US officials say that Americans can be confident that their vote will be counted despite Tehran and Moscow having obtained voter registration information with the goal of interfering in the election.
Just two weeks before the presidential vote, US officials have said at a rare news conference that Iran is responsible for emails meant to intimidate American voters and sow unrest in multiple states, and that Tehran and Moscow have also obtained voter registration information with the goal of interfering in the election.
John Ratcliffe, the intelligence director, and FBI Director Chris Wray said the US will impose costs on any foreign countries interfering in the 2020 US election. Despite the Iranian and Russian actions, they said Americans can be confident that their vote will be counted.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries," Ractliffe said.
The news conference was held as Democratic voters in at least four battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, have 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 President Donald 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. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the November 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
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 Trump."
US intelligence agencies previously warned 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.
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.