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Passion, protests, misinformation surround anxious wait for election results

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Protests in cities across the country after Election Day (KUTV)

With the country anxiously awaiting the election results from several swing states, groups in different cities have converged on local election offices with claims of ballot tampering.

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, a group went to the county recorder’s office Wednesday night to claim – without evidence – that county officials used Sharpie pens to invalidate ballots, something election officials deny.

A similar protest in Michigan demanded election officials ‘stop the count’ after the crowd said they were being kept out of the election office due to social distancing guidelines. The local election board said observers from both parties were overseeing the vote count.

Other protests across the country called on election officials to continue counting votes and "Protect the Results."

“We just need to be really careful and evaluate the information we are getting and not be quick to react and be emotional about something because it may not be true,” said former Utah-based FBI agent Karl Schmae.

Schmae says during the time when the presidency is decided, it will be critical for people to use their judgement and vet information they read online. He added that election unrest is likely resulting in a flood of threats against local election officials.

This is going to keep FBI and law enforcement busy. It’s likely there are all kinds of threats being posted online too. Trying to distinguish ‘keyboard commandos’ from real threats is difficult,” he said.

Schmae shared the following "2020 ELECTION SURVIVAL GUIDE" with 2News:

A Retired FBI Agent’s Lessons Learned For Dealing With The 2020 Elections

Karl Schmae, FBI SSA (retired)

I recently retired as an FBI Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) and spent over 22 years investigating violent criminals, domestic extremists, international terrorists, and spies. As a new agent at the FBI Academy in Quantico, it was a proud day when Director Freeh presented me with my FBI credentials and administered my oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and protect the American people. I was fortunate to work at a place with a great mission and with outstanding people dedicated to protecting our nation.

Since retiring last year I’ve been troubled to see our country in such turmoil and our people so divided. The upcoming Presidential election has added to the uncertainty. We all must make our own independent decisions about how to vote, but that has become more difficult as we are bombarded with political ads, news stories, and social media posts about the 2020 election. Political operatives, media talking heads, friends and neighbors and even foreign intelligence services all seek to influence us. Some lessons I learned during my FBI career may help you this election season:

FACTS MATTER. My investigations were based on gathering facts based on evidence, not on speculation, opinions, or popular beliefs. In this social media age, it’s all too easy for untrue ideas and conspiracy theories to spread, despite having no basis in facts. The truth matters, and we uncover the truth by looking at facts and evidence. I couldn’t get a search warrant without carefully compiling facts because I knew a judge would carefully review my request. It takes time and effort to read factually based documents like the 29 page Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment of 12 Russian military hackers who interfered in the 2016 elections or the recent October 2020 DOJ indictment of another 6 Russian military hackers. Russian election interference is a fact, attested to by the entire U.S. Intelligence Community. Some prominent voices ignore those facts and still call it a hoax. Following the facts is the only way to see clearly what’s really happening in the world.

CHECK YOUR SOURCES. I investigated many leads and tips which turned out to be dead ends because they were not supported by facts. I gathered evidence from a variety of sources such as witness interviews, physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, and human sources/informants. Handling human sources was always tricky because informants can provide valuable information, but they can also lie or tell partial truths. I always had to assess the reliability of an informant. I evaluated their information by verifying facts and checking if the reported information could be corroborated by other sources or methods. It was engrained into me to always check my sources. Today with so many sources of information available, anybody can promote disinformation, particularly online. Thoughtfully evaluating the credibility of our information sources for biases and falsehoods and checking if the information can be corroborated by other legitimate sources is important to keep us from being misled.

BE AWARE OF CHANGING THREATS. Threats constantly evolve, and this is particularly true in the cyber realm. In 2016, Russian cyber warriors created thousands of fake Facebook accounts to spread false information to Americans on both the Right and the Left. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed disbelief because he could not imagine a hostile nation would exploit his social media company to undermine the very democracy that enabled Facebook to thrive. Facebook later acknowledged the Russians had indeed extensively spread fake news on their platform. We need to remember a lesson after the devasting 9/11 attack when the 9/11 Commission noted the U.S. intelligence community had “a failure of imagination” which contributed to not foreseeing that terrorists planned to crash hijacked airplanes into buildings. The threat changed and we didn’t see it coming. The FBI recently warned Russian and Iranians are waging election interference campaigns against Americans. The Iranian tactic included spoofed emails which appeared to be from right wing Proud Boys threatening violence against voters casting ballots for Democrats. Understand the threats today but be imaginative about how the threats will be different tomorrow.

TREAT PEOPLE DECENTLY. I had interactions with hundreds of people during my FBI career. I didn’t like them all, nor did I always agree with their views. Regardless of who they were, I had to treat everybody fairly and had to ensure their Constitutional rights were not violated. I knew every 5 years, I would be reinvestigated for my security clearance and my associates would be asked if I ever displayed any bias or prejudice against anybody based on factors such as sex, race, color, or religion. But treating people decently was also the right thing to do and often paid dividends. I spoke and listened to many militia members during a standoff at an Oregon National Wildlife Refuge when I was a Crisis Negotiator. I didn’t agree with their views or tactics, but I treated them decently and tried to understand their perspective, which de-escalated tensions. Seeking common ground where we can and treating people decently reduces friction and increases the odds of a positive outcome.

SOMETIMES THINGS DON’T GO YOUR WAY. At Quantico my class counselor Ethel shared a cartoon of a dragon picking its teeth with the lance of the knight it had just eaten. The caption read “Sometimes the dragon wins.” Ethel was right. Bad people still do bad things, despite the efforts of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Innocent people are killed, assaulted, robbed, hacked, and defrauded. An active shooter may walk into a school and slaughter innocents. A jury may decide not to convict a subject. Although the FBI couldn’t stop all evil from happening, we never stopped trying to prevent it, or to bring perpetrators to justice. We can’t win every battle, but we should never surrender. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and decide to keep taking another step forward. Many American may be disappointed their candidate didn’t win this year. You may feel the dragon won. But America is resilient and will survive if we all continue to move forward and work together to make these United States live up to the ideals set forth in the Constitution.

Mr. Karl Schmae served as a Special Agent in the FBI from 1997-2019. He retired as a Supervisory Special Agent of a Domestic Terrorism Squad, which was part of the FBI Salt Lake City Joint Terrorism Task Force. Mr. Schmae currently provides consulting services through his company Apex Security Advisors, LLC.