Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: April 10, 2017 Guest: John Archibald, Xeni Jardin
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to at home for joining us this hour. There is a lot going on in the news right now.
Today, we got a new United States Supreme Court justice, who many people will now call Justice Neil Gorsuch. But many other people will insist on calling him Justice Merrick Garland or some variety of that because it will never ever, ever, ever, ever be normal that Senate Republicans wouldn`t allow President Obama to appoint a justice to fill that seat on the court simply because he was a president from the Democratic Party that will never ever, ever be normal. So as far as I`m concerned, today, Justice Neil "Merrick Garland" Gorsuch got sworn in and the court is back to nine members.
And the president is now established that henceforth in our country, no president will get to nominate Supreme Court justices anymore unless his or her party also controls the United States Senate that is the new standard in our country. But with Gorsuch/Garland being sworn in today, that is officially the way it`s going to be from here on out. Welcome to your new Supreme Court era in American history.
Also today, the White House apparently scrapped its next big policy plan which was to redo the tax code after their face plant trying to repeal Obamacare and getting nowhere with that. Apparently, they are getting shy about big policy stuff. They are getting shy about trying to do a taxes overhaul as well. That is according to the "Associated Press" today.
Congress is on recess this week. The plan to redo the tax code has been a convenient hook for constituents back home to berate their members of Congress that Donald Trump shouldn`t be allowed to change anything about the tax code as long as he hasn`t released his own taxes. So, we can all check to see if he`s making new tax policy that`s designed to help himself.
But this president really does not want to release his taxes and apparently now he won`t be overhauling anybody else`s taxes either. The Republicans are giving up on that at least for now.
Today, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the U.S. missile strike on that Syrian air base last week, today, Jim Mattis said that that airbase strike destroyed 20 percent of the operational aircraft in the Syrian air force. Now, if you`re trying to keep track of this particular statistic, let`s be clear as to why it`s hard to keep track of this.
So far, the administration has said that that strike, that missile strike last Thursday destroyed twenty planes at that one base. They`ve also said that it`s destroyed 20 percent of the planes in one wing of the Syrian air force. They`ve also said that it destroyed twenty percent of the planes that are actually operational in the Syrian air force and they`ve also said that it destroyed 20 percent of all the planes total in the Syrian air force.
All of those things cannot be true simultaneously. Which of those things is true, who knows? But by tomorrow, the way this is going, they`ll presumably be telling us that that strike destroyed a hundred and twenty percent of all the planes in Syria. It destroyed twelve thousand percent of all the Muslim flames everywhere. You guys got to figure this one out. It`s been five days.
Today, the deputy national security adviser lost her job. They are reportedly going to try to send her to Singapore instead, to be an ambassador despite her reportedly lobbying for a job that would keep her in D.C.
This administration has not been around very long, but already, this is the second deputy national security adviser to leave. And, of course, the actual national security advisor left after only 24 days on the job.
We`ve also seen a top White House communications guy named Boris, we saw him mysteriously get the boot a couple of weeks ago, and then we saw the deputy White House chief of staff mysteriously get the boot a little over a week ago, and that`s not even counting presidential advisor Steve Bannon getting demoted off the National Security Council last week, nor is it counting the six White House staffers, including the chief digital officer who got fired after failing their background checks.
This administration isn`t even three months old yet, but it`s already shedding staff like water off a lame duck.
Tonight, this hour, on the show, we`ve got the latest from Alabama with the political reporter who was absolutely tip of the spear when it came to the two came to this sex and ethics scandal that today resulted in the resignation of the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley.
We`ve also got a fascinating report this hour on why all the tornado sirens went off all at once in Dallas this weekend. Did you hear about that? The emergency warning signals all over Dallas all went off in the middle of the night on Friday night when they were not supposed to. Wait until you hear why that happened. That story is absolutely nuts and that is coming up tonight.
We`ve also got a report tonight on the special elections that are going to be held tomorrow in Kansas and next week in Georgia. These are elections to fill the congressional seats of these two Republicans who got bumped up from the House of Representatives to take positions in the Trump administration. These are both red districts in red states, but the Republican Party is freaking out about the prospect that these seats might be at risk in Kansas and Georgia. So, we`ve got that story ahead tonight as well.
