Updated Oct 21, 2020 - Politics & Policy

U.S. officials: Iran and Russia aim to interfere in election

Iran and Russia have obtained voter registration information that can be used to undermine confidence in the U.S. election system, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced at a press conference Wednesday evening.

Why it matters: The revelation comes roughly two weeks before Election Day. Ratcliffe said Iran has sent threatening emails to Democratic voters this week in states across the U.S. and spread videos claiming that people can vote more than once.

Context: Voters in Florida and Alaska reportedly received threatening emails claiming to be from the Proud Boys, a far-right group. Local law enforcement and elections officials turned the emails over to federal authorities, per the Washington Post.

  • William Evanina, the nation's top counterintelligence official, said in July that China, Russia and Iran present the most pressing threats for election interference in the 2020 presidential race.

What they're saying: "First, we have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and separately, by Russia," Ratcliffe said.

  • "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."
  • "To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoof emails designed to intimidate voters, incite unrest and damage President Trump."
  • "Additionally Iran is distributing other content to include a video that implies individuals could cast fraudulent ballots even from overseas."
  • "These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries. Even if the adversaries pursue further attempts to intimidate or attempt to undermine border confidence, know that our election systems are resilient and you can be confident your votes are secure."

FBI Director Chris Wray said the U.S. will impose costs on any foreign nations that interfere in the upcoming election.

  • "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.”

Leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a joint statement about threats to the U.S. election systems and infrastructure just prior to the conference.

  • “Our adversaries abroad seek to sow chaos and undermine voters’ belief in our democratic institutions, including the election systems and infrastructure that we rely on to record and properly report expressions of the voters’ will," acting committee chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and vice chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement.

Zoom out: Twitter and Facebook are both working with law enforcement while taking action to stop a small number of accounts over the matter. Facebook sources told Axios they stopped one fake account's attempts "to seed information related to what appears to be an influence operation primarily focused on spreading false claims via email."

  • Twitter said it worked with law enforcement officials and permanently suspended "a small number of accounts and limit the sharing of media specific to this coordinated campaign," a spokesperson told Axios Wednesday night.
  • "This attempt to manipulate American voters did not gain traction on Twitter. 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," the spokesperson added.

Go deeper: Trump and lawmakers react to intel alert

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details on Facebook's action.

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