Developments over the last month in two cases, one criminal and one civil, involving the election-management software company Konnech and its CEO Eugene Yu, reveal the FBI remains mired in malfeasance.
Either the FBI has abandoned multiple confidential human sources and discarded an 18-month investigation into evidence that Yu maintained the personal information of tens of thousands of American election workers on a server in China, or the bureau has allowed Yu to be arrested for crimes he did not commit and permitted the innocent American to be branded a felon and traitor.
While at this point the public cannot tell which scenario is true, the Department of Justice and the FBI know, and their failure either to charge Yu (or provide the L.A. district attorney’s office with confirmation of the alleged crimes) or to clear him represents another blot on the disgraced agency’s name.
Here’s what you need to know to understand the brewing scandal.
Konnech Provides Election Logistics Software
Konnech is a Michigan corporation founded by Yu, a Chinese national but an American citizen. According to court filings, “Konnech provides governmental entities in the U.S. with an election logistics software product called PollChief which those governmental entities use to recruit, train and schedule poll workers; coordinate the distribution of equipment and supplies to polling places; and dispatch support personnel to address technical and other issues.” The PollChief system “requires that workers submit personal identifying information, which is retained by the Konnech.”
Because Konnech obtains sensitive personal information for election workers, it is bound by contract to safeguard that data including — in some contracts, such as one entered with Los Angeles County — by storing the data physically in the United States and not providing individuals outside the country access to that data.
True the Vote Investigates Konnech
True the Vote is a nonprofit headquartered in Texas that describes itself as “the nation’s leading voters’ rights and election integrity organization.” Catherine Engelbrecht founded True the Vote, and Gregg Phillips, a former board member, works closely with her.
According to Engelbrecht, after 2020 she became “interested in the fundamental underpinnings” of the “nuts and bolts” of staging and deploying an election cycle. So, True the Vote began to file open records requests with counties and discovered that Konnech provided the PollChief software to scores of municipalities via contracts that required safeguarding of the election workers’ data.
True the Vote Claims Konnech Data Maintained on Chinese Server
Engelbrecht claims she asked Phillips “to take a deeper dive doing some basic tests … around the very basic security of the software itself and how it was managing the highly private and secure or sensitive data that it was responsible for.” Phillips claims True the Vote used some open-source tools, specifically one called Binary Edge, and soon realized that one particular IP address related to all of the software.
Phillips further claims that all the information on the PollChief software is rolled into a webpage. For instance, for Fairfax County, Virginia, the website would be “voteforfairfax.com,” or for Boston, “voteforboston.com.” These webpages were all over the country, Phillips says. And what Binary Edge does, Phillips claims, is “not only tells you what URLs resolved there,” but also “tells you where it lives.”
Phillips claims he tracked down the server and discovered it “lives” “on the main Unicom backbone in China.” True the Vote claims that data from this company and the Konnech app’s URLs live there too.
January 2021 Meeting with CHS in Dallas
In addition to discovering the URLs purportedly “living” on a server in China, Phillips says an individual named Mike Hasson contacted him about data Hasson claimed to have accessed from an unsecured server in China. Phillips further claims Hasson “approached” True the Vote with his discovery, although Phillips portrayed the source of the China server data differently during a podcast, claiming “it came to me from some of my analysts.”
Phillips testified in court proceedings that he met with Hasson and another unnamed third party in a Dallas hotel in January of 2021 and that, during that meeting, Hasson hooked his laptop to a TV screen and displayed “enormous amounts of data (he was told 350 TB) on a server located in China, some of it including sensitive data on American poll workers.” Among other data, Phillips claims “there are 43,000 records of Los Angeles poll workers that are on this list” of data found on the China server.
DNI and FBI Provided Evidence Related to Konnech
Phillips maintains that the morning after the meeting with Hasson and another unnamed individual in Dallas, Phillips drove to Houston to meet Engelbrecht. Believing the data proved significant “from a national security perspective,” they “immediately made a complaint to the DNI,” or the director of national intelligence. Then, on Monday, they filed a formal complaint with the FBI.
