senators are blocking election security,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Tuesday.

Mr. Schumer has in the past suggested that another potential reason behind Mr. McConnell’s position is the thought that interference emanating from Russia could aid Republicans. “I hope it’s not because he thinks it will benefit him, because Putin could turn around in a minute, and then do things that he doesn’t like,” Mr. Schumer said in June.

Lawmakers in both parties have election security proposals waiting on the sidelines, and the furor has caused some to step up demands for Congress to take up their bills.

Senators Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, wrote on Monday to colleagues reconciling the annual House and Senate military policy bill to request that they include stalled sanctions legislation meant to deter Russia or other foreign actors from interfering in American elections. House lawmakers included a similar provision in their military policy bill, but the senators want to see it strengthened to slap Russia’s economy with intense sanctions if it is found to interfere in a future election.

“This conference committee represents this Congress’ best — potentially last — opportunity to enact meaningful legislation aimed at deterring Russia from a repeat performance of its 2016 presidential election interference,” the senators wrote. “We ask that you seize this opportunity and include the provisions outlined above in the final conference report.”

On Tuesday, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signed on to a measure by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, that would require campaign officials to report to federal authorities any offers of campaign assistance from foreign entities.

“Congress must take strong action to deter foreign nations from attempting to disrupt our elections,” Ms. Collins wrote on Twitter. “We should also move forward with securing our electoral process, the cornerstone of our democracy.”

Mr. McConnell’s opposition to any and all election legislation has bottled up the bills in the Senate Rules Committee. The panel’s chairman, Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, has hesitated to advance any of the bills since they would go nowhere on the floor.

Mr. Blunt said he repeatedly had been assured by the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and the federal intelligence agencies that they were not lacking resources to combat election interference.

“They always say, ‘No, we don’t need anything,’” Mr. Blunt said Tuesday. A former state elections official himself, Mr. Blunt said he agreed with Mr. McConnell that the federal government should not gain more authority over state elections.

“Mitch would not want to see us further federalize the process and that’s where I am, too,” Mr. Blunt said.

Proponents of the bills say they are devised to keep the states in the lead. A Democratic measure approved by the House would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand that states use the money for machines with backup paper ballots and require a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks. States would be required to spend federal funds only on federally certified “election infrastructure vendors.”

A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads. Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt backup paper ballots.

Backup paper ballots got an endorsement Tuesday from an unlikely source: Mr. Trump.

With the focus on the issue intensifying, Mr. McConnell and Senate Republicans will face more pressure to act.

If they do, the most likely result would not be advancing stand-alone bills but instead using the annual spending bills that must pass this fall to funnel more money to states to secure their elections and to make certain they have a paper-ballot trail that can be audited if questions arise about the legitimacy of an outcome. Ten states now lack full capacity to do so, according to the Rules Committee.

Mr. Schumer encouraged that idea Tuesday. “If McConnell wants to address election security in the appropriations process, we would welcome his support on an amendment to send more funding to the states,” he said. “We want to get something done on election security because this is not about party, this is a matter of national security.”

Mr. McConnell said Monday that he would not be intimidated into acting on election interference.

He also will probably not be answering his phone “Moscow Mitch.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Russia Targeted Election Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds

WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded Thursday that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016, an effort more far-reaching than previously acknowledged and one largely undetected by the states and federal officials at the time.

But while the bipartisan report’s warning that the United States remains vulnerable in the next election is clear, its findings were so heavily redacted at the insistence of American intelligence agencies that even some key recommendations for 2020 were blacked out.

The report — the first volume of several to be released from the committee’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference — came 24 hours after the former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III warned that Russia was moving again to interfere “as we sit here.”

While details of many of the hackings directed by Russian intelligence, particularly in Illinois and Arizona, are well known, the committee described “an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure” intended largely to search for vulnerabilities in the security of the election systems.

It concluded that while there was no evidence that any votes were changed in actual voting machines, “Russian cyberactors were in a position to delete or change voter data” in the Illinois voter database. The committee found no evidence that they did so.

In his testimony to two House committees on Wednesday, Mr. Mueller had sought to highlight the continued threat that Russia or other adversaries would seek to interfere in the 2020 elections. He said many more “countries are developing capability to replicate what the Russians have done.”

While the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings were bipartisan, they came on a day when Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, moved again to block consideration of election security legislation put forward by Democrats.

Mr. McConnell has long opposed giving the federal government a greater hand in an institution of American democracy typically run by the states.

And despite the warnings about the Russia threat, he argues that Congress has already done enough — passing $380 million worth of grants for states to update their election systems and supporting executive branch agencies as they make their own changes. Some administration officials have suggested that the issue is not getting enough high-level attention because President Trump equates any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory.

“It’s just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia and who continue to ignore this administration’s progress at correcting the Obama administration’s failure on this subject,” Mr. McConnell said of the Democratic bill.

Mr. McConnell has held fast to his position despite withering criticism from Democrats, and agitation from some in his party who want the Senate to move more modest, bipartisan legislation. The Democratic proposal, already passed by the House, would have given the states hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, mandated the use of backup paper ballots and required risk-limiting postelection audits.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 25dc-intel-tear2-articleLarge Russia Targeted Election Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds Voting Machines United States Politics and Government United States International Relations States (US) Senate Committee on Intelligence Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Presidential Election of 2016 Espionage and Intelligence Services Cyberwarfare and Defense

Even key findings at the beginning of the report were heavily redacted.

“This is not a Democratic issue, a Republican issue,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “This is not a liberal issue, a moderate issue, a conservative issue. This is an issue of patriotism, of national security, of protecting the very integrity of American democracy, something so many of our forbears died for.”

“And what do we hear from the Republican side?” he said. “Nothing.”

While the report is not directly critical of either American intelligence agencies or the states, it described what amounted to a cascading intelligence failure, in which the scope of the Russian effort was underestimated, warnings to the states were too muted, and state officials either underreacted or, in some cases, resisted federal efforts to offer help.

Even today, after a two-and-a-half-year investigation, the committee conceded that “Russian intentions regarding U.S. election infrastructure remain unclear.” Moscow’s intelligence agencies — chiefly the G.R.U., Russia’s main military intelligence unit — may have “intended to exploit vulnerabilities in the election infrastructure during the 2016 elections and, for unknown reasons, decided not to execute those options.”

