US intelligence officials said Russia and Iran have separately obtained certain voter registration information that can be used by foreign actors to try to communicate false information to US voters.

Campaign signs are posted near the Supervisor of Elections Office polling station while people line up for early voting in Pinellas County, ahead of the election in Largo, Florida, US, October 21, 2020.
Campaign signs are posted near the Supervisor of Elections Office polling station while people line up for early voting in Pinellas County, ahead of the election in Largo, Florida, US, October 21, 2020. (Reuters)

Russia and Iran have tried to interfere with the 2020 presidential election, said senior US intelligence officials, ahead of November 3 election.

The accusation showed the level of alarm among top US officials that foreign actors were seeking to undermine Americans' confidence in the integrity of the vote and spread misinformation in an attempt to sway its outcome.

Moscow and Tehran swiftly rejected the accusations.

US sanctions three new Iranian organisations

The United States Treasury imposed sanctions on three new Iranian organisations over the alleged disinformation campaign.

The Treasury said the Bayan Rasaneh Gostar Institute was being sanctioned for being "complicit in foreign interference in the 2020 US presidential election." The Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and the International Union of Virtual Media (IUVM) were sanctioned because they are allegedly controlled by the already-sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary GuardCorps.

US says Russian hackers stole data

US officials accused Russian hackers of targeting the networks of dozens of state and local governments in the United States in recent days, stealing data from at least two servers. 

US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe outlined the alleged interference at a news conference that also included FBI Director Chris Wray. 

"We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately, by Russia," Ratcliffe said.

Most of that voter registration is public. But Ratcliffe said that government officials "have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President (Donald) Trump."

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Iran rejects allegations

Ratcliffe was referring to emails sent on Wednesday and designed to look like they came from the pro-Trump Proud Boys group, according to government sources.

US intelligence agencies previously said that Iran might interfere to hurt Trump and that Russia was trying to help him in the election.

Outside experts said that if Ratcliffe was correct, Iran would be trying to make Trump look bad by calling attention to support and threats by the sometimes violent group.

Iran summoned the Swiss envoy on Thursday to protest against what it called "baseless" US claims.

"Iran's strong rejection of American officials' repetitive, baseless and false claims was conveyed to the Swiss ambassador," Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told state TV.

"As we have said before, it makes no difference for Iran who wins the US election."

Switzerland represents US interests in Iran because Washington and Tehran have no diplomatic ties. Tensions have risen between the longtime foes since 2018, when Trump exited Iran's 2015 nuclear deal and stepped up sanctions on Tehran.

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Kremlin denies accusations

"Such accusations appear every day, they are unfounded and not based on anything," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told reporters at the White House on Thursday that the attempted election interference appears to have affected two to three US cities and counties and involved a "small amount of information."

US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who received a classified briefing on Wednesday afternoon on election security, said he disagreed with Ratcliffe that Iran was specifically trying to hurt Trump.

"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. This action I do not believe was aimed ... at discrediting President Trump," Schumer told MSNBC.

Trump orders quick response

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump has directed government agencies "to proactively monitor and thwart any attempts to interfere in US elections, and because of the great work of our law enforcement agencies we have stopped an attempt by America’s adversaries to undermine our elections."

The emails are under investigation, and one intelligence source said it was still unclear who was behind them.

Another government source said that US officials are investigating whether people in Iran had hacked into a Proud Boys network or website to distribute threatening materials. This source said US officials suspect the Iranian government was involved but that the evidence remains inconclusive.

Some of those emails also contained a video, debunked by experts, that purported to show how fake ballots could be submitted. Ratcliffe said that claim was false.

The second government source said US authorities have evidence that Russia and Iran had tried to hack into voter roll data in unidentified states.

But the source added that because much of that voter data is available commercially, the hacking may have been aimed at avoiding payment.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies