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    FBI Director Stokes Fears of ‘Influence Operations’, But Says Elections Safe

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    The director of the FBI said that while there hasn’t been any election interference in 2018, there are active “influence operations” that pose a threat to American values.

    FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters Thursday that while there have not been any indications of physical intrusions of voter registration databases or polling machinery ahead of the midterm elections, the threat of "influence operations" is pervasive around the clock.

    Russia "continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day. This is a threat we need to take extremely seriously," he said.

    ​"We've said this fairly consistently. In the context of 2018, we are not yet seeing the same kinds of efforts to target election infrastructure — voter registration databases in particular. What we are seeing are the malign influence operations: in effect, information warfare that we've talked about. And that's a 24-7, 365-days-a-year phenomenon that doesn't turn necessarily on whether or not we're in the middle of election season or not," the FBI head said.

    ​"But, as Director [of National Intelligence Daniel] Coats said, any moment is just a moment before the dial can be turned up one, much as we saw in 2016. Again, not in terms of affecting the vote count, but in terms of potential penetration of voter registration databases, or something like that — and that in turn can be a vehicle for them to try to sow discord or undermine confidence. We have to make sure we're pushing back on it, which is what we're doing," the director noted.

    Wray said that since he was confirmed by the US Senate to lead the FBI, replacing James Comey, he has established a task force focused on foreign influence campaigns.

    Already, the FBI's cooperation with social media technology companies — a "pillar" of what the FBI does, according to Wray — has chilled genuine attempts by Americans to organize using Facebook.

    ​Facebook banned some 32 pages on its namesake platform as well as on its subsidiary company Instagram this week. Facebook did not say who it believed to be behind the accounts, but noted that their activities were consistent with previously banned accounts operated by the allegedly Kremlin-run Internet Research Agency (IRA).

    ​One of the pages caught up in the ban was called "Resisters" and had a one-time administrator (for a total of seven minutes) which was previously alleged to have been linked to the IRA.

    Because that group was an administrator on a Facebook event page planning a protest against a rally being held on the anniversary of deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Facebook shut down the event, sparking cries of censorship from local DC activists who were using the page to organize. According to the new event page, 35 American activist groups have endorsed the rally.

    Wray and Coats made much hay in their Thursday press briefing of alleged foreign efforts to "sow discord" in the US population and "drive a wedge and undermine our democratic values," as Coats noted.

    The democratic values the US intelligence community chiefs say they want to uphold would not seem to include those of, for example, the right to peaceful assembly and protest, or for equal justice under the law for people of color in the US. The FBI, it has been known for some time, panicked after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I have a dream" speech. "We must mark him now, if we have not done so already, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security," FBI Domestic Intelligence Chief William Sullivan wrote in a memo two days after King's speech on the National Mall in August 1963.

    ​King and other civil rights activists were frequently smeared as communist agents. An extensive surveillance operation targeting King found no such communist ties, but it did reportedly unearth tapes demonstrating King cheated on his wife.

    The FBI sent the evidence, and an extremely creepy letter, to King's home in an attempt to blackmail the civil rights leader into killing himself, according to an unredacted copy of the letter obtained by Yale historian Beverly Gage in 2014. "There is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days… You are done… You better take it before your filthy abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation," the FBI wrote in an unsigned note to King.

    In March, a Freedom of Information Act request resulted in the production of documents showing that the Black Lives Matter activists were being spied on by the FBI and other federal authorities. There was even evidence that federal agents paid off informants to provide them with detailed information as well as attempts to infiltrate activist groups planning protests. Then, as now, the fear of "foreign influence" is often used as a cover.

    "It feels like racist ideology forming, or them not being able to see beyond their own bias. As we know, the FBI — the only reason to actually label our movements as ‘terrorists' or ‘potentially a terror threat' is because there is no sense of understanding," Dr. Dave Ragland, senior fellow at peace-advocacy group the Fellowship of Reconciliation, told By Any Means Necessary on Radio Sputnik after the documents were exposed.

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    BLM, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Christopher Wray, Daniel Coats, James Comey
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