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.
Comey said the Russian government has for years tried to weaken public faith in democratic processes around the globe and recently has resorted to more sophisticated tactics.
He was asked at a Newseum event Wednesday night what Americans could do to protect against the meddling of a foreign government in politics. His response: "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.
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."
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 contacts 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 pledge to lawmakers to update them on new developments.
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 show, "Inside the FBI: New York."