But more ominously, the report suggested that it might have been cataloging options “for use at a later date” — a possibility that officials of the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. said was their biggest worry.

The report also hinted at some intriguing new findings — but their effect was muted by the scope of the deletions demanded by intelligence agencies. For example, the report noted that the State Department was aware that Russian officials had requested to send election observers to polling places in the 2016 election — just as the United States often seeks to send observers to elections in foreign nations, including Russia.

That was of concern to the committee because testimony about election machines, which are disconnected from the internet, suggested the most efficient way to alter votes was with physical access to the machines or computers rather than programming them with ballots.

Given the potential for further incursions into the election system, the move by the intelligence agencies to redact large portions of the public version of the report touched off behind-the-scenes battles with members of the committee.

The deletions were so substantial that even the committee’s recommendations for the future were not spared: The section heading on the final recommendation read “Build a Credible,” but the remainder of the heading, and two paragraphs that follow, were blacked out.

The report, black lines and all, is titled, “Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure.” It is the first volume the committee has publicly released, after more than 200 witness interviews and the collection and review of nearly 400,000 documents. Subsequent volumes will deal with Russia’s effort to use social media to influence voters — an area where Russian interference may have changed minds, and thus votes — and the 200 or so contacts between Russia and members of the Trump campaign.

In a statement, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the committee, described the events of 2016 as one in which the United States was blindsided.

“In 2016, the U.S. was unprepared at all levels of government for a concerted attack from a determined foreign adversary on our election infrastructure,” Mr. Burr wrote. “Since then, we have learned much more about the nature of Russia’s cyberactivities and better understand the real and urgent threat they pose.”

The committee’s recommendations ranged from the concrete — ensure a paper trail for voter machines and paper backups for registration systems — to the strategic, like adopting a doctrine of how to deter different kinds of cyberattacks.

While the committee suggested holding “a discussion with U.S. allies and others about new cybernorms,” it did not say what those norms should be — nor did it say election manipulation should be off limits for all nations. One reason for that hesitance, some government officials acknowledge, is the debate inside the administration over how much the United States itself is willing to forgo the option of using its own cyberabilities abroad.

One section on recommended action was almost completely redacted.

Suggestions on how to “improve information gathering and sharing on threats” are redacted, making them useless for most state officials, who do not hold security clearances.

But the solutions appear distant. Some states, like New Jersey, appear not to have the money to fix a voting machine infrastructure that has no paper backup to its balloting process, making a truly reliable audit impossible.

Other states still have highly vulnerable registration databases, federal officials say. Those vulnerabilities are so sensitive that the Intelligence Committee did not reveal by name which states were the most heavily compromised — referring to the states only by number to protect their identities.

In one case study, titled, “Russia Access to Election Infrastructure: State 2,” the only unredacted line reads, “Separately, G.R.U. cyberactor breached election infrastructure in State 2,” with all details eliminated.

Mr. Burr argued that the Department of Homeland Security and state and local elections officials had since “dramatically changed how they approach election security,” showing progress that served as “a testament to what we can accomplish when we give people the opportunity to be part of a solution.”

But Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, appended an impassioned dissent to the report, arguing that the committee did not go far enough. “The committee report describes a range of cybersecurity measures needed to protect voter registration databases,” he wrote, “yet there are currently no mandatory rules that require states to implement even minimum cybersecurity measures. There are not even any voluntary federal standards.”

The committee found that the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. warned states in the late summer and fall of 2016 of the threat of Russian interference. But they did not provide election officials with “a clear reason” to take the threat more seriously than other warnings that are regularly issued, the report said.

The first public warning was issued Oct. 7, 2016, but within an hour, it was washed away by the revelation of a tape in which Donald J. Trump was heard making comments about how he would grab women, and by the release by WikiLeaks of excerpts from emails hacked from the account of John D. Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Even at that time, the report makes clear, the agencies did not understand the scope of the Russian effort. It noted that Michael Daniel, President Barack Obama’s cybersecurity coordinator, had been convinced that the Russians had gone after all 50 states — because they are thorough. But it was only two years later that official intelligence assessments concluded that he was right.

Mr. Daniel’s position at the White House has since been eliminated by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser.

While the report praised the steps the agencies have since taken to assist in securing elections, the committee found that concerns about aging voting equipment remain.

“As states look to replace machines that are now out of date, they should purchase more secure voting machines. At a minimum, any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail,” a summary of the report said, while adding that “states should remain firmly in the lead on running elections.”

The states say they do not have the money to conduct a replacement program by November 2020.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Russia Targeted Election Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds

WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded Thursday that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016, an effort more far-reaching than previously acknowledged and one largely undetected by the states and federal officials at the time.

But while the bipartisan report’s warning that the United States remains vulnerable in the next election is clear, its findings were so heavily redacted at the insistence of American intelligence agencies that even some key recommendations for 2020 were blacked out.

The report — the first volume of several to be released from the committee’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference — came 24 hours after the former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III warned that Russia was moving again to interfere “as we sit here.”

While details of many of the hackings directed by Russian intelligence, particularly in Illinois and Arizona, are well known, the committee described “an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure” intended largely to search for vulnerabilities in the security of the election systems.

It concluded that while there was no evidence that any votes were changed in actual voting machines, “Russian cyberactors were in a position to delete or change voter data” in the Illinois voter database. The committee found no evidence that they did so.

In his testimony to two House committees on Wednesday, Mr. Mueller had sought to highlight the continued threat that Russia or other adversaries would seek to interfere in the 2020 elections. He said many more “countries are developing capability to replicate what the Russians have done.”

While the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings were bipartisan, they came on a day when Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, moved again to block consideration of election security legislation put forward by Democrats.

Mr. McConnell has long opposed giving the federal government a greater hand in an institution of American democracy typically run by the states.

And despite the warnings about the Russia threat, he argues that Congress has already done enough — passing $380 million worth of grants for states to update their election systems and supporting executive branch agencies as they make their own changes. Some administration officials have suggested that the issue is not getting enough high-level attention because President Trump equates any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory.

“It’s just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia and who continue to ignore this administration’s progress at correcting the Obama administration’s failure on this subject,” Mr. McConnell said of the Democratic bill.

