WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI Director James Comey said Americans should be aware of foreign efforts to undermine confidence in U.S. elections and mindful of the possibility that what they're reading might be part of an organized disinformation campaign.
U.S. adversaries, including Russia last year, have "used all kinds of vectors to try and influence and undermine our own faith in our democratic processes" and have relied on increasingly sophisticated tactics, the FBI director warned.
Speaking at a Newseum event Wednesday night, he said the FBI would be transparent in publicly calling out efforts to meddle in American politics and that the public also should take steps to guard against foreign influence.
"The most important thing to be done is people need to be aware of the possibility that what they're reading has been shaped by troll farms looking to push a message on Twitter to undermine our confidence" about the electoral process, Comey said.
U.S. intelligence agencies said in a January report that Russian efforts to interfere in last year's American presidential election in favor of Republican Donald Trump included paid social media users, or "trolls." Part of the goal was to spread information to "denigrate" Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who lost the November election, according to the report.
The FBI is investigating, including whether the Kremlin coordinated with Trump campaign associates.
During a question-and-answer session, Comey said the FBI would do everything it could to "identify, investigate and then call out foreign efforts" to influence an election.
"One of the most important things we can do is be transparent about efforts to interfere with our process 'cause then those interference efforts lose some of their force," he said.
Comey has drawn criticism for publicly commenting on an investigation about Clinton's use of a private email server last year while not acknowledging an FBI investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
His remarks about the Clinton case at a July news conference came after the FBI had concluded the investigation and determined that charges were not warranted. When Comey wrote Congress in October to say newly discovered emails had been found that needed to be reviewed, he said he was following a commitment to lawmakers to update them on new developments.
The FBI does not generally discuss open or ongoing investigations. The FBI has said its counterintelligence investigation began last July.
On Wednesday night, he acknowledged the FBI "did a lot last year that confused people."
"If you see the world through sides, the FBI doesn't make a lot of sense to you 'cause you're saying, 'Why did they help this person?'" and hurt someone else, Comey said.
"We don't see the world that way. We are not on anybody's side, we really don't care. We're trying to figure out what's true, what's fair, what's the right thing to do," he added.
The question-and-answer session took place following a public showing of an episode of a new USA Network documentary series, "Inside the FBI: New York."
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