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Archive | July, 2013

Is Mike Zullo running a scam on the birthers?

I have been watching Mike Zullo and the CCP trying to get the goods on President Obama for almost 2 years now, and what struck me is the total dishonesty with which this so-called investigation was being run and presented. If I could describe it in one way, it is that Mr. Zullo is running a scam on the birthers. So, I went out to the internet and looked for ways that a con game can be recognized and avoided.

“Fraud — credit card fraud, telemarketing scares, Internet scares, identity theft and hundreds of other items that are geared to separate you from your money — is a multi-billion dollar business, both in the U.S. and worldwide. From a simple three-card Monte game on a street corner to sophisticated banking and Wall Street swindles, cons, frauds and scams are destined to strike one in ten Americans this year.”

A successful scam has 3 elements

1) A trustworthy con man – “con” is short for confidence. The most important element of any con is that the victims trust is gained by the con man. A con man can be a single person, or a group of people working in concert together to separate the victim from their money.

2) A gullible victim – they have to believe that the con man can deliver what they want, be it love, financial gain, or to protect them from real or imagined dangers.

3) Using the victim’s wants/needs/greed against them – the con must convince the victim that they have the answer to the victim’s needs, and they can get it.

The Con Artist

Credentials—exaggerated and fabricated

Con artists may “prove” themselves by namedropping or volunteering detailed resumes or credentials. If you’re at all suspicious, check their references.”

As we have seen and heard many times, Mr. Zullo has been called commander and lieutenant, and his investigation has been described as an “Official Police Investigation”. As we well know, Mr. Zullo is nothing more than a private citizen running a personal inquiry on the President, his accomplices to the con are there to help build him and his investigation up so they look more official than they really are.

Building your trust

Con artists will sometimes honor their commitments in the beginning so that you begin to trust them. They’ll pay back initial loans, or appear to be unselfishly helping other people. Their objective is to get you to drop your guard.”

Mr. Zullo claims that it was a true investigation, and yet he never interviewed witnesses who might clear the President and the State of Hawaii of any wrongdoing. But, more important to him, is that he made claims that was not backed up by the evidence, but WAS backed up by what his victims wanted to hear. Building their trust that he would be the one to get to the bottom of this. Continue Reading →

Birthers scrambling, after Xerox bombshell

It’s been a while since NBC and Kevin Vicklund published the unremarkable result that the White House scanned the President’s birth certificate with a common office machine, previewed it, and saved it for the White House web site. (The work they did is remarkable for its ingenuity and skill, but the result was not.)

Birthers have been raising “anomaly” after “anomaly” ever since the White House released the document. Birther “experts” claimed that normal PDF files don’t have layers that can be moved around. That was debunked by the conservative National Review magazine quickly, but there are birthers to this day who still believe that particular nonsense. Then the Cold Case Posse admitted that there are supposed to be layers, but they say the White House PDF had too few layers. Then the Cold Case Posse published another report that said the PDF had too many layers. They babbled about artifacts, halos and clipping regions combining their ignorance into a consensus of theories that birthers ate up, even when one theory contradicted another.

Today, scratch any birther, and they will say “experts have confirmed that the birth certificate is 100% a forgery.” No expert has ever published a report saying that but birthers are convinced, and you’d be wasting your time arguing the point. They have their talking points and they will not be moved.

Nevertheless, birthers have taken note of the Xerox WorkCentre 7655 replication of their anomaly collection in White House birth certificate scan. While I don’t make a habit of trolling birther blogs, I do sometimes mention that the birthers are summarily proved wrong by the Xerox demonstration, and they are predictably agitated. Given that the birthers concocted all manner of nonsense following the original bombshell of the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate, one could hardly expect a different reaction when all of their “experts” were felled with one stroke of the Obot flyswatter.

And today I noticed just such a discussion at The Las Vegas  Guardian web site with this comment from “therak”:

The Xerox excuse is another attempt to throw everything possible up against a wall to see what will stick.

I notice when all these theories to EXPLAIN THE MULTITUDES of forgery tell tale signs are offered… not only do they fail to explain the nomalies… but the people who throw out the EXCUSE NEVER seem to offer a VERIFIABLE and REPEATABLE recipe of settings and software for everyone to verify the excuse is valid.