Mr. McConnell has held fast to his position despite withering criticism from Democrats, and agitation from some in his party who want the Senate to move more modest, bipartisan legislation. The Democratic proposal, already passed by the House, would have given the states hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, mandated the use of backup paper ballots and required risk-limiting postelection audits.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 25dc-intel-tear2-articleLarge Russia Targeted Election Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds Voting Machines United States Politics and Government United States International Relations States (US) Senate Committee on Intelligence Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Presidential Election of 2016 Espionage and Intelligence Services Cyberwarfare and Defense

Even key findings at the beginning of the report were heavily redacted.

“This is not a Democratic issue, a Republican issue,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “This is not a liberal issue, a moderate issue, a conservative issue. This is an issue of patriotism, of national security, of protecting the very integrity of American democracy, something so many of our forbears died for.”

“And what do we hear from the Republican side?” he said. “Nothing.”

While the report is not directly critical of either American intelligence agencies or the states, it described what amounted to a cascading intelligence failure, in which the scope of the Russian effort was underestimated, warnings to the states were too muted, and state officials either underreacted or, in some cases, resisted federal efforts to offer help.

Even today, after a two-and-a-half-year investigation, the committee conceded that “Russian intentions regarding U.S. election infrastructure remain unclear.” Moscow’s intelligence agencies — chiefly the G.R.U., Russia’s main military intelligence unit — may have “intended to exploit vulnerabilities in the election infrastructure during the 2016 elections and, for unknown reasons, decided not to execute those options.”

But more ominously, the report suggested that it might have been cataloging options “for use at a later date” — a possibility that officials of the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. said was their biggest worry.

The report also hinted at some intriguing new findings — but their effect was muted by the scope of the deletions demanded by intelligence agencies. For example, the report noted that the State Department was aware that Russian officials had requested to send election observers to polling places in the 2016 election — just as the United States often seeks to send observers to elections in foreign nations, including Russia.

That was of concern to the committee because testimony about election machines, which are disconnected from the internet, suggested the most efficient way to alter votes was with physical access to the machines or computers rather than programming them with ballots.

Given the potential for further incursions into the election system, the move by the intelligence agencies to redact large portions of the public version of the report touched off behind-the-scenes battles with members of the committee.

The deletions were so substantial that even the committee’s recommendations for the future were not spared: The section heading on the final recommendation read “Build a Credible,” but the remainder of the heading, and two paragraphs that follow, were blacked out.

The report, black lines and all, is titled, “Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure.” It is the first volume the committee has publicly released, after more than 200 witness interviews and the collection and review of nearly 400,000 documents. Subsequent volumes will deal with Russia’s effort to use social media to influence voters — an area where Russian interference may have changed minds, and thus votes — and the 200 or so contacts between Russia and members of the Trump campaign.

In a statement, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the committee, described the events of 2016 as one in which the United States was blindsided.

“In 2016, the U.S. was unprepared at all levels of government for a concerted attack from a determined foreign adversary on our election infrastructure,” Mr. Burr wrote. “Since then, we have learned much more about the nature of Russia’s cyberactivities and better understand the real and urgent threat they pose.”

The committee’s recommendations ranged from the concrete — ensure a paper trail for voter machines and paper backups for registration systems — to the strategic, like adopting a doctrine of how to deter different kinds of cyberattacks.

While the committee suggested holding “a discussion with U.S. allies and others about new cybernorms,” it did not say what those norms should be — nor did it say election manipulation should be off limits for all nations. One reason for that hesitance, some government officials acknowledge, is the debate inside the administration over how much the United States itself is willing to forgo the option of using its own cyberabilities abroad.

One section on recommended action was almost completely redacted.

Suggestions on how to “improve information gathering and sharing on threats” are redacted, making them useless for most state officials, who do not hold security clearances.

But the solutions appear distant. Some states, like New Jersey, appear not to have the money to fix a voting machine infrastructure that has no paper backup to its balloting process, making a truly reliable audit impossible.

Other states still have highly vulnerable registration databases, federal officials say. Those vulnerabilities are so sensitive that the Intelligence Committee did not reveal by name which states were the most heavily compromised — referring to the states only by number to protect their identities.

In one case study, titled, “Russia Access to Election Infrastructure: State 2,” the only unredacted line reads, “Separately, G.R.U. cyberactor breached election infrastructure in State 2,” with all details eliminated.

Mr. Burr argued that the Department of Homeland Security and state and local elections officials had since “dramatically changed how they approach election security,” showing progress that served as “a testament to what we can accomplish when we give people the opportunity to be part of a solution.”

But Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, appended an impassioned dissent to the report, arguing that the committee did not go far enough. “The committee report describes a range of cybersecurity measures needed to protect voter registration databases,” he wrote, “yet there are currently no mandatory rules that require states to implement even minimum cybersecurity measures. There are not even any voluntary federal standards.”

The committee found that the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. warned states in the late summer and fall of 2016 of the threat of Russian interference. But they did not provide election officials with “a clear reason” to take the threat more seriously than other warnings that are regularly issued, the report said.

The first public warning was issued Oct. 7, 2016, but within an hour, it was washed away by the revelation of a tape in which Donald J. Trump was heard making comments about how he would grab women, and by the release by WikiLeaks of excerpts from emails hacked from the account of John D. Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Even at that time, the report makes clear, the agencies did not understand the scope of the Russian effort. It noted that Michael Daniel, President Barack Obama’s cybersecurity coordinator, had been convinced that the Russians had gone after all 50 states — because they are thorough. But it was only two years later that official intelligence assessments concluded that he was right.

Mr. Daniel’s position at the White House has since been eliminated by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser.

While the report praised the steps the agencies have since taken to assist in securing elections, the committee found that concerns about aging voting equipment remain.

“As states look to replace machines that are now out of date, they should purchase more secure voting machines. At a minimum, any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail,” a summary of the report said, while adding that “states should remain firmly in the lead on running elections.”

The states say they do not have the money to conduct a replacement program by November 2020.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Russia Targeted Elections Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds

WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded Thursday that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016, largely undetected by the states and federal officials at the time, but at the demand of American intelligence agencies the committee was forced to redact its findings so heavily that key lessons for the 2020 election are blacked out.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 25dc-intel-tear2-articleLarge Russia Targeted Elections Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds Voting Machines United States Politics and Government States (US) Senate Committee on Intelligence Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Presidential Election of 2016 elections Cyberwarfare and Defense

Even key findings at the beginning of the report were heavily redacted.

