Before we get too far into this, it’s important to note that the president’s track record on matters of technology is a bit spotty. During the first presidential debate in 2016, he was asked about defending the country from cyberattacks. His answer covered a lot of loosely related ground, and included an interesting assertion about the feasibility of holding bad cyberactors at bay.
“So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyberwarfare. It is — it is a huge problem,” he said. “I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.”
In the years since, Trump’s familiarity with technological issues does not seem to have progressed much. At one point in 2019, he famously told the president of Ukraine that people said his country had the Democratic National Committee server that was hacked by Russia three years previously, an assertion that doesn’t really make sense. (“There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation,” Trump said in his call with President Volodymyr Zelensky.) When he tried to amplify a messy accusation against his 2020 opponent Joe Biden in October, he referred to a laptop as a server, which is similarly a bit baffling.
So consider the following tweet in the context of that level of familiarity with technological systems.
The most obvious hint that this claim is probably nonsense isn’t that unhelpfully tepid “disputed” flag from Twitter. It’s that his source for this claim is OAN’s Chanel Rion, a notorious purveyor of both misinformation and pro-Trump propaganda.
Her vetting process is rather lax, leading her to elevate a claim that the coronavirus was created in a North Carolina lab after someone tweeted the false theory at her. She was also the primary conduit for Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani to share a broad array of Ukraine-related allegations against Biden over the past year, including conducting interviews with a man who later faced U.S. sanctions as a Russian intelligence agent.
In this case, Rion doesn’t fare much better. The allegation that voting machines used in the Nov. 3 election were switching hundreds of thousands of votes from Trump to Biden are utterly baseless. The New York Times explored this particular conspiracy theory earlier this week.
“The Dominion software was used in only two of the five counties that had problems in Michigan and Georgia, and in every instance there was a detailed explanation for what had happened,” the Times’s Jack Nicas reported. “In all of the cases, software did not affect the vote counts.”
The company has similarly denied the allegations. There was a county in which machines were misconfigured, leading to a few thousand votes being attributed to Biden that should have been given to Trump. Elections officials in Antrim County, which Trump won by 30 points four years ago, realized that the results seemed odd and corrected the mistake. Biden won Michigan by about 150,000 votes, anyway.
This is not the only computer-related allegation to emerge, however. There’s another allegation centered on computer software that has gained traction among Trump’s supporters. And that allegation may be an indirect reason that the head of the government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency might soon be removed from his post.
The theory is that vote totals were changed by a government-run supercomputer called “Hammer” using software called “Scorecard.” It was first made by a known hoaxster named Dennis Montgomery, according to the Daily Beast. In 2009, Playboy ran a lengthy report about how Montgomery had tricked the government into thinking he had developed software enabling him to decode al-Qaeda communications. He hadn’t, but he got paid a lot, anyway.
CISA’s Chris Krebs has repeatedly rejected this particular conspiracy theory on social media.
His assertion that the claim is nonsense is bolstered by the complete lack of evidence for the existence of either Hammer or Scorecard.
The information included in Krebs’s image comes from CISA’s “Rumor Control” website, established to combat election misinformation. Most of the misinformation covered on the site at this point is misinformation that stems from allies of Trump or Trump himself — a bit awkward, given that Trump is at the top of the organizational chart on which Krebs sits.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that this employer-employee tension was perhaps leading to a predictable outcome.
“Top U.S. cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs has told associates he expects to be fired by the White House, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters,” the wire service said. “… In particular, one person said, the White House was angry about a CISA post rejecting a conspiracy theory that falsely claims an intelligence agency supercomputer and program, purportedly named Hammer and Scorecard, could have flipped votes nationally. No such system exists, according to Krebs, election security experts and former U.S. officials.”
Neither Reuters nor other reporters say that CISA’s response to the Hammer-Scorecard conspiracy theory is the only reason for Krebs’s possible ouster. That it may play a role at all, though, is amazing. The White House is reportedly frustrated that the guy in charge of combating misinformation is forcefully combating particularly untethered allegations … which bolster Trump’s assertions that his electoral loss was a function of technological machinations.
None of this, the Dominion stuff or the Hammer stuff, is reinforced by any robust evidence. Adherents will insist that such evidence exists, because that’s what conspiracy theorists do. But it’s all just an effort to rationalize Trump’s loss, which, obviously, is why it appeals to Trump.
There’s a funny detail here, though. Notice that in Trump’s tweet about Rion’s “news,” he alleges that 2.7 million Trump votes were somehow “deleted.” If that were true, it would still mean that Trump lost the popular vote nationally by about the same margin as he lost it four years ago.
Even in Trump’s completely false dream scenario of how the election was rigged against him, he would still be the second-most-popular candidate.
Update: On Thursday afternoon, CISA released a statement on behalf of the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) Executive Committee and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council. The key line was offered in bold type.
“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised," it read.