Phillips claims he provided the FBI with the data he and True the Vote had pulled regarding URLs and the results of the Binary Edge research. According to Phillips’ testimony, he did not provide the data downloaded from the Chinese server to the FBI; rather, “Mike [Hasson] subsequently transmitted the information to the FBI.” Phillips also attested in an affidavit that to the best of his knowledge the only individuals with “possession, custody, or control” of the server data, beyond Hasson, were FBI agents Bobby Nyugen and/or Kevin McKenna.
While Phillips testified in court documents that Hasson provided the Chinese server data to the FBI, his original attorney — since replaced — represented that Phillips had given that data to the FBI. Phillips also admits he does not remember if Hasson provided him with a copy of the China server data.
FBI Launches Investigation of Konnech
After providing the FBI with the information on Konnech and the various data, Phillips claims the FBI “got engaged in almost immediately the target.” In an interview, Phillips further maintained that the FBI’s interest “wasn’t just that we brought something in,” claiming that he, presumably Yu, “was already on their radar, but they could never pin him down with anything.” Their information, Phillips said, “launched an 18-month investigation.”
Hasson, Phillips, and Engelbrecht Were CHSes
Phillips claims that he, Engelbrecht, and Hasson were all confidential human sources as part of the investigation, and Phillips maintains he sat in on meetings with the FBI and Hasson. While Phillips has not detailed the extent of Hasson’s continued involvement with the FBI, Phillips testified that the amount of data purportedly pulled from the server in China was in the “350-terabyte range and was downloaded over approximately three months in the first quarter of 2021.” Given that the Dallas hotel meeting occurred in January, this testimony suggests Hasson worked directly with the FBI to continue to access the China server over the next two months of February and March.
True the Vote an Operational Asset?
Phillips further maintains that from January forward, for approximately 17 or 18 months, he and Engelbrecht worked closely with the FBI, engaging “with them as an operational asset and a counterintelligence operation.” Phillips says they “were part of the ops,” “being read in,” and traveling to meet the FBI “multiple times,” and he maintains he “personally went to Detroit,” the field office running the investigation. According to Phillips, he “shared information, shared phone calls, shared text,” with the FBI agents.
In fact, at one point, Phillips claimed that the individual running Konnech, presumably Yu, “started communicating with us about the open records request,” and Phillips claimed they told him “we’ll happily meet with you and talk to you about it,” representing that they “did this all with the permission and the cooperation of the Bureau, because they had already opened up an investigation because this guy was already on their radar.”
Engelbrecht’s Text Exchanges with the FBI
To support their claims of working with the FBI, Engelbrecht submitted an affidavit along with text messages she swore were exchanged with various agents, such as one received from Bruce Fowler, a special agent from Detroit, stating: “Hi Katherine, this is Bruce. Just give me a call whenever you’re ready to chat.” On July 7, 2021, Engelbrecht texted Bruce, saying she was glad to visit about the “geospatial data that we are using to model the ballot trafficking and other points of interest,” he had asked about. Bruce responded to the email by saying, “I will contact you next week if you have time.”
Engelbrecht included several other text exchanges with Fowler, including one in which Fowler provided his FBI email address and others expressly mentioning Konnech. Fowler also noted he had received three thumb drives from the San Antonio office and asked Engelbrecht to direct him to where information could be located on those drives.
Engelbrecht also provided texts showing exchanges with Huy (“Bobby”) Nguyen, a special agent out of the San Antonio division. On June 17, 2021, Engelbrecht asked for the name of an agent in Georgia, and Nguyen said he’d get the name but “in the meantime, you can tell them that you filed the complaint with SA Huy Nguyen and SA Kevin McKenna with San Antonio Division.” Another March 2022 text also refers directly to Konnech.
A third set of text exchanges involved an individual saved in Engelbrecht’s contacts as “KayKay” and identified only as “Kristina – FBI Special Agent San Antonio.” In one February exchange, Engelbrecht scheduled a time to talk with “Kristina” to discuss whether: the Atlanta joint task force was “able to make use of our data”; they were “good to go with the MI team”; and “they have access to what they needed from y’all.”
A March text also has Engelbrecht asking whether Nguyen “has the data MI needs, as we were told by our mutual contact that the data had been queued to the top of the dataset and notes sent to Bobby [Nguyen] and others confirming such.” The text continues: “Please confirm with Detroit so they can get what they need and we can hopefully shut this down before midterms.”