The report — the first volume of several to be released from the committee’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference — came just 24 hours after the former special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, warned that Russia was moving again to interfere “as we sit here.”

It also landed hours after Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, personally stepped forward to block consideration of a package of election security bills.

One section on recommended action was almost completely redacted.

While details of many of the hackings directed by Russian intelligence, particularly in Illinois and Arizona, are well known, the committee’s report describes a Russian intelligence effort more far-reaching than the federal government has previously acknowledged.

It concluded that while there is no evidence that any votes were changed in actual voting machines, “Russian cyberactors were in a position to delete or change voter data” in the Illinois voter database. The committee found no evidence that they did so.

While the report is not directly critical of either American intelligence agencies or the states, it described what amounted to a cascading intelligence failure, in which the scope of the Russian effort was underestimated, warnings to the states were too muted, and state officials either underreacted or, in some cases, resisted federal efforts to offer help.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Russian Hack of Elections System Was Far-Reaching, Report Finds

WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded Thursday that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016, largely undetected by the states and federal officials at the time, but at the demand of American intelligence agencies the committee was forced to redact its findings so heavily that key lessons for the 2020 election are blacked out.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 25dc-intel-tear2-articleLarge Russian Hack of Elections System Was Far-Reaching, Report Finds Voting Machines United States Politics and Government States (US) Senate Committee on Intelligence Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Presidential Election of 2016 elections Cyberwarfare and Defense

Even key findings at the beginning of the report were heavily redacted.

The report — the first volume of several to be released from the committee’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference — came just 24 hours after the former special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, warned that Russia was moving again to interfere “as we sit here.”

It also landed hours after Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, personally stepped forward to block consideration of a package of election security bills.

One section on recommended action was almost completely redacted.

While details of many of the hackings directed by Russian intelligence, particularly in Illinois and Arizona, are well known, the committee’s report describes a Russian intelligence effort more far-reaching than the federal government has previously acknowledged.

It concluded that while there is no evidence that any votes were changed in actual voting machines, “Russian cyberactors were in a position to delete or change voter data” in the Illinois voter database. The committee found no evidence that they did so.

While the report is not directly critical of either American intelligence agencies or the states, it described what amounted to a cascading intelligence failure, in which the scope of the Russian effort was underestimated, warnings to the states were too muted, and state officials either underreacted or, in some cases, resisted federal efforts to offer help.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

N.S.A. Contractor Who Hoarded Secrets at Home Is Sentenced to Nine Years in Prison

Westlake Legal Group merlin_133849089_ee8dd9a8-11ab-4377-aa24-f6e499638656-facebookJumbo N.S.A. Contractor Who Hoarded Secrets at Home Is Sentenced to Nine Years in Prison United States Politics and Government United States Defense and Military Forces National Security Agency Martin, Harold T III (1964- ) Defense Contracts Cyberwarfare and Defense Classified Information and State Secrets

BALTIMORE — A troubled former National Security Agency contractor who spent two decades stuffing his home, car and garden shed with highly classified documents was sentenced on Friday to nine years in prison in a case that exposed a shocking laxity in security at the N.S.A. and other secret government facilities.

Investigators originally feared that the contractor, Harold T. Martin III, might have passed or sold secrets to a foreign power or to a still-mysterious group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, which released dangerous N.S.A. hacking tools online in 2016 and 2017. But they appear to have concluded that his amassing of secrets was a symptom of a quirky, disturbed mind, not evidence that Mr. Martin, a 54-year-old Navy veteran, wanted to betray his country.

In March, Mr. Martin pleaded guilty to a single count of willful retention of national defense information. Prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed on the sentence, which was approved by United States District Judge Richard D. Bennett.

Mr. Martin’s lawyer, James Wyda, said his client had an “autism spectrum disorder” and had experienced difficulty forming and keeping relationships since childhood. As a result, the lawyer said, he had sought meaning and validation in his work as a contractor at the N.S.A. and other agencies, bringing home documents to work on at night.

But as the documents piled up, the lawyer said, they became “a tangible representation of Mr. Martin’s worth,” as he was “desperately trying to fill the voids in his life.” His hoarding of both papers and electronic media went out of control, Mr. Wyda said.

One of the prosecutors, Zachary Myers, an assistant United States attorney, cast doubt on the notion that Mr. Martin was a mere victim of his mental disorders. He noted that Mr. Martin collected only government documents and kept them in a “logical” order.

“The defendant knew what he was doing was wrong, illegal and highly dangerous,” Mr. Myers said.

When F.B.I. agents arrived at Mr. Martin’s modest house in Glen Burnie, Md., in 2016, they recovered an estimated 50 terabytes of material, much of it stamped top secret, including the closely guarded software he had taken from his job at N.S.A.’s hacking unit, then called Tailored Access Operations. That made it among the largest thefts of classified documents in history.

His arrest came shortly after the Shadow Brokers had begun trying to auction stolen N.S.A. hacking tools online, and investigators were initially convinced that Mr. Martin must have somehow supplied the tools. But the Shadow Brokers continued to operate after Mr. Martin’s arrest, and prosecutors on Friday gave no indication that they thought he was connected to their wholesale release of N.S.A. cyber weapons, an unprecedented loss for the agency.

According to court records and interviews, Mr. Martin contacted employees at a Russian-owned cybersecurity company, Kaspersky Lab, via Twitter in 2016, sending cryptic messages that appeared to indicate he had information to share. “Shelf life, three weeks,” he wrote, in one message first reported by Politico.

But he quickly cut off contact and never delivered anything. Judge Bennett made reference to the episode on Friday but noted that the government had not accused Mr. Martin of “transmission” of classified secrets.

Mr. Martin, who was obese at the time of his arrest three years ago, has lost more than 100 pounds in jail, his lawyer said. He stood in a striped jersey labeled “Inmate” and read for nearly 30 minutes a rambling statement apologizing to family, friends and his former colleagues at the N.S.A.

“I have been called a walking encyclopedia,” he said, describing himself at another point as “an intellectually curious adventurer.” His words were often cryptic, at one point addressed to “that cool dude in a loose mood” and at another citing the N.S.A. motto, “They serve in silence.”

Judge Bennett repeatedly said he found Mr. Martin’s actions disturbing. “This case is very troubling,” he said. “Very sensitive material was taken home. I’ve grappled with the fact that people’s lives were potentially in danger,” he said, referring to intelligence sources overseas.

