Feds Accuse Russia and Iran of Election Interference

Screenshot of an Oct. 21, 2020, press conference in which the FBI announced Russia and Iran have been attempting to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections.

(CN) — The FBI said Wednesday that Russia and Iran are behind a disinformation campaign to influence the U.S. elections and sow chaos.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said authorities “have identified that two foreign actors, Iran and Russia, have taken specific actions” to influence the upcoming elections.

Voter registration information has been obtained by Russia and Iran according to the FBI, which he said Iran has used to emails to voters in an attempt to undermine confidence in the U.S. elections.

“To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump,” said Ratcliffe.

These foreign actors are attempting to “communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy,” said Ratcliffe.

“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries, we will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections,” Ratcliffe said the press conference, held just 13 days before Election Day.

FBI director Christopher Wray added: “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.”

Iran was behind a video sent to voters about “fraudulent” votes in an effort to dissuade confidence in the elections, according to Ratcliffe.

Russia also obtained some voter information as it did in 2016, according to Ratcliffe, but the agency has not seen any attempts to intimidate or dissuade voters like it has have with Iran.

Twitter confirmed it had suspended accounts and limited “the sharing of media specific to this coordinated campaign.”

“This attempt to manipulate American voters did not gain traction on Twitter,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “As Election Day approaches, we remain vigilant and are working to ensure our service is protected from both foreign and domestic attempts to undermine the public conversation. We’re grateful to the FBI for their partnership.”

Officials stressed the alarm raised on Wednesday is not “a partisan issue” and Ratcliffe said the U.S. is prepared to take “actions to those hostile to democracy.”

Wray said the U.S. government is working with technology and social media companies to “make sure that their platforms aren’t used by foreign adversaries to spread disinformation and propaganda.”

In a joint statement, Senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., acting chairman to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Mark Warner, D- Va., vice chairman, said they are aware of the attempts made by adversaries to “undermine their credibility and our confidence” in the U.S. election systems and infrastructure.

“As we enter the last weeks before the election, we urge every American — including members of the media — to be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting,” the senators said. “State and local election officials are in regular contact with federal law enforcement and cybersecurity professionals, and they are all working around the clock to ensure that election 2020 is safe, secure, and free from outside interference.”

The Washington Post reported threatening emails were sent to Democratic voters which sparked investigations in Florida and Alaska. The emails claimed to be from the hate group the Proud Boys, but the Department of Homeland Security said the emails were sent out by a foreign government.

“Do not be alarmed and do not spread it,” said Ratcliffe about the emails being sent from the foreign actors. “We are not going to let our guard down.”

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