Bin Laden’s Bookshelf Reportedly Contained Classic Book About Hacking Electronic Elections

We’ve long warned about the dangers that electronic voting and tabulation systems pose to our democracy, not just from simple insider attacks and domestic hacking, but also from foreign governments and other, even shadier entities.

In 2009, just by way of one of scores (if not hundreds) of examples, we covered the chilling presentation given by the CIA’s cybersecurity expert Steven Stigall to a panel convened by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) during a field hearing in Orlando, FL. Stigalll warned at the time: “You heard the old adage ‘follow the money. I follow the vote. And wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that’s an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to…make bad things happen.”

“For several years,” Stigall said, according to the transcript [WORD], “I’ve worked with others in my organization to try and identify foreign threats, emphasis on ‘foreign threats,’ to important U.S. computer systems. A few years ago it occurred to us that that should include potential foreign threats to the computers upon which our elections in this country are increasingly dependent.”

Well, funny thing. Remember that Osama Bin Laden guy? On Thursday, The Hill and others published a list [PDF] of about forty English-language books said to have been found at Bin Laden’s compound when he was killed. Among them, amusingly enough, were “9/11 conspiracy theory” books. Another was the New York Times best-seller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by our friend, investigative reporter Greg Palast.

Yes, that’s right. The 2004 classic that gave the name to so much of what we’ve been covering on this very blog since that infamous year, Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century, by my colleague Bev Harris, who I’ve interviewed countless times on The BradCast as well as for BRAD BLOG stories and who, like Palast, has even guest blogged here on occasion over the years.

When I called her last night for comment, she pointed me to a quick piece she posted in response at her site, BlackBoxVoting.org, on Thursday, describing the revelation as “Bizarre. Odd. Stunning.”

The book is now available for free download on her website as she’s working on several new books, including what she told me was to be a “completely revised and updated version of Black Box Voting for 2016.”

“As I thought about it, I couldn’t understand how Osama could really have gotten his hands on a physical copy of the book,” she said. “Only about 800 physical copies went out, though by now we’ve had well over half a million downloads of it. The only time physical copies were available, it was only 2 1/2 years after the Sept. 11 attack, and Osama was supposedly hiding in a cave having dialysis or something.” She says it’s likely that Bin Laden had one of the freely available Internet versions of the book.

In 2004, she notes, during the Bush Administration, someone from D.C. had requested a copy of the book “for the White House Library”. Harris added, “If the White House Library still has it then I guess the book is on Obama’s bookshelf and Osama’s bookshelf. Quite a demographic spread.”

With a nod to Palast and some of the others on the list, she told me, “It’s good company to be in.” She added: “It looked to me from his reading list, he was looking at how fucked up the Western World really is.”

Maybe so. But recall the warnings from the CIA’s Stigall to that EAC-convened panel, warning of “all of the things that foreign actors try and do to effect the outcome of the election long before Election Day.”

“I’ve referred a lot to hackers in this presentation,” he said at the time. “I’m not really concerned about the 18-year old wannabes. I’m concerned about the 28 or the 38-year old folks who have been doing this a long time and who may be under contract for some other organization. In other words, an organized structured effort to throw an election.”

Now who would possibly want to do that?