The judge said he agreed to the nine-year sentence, which will be counted from Mr. Martin’s arrest in August 2016, only after deciding it would be enough of a deterrent to other government employees with security clearances who might consider mishandling secrets.

The case is only one of several recent prosecutions of N.S.A. employees, including Nghia Pho, who was sentenced to five and a half years last September for taking home classified documents, and Reality Winner, who got five years and three months last August for sending a secret document about Russian hacking to the online publication The Intercept.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Hacking, Glitches, Disinformation: Why Experts Are Worried About the 2020 Census

In the run-up to the 2020 census, the government has embraced technology as never before, hoping to halt the ballooning cost of the decennial head count. For the first time, households will have the option of responding online, and field workers going door to door will be equipped with smartphones to log the information they collect.

To make it all work, the Census Bureau needed more computing power and digital storage space, so it turned to cloud technology provided by Amazon Web Services.

What the bureau didn’t realize — until an audit last year — was that there was an unsecured door to sensitive data left open. Access credentials for an account with virtually unlimited privileges had been lost, potentially allowing a hacker to view, alter or delete information collected during recent field tests.

The Census Bureau says that it has closed off this vulnerability and that no information was compromised. But the discovery of the problem highlights the myriad risks facing next year’s all-important head count.

Most concerns about the census have been focused on the Trump administration’s effort to include a question about citizenship status, which officials said Tuesday they were abandoning after being blocked by the United States Supreme Court. But far less attention has been paid to other issues that could threaten the census’s accuracy.

[How is the census conducted? Here are some answers about the count and how it would have been affected by asking about citizenship.]

Each census is a staggering logistical lift, but the 2020 count presents challenges the Census Bureau has never confronted before.

The government has ambitious plans to use new digital methods to collect data. But the Census Bureau has had to scale back testing of that technology because of inadequate funding — raising the risk of problems ranging from software glitches to cyberattacks.

Also new is the threat of online disinformation campaigns reminiscent of the 2016 presidential cycle. The heated political discourse about the citizenship question has supplied ample fuel, and researchers say they are already beginning to see coordinated online efforts to undermine public trust in the census and to sow chaos and confusion.

The intense focus on the citizenship question “has drawn away energy and resources in ways that have really been counterproductive to the bureau’s efforts,” said Arturo Vargas, chief executive of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “To some extent, the bureau is going into 2020 blindfolded.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157080333_99f712f3-c347-4f7b-90d0-9f2bdf7c2e50-articleLarge Hacking, Glitches, Disinformation: Why Experts Are Worried About the 2020 Census Population Government Accountability Office Cyberwarfare and Defense Computers and the Internet census bureau census Amazon.com Inc

The Trump administration dropped efforts to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census after being blocked by the Supreme Court.CreditSamuel Corum for The New York Times

The consequences could be profound and enduring. Information gathered during the census is used to determine which states gain or lose seats in the House and votes in the Electoral College, to redraw congressional districts and to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding for a host of services, such as health care, education and affordable housing. Businesses rely heavily on the data to make decisions about where to open stores or ship goods.

The Census Bureau said that it has fixed problems identified during testing and is working with other government agencies and private companies to guard against technical mishaps, cyber-related vulnerabilities and the spread of misinformation. “We are confident in the resources we have to conduct a complete and accurate census,” the bureau said.

But the danger if anything goes wrong, said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former congressional staff member and longtime census expert, is that “public confidence plummets and people decide this is not going to be a good census so we’re not going to respond.”

“At that point,” she said, “we could be headed toward a failed census.”

Mandated by the Constitution, the census has been conducted without fail every 10 years since 1790. The first was conducted by United States marshals who traveled on horseback and asked residents just six basic questions.

Since then, the census has grown far more elaborate, though the process for conducting it — mailing out paper forms and relying heavily on field workers going door to door — remained essentially the same from 1970 through 2010.

Over time, however, costs have soared while response rates have declined. The average cost, in 2020 dollars, to count one housing unit increased from about $16 in 1970 to about $92 in 2010, a Government Accountability Office analysis found.

“We needed a breakthrough,” said Robert Groves, director of the bureau during the 2010 census. “We couldn’t continue the trend of inflating costs using the same methods.”

The transition to new technologies for 2020, such as issuing smartphones to field workers, represents a “huge jump” in the right direction, Mr. Groves said.

The greater use of data collected by other agencies, such as Medicare and Medicaid, could help identify vacant households, making more costly in-person follow-up visits unnecessary. Software that tracks field workers’ progress and directs them to optimal routes could save time.

Census Bureau files, circa 1949, contained a card for every person in the United States.CreditBettman Archive, via Getty Images Census geographers at the bureau’s headquarters in Suitland, Md., use images captured from satellites and planes to verify addresses in rural communities and compare them with previous maps.CreditU.S. Census Bureau, via Associated Press

For experts, the greater use of technology raises two primary questions: Does it work, and is it secure? The Census Bureau’s efforts to answer those questions have been hampered by inadequate resources.

Security tests of some IT systems that were originally supposed to take up to eight weeks had to be completed in about one week, the G.A.O. found. The bureau conducted its critical 2018 dress rehearsal, planned to take place in three communities, in just one: Providence County, R.I.

Though the bureau said it has fixed the problems identified during this dry run, the G.A.O. expressed concern over the missed opportunity to test new technology in places such as rural West Virginia or tribal land in Washington State — areas that would have been covered under the original plan.

“Our concern is that the bureau may not know what it doesn’t know,” said Robert Goldenkoff, director of the Government Accountability Office’s strategic issues team. “Not every place looks like Providence, Rhode Island.”

In Providence and during other, smaller-scale field tests, census workers encountered technological issues, the G.A.O. reported. A software glitch sent multiple canvassers to the same block. Some workers had trouble finding an internet connection to transmit the information they had collected. Others had trouble recording people’s responses in an application on their smartphones.

These types of small hang-ups, while manageable in one community, could amount to big problems on a national scale, G.A.O. has warned.

And then there is the risk of a cyberattack. The Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, which discovered the cloud security problem last year during an audit, said the vulnerability it found was “potentially catastrophic.” If a hacker had gained access to the lost user credentials, the inspector general found, the Census Bureau “would have been powerless to stop an attacker from causing irreparable harm.”

