Work to release NC minister from Turkey

Pastor Andrew Brunson of Black Mountain, NC, arrives at his house in Izmir, Turkey, on Wednesday.
Pastor Andrew Brunson of Black Mountain, NC, arrives at his house in Izmir, Turkey, on Wednesday. AP

From an editorial in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

The incarceration in Turkey of a pastor from North Carolina is escalating into an international standoff that has President Trump making threats.

The president’s interest and influence are welcome.

The full release of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical minister, and his return to his home in Black Mountain, is long overdue.

Brunson, 50, who has served for 23 years as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, is facing up to 35 years in prison on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and “espionage.”

On Thursday morning President Trump, tweeting from aboard Air Force One, said the U.S. would hit Turkey with “large sanctions” if the country didn’t release a man he called an “innocent man of faith.”

Trump’s words echoed comments by Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke with Brunson on Wednesday.

Brunson had spent 1 1/2 years in a Turkish jail before he was moved to house arrest because of undisclosed “health problems,” the first good news to emerge in this process.

Brunson denies the charges, and his detention casts him as a political prisoner being held in hopes of pressuring the U.S. into extraditing Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement in the coup.

Along with the White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, some members of North Carolina’s delegation have been busy trying to free Brunson. Rep. Mark Walker (R-Greensboro) introduced legislation in the House on Thursday that asks the International Monetary Fund and others to cut off Turkey’s credit. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) is one of several senators who have been urging the Turkish government and twice has traveled with others to Turkey to observe court proceedings and visit Brunson.

Tillis, along with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, recently secured a provision in the Senate’s FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that directs the secretary of defense to submit a plan to Congress to remove the government of Turkey from purchasing American-made F-35 jet fighters.

Cases like this often are resolved by quiet diplomacy, but with Brunson’s case under such high-level scrutiny, perhaps Erdogan – whom Trump has called a friend – will get the message to expedite his release.

The continued vigilance and escalated efforts by our leaders on Brunson’s behalf are encouraging and appreciated.

Better protect voting systems

From an editorial in the Fayetteville Observer:

As we head toward an important mid-term election in November, state elections officials are rushing to upgrade the security of our voting systems. Their sense of urgency is well deserved — there is growing evidence that Russian hackers have stepped up their game since the 2016 presidential elections.

As numerous investigations of the 2016 hacking proceed, we’re learning more harrowing details about the extent to which electoral systems across the country may have been compromised. The latest evidence indicates that nearly 40 state elections systems were breached by Russian hackers. And while N.C. elections officials say this state wasn’t among them, we know that at least one voting systems company that does business in North Carolina did get hacked, allegedly by Russian military operatives.

So far, there is no hard evidence that election tallies in any state were altered by hackers. But the practitioners of cyber snooping are getting better at what they do and it’s reasonable to expect they will succeed at causing greater havoc if we don’t stay a few steps ahead of them with security measures.

Fortunately, state elections officials aren’t standing still.

In a memo to the federal Election Assistance Commission last week, the N.C. State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement outlined steps it is taking to upgrade elections security, spending nearly $11 million, most of it coming from federal security funding. The money, board Executive Director Kimberly Westbrook Strach wrote, “could not have come at a better time.” More than half of the funding will be spent upgrading the Statewide Elections Information Management System, which is used in voter registration and in compiling the results of all elections.

The board is also spending more than $1 million to expand its post-election auditing system “to identify any discrepancies that could affect an election.”

The state board is hiring a chief information security officer to head efforts at keeping hackers out of state elections systems. It will also provide grants to county elections boards to identify and address security needs.

Is all of that enough? We doubt it. If this country is really serious about keeping all of its election systems secure and impenetrable by foreign operatives, it will require federal coordination and oversight, along with billions of dollars to create a hardened system that will resist the most persistent and inventive attempts at intrusion.