Follow by Email

Monday, September 6, 2010

Planning a Crime

Before I became a full-time writer, my favorite job involved planning crimes. And the best part about it was the federal government paid me to do it.

As the use of computers and the Internet grew, so did white collar computer crime. And the federal government was losing billions of dollars - your tax dollars, by the way - to fraud, waste and abuse. So for years, various government agencies have been paying people like me to stay one step ahead of the criminals. This involved thinking like a criminal, planning the crime, and then writing a computer program to detect the type of crime we'd just invented. The result led to identifying people and organizations who were committing fraud through the use of computers - saving the taxpayers millions, if not billions, of dollars.

I was sitting in a restaurant one day having lunch with two of my coworkers as the televisions began to report the 2000 election results, leading to the famous Florida Chads. Pregnant chads, dimpled chads, half-punched chads, hanging chads. I learned more about chads than I ever wanted to know. And during the course of the recount, I made the comment to one of my coworkers that in this day and age, it was ridiculous to depend upon people making a little hole in a card and putting it through a machine. It should be computerized.

But as we continued to watch this Chad Fiasco unfold, it occurred to me that if voting technology was computerized, I could easily write a program to rig the election. I could even write the program so it erased itself after it provided the results, so no one would ever know it had been rigged.

Simply by infiltrating one voting machine - just one - I could communicate to other voting machines through the use of satellite technology. The same satellite technology you rely on for cell phones. I could send out my rigged voting program like a virus.

That thought became the basis for my second suspense/thriller, The China Conspiracy. I have long believed that China poses as big a threat as the Soviet Union once did. It has quietly grown to surpass the United States in many areas. Why not have a plan to take over the United States without firing a single shot?

It could be done by rigging the elections. Like a modern day Manchurian Candidate, they could recruit people who are sympathetic to Chinese causes. For example, instead of having say, a shoe factory, textile mill, manufacturing plant, or even weapons manufacturing right here in the United States, the elected officials could vote for tax breaks or incentives, enabling and encouraging business owners and conglomerates to move their operations overseas - to China. It would reach throughout the government to officials who help set policy regarding trade agreements, tax regulations, and even turning the other way if China became a threat to its neighbors - or to us.

In The China Conspiracy, Kit Olsen is a programmer for the CIA. Then two of her coworkers are murdered and her 16-year-old son, Tim, is kidnapped. The ransom: Mandarin computer code the CIA had convertly intercepted from the Chinese - a program Kit had been assigned to decipher. Kit is trying to get her son back and also feverishly trying to decode the program - which leads her into an inner circle of Chinese-backed CIA operatives and a political bonfire she never could have imagined.

When The China Conspiracy was released, Johns Hopkins University had just completed a study regarding the new voting technology and its security weaknesses. Their findings raised red flags, which opponents sought to discredit.

At one point, Congress considered mandating a paper trail: although the voter would record their initial vote via touch-screen, a paper ballot would be generated so the voter could verify their vote was recorded accurately. And if a recount was necessary, it would be possible to do with the paper ballots. Because, as any programmer knows, if a program is set to count entries, it will always count them the same way - meaning a technological recount should always produce the exact same results.

However, the measure was voted down. Congress argued that paper trails would cost too much money.

The news continued to get worse. Just days before the 2006 elections, World Net Daily reported that one of the touch-screen voting machine technologies might be owned by anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who would have a lot to gain by having our elections rigged, putting into place people sympathetic to his views.

Then Princeton University published an independent study of another brand of voting technologies, raising serious red flags about the security flaws. Watch them demonstrate how easily they can rig an election, live on TV (posted now on YouTube.)

So as you head to the election booth this fall and cast your vote... How do you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your vote was recorded exactly as you intended it?

You don't.

Check out The China Conspiracy and reviews on amazon, including the newest release for amazon Kindle.