Hackers could also target bureau employees with phishing emails containing links that, when clicked, install malware, for example. In 2016, a cyberattack forced a temporary shutdown of the Australian census’s online response site, prompting the social media hashtag #CensusFail.

The Census Bureau said it has been able to test its IT systems in a variety of settings and that its cybersecurity team “is partnering with federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the federal intelligence community, as well as industry experts to share threat intelligence information.”

“In the case we do face an incident,” the bureau said, “our team is prepared to take action to contain the threat and share information, as soon as possible, if there is any impact on the American public.”

The potential spread online of bogus or misleading information presents another novel risk.

“If you wanted to provoke fears among the population as to how the census data could be used,” said Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School who studies the interplay of technology and government, “the American population is fertile ground right now for conspiracy theories and manipulation.”

Balloons decorated Framingham City Hall during the 2020 Massachusetts Census Kickoff event in Framingham, Mass., in April.CreditSuzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

The controversy over the citizenship question could provide fodder for provocateurs seeking to spread falsehoods and confusion. Groups monitoring for this sort of content said they had already seen examples appearing, primarily on far-right websites.

Numerous experts cited a recent post on a neo-Nazi website urging people to apply for a job going door to door for the Census Bureau so they could report suspected noncitizens to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Doing so, however, would be illegal. Census workers are required to swear a lifetime oath not to disclose respondents’ personal information, including to other government agencies, under the penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

So far, such posts seem to originate within the United States, said Maria Filippelli, a public interest technology census fellow at New America. But she expects eventually to see foreign actors intervene as well.

“There are a lot of people who want to undermine our democracy, very similar to what we saw in the 2016 election,” she said.

The Census Bureau said it is working with big technology companies, including social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, to detect and counter disinformation efforts. One way, the bureau said, is to make sure that accurate information is highlighted at the top of search results, while fake websites and misinformation are pushed to the bottom.

Facebook announced on Sunday that it is expanding its efforts to combat election interference to include bad information about the census or threats of violence toward anyone participating in it.

A Twitter spokesperson said the company has met several times with Census Bureau officials “to discuss the best ways to support a healthy conversation on Twitter regarding the 2020 Census.”

Given the distrust among groups that historically have been undercounted, the bureau’s efforts to build trust through partnerships with businesses and local community leaders will be both more important and more difficult than ever, census experts said.

Convincing the reluctant to respond “will require much more repetition than in the past,” Steve Jost, a former Census Bureau official, said.

Enlisting the aid of businesses to promote participation is proving much more challenging now, said Mr. Vargas, of the organization of Latino officials. In the past, he said, companies agreed to incorporate census-related messages in advertisements and store displays, for example. This cycle, that has changed, he said.

“I have not seen the level of reluctance among business leaders to participate in a census like this one,” Mr. Vargas said. “Business leaders are allergic to issues that are perceived to be controversial, especially if they have any kind of racial controversy mixed in.”

The greatest risk to the census, former officials say, is that the public loses faith in the legitimacy of an independent institution at the core of American democracy — whether because of a crashed website, a partisan fight or a drumbeat of disinformation.

“The price is poor quality data,” Mr. Jost said, “and the price of that lives with us for a decade.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Hacking, Glitches, Disinformation: Why Experts Are Worried About the 2020 Census

In the run-up to the 2020 census, the government has embraced technology as never before, hoping to halt the ballooning cost of the decennial head count. For the first time, households will have the option of responding online, and field workers going door to door will be equipped with smartphones to log the information they collect.

To make it all work, the Census Bureau needed more computing power and digital storage space, so it turned to cloud technology provided by Amazon Web Services.

What the bureau didn’t realize — until an audit last year — was that there was an unsecured door to sensitive data left open. Access credentials for an account with virtually unlimited privileges had been lost, potentially allowing a hacker to view, alter or delete information collected during recent field tests.

The Census Bureau says that it has closed off this vulnerability and that no information was compromised. But the discovery of the problem highlights the myriad risks facing next year’s all-important head count.

Most concerns about the census have been focused on the Trump administration’s effort to include a question about citizenship status, which officials said Tuesday they were abandoning after being blocked by the United States Supreme Court. But far less attention has been paid to other issues that could threaten the census’s accuracy.

[How is the census conducted? Here are some answers about the count and how it would have been affected by asking about citizenship.]

Each census is a staggering logistical lift, but the 2020 count presents challenges the Census Bureau has never confronted before.

The government has ambitious plans to use new digital methods to collect data. But the Census Bureau has had to scale back testing of that technology because of inadequate funding — raising the risk of problems ranging from software glitches to cyberattacks.

Also new is the threat of online disinformation campaigns reminiscent of the 2016 presidential cycle. The heated political discourse about the citizenship question has supplied ample fuel, and researchers say they are already beginning to see coordinated online efforts to undermine public trust in the census and to sow chaos and confusion.

The intense focus on the citizenship question “has drawn away energy and resources in ways that have really been counterproductive to the bureau’s efforts,” said Arturo Vargas, chief executive of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “To some extent, the bureau is going into 2020 blindfolded.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157080333_99f712f3-c347-4f7b-90d0-9f2bdf7c2e50-articleLarge Hacking, Glitches, Disinformation: Why Experts Are Worried About the 2020 Census Population Government Accountability Office Cyberwarfare and Defense Computers and the Internet census bureau census Amazon.com Inc

The Trump administration dropped efforts to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census after being blocked by the Supreme Court.CreditSamuel Corum for The New York Times

The consequences could be profound and enduring. Information gathered during the census is used to determine which states gain or lose seats in the House and votes in the Electoral College, to redraw congressional districts and to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding for a host of services, such as health care, education and affordable housing. Businesses rely heavily on the data to make decisions about where to open stores or ship goods.

The Census Bureau said that it has fixed problems identified during testing and is working with other government agencies and private companies to guard against technical mishaps, cyber-related vulnerabilities and the spread of misinformation. “We are confident in the resources we have to conduct a complete and accurate census,” the bureau said.

But the danger if anything goes wrong, said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former congressional staff member and longtime census expert, is that “public confidence plummets and people decide this is not going to be a good census so we’re not going to respond.”

“At that point,” she said, “we could be headed toward a failed census.”

Mandated by the Constitution, the census has been conducted without fail every 10 years since 1790. The first was conducted by United States marshals who traveled on horseback and asked residents just six basic questions.