There`s a lot going on. But I want to start tonight with an intriguing piece of news out of Spain. Now, this is an FBI story, but the FBI is officially not commenting on it. So, I will tell you at the outset, we are sort of left to our own devices in terms of figuring out exactly what this means but one of the ways we can start to do that is at this website. This is a website called "Spamhaus", which sounds like a delicious idea for a downscale retro Hawaiian fast-food place.
But Spamhaus, s-p-a-m-h-a-u-s., spamhaus.org, it`s basically an online international clearinghouse for information and news and statistics and leads about the ways that people use the internet to commit crimes and steal stuff. It`s about spam and hacking and malware and viruses, all the means that people use to mount online attacks.
And they have done their best at Spamhaus to try to make the worst spammers in the world very famous. Obviously, this is the sort of crime that you can commit without anybody ever laying eyes on you but Spamhaus has done their best to try to create a -- you know, FBI style most wanted list first for spammers.
Quoting from spamhaus.org, "Up to eighty percent of spam targeted at Internet users around the world is generated by a hardcore group of about 100 known persistent spam gangs whose names, aliases and operations are documented in Spamhaus` register of known spam operations database." And they post that explanation right along what is basically their version of the ten most wanted list. Quote, "This top chart of spammers is based on Spamhaus` view of the highest threat, least repentant, most persistent, and generally the worst of the career spammers causing the most damage on the Internet currently."
So, with their top list. And if you need a pop up your patriotic pride a little bit, you`ve been worrying that maybe the United States of America is not holding our own when it comes to this technically adept corner of the criminal underworld, rest assured turns out we`re doing great. Of the top ten worst spammers in the world, seven out of the of them are USA, USA. Two of the 10 are from Ukraine and there`s one guy in the list who has been on that list for a long time who is Russian.
And this is the news -- the Russian guy just got arrested. He is known online as Peter Severa or just Severa. He`s also known as Peter Levashov.
And according to spamhaus.org, he is a, quote, "spammer who writes and sells virus spamming spamware and botnet access. He`s probably involved in the writing and releasing of viruses and Trojans. He`s one of the longest operating criminal spam lords on the Internet."
The reason this kind of criminal arrest is now American politics news is because one of the things that we`ve all had to learn in reporting and understanding the story of the Russian government hacking our presidential election last year, one of the things we`ve had to get familiar with in terms of how the Russian government, the Russian military, the Russian intelligence services mount those kinds of attacks, we have had to learn about the overlap in Russia between criminal hacking -- you know, hacking for profit, hacking just thievery -- the overlap between that and Russian government intelligence work.
I mean, yes, America is still king of the world when it comes to online criminal activity -- hacking, spam, stealing and stuff.
But Russia is pretty good too, and over the years, an unusual thing has emerged in the Russian government. The Russian intelligence services, including their military intelligence service, they have moved beyond just trying to tap bright young computer science undergrads to enlist and join the spy services they have moved beyond that sort of recruiting of people into the intelligence services from the computer world, and they instead have moved into the criminal part of the hacking world. They have taken great pains to co-opt the most successful criminal hackers and spam artists operating illegally in Russia.
Rather than prosecute them, instead they use them. They essentially piggyback on that criminal activity and take over some of that criminal activity for their own purposes in Russian intelligence.
So, Russian criminal hackers are stealing personal data and financial information from, for example, tens of millions hundreds of millions of users of yahoo.com. OK, fine, that`s a criminal act. They`re doing it for profit. But Russian intelligence then uses that hack to specifically target individual journalists and opposition figures who they want to go after for political reasons, for government reasons. That`s the way it works.
And with this guy who just got arrested in Spain that particular overlap between criminal work and intelligence work for Russia, that overlap is very, very clear with him. As long ago as 2012, there was open source reporting in Russia that he had crossed over from just being a famous criminal hacker to working for the FSB, working for the successor agency to the KGB.
He was reported to be making the pitch to other hackers in closed online communication forums, asking other hackers to do work on behalf of the Russian government, on behalf of the Russian spy service.
Also, his own online criminal activity was implicated in a pro Putin Russian government operation. I`ll quote this part from today`s "New York Times". Quote, "Peter Severa`s spam operation ran a sophisticated evolving family of computer viruses." I`m going to mispronounce these but I`ll do my best -- "a sophisticated evolving family`s computer viruses called Waledac and later Kelihos." I have no idea if that`s how you say them.
But look at this, quote, "The Kelihos virus had been devised to spread spam, but during the Russian election in 2012, it was used to send political messages to email accounts on computers with Russian IP addresses, and those emails linked to fake news stories saying that the businessman who was running for president against Vladimir Putin had come out as gay."
So, this guy was one of the most famous criminal spam kingpins in the world. These viruses and botnet operations that he`d built for his spam vampire apparently had made him fabulously wealthy. When "BuzzFeed News" wrote up this story today, they quoted a fellow Russian hacker as describing Peter Levashov as living a lifestyle so lavish, quote, "it would have embarrassed an oligarch."
So, he`s a top ten internationally listed criminal spam kingpin. He`s reported to have recruited other hackers online to work for the Russian intelligence service. His own viruses were put to work in a Russian election a few years ago, spreading fake news that Putin`s opponent was gay. And now, he`s been arrested in Spain and -- get this -- he was arrested in Spain at the request of the FBI. Hmm.
And the FBI is not talking about why they wanted him arrested or what this is about. But in Russian language media reporting on this arrest today and in Spanish media reporting on this arrest today, because again the arrest was in Spain, multiple publications have run quotes from this guy`s wife who was with him in Barcelona when he got arrested and she says what he told her about why he was being arrested is that had it had to do with a computer virus that he had created that was related to Donald Trump winning the presidential election in the United States last year.
So, this guy has been a known notorious spammer for years, for years. But he has traveled freely around the world. He has never been arrested that we know of. He has never behaved as if he feared arrest. Certainly, he never behaved as if he feared arrest by the FBI by traveling to a country that had an extradition treaty with the United States like Spain does. But he got picked up in Barcelona and now he`s in a Spanish prison because the FBI asked for Spanish authorities to pick him up.
Why and why now? Should we believe these quotes from his wife who says that he told her his arrest had something to do with the U.S. election? We don`t know. The FBI will not say.
For what it`s worth, the no comment that the FBI is giving on this story, it came from the criminal division of the FBI, not from the national security division of the FBI. So, maybe the origin of the no comment is significant in some way, I don`t know.
But this does come at a time when some new pieces are starting to fall in place in terms of the pace and the scope and the focus of the investigation into the Russia attack and this crucial question of whether or not the Trump campaign was involved in that attack.
"The Financial Times" reported last week that the FBI has now created a special unit in Washington to oversee all aspects of this investigation. It had previously been reported that the investigation was spread out among multiple FBI field offices all around the country. Apparently, they will now start operating out of a single unit in Washington.
CBS has recently reported that although the FBI investigation didn`t start until July of last year, according to CBS, the focus of the FBI investigation has now shifted two months earlier than that. CBS reports that the FBI is now looking at the initial Russian hack of the Democratic Party which happened all the way back in March. They are reportedly looking into whether or not people associated with the Trump campaign might have helped direct that initial hack, might have helped protect -- direct those Russian efforts as early as last March when the hacking and the stealing first started.
In addition to that, on Thursday night, as the U.S. Navy launched Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base, one of the pieces of news that night that got kind of lost in the sauce as everybody covered that military strike, was word that the CIA had come across news about the Russian attack and about the Trump campaigns possible connections to that attack that the CIA apparently found very alarming last summer.
According to "The New York Times", in late August, CIA Director John Brennan was so concerned about what the CIA was seeing about increased evidence of Russia`s election meddling that he began a series of urgent individual briefings for eight top members of Congress." Quote, "It is unclear what new intelligence might have prompted the classified briefings, but concerns were growing internally and publicly at the time about a significant Russian breach of the Democratic National Committee and the CIA -- this is important -- the CIA began seeing signs of possible connections to the Trump campaign."
"In an August 25th briefing for then-Senator Harry Reid, John Brennan indicated that unnamed advisors to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election."
So, the CIA thought that that was enough of a possibility that they needed to individually start briefing senior leadership in Congress, not just the Russian attack Trump involvement in the attack. So, I mean, in terms of division of labor and national security law here, the CIA can only handle the foreign part of this, right? The CIA can only handle the Russian attack part of this.