FBI Turns on True the Vote
Then in April or May of 2022 when, according to Phillips, they remained “involved in a major and mature counterintelligence operation with the FBI,” Phillips claims the FBI “betrayed” them and blamed them for “having stolen the Chinese internet.” The government’s “counterintelligence operators, were basically ordered to go tell the target [Yu] that we had penetrated his systems illegally,” Phillips says.
According to Phillips, in mid-April Engelbrecht received a call “from somebody at the Bureau saying, ‘Hey, we got a problem. We took this up to DC to kind of do some final work on it before we started making this public,’” and the FBI then appeared to start targeting True the Vote. This call came shortly before the release of “2000 Mules,” the Dinesh D’Souza film that relied on cell phone location data provided by True the Vote to claim that groups backing the Democrat Party paid “mules” to illegally collect and deposit mail-in ballots in swing states. But then, Phillips claims, the FBI told him “not to worry,” we’ll “work this out,” and “nobody’s in trouble right now.”
But a couple of weeks after “2000 Mules” released, which would put the timing in mid-to-late May, Phillips claims he got “a call from a senior agent at the FBI” accusing him of stealing “three servers on the Unicorn backbone in China.” Yet after “a 15 minute pretty heated conversation,” the agent said the Detroit FBI agents still wanted to work with him. Phillips says at that point he no longer trusted the FBI.
True the Vote Goes Nuclear
Then, according to Engelbrecht and Phillips, after losing trust in the FBI and the agents seemingly flipping the script on True the Vote by making them an apparent target, they decided to “go nuclear”: On Aug. 13, 2022, they hosted “The Pit” and disclosed their claims that Konnech stored poll workers’ personal identifying information on servers located in China. A Truth Social post after the event succinctly summarized their claims during “The Pit” event:
“Gregg and Catherine, stumble onto voting software used to coordinate elections was left with default password on database.” Their “research team discovered sensitive info on election workers etc on server (bank account info, kids names, ssn etc),” which they “take to fbi.” “Server lives in China” and “feds label as national security risk and investigate,” but then “feds turn on” Gregg and Catherine and “feds now sit on active & ongoing china na. security breach.”
True the Vote Fans the Story
After first revealing their claims of working with the FBI to expose Konnech’s purported use of a server in China to store election workers’ personal identifying information, Phillips and Engelbrecht participated in several podcasts, elaborating on the details they supposedly discovered. During one of those podcasts, they claimed they were working with people “to bring this work to, to a grand jury for the first time,” and that they have the “support of, of a major prosecutorial office in the United States … and [that] they are moving this along.”
Konnech Sues True the Vote, Phillips, and Engelbrecht
Konnech responded to this publicity by denying the allegations, unequivocally stating, “Konnech does not, and has never, stored any actual customer or poll worker data on any server in China.” On Sept. 12, 2022, the Michigan-based company filed suit against True the Vote, Phillips, and Engelbrecht in a Texas federal court for defamation, interference with business relations, violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and several other claims. Konnech also sought a temporary restraining order to halt True the Vote’s release of further information and to force Phillips and Engelbrecht to reveal how Konnech’s data had been breached.
Judge Kenneth Hoyt, a Ronald Reagan appointee, granted Konnech a temporary restraining order, enjoining the defendants from accessing Konnech’s computers, disclosing information obtained from those computers, or destroying or distributing such information. The court also ordered the defendants to “identify each individual and/or organization involved in accessing Konnech’s protected computers” and to “confidentially disclose to Konnech how, when, and by whom Konnech’s protected computers were accessed,” and to identify all persons or entities who have “possession, custody or control of any information or data from Konnech’s protected computers.”
True the Vote Attempts to Protect CHS Hasson
An attorney for True the Vote, Phillips, and Engelbrecht responded to the court order by filing Mike Hasson’s name as the individual who provided the server data. In a letter to the court, Phillips and Engelbrecht requested Hasson’s name remain under seal. They said they understood Hasson to be “integral to the FBI investigation,” and “that investigation may be hindered or compromised if the identity of this individual was revealed at this time to Plaintiff.” They also informed the court that it was “providing notice to the FBI that this process is taking place so as to allow the FBI the opportunity to be heard on this sensitive issue if that is its choice.”
