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November 2, 2004

{     The Mezonic Agenda: Hacking the Presidency - by Dr. Herbert Thompson and Spyros Nomikos     }    

At best, fiction not only entertains- it educates. Portions of The Mezonic Agenda: Hacking the Presidency (published by O'Reilly) act as a crash course in the history, complications and pitfalls of electronic voting. In what is perhaps one of the most interesting meta-media-mash-ups I've ever witnessed, The Mezonic Agenda also includes a CD that allows you to "hack-along" with the developing plot threads, becoming familiar with the applications discussed in the text in a wholly unprecedented way. This interactivity serves to greatly enhance the very taut political-thriller/government-conspiracy storyline that develops. And the story behind The Mezonic Agenda has never been more topical or real-world frightening. If you voted electronically yesterday, you may be shocked to discover just how easily that vote could have been tampered with. Though the characters, corporations and government agencies discussed in the novel are largely fictional, the way The Mezonic Agenda breaks out the balance of power in the current Information Age is anything but. You're able to see in a very real way, whether you use the interactive software included or not, how a handful of people with the correct knowledge and proper support can effectively determine the fate of the entire world. On the morning of Nov. 2, as I write this, it's all a bit too bone-chillingly real. There is a touch of melodrama, (you can't effectively carry off a title in the political-thriller genre without a murder or two) a bit of spy-fiction concerning the use of subliminal messages, and the sense of rising urgency that develops is a bit rote, but there's no disputing the very real threat discussed at the heart of The Mezonic Agenda. It's a warning delivered as fiction, an exercise in basic hacking, and a novel of intrigue wrapped around an appendix dedicated to a history of voting, reverse engineering, cryptography, buffer overflows and steganography. Whether you enjoy the vehicle of delivery or not, the knowledge contained and discussed in the novel is something every eligible voter and US elected official should make themselves acquainted with. The researching of the novel included examining the results of the 2000 US Presidential election and e-voting set-ups for the current 2004 election, and this research led to some incredible revelations. If you prefer less intrigue and a more factual account of how the election is being tampered with, here's a taste from an essay by The Mezonic Agenda co-author Spyros Nomikos- "Although electronic voting and touch-screen systems have been in use since the 1970s, the recent controversies that have surrounded DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) design and implementation, as well as the companies that make them, have brought the risks of electronic voting under the spotlight. One of the most famous examples is that of Diebold Election Systems. Diebold is one of the largest manufacturers of automated teller machines (ATMs), which we are all familiar with when performing transactions at our local banks. Their electronic voting company has received great scrutiny over conflicts of interest and some ill-fated quotes by their CEO when he claimed that he would deliver Ohio's votes to President Bush in 2004. When researching electronic voting for The Mezonic Agenda: Hacking the Presidency, we found investigative reporter Bev Harris who discovered an FTP site full of Diebold software and firmware upgrades, source code, internal emails and memos, and voter data from a live voting precinct. One of the main arguments of Mrs. Harris and her foundation, Black Box Voting, is that Diebold uses Microsoft Access as the main database to store votes, ballot information, and user passwords for Diebold's central tallying software, GEMS. The ease with which one can gain access to these databases has raised serious concern in the scientific community and from activists nationwide."

     » The Mezonic Agenda: Hacking the Presidency
     » More of Nomikos' essay at O'Reilly

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