When it comes to the possibility of the Trump campaign or any other Americans helping that effort, well, then you`re talking about Americans. That`s a domestic issue. That becomes an American law enforcement operation, right? And that sort of thing is not handled by the CIA. That has to be handled by the FBI.
But this new reporting indicates that the CIA last summer somehow came into possession of information that it found sufficiently alarming that the director did one-on-one briefings with the leadership in Congress, not to tell them about Russia interfering at the election, but to tell them about Russia interfering with the election and the distinct possibility that Trump campaign, the Trump campaign was helping Russia do that.
So, the Trump campaign side of that is something that the FBI would have to handle ultimately, not the CIA. And because of that, because that`s FBI territory at that point, the investigation becomes a black box to us in terms of what we know about it or at least in terms of what the FBI will say about it. But whether or not they are talking about these things, we can see what they`re doing.
And one of the things they have just done is request the arrest of this Russian intelligence linked criminal mega hacker who is now sitting in a jail cell in Barcelona presumably about to be extradited to the United States. And the FBI won`t say beep about it.
So, there`s a lot going on in the world right now. There`s a lot going on in politics. There`s a lot going on in the news that doesn`t look like politics until you`ve got to the surface a little bit.
But as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepares to go to Moscow as this administration continues to enjoy its first real bout of shallow good press about their bombing two thousand percent of all the planes in Syria, the one potentially existential scandal of this administration really is still moving. Tonight, it`s moving in Barcelona. Tomorrow, who knows?
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Tom DeLay really pioneered the genre. But you know, John Edwards was dazzling, too. Oh, and Rick Perry oh happy day Rick Perry.
This is a thing for arrested politicians now. This is the way it`s done. When it`s time for your mug shot, sir, make sure you smile.
I don`t know who trains politicians to take their mug shots like this, but Alabama Governor Robert Bentley clearly got the memo. Smile, sir.
We have been covering the Robert Bentley story for months. We were the first national news outlet to spend significant time on this story. We were -- we were on the Robert Bentley story even before the tape came out.
I think -- I`m not going to promise, but I think I can tell you -- I think I can tell you this is the last time we`re ever going to play it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY (R), ALABAMA: You`d kiss me, I love that. You know I do love that, when I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts. And I put my head on your (INAUDIBLE) and just, and pull, you in real close. I, hey, I love that, too.
But, baby, let me tell you what we`re going to have to do, we`re going to have to start locking the door. If we`re going to do -- if we`re going to do what we did the other day, we`re going to have to start locking the door.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: I think that`s it. I think we are now officially -- I was going to say we put that bed, but it`s like -- there`s nothing, it pollutes all words that get anywhere near it.
Anyway, I think we are done with that now, because today, this thing arrived at its inevitable political conclusion. The sex and ethics scandal that made Alabama Republican Governor Robert Bentley nationally famous.
Today, it resulted in a plea deal, in which he pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts. He resigned as governor of Alabama. He pledged to never run for public office again. He agreed to pay back funds that he misused, and he will do many dozens of hours of unpaid community service.
Now, it is possible that they could still try to put him in jail on the misdemeanors that he pled guilty to today, but nobody really expects jail time. Alabama`s basically a one-party state at this point. Republicans dominate all levels of government.
Just over the course of one year, over the space of one year, the Republican speaker of the house was arrested convicted and sentenced to four years in prison on corruption charges. Not long after that, the elected chief justice of the state Supreme Court was thrown off the bench for violating judicial ethics and now today, smile the governor has resigned pled guilty and had his mug shot taken.
As Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey took the oath of office today, started to feel like there might be something poetic about the fact that a governor, you know, cheating on his wife of years and then using state funds and resources to cover it up, that that scandal in particular will now result in Alabama getting a woman governor for only the second time in the state`s history.
But we may not be able to write the ending of this yet. This thing might not be over.
Alabama political reporter John Archibald broke many of the biggest developments in this scandal from the very beginning and today as the governor resigned, Archibald says that now there may be other shoes to drop. The head of the Alabama law enforcement agency is implicated here. The utility company that was inexplicably paying the alleged mistresses salary, they are implicated here.