Give me the recipe. Explain not only the Xerox Workcentre 7655 model… but what software and what SETTINGS to achieve ALL THE NOMALIES (sic)  seen in the birth certificate. I notice the explanation tries to say a feature called “Edge Erase” causes the clipping mask that hides information (to explain that anomalie (sic)). Uh… hate to break it to you… but “Edge Erase” Deletes (OR CROPS) information… not HIDE it… thus that excuse doesn’t work.

So tell me what SETTINGS achieves the magical fabricated ANOMALIES seen in Obama’s birth certificate? Please list every setting and software used so I can duplicate it as well as everyone else… VERIFIABLE RECIPE. Where is it?

They’re in denial, but we knew they would be. It’s the way conspiracy theorists always handle evidence against them.

How Obama’s birth certificate could have been faked

I’ve been around vital statistics since 1977 when I worked with a vital statistics office in Greenville County, South Carolina, that issued birth certificates and I wrote computer software that printed them. More recently, I served for two years on the National Association for Public Information Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS)  Fraud Prevention Committee, and participated in numerous conference calls on fraud prevention, and attended national presentations on vital records fraud and identity theft. I’ve looked over the shoulders of vital records staffers as they process births. I have discussed security features with representatives from the American Banknote Company, and I have had conversations at the state and local level with registrars on security and fraud issues. I have been inside the secure vaults where actual birth certificates are stored. I know the controls on vital records systems to prevent fraud. I know what a “six pack” is. I am also familiar with the Inspector General’s report on Vital Records fraud. Even today I still do a little occasional contract work on state vital records systems. I consider myself much more expert in the field than the average person and certainly more than any birther.

Birther notions of how Obama’s certificate might be a fake are total nonsense, and utterly disconnected from the real world and actual fraud scenarios. They know nothing about vital records, and just make up fantastic and impossible stories. If you could go to the Hawaii Department of Health today and look at the bound volume (reportedly in the Director’s office safe), and could you look at the microfilm records from 1961, you would unquestionably find Barack Obama’s certificate right there amongst all the others from that time. If Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fake, it was faked in 1961 and there are no other remotely-possible alternatives.

The usual fraud scenario involves a delayed report1, a report of a birth made long after the fact. Fraud in hospital births like Obama’s, reported timely, is virtually unheard of. However, there is the always-possible human factor. I knew about the New Jersey case when it happened in 2004: A deputy county registrar named Jean Anderson in the Hudson County Office of Vital Statistics was bribed to insert records into the County files and then issued birth certificates from the fake records. Even today, some county systems are vulnerable. This particular scenario involved the insertion of birth records for adults. Having personally worked on the New Jersey state vital records system (I worked with state registrar Joe Komosinski long before he became state registrar), I know that this scenario would be impossible at the state level due to controls in place (counties were not using the state system in New Jersey in 2004). Now certificates are automatically numbered and insertions are logged and time-stamped, but in pre-computer days it would be possible for a corrupt state or hospital staffer to insert a false record into the stream of incoming paper documents.

To forge Obama’s birth certificate, it would be necessary to create a fake certificate in early August of 1961, filled out to look like it came from Kapi’olani Hospital, with a fake signature from Dr. Sinclair (or an authentic one if he were the forger). Once inserted into the work flow at the State Department of Health, the certificate would have been registered, numbered, filed and reported to the newspapers just like certificates for all the rest born that month. [Note: the preceding sentence was not meant to imply any particular order in the steps listed.] Since the certificate must have come either from the hospital or the state vital records bureau, it would appear authentic in every way.

All this stuff about typewriters from Irey, about scanners from Vogt, about Onaka’s smiley face, about race codes from Crosby, about Smith’s foot-print inked certificate, about PDF layers from Zullo’s “experts” and all the rest of the ignorant speculation from the birthers is so much horse manure. If Obama’s record was faked, look to Verna K. Lee or David A. Sinclair, not some imaginary genius/idiot forger in the White House named Mike. (I hasten to add that I am firmly convinced that no forger exists.) And guess what, birthers? Looking at the original document or microfilm in Hawaii isn’t going to resolve anything. What you will find is perfect in every regard; it’s a dead end. You might as well pick up the goal posts now and plant them on Uranus.