Since then, the census has grown far more elaborate, though the process for conducting it — mailing out paper forms and relying heavily on field workers going door to door — remained essentially the same from 1970 through 2010.

Over time, however, costs have soared while response rates have declined. The average cost, in 2020 dollars, to count one housing unit increased from about $16 in 1970 to about $92 in 2010, a Government Accountability Office analysis found.

“We needed a breakthrough,” said Robert Groves, director of the bureau during the 2010 census. “We couldn’t continue the trend of inflating costs using the same methods.”

The transition to new technologies for 2020, such as issuing smartphones to field workers, represents a “huge jump” in the right direction, Mr. Groves said.

The greater use of data collected by other agencies, such as Medicare and Medicaid, could help identify vacant households, making more costly in-person follow-up visits unnecessary. Software that tracks field workers’ progress and directs them to optimal routes could save time.

Census Bureau files, circa 1949, contained a card for every person in the United States.CreditBettman Archive, via Getty Images Census geographers at the bureau’s headquarters in Suitland, Md., use images captured from satellites and planes to verify addresses in rural communities and compare them with previous maps.CreditU.S. Census Bureau, via Associated Press

For experts, the greater use of technology raises two primary questions: Does it work, and is it secure? The Census Bureau’s efforts to answer those questions have been hampered by inadequate resources.

Security tests of some IT systems that were originally supposed to take up to eight weeks had to be completed in about one week, the G.A.O. found. The bureau conducted its critical 2018 dress rehearsal, planned to take place in three communities, in just one: Providence County, R.I.

Though the bureau said it has fixed the problems identified during this dry run, the G.A.O. expressed concern over the missed opportunity to test new technology in places such as rural West Virginia or tribal land in Washington State — areas that would have been covered under the original plan.

“Our concern is that the bureau may not know what it doesn’t know,” said Robert Goldenkoff, director of the Government Accountability Office’s strategic issues team. “Not every place looks like Providence, Rhode Island.”

In Providence and during other, smaller-scale field tests, census workers encountered technological issues, the G.A.O. reported. A software glitch sent multiple canvassers to the same block. Some workers had trouble finding an internet connection to transmit the information they had collected. Others had trouble recording people’s responses in an application on their smartphones.

These types of small hang-ups, while manageable in one community, could amount to big problems on a national scale, G.A.O. has warned.

And then there is the risk of a cyberattack. The Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, which discovered the cloud security problem last year during an audit, said the vulnerability it found was “potentially catastrophic.” If a hacker had gained access to the lost user credentials, the inspector general found, the Census Bureau “would have been powerless to stop an attacker from causing irreparable harm.”

Hackers could also target bureau employees with phishing emails containing links that, when clicked, install malware, for example. In 2016, a cyberattack forced a temporary shutdown of the Australian census’s online response site, prompting the social media hashtag #CensusFail.

The Census Bureau said it has been able to test its IT systems in a variety of settings and that its cybersecurity team “is partnering with federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the federal intelligence community, as well as industry experts to share threat intelligence information.”

“In the case we do face an incident,” the bureau said, “our team is prepared to take action to contain the threat and share information, as soon as possible, if there is any impact on the American public.”

The potential spread online of bogus or misleading information presents another novel risk.

“If you wanted to provoke fears among the population as to how the census data could be used,” said Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School who studies the interplay of technology and government, “the American population is fertile ground right now for conspiracy theories and manipulation.”

Balloons decorated Framingham City Hall during the 2020 Massachusetts Census Kickoff event in Framingham, Mass., in April.CreditSuzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

The controversy over the citizenship question could provide fodder for provocateurs seeking to spread falsehoods and confusion. Groups monitoring for this sort of content said they had already seen examples appearing, primarily on far-right websites.

Numerous experts cited a recent post on a neo-Nazi website urging people to apply for a job going door to door for the Census Bureau so they could report suspected noncitizens to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Doing so, however, would be illegal. Census workers are required to swear a lifetime oath not to disclose respondents’ personal information, including to other government agencies, under the penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

So far, such posts seem to originate within the United States, said Maria Filippelli, a public interest technology census fellow at New America. But she expects eventually to see foreign actors intervene as well.

“There are a lot of people who want to undermine our democracy, very similar to what we saw in the 2016 election,” she said.

The Census Bureau said it is working with big technology companies, including social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, to detect and counter disinformation efforts. One way, the bureau said, is to make sure that accurate information is highlighted at the top of search results, while fake websites and misinformation are pushed to the bottom.

Facebook announced on Sunday that it is expanding its efforts to combat election interference to include bad information about the census or threats of violence toward anyone participating in it.

A Twitter spokesperson said the company has met several times with Census Bureau officials “to discuss the best ways to support a healthy conversation on Twitter regarding the 2020 Census.”

Given the distrust among groups that historically have been undercounted, the bureau’s efforts to build trust through partnerships with businesses and local community leaders will be both more important and more difficult than ever, census experts said.

Convincing the reluctant to respond “will require much more repetition than in the past,” Steve Jost, a former Census Bureau official, said.

Enlisting the aid of businesses to promote participation is proving much more challenging now, said Mr. Vargas, of the organization of Latino officials. In the past, he said, companies agreed to incorporate census-related messages in advertisements and store displays, for example. This cycle, that has changed, he said.

“I have not seen the level of reluctance among business leaders to participate in a census like this one,” Mr. Vargas said. “Business leaders are allergic to issues that are perceived to be controversial, especially if they have any kind of racial controversy mixed in.”

The greatest risk to the census, former officials say, is that the public loses faith in the legitimacy of an independent institution at the core of American democracy — whether because of a crashed website, a partisan fight or a drumbeat of disinformation.

“The price is poor quality data,” Mr. Jost said, “and the price of that lives with us for a decade.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Iran Breaches Critical Limit on Nuclear Fuel Set by 2015 Deal

WASHINGTON — Iran on Monday violated a key provision of the 2015 international accord to restrict its nuclear program and signaled that it would soon breach another as it seeks more leverage in its escalating confrontation with the United States.

International inspectors confirmed that Iran had exceeded a critical limit on how much nuclear fuel it can possess under the agreement, which President Trump abandoned more than a year ago. By itself, the move does not give Iran enough material to produce a single nuclear weapon, though it inches it in that direction.

Hours later, Iran’s foreign minister said his nation now intended to begin enriching its nuclear fuel to a purer level, a provocative action that, depending on how far Tehran goes with it, could move the country closer to possessing fuel that with further processing could be used in a weapon.