Also, Luther Strange who Governor Robert Bentley appointed to a United States Senate seat right in the middle of this whole morass, there are now questions he`s going to have to answer. When Jeff Sessions became Donald Trump`s attorney general, it was Robert Bentley who appointed Jeff Sessions` successor in the Senate, and now, he may be all mixed up in this too.
John Archibald is the Alabama reporter who busted this story open in the first place. He says this may not be over today just because the governor resigned today. John Archibald joins us from Alabama, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENTLEY: The time has come for me to look at new ways to serve the good people of our great state. I have decided it is time for me to step down as Alabama`s governor. I`m leaving this office that I have held, that I have respected, that I`ve loved for seven years to focus on other and possibly more effective areas of service.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley resigning from office today. I don`t know what he thinks his more effective areas of service are going to be, but as governor, he had ceased to be effective a long time ago when this sex and ethics scandal first broke in Alabama news.
Joining us now is the man who more than anybody broke this story, John Archibald, columnist for "The Birmingham News". He is reporting tonight that the resignation of the governor may not be the end of this story.
Mr. Archibald, it`s really good to have you with us tonight. I`m sure it`s been a very busy day for you.
JOHN ARCHIBALD, ALABAMAA MEDIA GROUP COLUMNIST: Yes, it has. Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: First of all, let me just ask about this the governor`s decision here. This was not a simple resignation. It was part of a plea deal.
For people who haven`t been following the criminal part of this carefully, could she tell us sort of the distance between the charges he was facing and what he actually pled to today while he resigned?
ARCHIBALD: Sure. Last week, the Alabama ethics commission referred to prosecutors for charges which are all felonies, ethics charges and campaign violations which each carried a 20-year maximum prison sentence.
So, going from there to two misdemeanors, it seems like a long way to fall. But there are other conditions and that`s why he was able to make that deal.
MADDOW: And if -- obviously, him resigning as governor, him pledging to never stand for public office again, him repaying some of the funds that he`s accused of misusing, there are a lot of -- I mean, he`s paying a penalty here. Will this be a controversial plea deal in Alabama? Will people want him to have seen jail time? Will the people who made this deal with them have to answer for it?
ARCHIBALD: I think, initially, a lot of people are really upset honestly. It`s one of the strangest things. That this has been one of the most unifying things I`ve seen in Alabama in a long time, because Republicans, Democrats just about everybody looked at this and says this is crazy. He should have resigned long ago.
So, I think there`s some anger initially that it`s not worse, but when people start to realize that the cost of the trial is going to be avoided and he really has lost everything, I think that people will probably be more forgiving.
MADDOW: In terms of the knock-on effects here, it`s not just his career. One of the things that you were highlighting today when you rode up at AOL.com, when you rode up basically the overview of what happened today, is that there may be some other shoes to drop here. There is -- there`s a lot of stuff that came out in that report that was -- that was that was just released, in all those thousands of pages of exhibits. There is a utility company that seems to have explicably had the governor`s alleged mistress on its payroll.
The head of Alabama law enforcement agency appears to have been sort of an insider in terms of this -- the affair and maybe the efforts to cover it up. Do you expect that those things will be pursued?
ARCHIBALD: I think there will be some things pursued. I do think that ahead of their law enforcement agencies is particularly in trouble because he has painted time and time again by sworn testimony and witnesses as having had intimate knowledge of the affair, the text messages and such. But when he was immediately promoted ahead of law enforcement, he stood beside the governor and said that that -- he had no knowledge of it, and he has continued that and it is inexplicable in trouble.
There are others, Rebekah Mason, the aide, her husband will face some real scrutiny. And as you mentioned before, this will not wash off of Luther Strange.
MADDOW: Luther Strange is obviously a law enforcement connection to this. He was the state attorney general when the governor appointed him to take Jeff Sessions seat in the United States Senate. Why might this be a problem for him?
ARCHIBALD: Well, we all know that it`s a difficult to unseat a sitting senator, but he was supposed to be a hit in charge of the investigation that was looking into Bentley and implored Alabama House of Representatives not to proceed with an impeachment because he was going to handle -- because his office was going to handle it. Then, he immediately when Sessions seat became available went to the governor and parlayed that into an appointment as senator.
