On Thursday, Microsoft issued a statement that three nations historically unfriendly toward the United States were launching cyberattacks against candidates in U.S. elections.
They were, in order of Microsoft’s presentation, Russia, China and Iran.
Most establishment media outlets didn’t get too far past the first country on the list.
In a way, it’s understandable. Russia’s cyberattack readiness holds an almost mystical, Rasputin-like reputation among the American left as being able to disrupt our electoral systems. Four years after the 2016 elections, there are still those who believe that Moscow colluded with the Trump campaign to take the race from the deserving winner, Hillary Clinton, even though a special counsel investigation found a grand total of zero evidence of that connection.
However, further down the list of worries for the mainstream media was Iran.
There’s a good reason for this: While Russia is seen as being supportive of the Trump administration, Iran’s hacking efforts are dedicated to attacking it. The president has taken a hardline stance on Tehran, most recently seen in the January drone attack that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
According to Microsoft’s report, Phosphorus, a hacking group likely linked to the Iranian regime, “has attempted to access the personal or work accounts of individuals involved directly or indirectly with the U.S. presidential election. Between May and June 2020, Phosphorus unsuccessfully attempted to log into the accounts of administration officials and Donald J. Trump for President campaign staff.”
After Soleimani’s death in January, cybersecurity experts warned that Tehran would retaliate.
“We’re in a more escalated situation than we’ve been in the past, and there are some serious questions about where the red lines are,” John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis for cybersecurity firm FireEye, told to The Washington Post.
“They may not have a problem with people getting hurt at this point.”
Experts hinted at attacks on infrastructure. Attacks on the Trump administration and his re-election campaign, however, might yield more for Iran.
According to a report in Friday’s Washington Free Beacon, Iran has been involved in state-run disinformation campaigns against the Trump administration and campaign in addition to hacking attempts targeting the campaign.
Experts told the Free Beacon that since late 2019, the regime in Tehran has been engaging in cyber-espionage against the Trump re-election campaign in an attempt to destabilize the election process and help former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, win.
Iran has been amplifying anti-Trump voices online and in state-controlled media, including utilizing the familiar tactic of using fake social media accounts.
“In the case of the 2020 election, it’s clear the regime cannot handle four more years of maximum pressure,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, Iran specialist for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, told the Free Beacon.
“It’s also clear that the regime has a particular disdain for the Trump administration, which has been remarkably effective in restoring and adding sanctions on Tehran, making them more effective — despite being unilateral — in record-setting time.”
The Trump administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal — officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — in May 2018. Since then, the administration has put increasing pressure on the regime in Iran, including ending sanctions waivers that allowed companies to work on Iranian nuclear sites this May, according to The Washington Post.
Thus, it’s not hard to see why the Iranian regime favors the Democratic candidate; it’s hoping a Biden administration would rejoin the Iran deal. However, Ben Taleblu warned that “this should not be confused with being pro-Biden, per se,” since the regime is generally anti-American no matter who’s in charge.
“Iran’s ultimate goal, hence its partnership with other revisionist or rejectionist powers like Russia and China, is the decline of the American-led world order,” he said. “Having Americans at each other’s throats day-in and day-out helps them accomplish this most nefarious of goals.”
Meanwhile, William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said last month that “Iran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections.”
Tehran, he said, is “driven by a perception that President Trump’s reelection would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.”
While it’s difficult to see the concrete evidence of hacking — that’s not the kind of thing intelligence agencies are eager to disclose — some evidence of Iran’s disinformation campaign can be seen on social media.
Facebook said earlier this year it had deleted “118 Pages, 389 Facebook accounts, 27 Groups, and 6 Instagram accounts” that were linked to the Iranian regime and which magnified sources of discontent in various countries, including the “Occupy movement in the US [and] criticism of US policies in the Middle East.”
Other countries targeted by Tehran include Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, the U.K. and Zimbabwe.
However, it’s easiest to amplify discontent in the United States, particularly given the fact that there’s so much of it to be amplified.
That being said, what we’re going to hear about in the final weeks of the presidential campaign is the potential of election meddling coming out of the Kremlin.
Biden’s vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, has said that Russia could still cost them the election — “theoretically, of course.”
Of course. If they don’t win, Moscow and Vladimir Putin will take the blame.
If they do, don’t expect to hear a peep out of the establishment media regarding the role Iran and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei played.
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