On Jan. 6, 2021, the day supporters of President Donald Trump gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results by Congress and ultimately storm the U.S. Capitol, posts began to circulate widely social media claiming that an employee of an Italian security firm had interfered in the 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 U.S. electoral system and bolster allegations by Trump and his allies that the election was rigged. The supposed evidence, analyzed by Reuters, contradicts the main claims presented in this theory.
WHAT IS #ITALYGATE?
This theory took off when an organization called Nations in Action published a press release on Jan. 6 with the headline “Senior IT Expert at Global Defense Contractor Testifies in Italian Federal Court; He and Others Switched Votes throughout America in the U.S. Presidential Race” (here).
According to its website, Nations in Action is based in Sarasota, Florida and was established in 2017 “to address the collapse of the civil society with families struggling to maintain faith, values and virtues” (nationsinaction.org/#about-us). Nations in Action did not respond to Reuters request for comment or elaboration on their “evidence” for these claims. If they do, this article will be updated accordingly.
The press release, which claims to have come from Rome, Italy on Jan. 5, alleges that an employee of the Italian defense, security and aerospace company Leonardo SpA “provided a shocking deposition detailing his role in the most elaborate criminal act affecting a US election.” It names Arturo D’Elia as the employee and states that he “outlined the scheme that proved successful in using Leonardo computer systems and military satellites located in Pescara, Italy” to interfere in the U.S. election in favor of Joe Biden.
The press release quotes the group’s chair Maria Strollo Zack as saying, “Make no mistake, this is a coup d’etat that we will stop in the name of justice and free and fair elections.”
That day, several websites, such as “Shock Ya!” (here), “En Volve” (here) and “No Q Report” (here) began sharing the press release, which soon migrated to Facebook. In an editor’s note at the top of the article, “No Q Report” acknowledged, “We have not independently verified it but felt it was necessary to put out there considering the late hour in this election cycle.”
LEONARDO AND ARTURO D’ELIA
On Dec. 22, 2020, Reuters published an exclusive report here detailing an investigation into a data theft at Leonardo that took place between 2015 and 2017.
Italian police said on Dec. 5, 2020 that they had arrested Arturo D’Elia and Antonio Rossi, who had both worked at Leonardo, over their alleged role in hacking 94 computers, 33 of which were located at the group’s plant in Pomigliano, a municipality in Naples. The hacking took place years prior to the 2020 U.S. election (between 2015 and 2017).
The 108-page arrest warrant examined by Reuters reporters showed that the hack appeared to target details of Europe’s biggest unmanned fighter jet program and aircraft used by the military and police. There is no mention of the U.S. election anywhere in the document. (In the 108-page the judge cited different potential reasons behind the 2015-2017 hacking for which D’Elia is under investigation: “the use of data for industrial and commercial purposes, blackmail and military espionage activities or simply the intention to damage the image of the company by demonstrating ... its organizational and IT vulnerability.”)
Reuters spoke via phone with D’Elia’s lawyer Nicola Naponiello, who previously provided Reuters with comment for the Dec. 22 report on the Leonardo investigation. Naponiello said that when his client was questioned by Naples prosecutors on Jan. 12, he denied any involvement in an alleged plan to change the outcome of U.S elections. According to Naponiello, who was assisting his client during the questioning, D’Elia called any allegations of his involvement in a plan against Trump “pure fantasy.”
Reuters reporters also spoke with a Naples police officer involved in the arrest of D’Elia who said that Naples prosecutors are now looking into the allegations of D’Elia’s interference in the U.S. election, but have deemed the conspiracy theory likely baseless. The officer also told Reuters that during police questioning in December, D’Elia made no mention of a plot involving Trump.
In addition, a spokesperson for Leonardo told Reuters on the phone that D’Elia, a former consultant for the company, had not worked for Leonardo since 2017.
ALLEGED AFFIDAVIT FROM ALFIO D’URSO
Some social media posts (here , here) include an alleged affidavit that carried the signature of “Alfio D’Urso” and stated that D’Elia “has been charged by the public prosecutor of Naples for technology/data manipulation and implantation of viruses in the main computers of Leonardo SpA” in order “to switch data from the US elections of 3 November 2020 from significant margin of victory for Donald Trump to Joe Biden in a number of states where Joe Biden was losing the vote totals.”
Reuters was not able to independently confirm the document’s authenticity.
Naponiello, Arturo D’Elia’s attorney, told Reuters that neither he nor D’Elia had ever heard of Alfio D’Urso.
An individual named “Alfio D’Urso” is listed on Italy's national bar database (here). Reuters was unable to reach D'Urso to establish further details.
The Naples police officer said that prosecutors would ask D’Urso, whose name makes no appearance in the 108-page arrest warrant for D’Elia, about the alleged affidavit when they find him (his location is currently unknown, according to the officer).
U.S. FOREIGN SERVICE WORKER AND CLAUDIO GRAZIANO
Some social media posts ( here , here ) shared an audio recording (vocaroo.com/1e976QE4oDoy) of a December 2020 conference call between Nations in Action chair Maria Strollo Zack and other supporters of President Trump.
At the beginning of the call, Zack says that the outcome of the U.S. election “was orchestrated in the Rome embassy” by a 20-year foreign service officer she claims “coordinated with a general Claudio Graziano who is on the board of Leonardo” to use the firm’s “military satellite uplink to load the software and transfer it over to change the votes from Trump to Biden.”
Reviewed by Reuters, the 108-page arrest warrant for D’Elia for the Leonardo hacking case does not mention the name of the alleged foreign service officer given in the recording, or Claudio Graziano, who is, in fact, an Italian Army officer currently serving as chief of general staff for the Italian Defense (here). Zack’s claim that Graziano is on the board of Leonardo is false, according to the company’s web page for its board of directors (here).
SIMILAR THEORIES, SECURE ELECTIONS
In mid-November, the Reuters Fact Check team debunked similar false social media claims of election interference out of Europe. Posts claimed the U.S. military had raided the offices of electronic voting company Scytl in Germany to seize their servers for evidence of manipulation in the 2020 U.S. election (here). Scytl confirmed that it they had not been raided by the U.S. army and does not have offices in Germany. Some #ItalyGate posts referred to this false theory, saying data was moved from “Rome to Frankfurt.”
On Nov. 12, Chris Krebs, who worked on protecting the 2020 election from hackers as the head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), called the 2020 vote “the most secure in American history” (here). Five days later, President Trump fired Krebs, a lifelong Republican, in a message on Twitter, accusing him without evidence of making a “highly inaccurate” statement affirming the Nov. 3 election was secure and rejecting claims of fraud (here).
On Dec. 1, then-Attorney General William Barr U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election, even as President Trump kept up his flailing legal efforts to reverse his defeat (here). Two weeks later, Barr announced his resignation from the Trump administration (here).
USA Today also debunked the #ItalyGate theory, here .
False. There is no legitimate evidence that an employee of the Italian defense company Leonardo SpA interfered in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
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