Friday, February 12, 2010
By Marie Trigona, Toward Freedom
"Everything is kept in the spine of memory that is life and history. The memory picks at people until they bleed when they keep it moored and don't let it fly free like the wind" - Leon Gieco, Argentine folksinger and songwriter.
"'Where is Luciano Arruga?'" His mother, Monica Alegre, struggles to answer this question, responding with hopelessness and despair in her eyes, the look of a mother who has lost her child. "Luciano Arruga is a 16-year old boy who was forcefully disappeared on January 31, 2009."
One year since his disappearance authorities, relatives and neighbors still have no trace of Luciano's whereabouts. A growing movement of relatives demanding justice for and an end to crimes committed at the hands of police against their loved ones has joined the cries of "Where is Luciano Arruga?"
Luciano Arruga, working class youth from the suburban de-industrialized beltway of Buenos Aires, was disappeared in democracy. According to witness accounts and the little evidence collected in the investigation, his disappearance points to the model of police corruption and 'easy trigger' police who've turned violence against poor youths into an institution in the marginalized outskirts of the nation's capital.
Luciano lived in a two room cement brick house with his mother and two younger siblings in the neighborhood of Lomas del Mirador, in the Greater Buenos Aires municipality of La Matanza. Like most boys his age in Greater Buenos Aires, he liked music, played the guitar and worked for months selling collected cardboard to save up for his first MP3 player. He was the oldest brother in his family, a heavy burden for a boy who lost his father at the age of 8.
"I don't have hopes of finding Luciano if the police continue to operate in a similar fashion with complete complicity from the political and judicial system," says Vanessa Orieta, Luciano's sister. The two siblings had a special relationship; Luciano looked up to his sister who is a student at the University of Buenos Aires. Shortly before he was last seen, Luciano decided that he wanted to go back to school to finish high school and give his sister his diploma as a present.
Leading up to his disappearance, Luciano was the victim of harassment from local police. According to his sister and mother, on several occasions he was offered to 'work for' the police who promised him that he would be able to buy himself brand name sneakers and take care of his mom. When he declined, the threats began. Twice, Luciano was detained at the local police station in Lomas del Mirador, on June 22 and September 21, 2009. "Luciano couldn't walk over to my house, because the police would stop him, threatening him that he would end up in a ditch," said Orieta.
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Simon Worrall, Maxim
Shortly before six o'clock on the evening of December 19, 2008, a man standing outside his home in Lake Township, Ohio heard the whine of an engine in the sky above him.
Moments later two red lights broke through the low clouds, heading almost directly toward the ground. It was a light aircraft, and for a second, as it descended below the tree line, the man thought it would climb back up. Instead, there was a terrible thud, and the sky turned orange. When the fire crews arrived, they found the burning wreckage of a Piper Saratoga strewn across a vacant lot. The plane had narrowly missed a house, but the explosion was so intense that the home's plastic siding was on fire. So was the grass. The pilot had been thrown from the plane and died instantly. Body parts and pieces of twisted metal were scattered everywhere. A prayer book lay open on the ground, its pages on fire.
The crash would have remained a private tragedy confined to the pages of the local press and the hearts of the pilot's widow and four children, but within days the blogosphere was abuzz with rumors and conspiracy theories: The plane, it was said, had been sabotaged and the pilot murdered to cover up the GOP's alleged theft of the Ohio vote in the 2004 presidential election. At the center of this plot was the Saratoga's pilot, a prodigiously gifted IT expert named Michael Connell, whose altar boy charm and technical brilliance had made him the computer whiz of choice for the Republican Party. Left-wing Web sites openly referred to Connell as “Bush's vote rigger” and claimed that his fingerprints were on all the most controversial elections in recent history. There were dark whispers of electronic pulses or sniper fire being used to bring down the plane—a black ops attack designed to keep him from testifying against his former cronies. Right-wing bloggers and talk show hosts derided such claims as the twisted delusions of liberal nut jobs and tinfoil hatters. The mainstream press sat on its hands.
