How to Hack an election-Bloomberg story reveals modern secrets of campaign warfare

An article popped back up into mind today that I had read earlier this year…

Why? Because of last weekends antics on social media involving BC Liberal party staffers and interns,one of whom pulled up erroneous and defamatory information and attached it to independent journalist Bob Mackin. Quickly proven wrong,he was forced to retract and apologize,but the damage was done. When the personal reputation of a member of the press is attacked for scrutinizing this years  BC Liberal self-professed ‘intern army’ – a team the party has made public themselves on twitter, inviting scrutiny, something is wrong. Mackin is not an elected official, or a member of a political party trying to get re-elected.He is a member of the press whose job it is to investigate and report on the policy,action and people involved in running and supporting government.

Some are questioning if the growing number of incidents like the one RossK took a look at on his blog, here: , are actually random lapses of judgement or if they are indicative of the kind of campaign strategy the ‘intern army’ and ‘digital influencers’ will be using leading up to next years election. The BC Libs have openly used digital online influencers in past elections & in 2013 we first saw the appearance of pro-BC Lib bots appear on twitter.

But I digress, a bit. While much of the public remains blissfully unaware of the backroom antics involved in nearly every big campaign – watch The Good Wife or House of Cards for a true to life primer of how it all works – Bloomberg recently carried a compelling article that revealed an even darker side of several campaigns in Latin America.

Meet Andrés Sepúlveda, a man who helped ‘engineer’ elections in Latin America on payrolls you could never connect back to a party official if you tried:


“It was just before midnight when Enrique Peña Nieto declared victory as the newly elected president of Mexico. Peña Nieto was a lawyer and a millionaire, from a family of mayors and governors. His wife was a telenovela star. He beamed as he was showered with red, green, and white confetti at the Mexico City headquarters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which had ruled for more than 70 years before being forced out in 2000. Returning the party to power on that night in July 2012, Peña Nieto vowed to tame drug violence, fight corruption, and open a more transparent era in Mexican politics.

Two thousand miles away, in an apartment in Bogotá’s upscale Chicó Navarra neighborhood, Andrés Sepúlveda sat before six computer screens. Sepúlveda is Colombian, bricklike, with a shaved head, goatee, and a tattoo of a QR code containing an encryption key on the back of his head. On his nape are the words “” and “” stacked atop each other, dark riffs on coding. He was watching a live feed of Peña Nieto’s victory party, waiting for an official declaration of the results.

When Peña Nieto won, Sepúlveda began destroying evidence. He drilled holes in flash drives, hard drives, and cell phones, fried their circuits in a microwave, then broke them to shards with a hammer. He shredded documents and flushed them down the toilet and erased servers in Russia and Ukraine rented anonymously with Bitcoins. He was dismantling what he says was a secret history of one of the dirtiest Latin American campaigns in recent memory.

For eight years, Sepúlveda, now 31, says he traveled the continent rigging major political campaigns. With a budget of $600,000, the Peña Nieto job was by far his most complex. He led a team of hackers that stole campaign strategies, manipulated social media to create false waves of enthusiasm and derision, and installed spyware in opposition offices, all to help Peña Nieto, a right-of-center candidate, eke out a victory. On that July night, he cracked bottle after bottle of Colón Negra beer in celebration. As usual on election night, he was alone.

Sepúlveda’s career began in 2005, and his first jobs were small—mostly defacing campaign websites and breaking into opponents’ donor databases. Within a few years he was assembling teams that spied, stole, and smeared on behalf of presidential campaigns across Latin America. He wasn’t cheap, but his services were extensive. For $12,000 a month, a customer hired a crew that could hack smartphones, spoof and clone Web pages, and send mass e-mails and texts. The premium package, at $20,000 a month, also included a full range of digital interception, attack, decryption, and defense. The jobs were carefully laundered through layers of middlemen and consultants. Sepúlveda says many of the candidates he helped might not even have known about his role; he says he met only a few.”

Mmm. Compelling indeed. Much more than the dedicated whisper campaigns and rumour mills traditionally used, techniques easily denied and rarely admitted to. Deny,deflect and if all else fails…discredit.

But go, read the rest of this excellent piece now. I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

7 Comments on “How to Hack an election-Bloomberg story reveals modern secrets of campaign warfare

  1. Hard to enjoy learning of yet another disgusting, despicable political behaviour. As if there weren’t enough! Sepulveda isn’t alone. There are way too many Slytherins here, too.

  2. Nothing surprises me anymore about modern day politicians. Not even this.
    Its a shame our judicial and prison sentencing systems have become so toothless.
    There’s a few politicians in BC that deserve to rot in a cell for a long long time.

  3. Thanks for a timely and relevant (as always) piece, Laila. If the opposition truly wanted to execute it’s mandate, all it would have to do is turn in the homework that you, Norm, Rafe and Mackin have already done. Collectively you have already constructed the lion’s share of an effective campaign against the Liberals in 2017; all based upon facts and the supposed belief that democracy cannot exist where there is no accountability. You people are superstar citizens carrying the load for so many of us. Thanks again…

    Vote stealing, vote negation, and election rigging in general have been a part of campaigning as long as lying has. It’s a global phenomena that only seems to have become more of a factor in elections during our current tech-centric, often receipt-less voting age. It has also been exacerbated by the apathy that is often a by-product of hopelessness (a tragic symbiosis). Enough direct and circumstantial evidence exists by now for any remotely objective observer to conclude that the democratic process is meaningfully compromised. It’s been gamed, captured, etc. That is why I personally bristle every time I read comments that place the bulk of the blame on the electorate for the psychopaths (and their enablers) who always seem to end up in charge.

    Blaming friends, neighbours, fellow citizens and relatives for the soulless cretins that make up most of our government is a symptom of a disease that is far greater than merely cynicism or naivete, and ironically, is essential to preserving the hellacious status quo. We need to stop doing their dirty work for them. Elections are rigged. The checks and balances have been neutralized. The mainstream media is complicit. The opposition is woefully inept (or complicit). We need to stop pouring gas into a car with no transmission expecting it to run.

  4. Northern Reflections has an interesting post up about “buying elections” in the U.S.A. with focus on the Koch brothers.

    it is hard to maintain a democracy and we the people are on the loosing end. However, in the end, Harper did fall so there is hope.

    the only way to keep a secret is to not tell anyone.
    don’t use computers. use old style typewriters.
    don’t send e-mails. use couriers who you know.
    don’t use cell phones. land lines are more secure.

    There is not much some politicians won’t do to win, just check Russia.

    There is not much photo op queen will do to win the upcoming election. gee she even has been handing out money for schools. What next? raising welfare rates?

    The goings on, in my opinion, is just a transfer of the “little shits in short pants” who used to work for harper. Now they work for Christy,

  5. I throw this out there, just in case there actually is some back-room BC Lib trickery going on in Facebook.

    I’m VERY active in Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mail (anti-Christy) comments, through my Facebook connection. (I used to be very active in the Province comments, until early May when their Facebook connection broke and it hasn’t been fixed yet. I’ve complained and they said they’re working on it. Others should also complain, as the lack of feedback to stories is only helping the BC Libs.)

    My point: In the middle of the month, someone stole my Facebook photo and started a new account — then started asking my friends to friend the “new” me.

    I wasn’t aware of it until my friends tipped me off. I reported it to FB and they shut down the new me. The old me escaped unscathed… short a few friends who panicked and unfriended me.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s BC Lib hackers at work, though it may just be regular hackers. If other “unfriends” of the BC Libs also get their FB accounts hacked, my suspicions will be bolstered.