North Carolina Election Agencies First Learned They'd Been Hacked From Leaked Documents Published By The Intercept

from the accelerated-disclosure dept

At the time, the documents leaked by NSA contractor Reality Winner -- showing Russian interference in the recent election -- didn't seem to be of much importance. They showed something that had long been suspected, but also showed the NSA performing the sort of surveillance no one really disapproves of. The documents were in the public's interest, but weren't necessarily of the "whistleblower" variety.

That aspect of the documents hasn't changed, but public interest in the unauthorized disclosure certainly has. In a post for Emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler takes on an NPR story about actions taken by electoral agencies as a result of the leak.

The company that provided the software for the poll books is VR Systems — the company that the document Reality Winner leaked showed had been probed by Russian hackers.

[S]usan Greenhalgh, who’s part of an election security group called Verified Voting, worried that authorities underreacted. She was monitoring developments in Durham County when she saw a news report that the problem pollbooks were supplied by a Florida company named VR Systems.

“My stomach just dropped,” says Greenhalgh.

She knew that in September, the FBI had warned Florida election officials that Russians had tried to hack one of their vendor’s computers. VR Systems was rumored to be that company.

Now, there's an investigation underway in North Carolina, linked directly to the documents leaked by Reality Winner. Josh Lawson, general counsel for the state's board of elections, said it first learned about the hacking from the Intercept's article.

Which makes you wonder when the federal government was going to get around to notifying affected state agencies. When local agencies are learning about Russian hacking from leaked documents rather than straight from the source, the downward flow of pertinent information seems to be more than a little broken.

Not that this news will do Winner any good as she heads to court. As noted by Ed Snowden earlier, and reaffirmed here by Marcy Wheeler, any positive outcomes resulting from leaked documents can't be raised by the defendant.

Last week, Magistrate Judge Brian Epps imposed a protection order in her case that prohibits her or her team from raising any information from a document the government deems to be classified, even if that document has been in the public record. That includes the document she leaked.

The protective order is typical for leak cases. Except in this case, it covers information akin to information that appeared in other outlets without eliciting a criminal prosecution. And more importantly, Winner could now point to an important benefit of her leak, if only she could point to the tie between her leak and this investigation in North Carolina.

With the protection order, she can’t.

This is generally how things go in espionage cases. This is what Snowden detractors ignore when they argue he should just return home and face a "fair trial." There are no fair trials in espionage cases. In Winner's case, the order is so broad it forbids her legal reps from discussing any classified document or any document they believe might be classified (or derived from classified documents), even if those documents have been leaked and published by journalistic entities.

The info in the leaked documents led to an investigation. This may excuse the leak in the minds of those whose first encounter with evidence of Russian hacking came from a site known for publishing leaks, rather than the federal government performing the surveillance that uncovered it. But this is of no use to Reality Winner, or any leaker in her position. No matter how much good may result from unauthorized disclosures, the government only cares about the authorization.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 17 Aug 2017 @ 1:48pm

    It's a shame that they are unwilling to play on a level playing field.

    It is really scary to consider that NC needed to find out from leaked documents rather than from those who held the information.

    The documents are public now, pretending they are somehow still a secret defies logic.

    If we like the coverage you are a whistleblower who gets protections... we never like the coverage so you're an evil spy out to destroy western civilization so we need to tip the scales. We don't want any more leaks, even if the leaked information is of significant public interest & value.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2017 @ 1:59pm

      Re:

      The point isn't to make sure the documents remain secret, it's to make sure the defendant can present no evidence in their favor.

      But it probably stemmed from a time before the internet when even if something leaked out to a few people, you could mostly round up those copies and keep it leaking to the public at large. But now, once one person has it, everyone has it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 17 Aug 2017 @ 2:42pm

    And more importantly, Winner could now point to an important benefit of her leak, if only she could point to the tie between her leak and this investigation in North Carolina. With the protection order, she can’t.

    She couldn't, regardless of the protection order.

    The Espionage Act forbids a public interest defense. The accused either leaked documents or she didn’t, and if she did, guilty is the only possible verdict.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 17 Aug 2017 @ 3:11pm

      Re:

      Yeah, barring the accused from bringing up motive in their defense is a surefire way to ensure a conviction that might have been passed over otherwise. 'Why' matters, that's the reason 'self-defense' is considered a valid defense in court, because motive and circumstances can affect how an action is treated under the law.

      By stripping that defense away from the accused the system is entirely black or white, either they did do X and are guilty, or they did not do X and they are not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    RainbowboomX (profile), 17 Aug 2017 @ 3:13pm

    What does it matter, it is horrible security in part of the state, it already was revealed that the DNC Hack was in actuality a Leak, and the DNC are nothing more than corporate sellouts. The DNC and RNC protect each other in order to keep power and do war crimes.

    It is time for a new party and the death of both. And the current narrative about racism to keep people apart in order to stop constituents from coming together to fight the corporate party that is acting as two parties.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Seegras (profile), 17 Aug 2017 @ 3:46pm

    We've got this covered

    Read all about the so-called "justice" in the US when it comes to espionage:

    https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7849

    Also fits nicely the Stalinist USSR. Go figure. Or puke. Or weep.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2017 @ 3:46pm

    And I assume that, in keeping with every other instance like this, the Intercept is being sued under the CFAA!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2017 @ 2:52am

    Mistaken Term

    "There are no fair trials in espionage cases. [emphasis added]

    Fewer still in fake espionage case either, it appears.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RR, 18 Aug 2017 @ 7:28am

    Probed vs hacked

    >> the company that the document Reality Winner leaked
    >> showed had been probed by Russian hackers.

    Does it really just say PROBED? Every public Internet IP is probed by Russian hackers several times an hour, if not several times a minute.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Aug 2017 @ 8:58am

    I wonder what would happen if they went the "screw it" route and produced a detailed document citing the articles that cite the documents. Of course the judge already covered his ears and is singing "LALALA CAN'T HEAR YOU" so...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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