A week later, according to a text provided by Engelbrecht, she texted Nguyen, stating:
I wanted to let you know that we took the nuclear option and went public (in a very limited way, but nonetheless we did it). Konnech quickly filed a civil suit against us in Houston federal court and got an ex parte [temporary restraining order]. Part of the TRO required that we name who we’d gotten the election worker data from, same person who’d provided it to you. We gave the court the name under seal. Our attorney also notified the Houston FBI office, where the case was filed. I’m very concerned about everyone’s safety at this point. Please do whatever possible to help ensure that name never comes out. I can provide you with whatever you may need.
Nguyen did not respond to Engelbrecht’s text. According to further texts provided by Engelbrecht, she reached out to “KayKay,” saying she hoped to talk, in person, if possible. “KayKay” replied that she was on a temporary assignment out of state until January and asked if Engelbrecht still had Nguyen’s number. Engelbrecht then explained that she had “called and written him but no response.”
The text then explained: “We have been drug into a vicious lawsuit filed against us by Konnech.” “Our attorneys have contacted the FBI and been told that the Bureau has no interest in engaging with the court in order to maintain confidentiality.” Engelbrecht added that she, Phillips, and “the researcher who originally provided us the data” are being “doxed,” and that it’s “a very serious situation and we’ve been left to hang.”
Engelbrecht Tells FBI Agent They’ve Been Set Up
Engelbrecht then noted, “Yu has already been indicted by a Grand Jury and arrested,” but they “continue to hear chatter that the FBI is working with Konnech, against us, and still trying to accuse us of crimes we did not commit.” The True the Vote founder then noted that “what Bobby said on the phone that day in April 22 (when you were reading the yearly CI disclaimer to me) has gone into full overdrive.” She added: “I also now believe Gregg and I have been set up. It’s appalling, heartbreaking, and wrong.”
FBI Tosses Hasson Under the Bus
Later, during a hearing on Sept. 26, 2022, Engelbrecht’s attorney relayed the FBI’s lack of interest in maintaining confidentiality to the Texas federal court. The True the Vote attorney told the court that he had reached out to the FBI, stating they needed the bureau’s backing. Their attorney explained that he had made the request “to one place and [the] response came from a different place,” to wit: “That they were not interested in protection of this information.”
Yu Arrested Following Criminal Charge in L.A.
Then came news on Oct. 4, 2022, that Yu had been arrested in Michigan in conjunction with criminal charges pending in California. The L.A. County district attorney announced Yu’s arrest, stating that “under its $2.9 million, five-year contract with the county, Konnech was supposed to securely maintain the data and that only United States citizens and permanent residents have access to it.”
According to the press release, however, “District Attorney investigators found that in contradiction to the contract, information was stored on servers in the People’s Republic of China.” The press release noted that prosecutors were working to obtain Yu’s extradition to California. That same day, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Konnech in Michigan.
True the Vote Claims Credit for Yu’s Arrest
After news broke of Yu’s arrest, True the Vote issued a press release, stating:
True the Vote is honored to have played a small role in what must have been a wide ranging and complex investigation. The organization is profoundly grateful to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office for their thorough work and rapid action in this matter.
Phillips also claimed he testified “in the grand jury in Los Angeles County that eventually indicted Mr. Yu.”
Leftist DA from L.A Distances from True the Vote
At first, the office of L.A. District Attorney George Gascón claimed Phillips played no role in the investigation that led to Yu’s arrest. However, he later acknowledged Phillips’ report to the Public Integrity Division was “the first step in a thorough independent and still ongoing investigation which ultimately led to the arrest and charging of Mr. Yu.”
Yu Claims Working with FBI
During a bond hearing in Michigan pending Yu’s extradition to California, Yu’s attorney told the court that “the charge is false,” and that he had an affidavit signed by Konnech’s director of IT attesting that “there was no data stored in a Chinese server.” Yu’s lawyer added that “his client had been meeting voluntarily with the FBI over the past month and that during one of those meetings, the Director of IT told the FBI that no data was stored on a Chinese server, but rather that ‘everything has been in the U.S., either in Lansing, East Lansing, or backed-up on the Microsoft Cloud.’”
