Auditing the Audit

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For weeks, I have set out to tackle the most controversial topic currently being bandied about in political circles: the Maricopa, Arizona audit. If you’re of the leftist persuasion, this audit represents everything wrong with the modern Right; a rabbit hole to nowhere used as part coping mechanism for losing an election, part grifting operation designed to soothe a reality TV star’s bruised ego. For those on the Right, it signifies a much simpler aim — getting at the damn truth, already.

I’ve refrained from writing on the topic until now because, frankly, the information has been murky at best, which is to be expected for such an undertaking. The IRS, for example, wouldn’t provide periodic updates on high profile audits (for obvious reasons). To be clear, this story is still far from over, meaning that definitive conclusions cannot be reached based on the currently available facts. However, much has happened throughout this past month that at least deserves the attention of a fact-starved public, and it’s in that spirit that I proceed.

Fair warning: If you came here wanting a hopium fix for your political beliefs, you came to the wrong place.

Now, let’s answer some basic questions.

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Who is conducting the audit?

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The company leading the audit is called Cyber Ninjas. They are a cybersecurity outfit based in Sarasota, Florida that was founded in 2013 by tech entrepreneur Doug Logan. The company’s focus is app security; it offers training, consulting, and assessments of an app’s vulnerabilities. One of Cyber Ninjas’ specialties is what it calls “ethical hacking,” colloquially knows as “white hat” hacking, which involves a professional attempting to penetrate an application in order to reveal its security weaknesses. You know how former burglars pinpoint vulnerabilities for home security companies? It’s that, just a lot nerdier. The company’s  website features images of katanas and people clad in ninja costumes, but virtually no references to elections or voting. Up to now, Cyber Ninjas was virtually unknown even in its own Floridian neck of the woods, as was Logan.

Cyber Ninjas guards its clients list very closely, thus it was difficult to attain that information for purposes of this piece. However, it claims to provide services to “the federal government in Washington, D.C.” I find this claim to be very credible because as a veteran of the National Security Agency, I know the exact type of service to which he’s referring. There is a program called the U.S. Cyber Challenge, or USCC, supported by the Department of Homeland Security that identifies and trains cybersecurity talent. I was able to track down a quote from Logan circa 2014 that characterized Cyber Ninjas’ participation in the USCC and its overall mission as being Christian in nature. “As a Christian company, we also believe we have a responsibility to serve, as Christ served. Helping the USCC is a great way to be a blessing to others, while helping combat evil hackers.” The point of the program is to create a firewall and dare any old hacker to penetrate it. If the aspiring hacker is able to do so, the NSA will offer them a job on the spot, pending an extensive background check, of course. So if what Logan is saying is true regarding his participation in the USCC—and I do believe it is—he is a legitimate patriot.

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Accusations of Bias

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As previously mentioned, Logan was a little-known figure until his group of katana-wielding Cyber Ninjas took charge of the Arizona recount. As one can imagine, that anonymity was short-lived. In an effort to break the Guinness world record for irony, left-wing activists disguised as journalists descended upon every utterance ever attributed to Logan in order to demonstrate his extreme bias and thus unfitness to execute the audit. It didn’t take them long to find conspiracy theories he’d amplified online about the 2020 election. Through his now-deleted Twitter account, Logan extensively retweeted and posted allegations of widespread voter fraud. “The parallels between the statistical analysis of Venezuela and this year’s election are astonishing,” he tweeted in December. “I’m ashamed about how few republicans are talking about it.” For those unfamiliar, Logan was referring to the unproved assertion that voting systems used in the 2020 race were actually created years earlier in Venezuela to rig elections in favor of the now-deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez. Logan also retweeted prominent figures in the QAnon movement like former 8chan administrator Ron Watkins and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. A tweet he shared from Watkins maintained that there were 200,000 pro-Trump votes from Maricopa that weren’t counted.

Logan’s “Stop the Steal” activities extend beyond social media. He is listed as an expert witness in a lawsuit alleging voter fraud in Michigan. Logan was also the author of a document called “Election Fraud Facts & Details” that attorney Sidney “Kraken” Powell shared on her website. In the document, he props up the Venezuela narrative and makes unproven claims about Chinese investment in the voting machine manufacturer Dominion. A GitHub account under Logan’s name currently features a repository of government documents that discuss Dominion. Cyber Ninjas’ audit will notably include an examination of the Dominion ballot tabulation machines in Maricopa County.

Unfortunately, allegations of bias against Logan and his company are not without merit. Had the shoe been on the other foot and a leftwing auditor had a similar history regarding the subject matter for which he was being tasked to investigate (by a partisan state legislature no less), many on the Right would be screaming bloody murder.

As for myself, I just want the bloody facts. If Cyber Ninjas presents irrefutable evidence of fraud, I couldn’t care less if they found it while sporting Donald Trump tramp-stamps tattooed on their backs. But for the sake of objectivity, we ought to recognize that no facts will be recognized as such by the opposition when presented by overtly partisan investigators. Whether we like it or not, Doug Logan’s politics will be an issue if fraud is found. The Left will simply formulate conspiracy theories of their own based on the aforementioned bias. And just as confirmation bias ensures the efficacy of conspiracy theories on the Right, it will be all the Left need to dismiss whatever is found as “manufactured evidence by rightwing nutjobs.”

