23 July 2014

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Critics of internet and computer voting have an axiom: the election is never over until the cybervote comes in. Now there is a Spanish-based company planning to count U.S. overseas and military votes from Europe. It also has the technology to manufacture, manipulate and rig the vote count. Welcome to the world of Scytl. This spooky new world is held together through a complex assortment of interlocking directorships and investment deals.

The dangers to free and fair elections posed by electronic voting are well documented. Partisan goals can be achieved through the subversion of the central tabulation via an attack on the voting network. Wealthy politicians or their friends can invest in and own the voting machine manufacturers. The manufacturers themselves can be openly partisan. The threat to the universal franchise posed by the intelligence community controlling the manufacture of voting equipment from design and development to sales and integration outweighs all previous dangers.

It has been nearly a year since the first revelations by Edward Snowden of the NSA's programs of mass surveillance. Since ubiquitous spying on the public became common knowledge, the idea of a secret ballot cast over the internet or with a cell phone is unthinkable. However the delivery of absentee ballots from military personnel and other American citizens overseas via internet and cell phone, and voting via the same methods directly, has become central to a handful of company’s business models. One of these companies, Scytl, appears to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the intelligence community.

Scytl was born of research at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Following the death of its founder, Dr. Andreu Riera, in a single car accident, Scytl received significant investment from venture capital firms. The connections between some of these firms, the intelligence community and the makers of cell phone spyware has been previously documented. Last month’s $40 million investment by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital completes the intelligence community’s domination of this world leader in internet and cell phone voting.

Prior to Paul Allen's investment, Scytl was owned by three firms, Spinnaker SCR, Balderton Capital, and Nauta Capital. Nauta Capital also has investment interest in Carrier IQ, a maker of smartphone key-press monitoring software. Nauta's North American director and Carrier IQ board member Dominic Endicott previously worked for Edward Snowden's employer Booz Allen Hamilton. Spinnaker SCR is owned by Garcia y Riva, another Spanish investment firm, that has two principal partners in common with Nauta Capital.

Balderton is a British derivative of the American venture capital giant Benchmark. Balderton was spun off, but Benchmark retains ownership over its initially raised investment funds. Both Benchmark and Balderton have a rich history of investment at the intelligence community's behest. Benchmark followed Nauta in investing in Carrier IQ, providing $10 million of Series A financing after the initial start-up, according to siliconbeat.com.

Balderton has co-invested in companies with In-Q-Tel, which is a non-profit venture capital firm controlled directly by the CIA and founded in 1999 by director George Tenet. In-Q-Tel is in no way shy about its mission and role. It states on its website: “We identify, adapt, and deliver innovative technology solutions to support the missions of the Central Intelligence Agency and broader U.S. Intelligence Community.”

Balderton invested in Recorded Future along with In-Q-Tel and Google Ventures. Recorded Future's products use language processing to extract time information from large numbers of documents. A group of Tweets or Facebook messages or texts can be sifted for a reference to a given time. Thus, it is possible to see which people plan to attend a meeting or concert or protest on a given Tuesday evening or who will be there “a few minutes late because of work.” This functionality is one of the key features of the NSA's PRISM program.

Balderton also joined In-Q-Tel in backing Cloudant, a big data start-up. According to their press releases, “Cloudant provides the world's first globally distributed database-as-a-service (DBaaS) for loading, storing, analyzing, and distributing operational application data for developers of large and/or fast-growing Web and mobile applications.”

Balderton's shares of the popular English social networking site Bebo were bought out by AOL in a sale that was negotiated by Allen & Company, a venture capital and private equity firm that lists George Tenet as a managing partner. Allen & Company also partnered with Balderton's parent Benchmark in backing NextDoor.com, a neighborhood focused social networking site that partners with large metropolitan police departments to create virtual block-watches and build virtual suburbia.

In addition to Benchmark and Allen & Company, NextDoor.com also received funding from Greylock Capital Partners, which shares a board member with In-Q-Tel. NextDoor was not Benchmark's first joint venture with Greylock. The two partnered directly with In-Q-Tel to bring a big data company called Decru to market. Decru specialized in deploying secured network hardware and software for big data applications before they were purchased by Network Appliances.

Did Vulcan Capital unwittingly hand $40 million to an election technology company that exists at a nexus of intelligence community lead investment? It appears not. Vulcan has also invested alongside In-Q-Tel in SiOnyx which makes infrared sensors for the U.S. Navy. As an additional investment, perhaps to achieve synergy with their position in SiOnyx, Vulcan also joined In-Q-Tel in financing Ember Corporation, which makes ZigBee wireless chips for integrating remote sensor applications.

Vulcan also joined Greylock investing in Redfin an online real estate brokering firm. Vulcan also co-invested with Tenet's Allen & Company in True Car, an online new and used car sales information and sales company. Together these companies have a host of data on the most important transactions consumers make.

Scytl has the ability to deliver votes. It also has the ability to intercept and change those votes. In order to steal an election without detection, Scytl and its backers in the intelligence community must know how many votes to steal and which votes to change. Through this web of outright ownership, it possesses the smart phone spyware, social media access, and consumer reporting information to change specific votes in a predictive fashion. This ownership network also possesses the secure data farms, distributed databases and language analysis tools to turn the fruits of their privacy violations into a powerful tool for clandestinely altering the outcome of elections at any level of government, both in the United States and abroad.

Carrier IQ alone undermines all of the so-called security of Scytl's cell phone voting. Recorded Future permits and intelligence agency to sift the vast amounts of data generated by users of Redfin, True Car, NextDoor, and Bebo. Decru permits the large-scale secure storage of this data. Cloudant allows a distributed database to be custom-built for the purpose. Recorded Future permits that database to be finely examined for citizens voting intentions, allowing votes to be cast on behalf those who choose to remain away from the polls.

Paul Allen, together with Greylock, Benchmark, Nauta, In-Q-Tel and George Tenet's Allen & Company appear to have spent hundreds of millions building the perfect storm. That storm can undermine elections through both the design and manufacture of the next generation of election technology. That storm will also generate its creators a hefty profit, through both consumer buy-in to the products and government purchase of election products.

Scytl is the logical product of the telecommunications revolution and the rise of post-constitutional America. The company has the unprecedented ability to destroy both democracy and privacy in the name of innovation and profit.