Friday, November 24, 2006

Krugman way off base on Alec Yasinsac

This morning, Paul Krugman has an Op-Ed in the New York Times titled When Votes Disappear. Normally I would be very pleased to read such an op-ed, and I was today as well, until I got two thirds of the way down and saw this:

    "Although state officials have certified Mr. Buchanan as the victor, they’ve promised an audit of the voting machines. But don’t get your hopes up: as in 2000, state election officials aren’t even trying to look impartial. To oversee the audit, the state has chosen as its “independent” expert Prof. Alec Yasinsac of Florida State University — a Republican partisan who made an appearance on the steps of the Florida Supreme Court during the 2000 recount battle wearing a 'Bush Won' sign."

I almost fell out of my chair when I read that. Now, I was one of the first people to criticize the use partisan officials to administer elections, such as Ken Blackwell who while he was the secretary of state of Ohio was also co-chair of President Bush's reelection campaign in that state. But, what a different perspective it gives when you know the full story, as I do with Alec Yasinsac.

The Security and Assurance in Information Technology Laboratory (SAIT) at Florida State is the best security research group in the state of Florida if not the Southeast. I'm quite familiar with their research. The professors there include Breno de Medeiros, a recent Ph.D. alumnus of our program at Johns Hopkins, Mike Bermester, a famous Cryptographer, and of course Alec Yasinsac. I have known Alec for about 12 years. He is an extremely talented researcher and well respected security expert. The state of Florida contacted SAIT because they are the top computer security research group in the state. As soon as they were contacted, Alec Yasinsac called me with several other members of their lab on the phone because he was concerned that his Republican affiliation was being blown out of proportion by the local press. I understood his concern, but also noted that he is part of a whole group there, and that I believed they should perform this security audit. I also know that this group has recruited outside help from notables such as David Jefferson and Princeton Professor Ed Felten, who I believe are both involved in the audit, and are completely nonpartisan in their work.

I know very well that the SAIT group, including Alec, are only interested in finding out the truth and discovering what happened with the voting machines, if it is at all possible to do so. Hearing a high profile columnist such as Krugman refer to my friend Alec Yasinsac as a partisan hack really stings, and it causes me to now question every time I see someone painted with such a brush in the media. Furthermore, Krugman writes his pieces as though Alec would be performing the audit alone. What a difference it makes to actually know the people involved very well. Krugman would have done well to interview some computer scientists about Alec and SAIT before dismissing this audit out of hand. Sadly, I think this incident illustrates that this columnist is willing to embrace whatever circumstances and appearances serve his message with no regard for whether they are legitimate.