“Further, according to Yu’s lawyer, the FBI was not conducting a criminal investigation into Konnech, but rather the bureau was pursuing an investigation of a data breach outside the company.” According to Yu’s attorney, “True the Vote ‘hacked’ Konnech’s system and then released private information about poll workers, leading Konnech to sue True the Vote civilly.”
Federal Court Forces True the Vote to Reveal Hasson’s Name
Two days later, on Oct. 6, 2022, Judge Hoyt held a preliminary injunction hearing in Konnech v. True the Vote in a Texas federal court. Phillips and Engelbrecht’s counsel said the FBI was “not interested in the protection of this information,” meaning the identity of sources helping the FBI. The court directed Phillips and Engelbrecht, through their attorney, to disclose the identity of the individual who showed them the server data, and they did, claiming it was a CHS named Mike Hasson.
L.A. DA Forces Prosecutors to Pull Back on Claims Konnech Used Chinese Server
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, where Yu had been extradited, a deputy district attorney on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, told Yu’s California attorney that the D.A.’s office expected to unseal the indictment against Yu just a few days later on Monday, Oct. 10. But then after several days of delay, on Thursday, Oct. 13, the deputy prosecutor told Yu’s attorney he did not intend to unseal the indictment.
According to Yu’s attorney, the deputy prosecutor indicated that “on directions from his office on high — which he eventually identified as the district attorney himself — that he would be filing a complaint in this matter and not unsealing the indictment.”
That same day, the L.A. County prosecutor charged Yu with two crimes in a criminal complaint. Count 1 charged that Yu conspired to commit a felony, and Count 2 charged Yu with “the crime of grand theft by embezzlement of public funds.” Count 2 alleged that Yu fraudulently appropriated public funds.
The alleged fraud consisted of Yu entering into a contract on behalf of Konnech, agreeing that “only contractor’s staff who are based in the United States and are citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States shall have access to any County data, including personally identifiable information, hosted in [L.A. County’s] instance of the System Software.” The criminal complaint further alleged that from Oct. 10, 2019, through Oct. 4, 2022, Yu and other employees at Konnech used third-party contractors based in China.
L.A. Prosecutor Reveals Evidence Konnech Transferred Personal Data to China Contractors
The criminal complaint stated that evidence recovered during the execution of the search warrant shows Konnech employees “sent personal identifying information of Los Angeles County election workers to third-party software developers who assisted with the creating and fixing Konnech’s internal ‘PollChief’ software.” It also notes that a project manager for Konnech’s contract with L.A. County “confirmed via the messaging app DingTalk that any employee for Chinese contractors working on PollChief software had ‘superadministrative’ privileges for all PollChief clients.”
The L.A. County criminal complaint did not allege or charge Yu with maintaining election workers’ personal information on servers in China — something the DA’s original press release claimed Yu had done and something True the Vote had likewise claimed. The county prosecutor, however, continued to pursue criminal charges against Yu at that time, with deputy prosecutor Eric Neff telling a state court judge on Oct. 14, 2022, that Konnech “pose[s] a very broad danger to the community,” claiming, “it still uses Chinese contractors to conduct its business.”
Neff added that the state “recovered an email sent literally the day of the search warrant being executed that the company Konnech was just about to start changing their processes where personal identifiable information was not going to be sent abroad and to contractors. In L.A. alone, we are talking thousands of victims. They have contracts all over the country.”
The injury to L.A. County was particularly acute, Neff stressed, because election poll workers whose personal information was allegedly outsourced to China in 2020 included minors. “L.A. specifically reached out to high schools to ask minors if they would be willing, in order to increase their sense of civic duty, work as poll workers as a one-year exception for the 2020 election,” the deputy prosecutor said. “The fact is those minors’ data is compromised for life, including in school records,” representing a serious risk.
Federal Judge Demands True the Vote Reveal Identity of Second CHS
While charges against Yu continued in California, back in federal court in Texas on Oct. 27, 2022, Phillips testified that in addition to Hasson, a third person was present in the hotel room during the January 2021 meeting in Dallas. Phillips refused to identify that individual, however, stating he is a confidential informant for the FBI and, among other things, works on the border and would be at risk from the cartels.