And I just think he way underestimated how much Alabama will hold him responsible for that.
MADDOW: John Archibald, columnist for "The Birmingham News" -- again did more than anybody anywhere to break this story that has now resulted in the resignation of the governor.
John, I know that this is still an ongoing reporting project for you. Thanks for letting us know and it`s weird to say congratulations on this, but as a repeat of reporting and journalism, you deserve a lot of the credit here, sir.
ARCHIBALD: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks. Appreciate it.
Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, spring last year toward the end of the presidential primary season, city of Dallas started experiencing something weird. A mini outbreak of tampering with their highway signs. Roadside traffic warnings instead we`re turning into political messages.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: This is the kind of information you`d expect to see posted on one of these traffic signs set up along I-30. But earlier today, the message on the same sign was urging voters to feel the burn. Wayne Cox is one of thousands of motorist who drove past what a three traffic signs that were broken into and hacked early this morning. Another sign on westbound on I-30 between Westmoreland and Cockrell Hill display the statement "Donald Trump is a shape-shifting lizard".
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hacking into roadsides. I know how that one ends, it`s still funny to see.
Hacking into road signs to call Donald Trump a shape-shifting lizard is funny, right? But you can also see how that kind of hacking could potentially be dangerous. I should also mention it`s a felony.
In the Trump is a shape-shifting lizard case, whoever was responsible for that, did it by actually physically breaking in to the highway signs, cutting open the locks on those signs and then reprogramming what they would say. I should say that the Dallas authorities never actually caught who did that last year but that was May of last year.
Then on Friday night, this past Friday night, Dallas got hacked again, except this time, it was way worse, way louder and less funny.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you were in Dallas, Texas, on Friday night between the hours of 11:40 p.m. and 1:20 a.m., this is what it sounded like everywhere. A calm, otherwise warm normal night suddenly interrupted by the sound of all -- listen to that -- all of 156 of the city`s emergency sirens going off simultaneously. These are emergency sirens that worn in the event of tornadoes or other big weather emergencies, but there weren`t tornadoes. There weren`t any wasn`t anything else going on that would warrant all these things going off. But all 156 of them started going off, almost continuously for an hour and a half.
Ultimately, the only way officials could stop the sirens was basically to pull the plug on the whole system. 911 lines were flooded with a surge of calls from people who understandably were freaking out what`s the emergency, what`s the emergency. Initially, the city said it was a malfunction.
But by Saturday afternoon, officials said actually it was a hack, but not a hack in the way we traditionally think of hacking. It was not a hack done remotely by a computer. In fact, the sirens are not operated by a computer-based system at all. They`re radio-controlled. They get turned on and off by radio transmissions, by sounds.
According from "The Dallas Morning News", it appears somebody took control of the frequency and transmitted the tones that turned on all 156 sirens across the city. Well, today, the city said the system was finally back up and running. All fixed. They are not discussing the details of how their infrastructure was targeted, but they do say they believe the attack on the sirens came from the Dallas area. They say, quote, "We are taking Friday night`s incident very seriously."
As for who might have done this, whether it was just a benign hack designed to point out a security weakness, or it was just done for fun or it was done with more malicious intent, we have no idea. Dallas PD and the FBI are both investigating.
Joining us now is Xeni Jardin. She`s a tech culture journalist. She`s co- editor of Boing Boing and she`s an American hero.
Xeni, it`s very nice to see you. Thanks for being here.
XENI JARDIN, BOINGBOING.NET TECH CULTURE JOURNALIST: Hey, thank you, Rachel. It`s you who`s the hero.
MADDOW: Oh, well -- now let`s just end this here, it seems like we peaked.
All right. Let`s -- when I first heard this story, I assumed that it was a computer-based hack. When I heard that it was a sound based hack, the first thing that occurred to me was that this was -- this is like the beginning of hacker school. This is how people used to hack long-distance phone calls, right?
JARDIN: This is a OG hacking school. So, back in the day, back in the `80s and early `90s, hackers like Kevin Mitnick and a dude named Captain Crunch were you know taking the whistles out of Captain Crunch cereal boxes, and there`s some dual-tone multi-frequency DTMF. When you when you pick up a touch-tone phone, a landline phone and you touch the little numbers, you know, there`s two different tones. Well that`s an example of a tone that municipalities might use to say, turn on an emergency alert system, or control waters, or like a control the dam, or flood control systems.
