Monday, July 31, 2017

Scattershooting Karun Sreerama, Stan Stanart, Russian hacks, and Trump's shitty week

-- The drama surrounding the public works director of the city of Houston (Mayor Sylvester Turner's personal choice) has been resolved.  After being outed as a tool of the FBI for the third of three payoffs to convicted felon and HCC board member Chris Oliver -- who is still serving we the people, it should be noted -- Karun Sreerama is no longer.

Karun Sreerama is out as director of the city of Houston's Department of Public Works and Engineering following revelations that he made payments to a Houston Community College trustee who has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.


Oliver pleaded guilty to bribery in connection with accepting the more recent payments totaling $12,000, court records show, and in exchange the acting U.S. attorney agreed to dismiss the separate extortion charge tied to Sreerama's earlier payments totaling $77,143.

Sreerama's attorney Chip Lewis said federal authorities directed Sreerama to pay Oliver the $12,000 in 2015 and 2016 after confronting Sreerama about his earlier, independent payments to the trustee. "What he was doing was created, directed and funded by the FBI," Lewis said. "Karun was a cooperating witness as a result of being a victim of Oliver's scheme."

That's an artful deflection, isn't it?

As Lewis described the payments, the first two were made because Oliver claimed he was going through a costly divorce, and then claimed he needed funds to complete the process of adopting a child. Both payments were presented as loans and were not repaid. The third payment took the form of an exorbitant fee Oliver charged after his company cleaned the parking lot at Sreerama's business.

"By the time we get to the third payment and he hadn't been repaid the loans, Karun became worried that saying, 'No, no I've got somebody who already does the cleaning, etc.' could adversely affect his position down the road," Lewis said.

Federal authorities confronted Sreerama in March 2015, a year and a half after he made that final payment, and asked for his cooperation in their investigation, Lewis said.

Two months later -- at the FBI's behest, Lewis said -- Sreerama began a series of meetings with Oliver that lasted through May 2016.

Oliver repeatedly asked if Sreerama was working for law enforcement in their initial May 2015 meeting, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Leuchtmann said during Oliver's re-arraignment. Oliver took the first envelope of $2,500 cash from Sreerama days later, and by their July meeting, he'd passed Sreerama a list of all HCC contracts.

Sreerama decided by November 2015 to bid on a pest control project. Oliver later said he continued to delay votes to convince the board to vote on the basis of value, not price, to give Sreerama's company a shot, Leuchtmann said.

Lewis said Sreerama's payments to Oliver during this period "were authorized, provided and directed to be delivered by the federal government." Meanwhile, Sreerama's likely appointment as Houston's Public Works director became a subject of open speculation at City Hall.

Turner finally tapped Sreerama to lead the city's largest department in March, tasking him with managing all city streets, drainage, water and sewer systems on a $2.1 billion annual budget. Sreerama did not tell the mayor or other city officials during the vetting process about his involvement in the federal case, Lewis said.

"The FBI had asked him not to reveal it to anybody," Lewis said, adding that Sreerama called Turner about the case three weeks ago, after he learned it was set to be unsealed the next day.

Just your run-of-the-mill graft/corruption/city hall quid pro quo deal, about which the mayor has plausible deniability of any knowledge or involvement.  Happens every day in cities large and small, all across the land, 99% of them go undiscovered by the law.  Nothing to see here.

We're stuck with Turner and his lickspittles down on Bagby until 2019, so there will be plenty of time for this to disappear down the memory hole.  This makes some members of the Democratic establishment very relieved, so there's that.

-- Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart and Rice University professor Dan Wallach got into a very public pissing contest over the security, or lack thereof, associated with the county's voting machines.  The original article's headline contained the words "Russian hackers" and has been edited by the Chronic to tone down the hysteria, and Wallach made a glaring error by describing the Hart InterCivic e-Slates as running on Microsoft 2000, which has been struck through and corrected to 'Microsoft 7'.

Stanart eventually posted a retort to Wallach, of which you can read the newspaper's account at this link.  It's more CYA by the county's lousiest, most incompetent elected official.

Stanart looks like more than the usual putz in light of this news from DEF CON -- the conference of hackers that takes place annually, this year in Vegas -- and note some disturbing developments contained within a couple of the links that follow.  I've highlighted them in bold.

We already knew U.S. voting systems had security flaws ― the federal government put that nail in the coffin when it repeatedly confirmed that Russian hackers breached systems in at least 21 states during the election last year.
But on Friday, hackers stateside showed us just how easily some of the electronic voting machines can be cracked.
Those who attended DEF CON, a 25-year-old hacking convention held in Las Vegas, were given physical and remote access to voting machines procured from eBay and government auctions.
Within about 90 minutes, they’d exploited weak and outdated security measures to gain full access, The Register first reported. Some physically broke down the machines to reveal their vulnerabilities, while others gained remote access or showed that external ports found on some could be used to upload malicious software. 

None of these accounts mention Hart's e-Slates, in use for over a decade here, but I'm not inclined to take this as good news.

