Rus­sian tied to elec­tion sys­tem

Oli­garch owns soft­ware ven­dor Mary­land elec­tions use

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter and Jean Mar­bella

Rus­sian in­vestor had bought the soft­ware ven­dor in 2015.

Miller called the news “shock­ing” but said the FBI did not in­di­cate that Mary­land elec­tions had been com­pro­mised.

“We felt it im­per­a­tive that our con­stituents know that a Rus­sian oli­garch has pur­chased our elec­tion ma­chin­ery,” Miller said.

The men said they have asked Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian Frosh to in­ves­ti­gate the con­tract, and U.S. in­dicts 12 Rus­sians for 2016 hack­ing. NEWS PG 11

Mary­land of­fi­cials are in­ves­ti­gat­ing a Rus­sian in­vestor’s ties to a lo­cal soft­ware ven­dor that main­tains part of the State Board of Elec­tions’ voter reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem, leg­isla­tive lead­ers said Fri­day.

At a hastily called news con­fer­ence, Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch said the FBI in­formed them and Gov. Larry Ho­gan that with­out the state’s knowl­edge, a

have asked fed­eral of­fi­cials to help the State Board of Elec­tions re­view the sys­tem to en­sure that there have been no breaches.

Deputy elec­tion ad­min­is­tra­tor Nikki Charl­son said of­fi­cials would au­dit ex­ist­ing data, re­view their de­fenses and im­ple­ment any changes to se­cure the sys­tems be­fore Novem­ber’s gen­eral elec­tion.

Four FBI agents in­formed state of­fi­cials Thurs­day that a ven­dor Mary­land has con­tracted with — ByteGrid LLC — to host data for statewide elec­tions has ties to a Rus­sian oli­garch, Miller and Busch said.

ByteGrid LLC owns the servers that hold the data for voter reg­is­tra­tion, can­di­dacy, elec­tion man­age­ment, and elec­tion night re­sults, state elec­tions of­fi­cials said. An own­er­ship stake in the com­pany was pur­chased by AltPoint Cap­i­tal Part­ners, whose largest in­vestor is a Rus­sian oli­garch named Vladimir Potanin, the elec­tion of­fi­cials said.

Busch said that Potanin is “very close” to Rus­sian Pes­i­dent Vladimir Putin and that Altpoint’s man­ag­ing part­ner is Ger­ald T. Banks, a Rus­sian mil­lion­aire who changed his name from Guer­man Aliev.

But Busch said the state has no ev­i­dence that Potanin or Banks had done any­thing un­to­ward.

“We don’t have any idea whether they med­dled in any elec­tions at all,” Busch said.

At­tempts to reach the com­pa­nies were un­suc­cess­ful.

The Mary­land of­fi­cials also said they had no in­di­ca­tion the Rus­sian-linked firm had any­thing to do with the prob­lems that arose shortly be­fore June’s pri­mary elec­tion in which more than 80,000 vot­ers’ change of ad­dress and party af­fil­i­a­tion re­quests were never for­warded from the Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ad­min­is­tra­tion to elec­tion of­fi­cials.

Nev­er­the­less, Miller said, of­fi­cials wanted to in­form the pub­lic about the Rus­sians’ ties to ByteGrid.

“It goes to the heart of democ­racy,” Miller said. “There’s still a Cold War go­ing on. This is the evil em­pire, and they are at our door when they in­vest in our elec­tion process.”

Ho­gan did not ap­pear at the news con­fer­ence, but the Re­pub­li­can gov­er­nor joined Miller and Busch, both Democrats, in writ­ing Fri­day to U.S. Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen to re­quest that her Of­fice of Cy­ber­se­cu­rity and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­vide the state with tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance to eval­u­ate the net­work used by the State Board of Elec­tions, in­clud­ing au­dit­ing the in­tegrity of the net­work.

"We will con­tinue to closely mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion in the com­ing days and weeks to en­sure that all Mary­land vot­ers can have faith in the in­tegrity of our elec­tion sys­tem,” Ho­gan said in a state­ment.

Mary­land sen­a­tors Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen de­cried Rus­sian in­volve­ment in state and na­tional elec­tions, and crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for dis­miss­ing the se­ri­ous­ness of the threat.

“This lat­est news from An­napo­lis re­in­forces the re­al­ity that Rus­sia has been sys­tem­at­i­cally in­fil­trat­ing Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture for years – and has con­tin­ued its as­sault,” Cardin said.

“I am not alone in be­ing as­tounded that this pres­i­dent still con­tin­ues to call le­git­i­mate crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s malfea­sance a ‘witch hunt.’”

Van Hollen called the news of the link to Mary­land’s elec­tions board “deeply dis­turb­ing.”

“It raises ur­gent ques­tions about for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in our elec­tions — ques­tions that Pres­i­dent Trump is not just fail­ing to an­swer, but also fail­ing to even ask,” he said.

“With just four months un­til the Novem­ber midterms, that has to change.” Both Mary­land sen­a­tors are Democrats. The Mary­land news came hours af­ter the Depart­ment of Jus­tice in­dicted 12 Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers, charg­ing that they hacked the com­puter net­works of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee.

The 11-count in­dict­ment al­leges that the Rus­sian agents in­fil­trated the net­works, im­plant­ing ma­li­cious com­puter code and steal­ing doc­u­ments on field op­er­a­tions, op­po­si­tion re­search and cam­paign an­a­lyt­ics as a means of in­ter­fer­ing with the U.S. elec­tion.

The charges in­clude con­spir­acy to com­mit an of­fense against the U.S., ag­gra­vated iden­tity theft and money laun­der­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, the Rus­sians posted stolen doc­u­ments on­line and worked with an or­ga­ni­za­tion — un­named but be­lieved to be Wik­iLeaks — to spread them fur­ther, and take ad­van­tage of con­tin­u­ing ten­sions be­tween sup­port­ers of Clin­ton and pri­mary op­po­nent Bernie San­ders.

The fed­eral in­dict­ment charg­ing 12 Rus­sian in­cludes an al­le­ga­tion that a Twit­ter ac­count, @Bal­ti­moreIsWhr, was set up to in­vite peo­ple to join a “flash mob” and to post im­ages us­ing the hash­tag “#Black­sA­gain­stHil­lary.”

It is the lat­est rev­e­la­tion of how so­cial me­dia were used lo­cally and na­tion­ally in an at­tempt to in­flu­ence the elec­tion.

Cy­ber se­cu­rity an­a­lysts in Septem­ber told The Bal­ti­more Sun that a Face­book ad that re­ferred to the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and tar­geted Bal­ti­more users in the months fol­low­ing the 2015 ri­ots was likely part of a broader ef­fort by Rus­sia to sow dis­con­tent and deepen racial ten­sion in the U.S. .

In re­sponse to such ads, the Gen­eral Assem­bly in April passed a bill re­quir­ing so­cial me­dia plat­forms and web­sites with sig­nif­i­cant traf­fic to track all po­lit­i­cal ads and record which users are be­ing tar­geted.

In May, Ho­gan ex­pressed reser­va­tions that the law could be found un­con­sti­tu­tional and al­lowed the bill to be­come law with­out his sig­na­ture.

The @Bal­ti­moreIsWhr ac­count has been sus­pended.

Sen.Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. calls the news “shock­ing.”

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