CIA calls into question Venezuela's Recall Referendum

26/03/2009 | Steve Stigall, a CIA cyber security expert, came close to declare that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stole 2004's recall referendum: "Appearing last month before a U.S. Election Assistance Commission field hearing in Orlando, Fla., a CIA cyber security expert suggested that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies fixed a 2004 election recount." Stigall is quoted as saying "It is my understanding that the computer software program that generated the random number list of voting machines that were being randomly audited, that program was provided by Chavez... That's my understanding. It generated a list of computers that could be audited, and they audited those computers. You know. No pattern of fraud there."

The role of the Carter Centre in Venezuela's recall is worth remembering: after lengthy and difficult negotiations between the Chavez regime and Venezuela's opposition umbrella group Coordinadora Democratica (CD), an agreement was reached. The purpose of the agreement, brokered by the Carter Centre (CC), UN's Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organization of American States (OAS), was to find an electoral solution to the political stalemate: UNDP, OAS and CC would guarantee that agreed upon conditions would be observed by the parties.

Stigall's statements, regarding the program that generated the sample, are, as a matter of fact, nothing new. In early October 2004, Jennifer McCoy, Director of Americas Programme of the Carter Centre, admitted as much in an email communication. Two audits were performed, one right after the vote ended on 15th August and another on 18th August. The night before the vote, National Electoral Council (CNE) chief, Jorge Rodriguez, granted the audit of 192 boxes, from a pool of centres to be selected by CNE authorities using CNE software. Of the 192 stipulated, only 76 audits were successfully completed. Of those 76, CD representatives were allowed to witness 27, and in those 27 the YES option (to recall Chavez) won with almost identical numbers to those attributed to the NO option, as announced by electoral authorities in the final result.

In light of the violation to the agreement reached, that is to say the unwillingness of CNE officials to upheld conditions agreed upon in advance such as utilization of software approved by all parties, CD representatives decided to request a second audit. Neither of the international brokers managed to convince the CNE to use a different software, as demanded by the CD. Furthermore, between first and second audits, international observers lost sight of the boxes that were to be audited. The second audit took place in the absence of CD representatives. The software used to randomly select the boxes to be audited in this instance was also provided by CNE, and not the one offered by international brokers, as expected by CD representatives.

The OAS, the UNDP and the CC failed to fulfil their only obligation, that of ensuring that all parties would abide by the rules agreed upon. OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria publicly contradicted Jimmy Carter, on 16th August, when fielding questions about whether or not international observers had witnessed the tallying of votes: while Carter said that his staff had been to the tallying room, Gaviria said that no one had been allowed in.

Where Stigall is wrong is in the result of audits conducted. For it cannot be rationally argued that there was no pattern of fraud, considering that in every case, of the 27 witnessed by CD representatives, the result was the opposite of that announced by CNE officials, most of who have since abandoned any pretence of impartiality. Subsequent peer-reviewed papers have shown that Chavez's victory was unlikely.

The CIA's worries are geographically misplaced: instead of decrying electoral fraud in Venezuela, its Stigalls should be looking into the problematic relationship between Smartmatic International, Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart Intercivic, which, combined, control more than 34% of the US electoral map. That's enough votes to change the outcome of a US presidential election. Stigall and co. should also be following the money trail, and investigating how much it cost the American taxpayer Jimmy Carter's little adventure in Venezuela, and why USAID lied about the contract with IFES, and its subcontract with the Carter Centre.

Written by Alek Boyd