The idea of these systems is that they were they were pre-internet. Their radio broadcast. So, if there`s a legitimate emergency, they can`t be shut down. Let`s say, you know, all the power goes out, chances are that you can broadcast a sound to these alarms.
And the reason that you had 156 of them going on for 90 seconds each different 15 times, nobody`s sure exactly how this was pulled off but they didn`t actually have to gain access to a computer. It seems like, according to the smartest tech forensic minds that I`ve spoken to, it seems like there was a combination of somebody having access to the codes, perhaps somebody in Dallas having access to the physical boxes, somebody knowing the exact frequencies, signs point to this. If not being an inside job, at least somebody having inside access.
MADDOW: And, Xeni, in terms of infrastructure hacks, obviously, we all learn about different kinds of hacking with every new news story that makes it more and more relevant to our lives, we`re all learning about, you know, Russian intelligence services and they`re hacking strategies, for example, because of Trump story. Is there a culture or subculture in hacking that`s specifically about showing off what you can do with infrastructure, that`s about embarrassing cities and embarrassing governments in terms of having old-school tech that they maybe aren`t protecting very well?
JARDIN: Not only is there is subculture, it`s pretty much this is this is epic pawnage. You know this is like an epic hack. You woke everybody up. You freaked everybody out.
So, in terms of pranks, you know, whoever pulled this off got good bragging rights. What`s frightening about this is that -- well, first of all, as I recall it was the first night we began bombing Syria and who knows maybe people would have been frightened that they were in imminent endanger themselves.
But even beyond the sort of emergency reaction that keep people could have when they`re frightened, what if this was the water system? What if it was the electricity system?
Hacks like this are kind of their low probability, high impact event. And part of what`s tricky here is that we know that municipal governments in the U.S. spend very, very little of their I.T. budget if they even have an I.T. budget, on security. So big concerns now as the federal government is being -- it`s being shrunk before our very eyes, what`s going to happen on the state and the local level in terms of protecting this very unsexy but high impact infrastructure?
You know, in my opinion there should be a chief information security officer for every city in America that`s not going to happen. So, could we see maybe private public partnerships where large companies, you know, maybe someday at a Google or a Facebook will say, you know, we think that this part of the great ought to be protected, these kinds of arcane systems. Let`s create a new kind of security infrastructure.
I don`t know how that will play out now under Trump, but you know, not all of the hacks are digital and not all of the infrastructure risks can be seen in terms of bridges that fall down.
MADDOW: When Dallas going through something like this, maybe -- I mean we may see change of that kind a sort of demonstration project change of that kind come from Dallas because they`ve been through this now very high- profile, annoying, but not ultimately dangerous --
JARDIN: That`s right and they`ve been touched by real terror scares as well. This is -- this is more than just a joke and everybody`s on edge right now.
MADDOW: Xeni Jardin, tech culture journalist, co-editor of Boing Boing -- Xeni, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being here, my friend.
JARDIN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We got some unexpected news tonight on the fierce and current battle for the control of Congress. Congress will not just be decided by the midterms next year, it`s happening right now. That story`s just ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Tom Price our nation`s new secretary of health and human services. He is also a walking, talking billboard advertising what it means to have conflicts of interest while you hold high government office. While heading a key congressional committee on health care, Tom Price traded in stocks in health companies, while he was sponsoring and voting on legislation that would affect the prices of those company`s stocks.
He got special non-public deals from a foreign bio-tech firm where he got to buy his stock cheaper than the general public. He is accused of severely under-valuing his stock holdings on his financial disclosure forms.
All of that was reported in the press before Senate Republicans voted to confirm him as health secretary in February. Since then, there`s only been more.
The latest from "ProPublica", who report now on the same day that his stockbroker bought him $90,000 worth of pharmaceutical company stock, Tom Price that same day, quote, "arranged a call to a top U.S. health official to try to convince that official to get rid of a rule that could have hurt the profits of that company."
