Iran Linked to Voter Emails 10/22 06:08
U.S. officials have accused Iran of being behind a flurry of emails sent to
Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at
intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. officials have accused Iran of being behind a flurry
of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that
appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald
The officials did not lay out specific evidence for how they came to
pinpoint Iran, but the activities attributed to Tehran would mark a significant
escalation for a country some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate
player in online espionage. The announcement was made late Wednesday at a
hastily called news conference 13 days before the election.
The allegations underscored the U.S. government's concern about efforts by
foreign countries to influence the election by spreading false information
meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
Such direct attempts to sway public opinion are more commonly associated with
Moscow, which conducted a covert social media campaign in 2016 aimed at sowing
discord and is again interfering this year, but the idea that Iran could be
responsible suggested that those tactics have been adopted by other nations,
"These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries," said John
Ratcliffe, the government's top intelligence official, who, along with FBI
Director Chris Wray, insisted that the U.S. would impose costs on any foreign
countries that interfere in the 2020 U.S. election and that the integrity of
the election is still sound.
"You should be confident that your vote counts," Wray said. "Early,
unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of
The two officials called out Russia and Iran for having obtained voter
registration information, though such data is sometimes easily accessible and
there was no allegation either country had hacked a database for it. Iran used
the information to push out spoofed emails, officials said, and created a video
that Ratcliffe said falsely suggested that voters could cast fraudulent ballots
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials
familiar with the matter said the U.S. has linked Tehran to messages sent to
Democratic voters in at least four states, including battleground locations
like Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona. The emails falsely purported to be from
the far-right group Proud Boys and warned that "we will come after you" if the
recipients didn't vote for Trump.
Though Democratic voters were targeted, Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails
were intended to hurt Trump in the contest against Democrat Joe Biden, though
he did not elaborate on how. It would not be the first time that the Trump
administration has said Tehran is working against the Republican president.
An intelligence assessment released in August said: "Iran seeks to undermine
U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in
advance of the 2020 elections. Iran's efforts along these lines probably will
focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and
recirculating anti-U.S. content."
A spokesman for Iran's mission to the United Nations, Alireza Miryousefi,
denied Tehran had anything to do with the alleged voter intimidation.
"Unlike the U.S., Iran does not interfere in other country's elections,"
Miryousefi wrote on Twitter. "The world has been witnessing U.S.' own desperate
public attempts to question the outcome of its own elections at the highest
Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador on Thursday over the
allegations. The Swiss Embassy has overseen America's interests in Tehran since
the aftermath of the 1979 hostage crisis.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran, while rejecting the allegations and the fake
reports, again emphasizes that there's no difference for Tehran which candidate
goes to the White House," the ministry said in a statement.
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the
announcement, but he repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is
opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will
swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
"Iran doesn't want to let me win. China doesn't want to let me win," Trump
said. "The first call I'll get after we win, the first call I'll get will be
from Iran saying, 'Let's make a deal.'"
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of
the House intelligence committee, said the "disturbing" threats cut to the
heart of the right to vote.
"We cannot allow voter intimidation or interference efforts, either foreign
or domestic, to silence voters' voices and take away that right," they said in
Asked about the emails during an online forum earlier Wednesday,
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific
information. "I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states
and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things
and others," she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated U.S.
election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done
so, and it was not clear how officials were able to identify Iran so quickly.
The operation represented something of a departure in cyber-ops for Iran,
which sought for the first time on record to undermine voter confidence. Iran's
previous operations have been mostly propaganda and espionage.
A top cyberthreat analyst, John Hultquist of FireEye, said the striking
development marked "a fundamental shift in our understanding of Iran's
willingness to interfere in the democratic process. While many of their
operations have been focused on promoting propaganda in pursuit of Iran's
interests, this incident is clearly aimed at undermining voter confidence."
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. 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 Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of
operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
"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.