Birthers have no evidence whatsoever that will stand up to scrutiny that Barack Obama wasn’t born in Honolulu, and they never will. Despite my remotely-possible scenario, there is no reason to doubt the Encyclopedia Britannica when it says Barack Obama was born in Honolulu.2 The truth is out there, but the birthers are determined not to believe it. Birtherism is a story about birthers, not about Obama.

1The only known case of vital records fraud from Hawaii (before it became a state) was a delayed registration. Actually the most common fraud scenario involves someone using an authentic certificate that doesn’t belong to them.

2INS records show that Barack Obama’s father did not leave the US in 1961, and an INS statistical report proves his mother didn’t travel from Kenya. Barack Obama might have been born in Topeka, but not Mombasa.

Speculation on the Hayes report


Is handwriting analysis a science?

One of my favorite anecdotes regards the emperor of China. So the story goes, a controversy arose as to the length of the emperor’s nose, a question hard to answer because no one outside the court had ever seen the emperor, and those who had seen the emperor were forbidden to speak of the emperor’s visage. So it was decided that the people of China would be polled to decide the question. Untold millions were asked the length of the emperor’s nose and the results were tabulated, giving a final figure precise to 7 decimal places.

Since Mike Zullo, the only one besides Reed Hayes who is reported to have seen his report on Obama’s  birth certificate, isn’t sharing it, and has reportedly even copyrighted it, I feel a little like one of those Chinese subjects surveyed about the emperor’s nose when talking about the Hayes Report.

Unlike the emperor’s nose, we have a little bit to go on, some comments by Reed Hayes on a notorious murder case noted by a commenter1 here.

I was not a follower of the JonBenét Ramsey murder case but a little boning up at the Wikipedia (they need money by the way) yielded the necessary background. A central element of the story was a handwritten ransom note left at the Ramsey home. Speculation abounded as to who had written the note. A grand jury determined that sufficient evidence existed to charge the parents of child abuse leading to death, but the district attorney refused to sign the indictment (this only learned in 2013), and there remains unmatched DNA evidence pointing to an unknown male (along with an unmatched palm print and a pubic hair).

The ransom note had to be a magnet for every graphoanalyst and graphoanalyst wannabe and Reed Hayes proved no exception and here we get into the question of whether handwriting analysis is a science, because if it is a science, its results should be repeatable. Consider this little vignette from The Rocky Mountain News:

A well-known national handwriting expert said Monday he is 99.9 percent certain John Mark Karr wrote the ransom note found near the scene of JonBenet Ramsey’s murder. … Curt Baggett, the Texas-based co-founder of the School of Forensic Document Examination [said comparing the ransom note to a high school yearbook signature] “That there are so many similarities pushes the odds up into the seven digits.” …

One person who could find himself on the other side from [Baggett] … is Honolulu document examiner Reed Hayes, author of a textbook on forensic handwriting analysis.

"I do see a few similarities between the writing in the yearbook and the so-called ransom note, but not enough that I would identify him as the writer.

"In fact, I would lean more toward him not being the writer."

Ronald Morris, who spent 23 years as a document expert with the Secret Service said both where getting ahead of themselves, criticizing conclusions based only on copies.

Hayes later told CNN, “there`s a problem here in that my colleague seemed to be reaching these strong conclusions of identification based on improper comparison material. You know, we`re looking at…” (the clueless reporter didn’t let him explain), but by Hayes own statement, an analysis has to be based on proper comparison material, and that should be a factor considered when and if we see the actual Hayes report. I do not think Hayes has any original documents.

Hayes didn’t give a percentage, but he has an opinion as to who wrote the Ramsey ransom note, reports the Honolulu Star-Bulletin :

[Hayes] makes it clear that he is not working on the case in an official capacity, but says the note is a ruse, basing his opinion on copies of the note and handwriting samples sent to him by fellow graphonanalysts. He says Ramsey’s mother Patsy was the likely note writer, although no consensus has emerged among his colleagues.