“Without question, our voting systems are weak and susceptible. Thanks to the contributions of the hacker community today, we’ve uncovered even more about exactly how,” Jake Braun, who reportedly came up with the idea for the challenge, told The Register.
“The scary thing is we also know that our foreign adversaries ― including Russia, North Korea, Iran ― possess the capabilities to hack them too, in the process undermining principles of democracy and threatening our national security.”
Some of the machines were reportedly outdated and not used in today’s elections, and attendees said that their various intrusions would have been detected and logged by officials.
But detection is a far cry from interception.
In June, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official again confirmed that Russian hackers were not only “attempting” to gain access to voting systems, they succeeded in at least 21 states and stole undisclosed information. The FBI detected the tampering last year ― though no evidence of changing vote numbers has been found ― but the Obama administration delayed reporting the breaches until Oct. 7, according to the Los Angeles Times.

So this would be an account of Russians hacking the election that I have never read before, and I would be compelled to say that I was wrong all this time; the Russians did perform hacks of significant magnitude into our election systems, even if the proviso that "no evidence of changing results was found" is inserted.

But when I click on those bold links above, I find no data that supports the claims of this HuffPo writer, Andy Campbell.  He has quite obviously jumped to the wrong conclusion.  Read the links for yourself.  Here are some excerpts; read the entire post at both links.

Russian hackers targeted 21 U.S. states’ election systems in last year’s presidential race, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official told Congress on (June 21, 2017).

'Targeted' is not the same thing as 'hacked'.  And this from the second bold link above, dated late September of last year ...

There have been hacking attempts on election systems in more than 20 states — far more than had been previously acknowledged — a senior Department of Homeland Security official told NBC News on (September 28, 2016).

The "attempted intrusions" targeted online systems like registration databases, and not the actual voting or tabulation machines that will be used on Election Day and are not tied to the Internet. The DHS official described much of the activity as “people poking at the systems to see if they are vulnerable.”

Once more, in bold.

Only two successful breaches have been disclosed, both of online voter registration databases, in Illinois and Arizona over the summer.

While those two hacks were linked to hackers in Russia, the DHS official did not say who was responsible for the other failed attempts, noting that "we're still doing a lot of forensics."

Almost a month ago -- on July 5 -- I wrote and linked to pieces in Vox and in Bloomberg that revealed hacking in attempts in 39 states, and one breach of voter registration data in Illinois.  Two weeks before that, I linked to the report in the FWST about hacking attempts in Dallas County, and on June 2, compiled an extensive listing of the various attempts by the Russkies to influence the election to that point in time, most of which did not make even passing mention of hacking or hacking attempts.

I have followed the story extensively.  I have blogged about it exhaustively.  I still cannot find anywhere in the public domain -- save the mentions of voter database breaches in Illinois, and now Arizona above -- evidence that the Russians hacked anything of significance.  People like Mr. Campbell above do themselves, their publisher, and Democrats at large a great disservice by continuing to promote this false narrative.  It's fake news of the most destructive kind, because those of us that know it's a lie are being driven further away from the Democratic party and its candidates every time the lie gets repeated.  Maybe some day I'll be wrong about the Russians hacking the 2016 election, but that day hasn't arrived yet.

And perhaps Clinton Democrats already intuitively get that the Russian bullshit is a scam of their own invention, which could explain why they've ramped up their insane hatred for an even more implausible, yet always convenient scapegoat: Jill Stein and the Greens.

-- If Democrats wanted to bring Trump down and not themselves, then they'd focus more on the real Russian scandal.  The one Robert Mueller is working on.

Since Election Day, President Trump’s businesses have sold at least 30 luxury condos and oceanfront lots for about $33 million. That includes millions of dollars in properties to secretive shell companies, which can hide the identities of buyers or partners involved in the deals, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Now, details of some of those deals and other transactions by Trump's family business could be unmasked as special counsel Robert Mueller expands his inquiry into election-meddling by Russia and whether Trump's campaign colluded.

Federal investigators are expected to delve into records revealing some of the President’s most closely guarded secrets, including how much money he makes, who he does business with and how reliant he is on wealthy, politically-connected foreigners.

A half-dozen experts contacted by USA TODAY said they expect Mueller and his team to pursue everything from Trump’s income tax returns to the bank records underlying his companies’ real estate transactions in a quest to identify people who have financial relationships with the President and his business and political associates.

If Mueller gets fired by someone not named Jeff Sessions soon, the pending departures associated with Trump's shuffling the deck chairs his staff on his Titanic ego in the White House, to say nothing of the rats Republicans in Congress jumping off ...

... or even the overdue exodus of his base voters ...

 ... will accelerate as we move closer to the midterms.  But those fallout effects haven't yet taken into account his wink-and-a-nod approval to escalated police brutality ...

... his Tweeted transgender military service ban (that is not official until it is communicated through the conventional means) ...

... and the flaming bag of poo set alight on his own front step.


Those will all pale in comparison to the Nixonian conflagration of terminating the special prosecutor investigating his Russian business affairs.

The worst is yet to come.

Update: Just a couple of hours after I posted, Scaramouche is shitcanned in favor of General John Kelly, who moves over from the Department of Homeland Security.  Kelly is, for a general, quite the Trump stooge. No rumors floated yet about his replacement at DHS.  Seems like a bad time for that post to be vacant, with all this hacking going on and a war with North Korea about to break out.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

Also, "Russian hackers" is not necessarily the same as "hackers working for the Russian government." After all, Julian Assange could be called "Australian hacker."