If I ever knew about #ItalyGate, I quickly forgot. Reuters debunked the conspiracy theory back in January. It looks like a classic example of bored ex-CIA officers who’ve been trained to screw with foreign elections using their skills to interfere in our own. It’s disturbing to learn that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pressured acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to investigate it.
And in [Meadow’s] request that the Justice Department investigate the Italy conspiracy theory, Mr. Meadows sent Mr. Rosen a YouTube link to a video of Brad Johnson, a former C.I.A. employee who had been pushing the theory in videos and statements that he posted online.
This wasn’t a durable intelligence operation. It didn’t need to survive close scrutiny and it wasn’t designed that way. It included a purported affidavit signed by an Italian lawyer named “Alfio D’Urso.” There is a lawyer by that name registered with the Italian bar, but no one can locate him. At the heart of the conspiracy is an Italian military officer who supposedly used a “military satellite uplink to load…software and transfer it over to change…votes from Trump to Biden.” But the conspiracy theorists didn’t choose just any officer. They named Claudio Graziano, the chief of general staff for the Italian Defense. They also said that Graziano was connected to a notorious hacker through mutual ties to Leonardo SpA, an Italian defense and aerospace company. But the hacker hasn’t contracted with Leonardo since 2017 and claims that Graziano sits on Leonardo’s board appear to be false.
This is the kind of theory that can be concocted using Google and it would never fool any serious investigator. But it spread like wildfire on Facebook and helped fuel that anger and suspicion that led to the January 6 insurrection.
I don’t know if Trump picked up on it like any other of the intended dupes or if it was done on his behalf and with his knowledge. Either way, it served its purpose in raising suspicion about the election results, and in that sense could easily have been a low grade foreign intelligence operation. Except we know that an ex-CIA officer named Brad Johnson was out in front pushing it on YouTube. That’s amateur hour from a spy craft point of view. It seems more likely that Russia’ true and successful operation was poisoning the minds of the American right to the point that ex-CIA officers are self-sabotaging their own country of their own free will.
And, of course, the biggest Russian win of all is evident in White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pushing this kind of garbage on the Justice Department.