The moves completed a sharp shift in strategy for Iran, which for the past 14 months had continued to respect the terms of the complex deal it struck with the Obama administration, even after Mr. Trump reimposed sanctions in an effort to strangle Iran’s economy by driving its oil revenues to zero. President Hassan Rouhani of Iran signaled the change in approach in May, but Tehran did not actually breach a central element of the agreement until Monday.

But while the moves appear to return Iran to its two-decade pursuit of the technology necessary to develop a nuclear arsenal, the real goal may have been to gain a diplomatic advantage for any future negotiations. Iranian leaders are betting they can force European countries, who were deeply critical of Mr. Trump’s scrapping of the nuclear deal, to deliver on promises to help compensate Tehran for the effects of American sanctions.

Mr. Trump, who has vowed that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon, told reporters that Iran was “playing with fire,” and in a statement the State Department criticized Iran’s moves as an effort “to extort the international community and threaten regional security.”

The administration has insisted that Iran continue to abide by the 2015 deal’s terms, even though Mr. Trump was the first to repudiate it, imposing escalating sanctions that are spurring high inflation and deep budget cuts in Iran.

But the administration made no overt threats of military action. Iran’s bit-by-bit violations of the accord are all reversible, and it is not clear how much either side wants to further escalate given that tensions have already been running high after the downing of an American surveillance drone by Iran last month nearly resulted in military strikes.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_154544277_9ffef66e-15c0-42f2-bbfa-5a115bb2569b-articleLarge Iran Breaches Critical Limit on Nuclear Fuel Set by 2015 Deal Zarif, Mohammad Javad Uranium United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Tehran (Iran) Stockpiling Rouhani, Hassan Nuclear Weapons Embargoes and Sanctions Defense and Military Forces Cyberwarfare and Defense

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, second from left, blamed the Europeans for Tehran’s move, saying that they “have failed to fulfill their promises of protecting Iran’s interests.”CreditPool photo by Carlos Barria

Iran’s moves nonetheless brought expressions of concern from American allies, some of whom fear Washington and Tehran are on a collision course.

“Deeply worried by Iran’s announcement that it has broken existing nuclear deal obligations,” Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign minister and a contender for prime minister, said in a tweet. He said that Britain “remains committed to making deal work & using all diplomatic tools.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who lobbied Congress hard to defeat the deal four years ago, put the move in far more dire terms.

“Iran is taking a significant step toward producing nuclear weapons,” he said at a ceremony honoring reserve units of the Israel Defense Forces. “Israel will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”

He urged Europe to impose “snapback” sanctions against Iran, under provisions that were written into the arrangement to deal with violations.

But European officials have long argued that Mr. Trump essentially pushed the Iranians into the violations, and they are likely to be divided on the question of whether to pursue sanctions that would most likely terminate the arrangement entirely. The Iranians argue that they are under no obligations to adhere to the deal’s terms since Mr. Trump abandoned the pact.

“The E.U. remains fully committed to the agreement as long as Iran continues to fully implement its nuclear commitments,” said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the European Union, adding that Iran had complied with the deal for 14 months after the United States’ withdrawal. “We urge Iran to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal,” she said.

The 2015 agreement with Iran was negotiated by the United States under President Barack Obama along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. The European powers have been trying to keep Iran in the deal even after the withdrawal of the United States, but negotiations on a possible agreement for Europe to help Iran financially by coming up with a workaround to some American sanctions ended inconclusively last week.

The breach of the limit on how much nuclear fuel Iran can possess restricted its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to about 660 pounds. The decision was the strongest warning yet that Iran may be willing to rebuild the far larger stockpile that it agreed to send abroad under the deal.

Shortly after Iranian news agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran had exceeded the stockpile limit, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the country’s foreign minister and the man who negotiated the agreement with the Obama administration, said Iran would now turn to enriching the nuclear fuel.

President Trump, who has vowed that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon, told reporters that Tehran was “playing with fire.”CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

“Our next step will be enriching uranium beyond the 3.67 percent allowed under the deal,” he said, according to a state-run Iranian broadcaster. He blamed the Europeans, who he said “have failed to fulfill their promises of protecting Iran’s interests” by compensating for billions of dollars in losses to the Iranian economy caused by the American sanctions.

The enrichment level limit in the 2015 deal was set to assure that Iran’s small amount of fuel could be useful only in producing nuclear energy, not a bomb. Higher enrichment levels take Iran closer to making the kind of material needed for a bomb — which requires something closer to 90 percent purity.

Iran has consistently denied that it has any intention of making a nuclear weapon, but a trove of nuclear-related documents, spirited out of a Tehran warehouse by Israeli agents last year, showed extensive work before 2003 to design a nuclear warhead.

Mr. Trump said last month that any effort by Iran to race to build a bomb might prompt him to take military action. But the move signaled by Iran on Monday fell far short of that threshold, and could have been intended to impress on the Europeans the importance of returning to negotiations over giving Tehran some relief from the sanctions.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in May that the United States would never allow Iran to get within one year of possessing enough fuel to produce a nuclear weapon.

His special envoy for Iran, Brian H. Hook, has often said that under a new deal, the United States would insist on “zero enrichment for Iran.” Mr. Hook has estimated that the sanctions have cost Iran $50 billion in lost oil sales, far more than the system the Europeans are putting in place would generate.

Iran has so far rejected beginning any negotiation with Washington, saying that the United States must first return to the 2015 agreement and comply with all of its terms.

In fact, there is an argument to be made that Mr. Trump pushed Iran into exceeding the stockpile limit. Among the recently imposed sanctions was one that threatened action against any country that bought low-enriched uranium from Tehran. To comply with the stockpile limits, Iran shipped low-enriched uranium to Russia in return for natural uranium. With that exchange now barred, it was only a matter of time before Iran exceeded the limits.

Even before the announcement, the Pentagon and the United States’ intelligence agencies — led by the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency — were beginning to review what steps to take if the president determined that Iran was getting too close to producing a bomb.

But any operation against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, with either conventional arms or cyberweapons, would be highly risky. And some administration officials warn that acting now would be premature. Even if Iran possesses 800 or 900 kilograms of uranium, it would be insufficient for a single bomb. That threshold is not likely to be crossed until later this summer.

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