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US officials: Russia, Iran have obtained voter info

U.S. officials say Iran is responsible for emails meant to intimidate American voters and sow unrest in multiple states, and Tehran and Moscow have also obtained voter registration with the goal of interfering in the election. (Oct. 21)

AP

Two Iranian nationals have been charged with waging a cyber campaign to influence American voters and undermine confidence in the political system during the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

An indictment unsealed Thursday in New York accuses Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, of obtaining confidential voter information, sending threatening emails to voters and attempting to access election-related websites in several states as part of a four-month effort based in Iran to sow discord among American voters.

The charges expand on Iran-based interference first identified by U.S. officials in the anxious days before last year’s vote.

At that time, John Ratcliffe, then-director of National Intelligence, announced during a hastily-called evening news conference that Iran and Russia had been involved in the illicit cyber effort. 

Ratcliffe, who appeared last year with FBI Director Christopher Wray, said that Iran had sent false information to voters, including spoof emails claiming that fraudulent ballots can be sent from overseas.

“This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said. “The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public.”

More: Russia, Iran aimed to sway 2020 election through covert campaigns, US intelligence reports

More: Election security officials: ‘No evidence voting systems compromised’

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said the two suspects formed a “coordinated conspiracy” to compromise election-related websites in 11 states and succeeded in downloading information on 100,000 voters in one of those state.

A month before the election, according to prosecutors, the accused conspirators distributed threatening messages to “tens of thousands of registered voters” posing as the far-right group Proud Boys.

The emails were directed to registered Democrats, threatening “physical injury” if they did not change party affiliation and cast votes for then-President Donald Trump.

“Our intelligence officials have continually warned that other countries would seek to follow Russia’s 2016 playbook,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said Thursday. “Today’s charges and sanctions against several Iranians believed to be behind a cyber campaign to intimidate and influence American voters in the 2020 election are further evidence that attempts to interfere in our elections will continue, and we must all be on guard against them.”

In addition to the criminal charges, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against the two suspects, an Iranian cyber company and four company executives.

The State Department, meanwhile, is offering a $10 million reward for information related to the two suspects.