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.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” according to John Ratcliffe, the government’s national intelligence director, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted that the integrity of the vote remains 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 skepticism.”
Iran sent spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters and sow unrest and also distributed a video that falsely suggested voters could cast fraudulent ballots from overseas, Ratcliffe said.
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails, 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 battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Florida.
The emails falsely purported to be from the fringe 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 harm Trump. The messages may have been intended to align Trump in the minds of voters with the Proud Boys.
It was not the first time the Trump administration has accused Tehran of working against the president.
An intelligence assessment in August said “Iran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections.”
It said the country would probably continue to focus on “spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content.”
Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, denied Tehran’s involvement.
“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 level.”
These accusations are nothing more than another scenario to undermine voter confidence, & are absurd. Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election & no preference for the outcome. U.S. must end its malign and dangerous accusations against Iran.2/2
— Alireza Miryousefi (@miryousefi) October 22, 2020
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the intelligence announcement. He promised that if he wins another term he will 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, Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called the threats “disturbing.”
“We cannot allow voter intimidation or interference efforts, either foreign or domestic, to silence voters’ voices and take away that right,” they said in a statement.
A top analyst, John Hultquist of FireEye, said the 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.
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.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.