Hayes said then that handwriting analysis is 80-90% accurate, and this from someone who is reportedly saying now that Obama’s birth certificate is a 100% forgery.

A handwriting expert will say that their conclusions are base on experience and training, but a discipline that yields unrepeatable results and relies heavily on personal judgment is not solid science. The National Science Foundation on study on Forensic Science stated:

Although there has been only limited research to quantify the reliability and replicability of the practices used by trained document examiners, the committee agrees that there may be some value in handwriting analysis.

The other thing we can conclude about the Hayes Report is that it must be based on faulty analysis because it is wrong. The document he claims is a forgery is about as well-authenticated as any document you’re likely to ever see.

1Commenters provide valuable contributions and in a sense this blog is “crowd sourced.”

Certified forensic expert?

On this blog and in the Obama citizenship debate, there is a lot of talk about experts. Birthers have put forward a number of people they call experts by virtue of their own claims or their “above average” familiarity with something (scanners, typesetting, photography, Adobe Photoshop). Anti-birthers deny the expertise of those people, saying that none of them are “certified document examiners,” no recognized scientific methodology was used, and that they are biased.

Most recently Mike Zullo has claimed that a “certified document examiner” (and a Democrat to boot), Reed Hayes, has done a report that in some way says the PDF of Obama’s long form birth certificate released by the White House is not authentic. Mr. Hayes is certified by a national organization, the National Association of Document Examiners. Mr. Hayes describes himself as “court qualified” which I understand to mean that one or more courts have allowed his testimony as an expert witness. I hasten to add that Mr. Hayes’ report has not been published, but in an email to RealtyCheck, he seems to confirm Zullo’s general claim.

Mr. Hayes’ report on Obama’s birth certificate either will or will not be published. If it is, there will be a debate over his certification, his methodology and  his expertise. Certification is what I want to focus on (the others unknown at this point). The NADE certification requirements appear to be quite stringent, including a proctored written exam, an oral exam, references, and the submission of a work-up on an assigned case. Once certified, the member may provide services from this list:

  • Handwriting Identification
  • Deciphering Obliterations
  • Detecting Alterations
  • Restoring Faded Writing
  • Investigating Line Sequence
  • Development of Indented Writing
  • Ink Differentiation
  • Examinations and Reports
  • Document Photography
  • Exhibit Preparation
  • Deposition and Court Testimony
  • Consultation

Nowhere is the NADE certification related to electronic documents, so for the purpose the PDF file from the White House, I would not call Mr. Hayes “certified,” and unless he has testified in court about electronic documents (and no one claims he has), I would not call Mr. Hayes “court qualified” for the purpose of authenticating Obama’s birth certificate in electronic form.

Let’s put aside Mr. Hayes and the NADE completely for the rest of this discussion.

I, probably along with most people, thought that a certification in forensics by a recognized national organization is an assurance of expertise. I thought that all such organizations have stringent training requirements, do rigorous testing, have continuing education requirements, and discipline members for misconduct. I was wrong. The largest forensic certification organization in the US, the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute, is, according to a recent Frontline/Pro Publica documentary, little more than a diploma mill with  an open-book test so easy that 99% of those who take it pass. A Journalism major from UC Berkeley with no forensic training watched a couple of videos, read a small packet of material, took the open-book test and became a Certified Forensic Consultant in a day.

Even among experts, highly-regarded and rigorously trained fingerprint experts, it has been shown that the same expert will determine that a pair of prints match, and later that they don’t match based on other information about the crime. If the best experts can be influenced by bias, how could we ever expect the birthers to get it right. The point is that certification does not guarantee expertise, nor does having ones testimony admitted in court guarantee expertise (I once sat on a jury and heard two court qualified expert witnesses come to different conclusions). Even real experts can be influenced by bias.

I watched the Frontline/Pro Publica documentary, The Real CSI: How reliable is the science behind forensics? and I am still a little stunned by what I learned about forensic certification, and what is and is not real science in the field. I strongly recommend you watch this. Also see the National Academy of Science report mentioned in the video, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: a Path Forward.