US intelligence officials have confirmed Iran is responsible for a series of threatening emails targeting Democratic voters this week, as they revealed Russia is also playing its part to meddle in the presidential election.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Wednesday identified the two countries as foreign actors that ‘have taken specific actions to influence public opinion’ relating to the presidential race.
Ratcliffe said both countries separately managed to obtain and use voter registration information – most of which is easily accessible – to target Americans and ‘incite social unrest.’
‘This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy,’ he said in an impromptu news conference.
He said Iran had been behind a series of ‘spoofed emails’ intending to ‘intimidate’ voters and ‘damage President Trump’.
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In a last-minute press conference Wednesday evening, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe confirmed Russia and Iran have obtained and used voter registration to spread false information to American voters
Earlier this week, registered Democrats in Alaska, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania received emails claiming to come from far-right group Proud Boys threatening to ‘come after’ them if they did not vote for Trump
It comes after registered Democrats across the country this week received emails claiming to be from far-right group Proud Boys, threatening to ‘come after’ them if they did not vote for Trump.
The emails were reported by residents in Alaska, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania – all of which are highly contested states for the election with the exception of Alaska.
‘(Insert name) we are in possession of all of your information,’ the emails stated. ‘You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access to the entire voting infrastructure.
‘You will vote for Trump or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you.’
Ratcliffe revealed Iran had also been distributing other content including a video that purported to show how fake ballots could be submitted even from overseas.
‘This video, and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots, are not true,’ he said.
Russia was not found to have orchestrated any similar interference campaigns however Ratcliffe confirmed they have obtained some voter information ‘just as they did in 2016.’
A chairman for the Proud Boys in Florida said the group uses two sites and had been working to get away from the domain used in the email campaign
The foreign interference campaign comes just two weeks before Americans are due to elect their next president.
DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE JOHN RATCLIFFE’S FULL REMARKS AT FBI NEWS CONFERENCE
We would like to alert the public that we have identified that two foreign actors, Iran and Russia, have taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections.
We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and separately, by Russia. This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy.
To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump. You may have seen some reporting on this in the last 24 hours or you may have even been one of the recipients of those emails.
Additionally, Iran is distributing other content to include a video that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas. This video, and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots, are not true.
These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries. Even if the adversaries pursue further attempts to intimidate or attempt to undermine voter confidence, know that our election systems are resilient and you can be confident your votes are secure.
Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016. Rest assured that we are prepared for the possibility of actions by those hostile to democracy.
The great women and men of the intelligence community caught this activity immediately. And our colleagues at FBI and DHS acted swiftly in response to this threat. We are standing before you now to give you the confidence that we are on top of this and providing you with the most powerful weapon to combat these efforts; the truth. Information.
We ask every American to do their part to defend against those who wish us harm. The way you do that is simple. Do not allow these efforts to have their intended effect. If you receive an intimidating or manipulated email in your inbox, don’t be alarmed and do not spread it. This is not a partisan issue. I’ve had conversations today with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and their is complete unanimity in the US government in our resolve to combat the enemies of freedom.
The president has instructed me to keep the public informed as appropriate and you have my commitment that I will continue to do exactly that with transparency and with candor. We will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections. We will continue to work with our many partners to disrupt and to impose costs on any adversary that attempts to interfere in our democratic processes. The efforts of the president to empower us to put towards election security over these last four years are working.
‘These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,’ added Ratcliffe, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 election.
Despite the Iranian and Russian actions, the officials said Americans can be confident that their vote will be counted.
The announcement at a rare news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
The voter-intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers.
FBI Director Chris Wray insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 election
Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Wednesday night after authorities addressed the foreign interference campaign
Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the November 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
‘We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,’ Wray said on Wednesday.
‘When we see indications of foreign interference or federal election crimes, we are going to aggressively investigate and work with our partners to take appropriate action.’
Wray encouraged Americans to seek voting information from reliable sources and ‘to be thoughtful, careful, and discerning consumers of information online.’
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so. Cybersecurity experts consider it to be a second-rate actor in online espionage.
‘These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters´ confidence in our elections,’ Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.