Engelbrecht likewise refused to name the third person present during that January meeting. Their attorney asked the presiding judge to allow a deputy DA of Los Angeles County, Marc Beaart, to address the court by telephone, “either in camera or in a sealed courtroom, to explain that Mr. Yu, the CEO of Plaintiff Konnech, is facing multiple felony charges in Los Angeles, brought by the state of California, Los Angeles County…”
The court refused to hear from Beaart and proceeded to hold Phillips and Engelbrecht in contempt of court. He gave them until 9:00 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, to “cure” the contempt by revealing the identity of the third individual and ordering them to be jailed if they refused.
Federal Court Holds Phillips and Engelbrecht in Contempt
On Oct. 31, 2022, Phillips and Engelbrecht’s attorney noted they were trying to track down the “handling agents in San Antonio and throughout the border” to see if they had an issue with the third individual being named and whether “in fact, this will compromise any agent.” Stating he did not know the answer, their lawyer then asked for six hours to obtain it. The court refused to continue the hearing and ordered that Phillips and Engelbrecht be taken into custody.
Fifth Circuit Orders Phillips and Engelbrecht Be Released from Jail
Phillips and Engelbrecht were jailed for civil contempt of court for refusing to identify the third individual present in the Dallas hotel room when the purported evidence of the Konnech server was reviewed. They filed a petition with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging their imprisonment for contempt, and on Nov. 6, 2022, that appeals court ordered that Phillips and Engelbrecht be released from detention.
L.A. DA Dismisses Criminal Case Against Yu
Three days later, on Nov. 9, the L.A. district attorney moved to dismiss the criminal case against Yu, and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted the motion to dismiss without prejudice, meaning charges could be refiled. In a statement for the DA, a spokesman said:
We are concerned about both the pace of the investigation and the potential bias in the presentation and investigation of the evidence. … The county did indicate that it hasn’t ruled out refiling the charges after reviewing the evidence, saying it would ‘assemble a new team, with significant cyber security experience to determine whether any criminal activity occurred.’
Who’s Zooming Who?
At this point, the public has before it competing claims about Konnech’s conduct, with Konnech claiming it never stored election workers’ data on a Chinese server and True the Vote saying otherwise. While we do not know who is speaking the truth, the FBI does.
The FBI knows whether, in early 2021, Hasson (or Phillips) provided agents data claimed to have been stored on a Chinese server. And by now, the FBI must know whether that data truly represented election workers’ personal information Konnech stored on a Chinese server.
The FBI’s Silence Is Horrifying
If the data had been stored on a Chinese server, it is inexcusable that the FBI did not intervene in Konnech’s civil case in Texas to protect its confidential human sources — or, at a minimum, Hasson, who discovered the data breach and brought it to the FBI’s attention.
But if the data had not been stored on a Chinese server, it would be equally inexcusable for the FBI to remain silent and allow Yu’s reputation to be destroyed, both by Phillips and Engelbrecht’s claims and by the Los Angeles DA’s office’s declaration that its investigators found that “information was stored on servers in the People’s Republic of China.”
No matter where the truth lies, the FBI’s silence deserves derision. Christopher Wray should be forced to answer whether his bureau abandoned confidential human sources — or sought to set them up — or allowed an innocent American citizen, Yu, to be branded a criminal and a traitor.
Election Workers’ Data Appears Compromised
The scandal extends beyond this question, however, because in charging Yu in a criminal complaint, the Los Angeles County DA presented evidence indicating that, at a minimum, Konnech transferred the private data of election workers, including minors, to subcontractors working in China and that “any employee for Chinese contractors working on PollChief software had ‘superadministrative’ privileges for all PollChief clients.”
While this data transfer differs from what True the Vote and the L.A. district attorney originally accused Konnech of doing, namely maintaining the data on a Chinese server, this evidence nonetheless suggests hundreds of thousands of election workers’ personal data has been compromised.
But with the cases now focused more on True the Vote than on Konnech, it seems likely that the public, and especially those people whose personal information was at risk, will never learn the truth. This scenario is unacceptable, yet our country seems content to acquiesce to FBI malfeasance.