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    The FEC and Cyber Security

    Since 2016 presidential race, we have seen a growing movement to unearth and eliminate any political interference in our elections by foreign nationals, most notably Russia.

    Russian hackers who infiltrated the Democratic National Committee’s database and private email servers of both Democrats and Republicans was only the beginning.  The digital attacks expanded to bot-generated political ad campaigns dispersed among social media and more.  This cyber-war on democracy has been calculatedly discreet. You can find a timeline of the attacks here.  I suspect you’ll be surprised at how many there have been.  I was.

    In efforts to combat a faceless yet relentless enemy, Defending Digital Campaigns, Inc. petitioned the Federal Election Commission with an offer of free or low-cost cyber security for political candidates running for office.

    DDC is the brainchild of Robby Mook, 2016 campaign manager of Hillary Clinton; Matt Rhoades, 2016 campaign manager of Mitt Romney; and Deborah Plunkett, former Director of Information Assurance at the National Security Administration. The organization is an offshoot of Mook and Rhoades’s collaboration at Harvard’s Belfer Center on the Defending Digital Democracy Project, or D3P. In 2018, Mook, Rhoades, and Plunkett petitioned the FEC for permission to offer their campaign services.

    The obstacle with the company’s offer stems from policies restricting corporations from contributing to candidates/parties in support, or opposition.

    In the FEC petition, DDC argues that their services are neutral. They are offering security products and services to any candidate polling nationally at 5% or congressional candidates that qualify for the general election ballot, regardless of party or political affiliation. FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub raised concerns about creating a “loophole” in their current ban on corporate contributions. Not only that, but the Chair is warry of why two experienced practitioners who happened to be victims of the cyber security breaches of 2016 would offer their work for little to no cost (C&E).

    One can’t help but wonder how benign such a generous donation is, given the contributors’ respective political histories.

    Mook and Rhoades claim that because of their experiences with cyber terrorism, DDC aims to keep American digital campaigns safe from attack rather than seek any distinct political gain as is suspected with their contribution. A brief overview of first-quarter filings revealed a scant investment, if any, in cyber security for political campaigns (Slate).

    With the 2020 election looming, a policy decision of this caliber is something to keep in mind. If we do nothing, nothing will change.  If we do not consider new alternatives, the status quo will continue.  So I urge the FEC to approve the DDC petition.  Monitor them.  Require reporting to assure its neutrality.  But don’t sit and do nothing.


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    Just Because We Can…

    We are all familiar with the adage, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.  There are times when the status quo and the beauty around us that enriches our lives is best left alone, unchanged.

    Enter today’s computers capable of making calculations far faster than humanly possible, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Media touts how wonderful these machines will make our lives. Others fear robots will one day replace us.  All of this is worthy of debate to allay our fears and better inform us of what we can expect.  But sometimes we need to take a step back and think about just how far technology may go if left unrestrained.

    In January, Huawei, the Chinese technology company under fire by a host of governments who fear Huawei is a tool China uses to hack into computer networks and threaten security, announced that it programmed a cell phone to complete Franz Schubert‘s Symphony No8, otherwise known as his Unfinished Symphony.  Composed nearly 200 years ago, musicians and composers have debated for decades about what the symphony might have been if Schubert had completed it.  The conversations were deep and steeped in musical history.

    Now, according to Huawei, a cell phone programmed with artificial intelligence (AI), with some assistance from a human composer, has completed Schubert’s symphony.  Huawei will unveil the results in February.  You can watch their promotional campaign on YouTube by clicking here.

    The AI completed symphony, albeit with some assistance from a human, will no doubt cause music aficionados to argue that no machine can ever replace the genius of Schubert and that Huawei’s exercise is nothing more than a parlor trick.  In some ways, it probably is and relatively harmless in its own right.

    If you watch the video, however, take particular notice of the tag line.

    “If we can do this, what else could we make humanly possible?”

