U.S. officials say Iran, Russia actively interfering in 2020 election

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U.S. election: Officials say Iran, Russia have obtained voter registration information
U.S. election: Officials say Iran, Russia have obtained voter registration information – Oct 21, 2020

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and intelligence community officials say Iran and Russia have “taken specific actions to influence public opinion” in the upcoming presidential election.

John Ratcliffe, the U.S. Director of National Security, said Wednesday that Iran is behind a series of emails and other messages to voters containing both intimidating threats to vote for particular candidates, as well as false information about voting.

The emails were sent after Iran obtained “some voter information” from U.S. databases, he said.

Ratcliffe also said Russia has obtained some voter information as well, but did not specifically say what that country’s actions were.

“You can be confident your votes are secure,” he said at a brief and hastily-arranged news conference.

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Although Ratcliffe said the foreign election interference “is not a partisan issue,” he said Iran’s actions — including “spoofed emails, designed to intimidate voters” — were specifically designed to harm U.S. President Donald Trump. He did not say exactly how.

Earlier Wednesday, the Associated Press and other outlets reported that Democratic voters in at least four battleground states including Florida and Pennsylvania received threatening emails, falsely purporting to be from the far-right group Proud Boys, that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.

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.

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Click to play video: 'Fears rise in U.S. about who can’t vote, and whose votes won’t count'
Fears rise in U.S. about who can’t vote, and whose votes won’t count

The Washington Post reported moments before Ratcliffe’s announcement that Iran was behind those emails, citing anonymous U.S. officials.

Democratic lawmakers pointed out that the emails were also harmful to their party and its presidential nominee Joe Biden, by intimidating their likely voters to cast ballots for Trump or not vote at all.

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Florida’s state department, which oversees elections, released a statement saying there had been no breach of the state’s voter registration database.

Ratcliffe said Iran was also behind a video circulating online that implies foreign actors could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas, which he said was false. Trump, Attorney General William Barr and other Republicans have spent months making similar arguments about mail-in voting.

“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” Ractliffe said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray assured that his agency and others will work to “quickly take appropriate action” against foreign actors attempting to influence or disrupt the election.

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He did not say what actions would be taken against Iran and Russia, though the Associated Press quoted an anonymous U.S. official who said the U.S. will “impose costs and consequences” against those behind foreign interference.

“We’ve been working for years as a community to build resilience in our election infrastructure, and today, that infrastructure remains resilient. 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.”

The news comes a day before Trump and Biden are scheduled to take part in the final presidential debate.

Last month, Wray warned that Russia is targeting Biden and Americans’ confidence in the voting process with its own election misinformation campaign.

—With files from the Associated Press

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