Don’t shoot the messenger. Shoot tribalism.

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A Major Setback

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As we just discussed, confidence in an audit requires confidence in those doing the auditing. To that end, the Maricopa audit suffered a major blow this week. The world was set ablaze when President Trump repeated/amplified a claim from a supposed auditor that a database of votes from Maricopa County had been deleted/destroyed.

“The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED!” Trump posted. “This is illegal and the Arizona State Senate, who is leading the Forensic Audit, is up in arms.”

Trump’s statement traces back to a letter sent to Maricopa County officials from Karen Fann, president of Arizona’s Republican-controlled Senate.

Three days before Trump published his statement, audit officials posted a tweet saying Maricopa County had deleted a “directory full of election databases.”

“Breaking Update: Maricopa County deleted a directory full of election databases from the 2020 election cycle days before the election equipment was delivered to the audit,” says the May 12 tweet. “This is spoliation of evidence!”

As it turns out, this was not a case a deleted votes but rather incompetent auditing.

Ben Cotton, founder of a computer forensics firm working with Cyber Ninjas on the audit, told senators that he had recovered all data. But not before Maricopa County officials released a scathing letter saying the auditors couldn’t find the data because they didn’t know where to look. 

“I have the information I need from the recovery efforts of the data,” said Cotton, founder of CyFIR LLC. 

He spoke at a livestreamed hearing called by Republican Senate President Karen Fann to demand answers from county officials about the allegation of deleted data and improper documentation of ballot storage. 

The GOP-controlled county Board of Supervisors refused to show up, instead holding a blistering meeting of their own Monday to refute the allegations. They called the audit a “sham” and said Fann’s auditors are incompetent. 

What began as a search for the truth has become a circular firing squad of sorts, primarily because some people are really bad at their jobs and would rather blame a conspiracy than own up to their own failures.

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The Keystone Auditors

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If you clicked on this piece hoping to be informed of all the revelations that would ensure exposure of fraud in the 2020 election, you will likely be disappointed. The truth is, the more digging I did, the less confident I became that this could be seen as anything resembling a proper examination of the Maricopa election. Please understand, I am not here to tell you what you want to hear. My goal is to find facts to the best of my ability and offer analysis of said facts. And this is exactly what I am doing.

That said, let’s examine the missteps thus far taken in the Maricopa audit.

There have been a plethora of rookie mistakes from the onset of this investigation. For instance, auditors were discovered to be using blue pens, which is not best practice since there is a risk of altering the vote on a ballot — a pretty important detail when the entire goal is to ensure the integrity of an election. That fact alone could get findings thrown out of court. The state’s own election process manual prohibits anything but red pens from being used. When Logan was notified of the issue, he said he was unaware that the blue ink could be a problem and was not versed about the correct procedure. A judge later ordered the removal of all black and blue pens from the facility where the recount is taking place. The Brennan Center for Justice, a legal think tank associated with New York University, also sent a letter to the Department of Justice last week alleging that Cyber Ninjas has not been following basic security practices like locking doors to the facility holding the ballots and preventing unauthorized individuals from entering.

Logan and his company also seem to be implementing some suspect methods to check the ballots. Auditors have inexplicably taken to using UV lights to scan ballots for evidence of fraud. The company that prints ballots for Maricopa said it has no idea what running the ballots under UV lights would achieve and experts at the Brennan Center say it could actually cause the paper to deteriorate. The idea seems to have originated from QAnon adherents who believe that UV light will reveal that the ballots contain secret watermarks and other markings that will separate the authentic from the fake. I have searched and studied extensively for evidence of this and found absolutely nothing to support that assertion. What I did find was that Logan is receiving help from Jovan Pulitzer, a celebrity among conspiracy theorists and inventor of the CueCat bar code scanner. Pulitzer, who does not seem to have any experience with election audits, claims to have invented technology that can examine a ballot’s ink and folds for signs that they have been forged. There has been no independent verification that this technology actually works, despite an investigation by the very Republican legislature who ordered the audit in the first place.

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Big Picture

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If I’m being totally honest, I would like this audit to reveal staggering corruption the likes of which cannot be ignored by even the most rabid leftwing partisan. That is the rabid partisan in myself talking. But keeping within the realm of reality, I would be stunned if this ended up as anything but a dead-end exercise that will ultimately be spun as a means of shoring up electoral integrity in Maricopa County.

Indeed, Republican Senate President Karen Fann has already intimated as much, recently saying she’s “not looking to overturn or decertify the election results. Rather, she wants to identify ways to improve election procedures in the future.”

Frankly, I find that a worthy goal. In fact, I’d like to see audits done in every state regardless of outcome. But perhaps the most important thing we learn from this audit will have nothing to do with vote counts. The most important lesson may be that patriotism alone is not sufficient to conduct a complex operation of this sort. With all due respect to Mr. Logan, whom I respect, perhaps he should have stayed in his lane and left this to the professionals.

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treysoldier

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