    It all begs the question, “Will computer generated logic someday replace human creativity?”  Are we living on the verge of interacting with the likes of StarTrek’s Mr. Spock or Hal from Sidney Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?  When will “humanly possible” be replaced with “robotically possible”?

    As a society, we need to think more about AI and avoid blindly advancing technology for the sake of discovery.  I know that some would see this as a naïve viewpoint from a Luddite, but the fact remains that we simply do not know or understand where this will lead.  While discovery and exploration have been part of our DNA, past efforts have always had some level of acceptable and manageable risks.  This debate is not about refraining from exploration and discovery.  It is about better understanding where this is all going.  Unlike Huawei’s parlor trick in completing Schubert’s symphony, what Huawei and many other technology giants are doing is anything but a game.

    Consider this.  We simply do not know how AI will affect our grandchildren and generations that follow.  After all, there is no question that we teach today’s children less about how to learn to read and write and more about how to use technology.  Why bother to learn if all you need to do is search Google or ask Alexa for any answer you seek?  Books may soon be doomed to the junk drawer with all of our old music CDs.

    Enjoy Schubert’s completed Symphony No. 8.

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    Confirming Gina Haspel as CIA Director is a Step Forward for Women

    Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee for CIA Director, was approved by the Senate in late May. This is a step in the right direction for women—she is the first woman CIA Director to ever be confirmed to the position. This is historic.

    And yet, instead of celebrating history, there have been complaints about her role in the CIA’s controversial waterboarding program in the aftermath of 9/11.

    Those in public service have all faced moral dilemmas because of the position they hold and the decisions they’ve made. I, for one, condemn capital punishment. But when I was the Governor of Virginia, I was put in the position of either putting a murderer and rapist in the electric chair or keep him in jail baring release under parole. I wanted him to stay in jail and suffer for the rest of his life. But before commuting his sentence, I chose to meet with him while he wallowed in prison. After speaking with him, I realized that he didn’t regret a thing he’d done, and never would. He would rape, murder and dismember that poor girl again if he could. So I let he electric chair put the animal off this earth. When the gravity of my rejection of opposition to capital punishment hit me, I realized my mistake and commuted the death sentence for anyone else then awaiting execution.

    Haspel assured the Senate that she would never authorize water boarding – or any torture – again. There is every reason to believe her. So let’s not throw away her years of experience and dedication in the intelligence committee by focusing only on her actions during a time our country was in turmoil.

    Gina Haspel is a highly respected person in the intelligence community. She did what she had to do for her country. And she will continue to do what she has to do for her country as CIA Director. Moreover, she will be a role model for women who dream of working in the intelligence community or in government.

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    Cyber Security Puts the U.S. at Risk

    America is the beacon of freedom throughout the world. We should not shrink from our role to protect it whenever it is challenged or our national security is at risk. And we are at risk.

    In March 2018, the city of Atlanta was under attack by ransomware. Under Armor also admitted in a statement in March 2018 that millions of emails subscribed to their “My Fitness Pal” app were at risk. Last December the U.S. blamed North Korea for the WannaCry cyber attack that infiltrated hospitals and banks across the globe. Russia was able to hack our energy grid. Equifax had a major security breach that compromised millions of their consumers.

    Not only are we physically at risk by North Korea, Iran, and Russia but we are at risk by our own technology that these countries can utilize against us—technology they often steal from us.  We all constantly check our phones, log on from just about anywhere to access sensitive and confidential data for our jobs, and with abandon, buy goods and services from online retail outlets using our credit cards…the list goes on.  We’re making ourselves easy targets.

    As the beacon of freedom, we should not be afraid to use our credit cards to pay for our groceries in fear that a cyber-hacker will obtain our information. We should not have to worry about paying our car registrations because ransomware took over our city. We should not be worried about our energy grid. But to insure that freedom, the United States must focus its attention on cyber security efforts with more than just words.