But while the rumors, innuendos, and allegations continue to swirl through the ether, evidence has recently emerged that suggests the Ohio vote may have been hacked, and that Connell was involved.
Born in 1963 in Peoria, Illinois into a large Irish-American family, Michael Connell was a lifelong Republican and a devout Roman Catholic who went to Mass every day and wore a wristband saying what would jesus do? What Connell did was realize the potential of the Internet to shape politics. While still in his 20s, he worked as finance director for Republican Congressman Jim Leach, and as director of voter programs for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana. In 1988 Connell developed a voter contact database for George H. W. Bush, thus inaugurating a long association with the Bush family: Connell worked on Jeb's gubernatorial campaign in Florida in 1998; two years later he was the chief architect of George W. Bush's Web site as Dubya launched his bid for the White House.
But it was while serving as tech guru to Karl Rove that Connell developed his deepest and perhaps most problematic professional relationship. Recruited in the late '80s, Connell became Rove's most trusted cyberlieutenant: a Web wizard who could turn portals into power and who would gain access to the very heights of American politics by the time he reached 30 years old. Connell's two Ohio-based companies, New Media Communications and GovTech, became virtual research and development labs for the Republican Party, building and managing Web sites and e-mail accounts for both Presidents Bush and a long list of leading Republicans. GovTech also designed and managed numerous Congressional IT systems, including those for the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, putting Connell “behind the fire wall” of some of the most sensitive gov--ernment Web sites from the safety of the Bush White House.
“Mike was known as the GOP's Mister Fix-It,” says Stephen Spoonamore, an IT security expert and friend of Connell's. “He built really intelligent tools that allowed people who wanted to win elections do a better job organizing their data.” But aside from his more legitimate business, Connell was no stranger to the darker side of American politics. He was forced to resign from Senator Coats' campaign for his involvement in ethical violations. Connell's was also the hand behind the Web site for the notorious Swift Boat Veterans' for Truth smear campaign against John Kerry and GWB43.com, the secret e-mail account used by Rove and dozens of other White House staffers.
Just six weeks before his death, Connell had given a deposition in an Ohio lawsuit that accused Rove, Bush, and Co. of something far more serious than merely scrubbing e-mails: the theft of the 2004 Ohio vote. “This is the biggest scandal in our history,” says Mark Crispin Miller, a professor at New York University who has written extensively about electronic voter fraud. “Watergate grew out of a paranoid attempt to disable the opposition. But Ohio was exponentially different. We're talking about a systematic, centralized attempt to rig the voting system.”
“We decided to try to bring a racketeering claim against Rove under Ohio law,” says Cliff Arnebeck, the attorney who brought the suit, a broad-shouldered man with a Senatorial air dressed in a blue blazer. “We detected a pattern of criminal activity, and we identified Connell as a key witness, as the implementer for Rove.”
By any calculation, the Ohio 2004 election was a black day for American democracy. Lou Harris, known as the “father of modern political polling,” and a man not given to hyperbole, called it “as dirty an election as America has ever seen.” All the exit polls suggested Ohio would go to Kerry. But when the vote was counted George Bush had won by 132,685 votes, adding Ohio's crucial 20 Electoral College votes to his tally. And putting him, not Kerry, into the White House. It has since been alleged that at several points on election night, the Ohio secretary of state's official Web site, which was responsible for reporting the results, was being hosted by a server in a basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Ohio's secretary of state in 2004 was a fiercely partisan Christian named Ken Blackwell. Blackwell had hired a company called GDC Limited to run the IT systems, which had subcontracted the job to Michael Connell's company, GovTech. Connell had in turn sub-contracted SMARTech, an IT firm based in Chattanooga, to act, it was claimed, as a backup server.
“By looking at the URLs on the Web site, we discovered that there were three points on election night when SMARTech's computers took over from the secretary of state,” says Arnebeck. “It is during that period that we believe votes were manipulated.”
In computer jargon it is known as a man-in-the-middle attack.
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