On January 6, 2021, the day President Donald Trump’s supporters gathered in Washington, DC to protest against Congress’s certification of the results of the 2020 presidential election and finally stormed the US Capitol, posts began to circulate widely on social media claiming that an employee of an Italian security company was interfering in election to secure Joe Biden’s victory. Shared online with the hashtags #ItalyDidIt and #ItalyGate, the claims are part of a conspiracy theory intended to sow doubt in the US electoral system and support allegations by Trump and his allies that the election was rigged. This supposed evidence, analyzed by Reuters, contradicts the main claims presented in this theory.
WHAT IS #ITALYGATE?
This theory emerged when an organization called Nations in Action published a press release on January 6 under the title “Senior IT Specialist in Global Defense Contractors Testifying in Italian Federal Court; He and Others Switch Voices Across America in the US Presidential Race. ”here).
According to its website, Nations in Action is based in Sarasota, Florida and was founded in 2017 “to tackle the collapse of civil society with families struggling to defend beliefs, values and virtues” (Nationsinaction.org/#about-us). Nations in Action did not respond to a Reuters request for comment or an explanation of their “evidence” for this claim. If so, this article will be updated accordingly.
The press release, which claims to be from Rome, Italy on January 5, alleges that an employee of the Italian defense, security and aerospace firm Leonardo SpA “made a shocking statement detailing his role in the most complex criminal act affecting US elections.” He named Arturo D’Elia as an employee and stated that he “outlined a proven successful scheme using Leonardo’s computer systems and military satellites located in Pescara, Italy” to interfere in the US election for Joe Biden.
The press release quoted the group’s leader Maria Strollo Zack as saying, “Make no mistake, this is a coup that we will end in the name of justice and free and fair elections.”
That day, several web sites, such as “Shock Yes!” (here), “En Volve” (here) and “No Q Report” (here) began distributing press releases, which soon migrated to Facebook. In an editor’s note at the top of the article, “No Q Report” states, “We have not independently verified but felt the need to be put there considering the late hour in this voting cycle.”
LEONARDO AND ARTURO D’ELIA
On 22 December 2020, Reuters published an exclusive report here details a data theft investigation at Leonardo that took place between 2015 and 2017.
Italian police said on December 5, 2020 that they had arrested Arturo D’Elia and Antonio Rossi, who both worked at Leonardo, for their alleged roles in hacking 94 computers, 33 of which were located at the group’s factory in Pomigliano, a municipality in Naples. The hack took place years before the 2020 US elections (between 2015 and 2017).
The 108-page arrest warrant examined by Reuters reporters showed that the hack appeared to target details of the program for Europe’s largest unmanned fighter jet and aircraft used by the military and police. There is no mention of US elections anywhere in the document. (In 108 pages, the judge cited various potential reasons behind the 2015-2017 hack that D’Elia was investigating: “the use of data for industrial and commercial purposes, extortion and military espionage activities or mere intent to damage the company’s image by exposing … vulnerability organization and its IT. “)
Reuters spoke by phone with D’Elia’s attorney Nicola Naponiello, who previously provided comments to Reuters for the Dec. 22 report on Leonardo’s investigation. Naponiello said that when his client was questioned by Napoli prosecutors on January 12, he denied being involved in any plans to change the outcome of the US election. According to Naponiello, who assisted his client during the interrogation, D’Elia called his alleged involvement in the plot against Trump “pure fantasy”.
Reuters journalists also spoke to a Naples police officer involved in D’Elia’s arrest who said the Napoli prosecutor was now investigating allegations of D’Elia’s interference in the US election but thought the conspiracy theory was likely baseless. The officer also told Reuters that during a police check in December, D’Elia made no mention of a plot involving Trump.
Additionally, a Leonardo spokesperson told Reuters by telephone that D’Elia, a former consultant for the company, had not worked for Leonardo since 2017.
AFFIDAVIT SITTING FROM ALFIO D’URSO
Some social media posts (here , here) including an alleged affidavit carrying the signature “Alfio D’Urso” and alleging that D’Elia “has been indicted by the Naples public prosecutor for technology / data manipulation and virus implantation on Leonardo SpA’s main computer” in order “to divert data from the election. The US dated November 3, 2020 from a significant margin of victory for Donald Trump to Joe Biden in a number of states where Joe Biden lost the total vote. “
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the authenticity of the documents.
Naponiello, lawyer for Arturo D’Elia, told Reuters that neither he nor D’Elia had heard of Alfio D’Urso.
A person named “Alfio D’Urso” is registered in the Italian national bar database (here). Reuters was unable to reach D’Urso for further details.
Napoli police officers said prosecutors would ask D’Urso, whose name was not identified on the 108-page arrest warrant for D’Elia, about the alleged affidavit when they found him (his current location is unknown, according to officers).
US FOREIGN SERVICE WORKERS AND CLAUDIO GRAZIANO
Some social media posts ( here , here ) share audio recording (vocaroo.com/1e976QE4oDoy) from a December 2020 conference call between Nations in Action chair Maria Strollo Zack and other supporters of President Trump.
At the start of the phone call, Zack said the US election results were “arranged at the Rome embassy” by a 20-year-old foreign service official who he claims was “coordinating with a general Claudio Graziano who was on Leonardo’s board” to use the company’s “military satellite uplink” to load the software and transfer it to change the vote from Trump to Biden. “
Reviewed by Reuters, the 108-page arrest warrant for D’Elia over the Leonardo hack does not name the suspected foreign service officer given on the tape, or Claudio Graziano, who is actually a current Italian Army officer. served as chief of general staff for Italian Defense (here). Zack’s claim that Graziano is on Leonardo’s board of directors is bogus, according to the company’s webpage for the board of directors (here).
SAME THEORY, SELECTION IS SAFE
In mid-November, the Reuters Fact Checker team debunked similar bogus social media claims about electoral interference outside Europe. The post claims the US military has raided the offices of electronic voting company Scytl in Germany to confiscate their servers for evidence of manipulation in the 2020 US elections (here). Scytl confirmed that they were never raided by US troops and had no offices in Germany. Several #ItalyGate posts refer to this false theory, which says that data was transferred from “Rome to Frankfurt”.
On November 12, Chris Krebs, who is working to protect the 2020 election from hackers as head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), called the 2020 vote “the safest in American history” (here). Five days later, President Trump fired Krebs, a Republican for life, in a message on Twitter, accusing him of making “grossly inaccurate” statements asserting that the November 3 election was safe and rejecting claims of fraud (here).
On December 1, Attorney General William Barr US Attorney General William Barr said that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election, even as President Trump continues to strive to reverse his defeat (here). Two weeks later, Barr announced his retirement from the Trump administration (here).
USA Today also rejects the #ItalyGate theory, here .
Wrong. There is no valid evidence that an employee of the Italian defense company Leonardo SpA interfered in the 2020 US presidential election.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking workhere.