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    What Should We Do About North Korea?

    The Korean War never officially ended, and North Korea has loomed large as a potential problem. For over fifty years, the older generations have favored diplomatic solutions to their disputes over war and aggression. With a new and less experienced leader, North Korea has taken center stage and airtime, overshadowing other pressing issues like Iran, Syria, and Isis. By testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and with an angry rhetoric that would reap death and destruction were it carried out, Kim Jong-un clearly needs a reality check.

    The “how” is not to be found in a war of words between leaders. As a global superpower, the United States has many more tools in its arsenal, and it’s time to be creative and use them. One of the most effective assets we have is our consumerism and the trade agreements we have with the few countries that do business with North Korea.

    The biggest player in the import/export business is China, and if the U.S. made a “trade” with China whereby China imposes sanctions on North Korea in exchange for concessions from us, North Korea would be in serious trouble. It relies on China for most of its imports. We could also cease our relationships with any of the other countries working with North Korea unless they stop supporting the rogue nation. With support from China we could also sanction the global banks and inhibit North Korea’s money supply, which they need to fund a nuclear program, among other things.

    It’s time to devise practical solutions that will force North Korea to change what it is doing. Without serious consequences, the country will not bend. Crippling their economy on all sides is the less damaging way to come to terms, and it is of utmost importance that we put our energies into this kind of effort, not war.

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    Terrorism in the 21st Century

    For years, the world has been on pins and needles, wondering what the radical Islamic cells believed to be all over the world will do next—and when. Ever since the massive influx of Syrian refugees into countries in Europe and the U.S. in the past couple of years, identifying “would-be” terrorists—let alone monitoring those they suspected—are overwhelming the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

    We’re fighting a new kind of war. It’s a frightening collection of decentralized, radicalized suicide bombers who spend their days on Facebook and Twitter, hell-bent on killing us all for the glory of Allah.

    What do our citizens do in a time like this? Do we remain vigilant, but carry on a normal life? Is anything short of that effectively a victory for the terrorists? Do we arm ourselves for protection?

    Americans have more than enough guns—too many, in fact. People everywhere are scared, and they turn to guns when fear controls them.

    I’m not concerned about America’s ability to fight fire with fire, even at the most local level. What I am concerned with is trigger-happy citizens striking out at others simply because they are Muslim—history has seen lesser transgressions to start bloody wars.

    So what do we do? The government must find better ways to share intelligence to American citizens (and other governments should do the same for their own people). We must substantially increase security patrols, and encourage more social media interaction and surveillance as that is where these terrorist cells interact.   We must learn from the tragedies that have occurred in Europe and find ways to share intelligence with security forces throughout the world.  We must end any leaks of sensitive information or we risk losing valuable informants and members of our intelligence community.  We must be realistic on immigration and tighten controls but in a way that does not shut our doors to legitimate immigrants.  Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past like our treatment of Japanese nationals in WWII.

    This is a war, even if it has not been officially declared.  And as in all wars, conventional wisdom and experience has its place in setting policy.  But this war has elements – local terrorist cells and lone wolves –  we’ve never faced before and to win, we have to consider new defenses that strike a balance between our country’s security and the rights we guarantee to all under our Constitution.  That balance has never been more tested than today.

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    How can we stop future acts of terrorism?

    The past few months, the world has seen horrible acts of terrorism committed on innocent civilians, particularly the cowardly actions of terrorists at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. But how can we stop more things like this from happening? How do we fight terrorists who use backpack bombs, pressure cookers, and automobiles to cause such destruction and chaos?

    I know I don’t have to tell any of you how big of a problem we now have in some part due to a poor administration we suffered under for the past eight years. Worse, we are now facing terrorist attacks from within unlike ever before. Our conventional methods of protecting our nation—and the methods other countries use to protect theirs—are increasingly proving inadequate. They have failed.