This is not been good news for Tom Price and it keeps stacking up. I mean, the silver ling for us the American people in terms of not being deprived of honest services here, is that Tom Price can no longer get campaign donations from these industries that he has been serving so well now that he is no longer in Congress, right?
You know who can, though? His wife. His wife is named Betty Price. She`s a state rep for Georgia`s 48th house district. Since her husband Tom Price was nominated to be the health and human services secretary, health companies from outside her state, certainly from outside her district have suddenly become very interested in her little house district and started flooding her with money.
And it does open this new avenue of questioning as to whether it is appropriate for the wife of the health and human services secretary to continue to receive donations from the health care industry that her husband is now intimately involved with.
And now, she is playing an active role in the special election to replace her husband in Georgia`s sixth congressional district. She`s just cut -- Betty Price just cut a brand-new radio ad in support of Republicans in the upcoming election. The race, the race to replace Tom Price, the sixth congressional district in Georgia is getting a lot of national attention now in part because national players are intimately involved with the politics back home, but also because that race is one of the first tests of the Trump effect, right, what the nation`s reaction to trump looks like back home in these congressional districts that are about to start having special elections.
Today, something practically unthinkable even just a few months ago, happened in that Georgia race. We`ve got more on that next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Texas Senator Ted Cruz showed up at a surprising place today. Yingling aviation, which is a little add-on part of the regular airport in Wichita, Kansas, it`s a part where they land private planes, I think. Ted Cruz was there for a rally for a Republican who`s running in a special election tomorrow.
When Republicans got the White House this year, one of the knock-on effects of that was that a bunch of lawmakers got pulled out of Congress and into the new administration. And now, their congressional seats are open. Now, these are all Republican seats in red states but Republicans are worried, actually a little bit about all of them, Kansas, South Carolina, Georgia, Montana, could Democrats take one of these congressional seats? Could they take more than one?
Republicans are pouring in resources to try to stop that from happening. So, Ted Cruz, you were at Yingling Aviation for a day, trying to save a Kansas congressional seat that had been occupied before by Mike Pompeo, who is now running the CIA.
Both President Trump and Vice President Pence sent robocalls into this Kansas district for tomorrow. The president won the district by 27 points. They should not have to help there.
That Kansas race happens tomorrow. The next week, week from tomorrow, it`s Georgia. It`s an all-comers primary to fill the seat that used to be held by Tom Price.
Congressman Price now secretary of health and human services. Look at the field of people trying to replace him. Look at this, 18 candidates all lumped together in the same list regardless of party. If anybody clears 50 votes of the vote, that person will win the seat outright. If not, the top candidates will compete in a runoff.
The game here is that a bunch of Republicans could win. They`re all slugging it out for the same votes, but the Democrats have mainly coalesced around one candidate, a guy named Jon Ossoff. That relatively united support has Ossoff pulling way ahead of everybody, at 43 percent. He`s not at the 50 percent threshold, but he is not far off.
His candidacy has been a lightning rod for Democratic energy around the country. He`s gotten a ton of national attention and support. He`s got over $8 million in his campaign war chest, which is bonanza money, for any congressional election, especially for a candidate nobody had ever heard of before this.
And Republicans do seem a little bothered by the possibility that Jon Ossoff could actually win this thing outright a week from tomorrow. Trump won this district by less than two points. Well, now, in this special election, national Republicans have been pounding Jon Ossoff with attack ads, and mailers. They sent national Republican staffers to the district. They`re opening a new Republican field office. All of this to defend a Republican seat that they didn`t know before now they`d have to be defending.
And look at this. We just got this today. Cook Political Report, gold standard of tracking elections at the granular level, they`ve been tracking these races from day to day, predicting how likely they are to tip in a certain direction.
Today, Cook moved this Kansas race tomorrow towards the Democrats, moved it from likely Republican to just lean Republican.
They moved the Georgia race to a toss-up. That seat hasn`t been held by a Democrat in nearly 40 years. No Democrat has held that seat since it went to Newt Gingrich in 1979. Now, Georgia says it`s a jump ball, toss-up.
Early voting is already happening in that Georgia race. Polls open tomorrow morning at 7:00 in the Kansas special election. This is going to be fascinating to watch.
We will bring you the Kansas returns tomorrow as we get them.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL"
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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