image Photo: Reuters

Iran, Russia accused of interfering in US elections

Top security officials in the United States are directly accusing Iran and Russia of interference with the upcoming 2020 presidential election on 3 November.

“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately, by Russia,” said U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe at a hastily arranged news conference in Washington.

“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 added.

The announcement less than two weeks before official voting is to take place reveals a high level of alarm over the electoral security issue. While most voter registration is public, Ratcliffe went on to reference email sent yesterday which government sources said was designed to appear as if it had been sent by the Proud Boys group that backs President Donald Trump. The subject line on the email threatened: “Vote for Trump or else!”

“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,” he said.

A government source cited by Reuters said U.S. authorities have evidence that Russia and Iran had tried to hack into voter roll data in unidentified states, but pointed out that because much of that voter data is available commercially the hacking may have been aimed at avoiding payment. Another government source said that U.S. officials are investigating whether the Proud Boys network or website had been hacked by the Iranian government or private individuals in the Islamic Republic, and that so far the evidence remains inconclusive.

The U.S. National Intelligence Director also charged that Tehran is behind the distribution of “other content,” including a video attached to some of the email “implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots even from overseas,” while underscoring that “this video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true.” The video has also reportedly been debunked by independent experts.

Regarding Russia, Ratcliffe stated that, “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.” In an attempt to assure the American public, he said that “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.

“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,” said the security chief, stressing that, “We will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections.”

Other top-ranked officials also attended the press conference included FBI Director Chris Wray, who echoed Ratcliffe’s statements.

“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,” the FBI Chief told the American public, asserting that, “when we see indications of foreign interference or federal election crimes, we’re going to aggressively investigate and work with our partners to quickly take appropriate action.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have issued previous warnings that the Islamic Republic might interfere in the electoral process in an effort to hurt Trump at the polls, while Russia would undertake action to help him. Political analysts have commented that Outside experts said that if Ratcliffe is correct that Iran send the fraudulent email it could be part of a campaign to disparage the Republican leader by calling attention to support and threats by the sometimes violent group.

Iran was swift to deny the allegations. The Spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, Alireza Miryousefi, stated that “unlike the U.S., Iran does not interfere in other countries elections. The world has been witnessing the U.S.’ own desperate public attempts to question the outcome of its own election at the highest level.” In a later Twitter post, Miyousefi wrote: “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 and no preference for the outcome. U.S. must end its malign and dangerous accusations against Iran.”

The Kremlin has so far not responded to the allegations, but is expected to do so in the near future. [Update: shortly after the publishing of this article, Russia denied interference with the U.S. 2020 presidential election and called the accusations of hacking unfounded.]

U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer disagreed that interference by Tehran and Moscow is deliberately aimed at “discrediting President Trump.” Following a classified briefing on the matter yesterday, he told the MSNBC network that, “it was clear to me that the intent of Iran in this case, and Russia in many more cases, is to basically undermine confidence in our elections.”