    People are on edge, and likely to take it out on innocent Muslims if we don’t do something decisive. As the French journalist Octave Mirbeau said, “The greatest danger of a terrorist’s bomb is in the explosion of stupidity that it provokes.”

    We must spend time, energy, and dedication to investigate and stop the terrorist cells that are in our own country. We must also educate ourselves as to how and why our own citizens—and those that come here—are willing to go to Syria to fight for ISIS and other radical terror groups. America also needs a strong, diplomatic leadership who can guide us in the right direction in the fight against terrorism. Eight years of President Obama’s policies has not left us in a better position than we were before he took office. And President Trumps efforts seem to get thwarted by partisan politicians with no alternative plans. That is not the leadership this country needs.

    How we respond to future acts of terrorism is a test of our global reputation. And if nothing is done soon, we will all suffer. Absent action, there is no favorable outcome. And have no doubt in your mind, it is simply a matter of time before our innocent citizens suffer as the Britons did in Manchester unless we wake up to the reality facing us.

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    “The Enemies of the U.S.”: Let’s Call Them by Their Real Name—Terrorists

    The tepid foreign policy of appeasement has left this country more vulnerable and challenged than ever before from ISIS and other terrorist groups. Obama used the rhetoric of calling them “enemies of the United States,” but I am not afraid to call them what they are—terrorists—or the “fight” against them what it really is—a war on terrorism.

    We must raise our security levels to combat the increasing threats and support those who are fighting to protect our interests. We need to end the cowardly way that the past administration addressed terrorism and those dedicated to harming us.

    We are not waging a war against the Muslim people when we send air strikes and drones into terrorist strongholds in Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. We are not waging a war against Islam when, together with our allies, we arrest terrorists hiding in Europe and here at home. There is no more a war against Muslims and Islam than World War II was a war against Germans, Italians, or Japanese. World War II was a war against Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito and those who led terrorist nations and denied free people their right to choose how to live, and what God to worship. Just as so many innocent Germans, Italians, and Japanese had to suffer because of ideological tyrants, we are now left to see all too many Muslims the innocent victims of this war.

    While all this deeply saddens my heart, it cannot lessen our resolve to end the War on Terror with a victory over the tyranny preventing everyone—Muslims, Christians, Jews, and believers of every other religion—from enjoying the freedoms given to them by God.

    When I was in Congress, I was instrumental in fighting the war on terrorism, bringing pride back to America, and ensuring the safety of you and your families. If you vote for me in the 2020 election as your president, I will continue that success and ensure that the people of this nation will remain safe in the most wonderful country in the world.

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    Why We Need to Push for the Wall

    The White House’s push for “The Wall” has appeared to slow down as the funding for the project seems to have come to a standstill—and potentially almost led to a government shutdown. But while Democrats are applauding this fact, the Republicans should not give up on finding a way to border security between our country and Central America that will be strong and effective.

    The immigration and “The Wall” debate is not about a particular ethnic population. Indeed, there are millions of people in this country who are legal immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere. They pay taxes, contribute to their communities, and earned their legal right to be here. The problem with immigration is about the thousands of people illegally crossing our borders every year who want a free ride and handouts.

    If the government had unlimited resources and money, we could welcome all who are prepared to obey our laws. But we don’t have those kind of resources. Denying entry or deporting illegal aliens is neither destructive nor anti-American; it simply assures that the precious rights of those born here, and the rights of those who have legally immigrated, are preserved.

    So what has been done to address the problem? Unfortunately, the future of a secure border has been discarded in the spirit of compromise and approved budgets. A border barrier would certainly enhance our overall homeland security, ebb the cost of lost tax revenue, and reduce the strain on government resources and social welfare. Instead, the latest proposal includes substantial funding for security but not a wall. So we’ll waste more money on what has not stemmed the tide of illegal immigration for decades.

    For me, it’s pretty simple—fences work. Build them. Then deal with those who can still manage to scale them by deporting them when they do.