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Iran Linked to Voter Emails   10/22 06:08

   U.S. officials have accused Iran of being behind a flurry of emails sent to 
Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at 
intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. officials have accused Iran of being behind a flurry 
of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that 
appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald 
Trump.

   The officials did not lay out specific evidence for how they came to 
pinpoint Iran, but the activities attributed to Tehran would mark a significant 
escalation for a country some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate 
player in online espionage. The announcement was made late Wednesday at a 
hastily called news conference 13 days before the election.

   The allegations underscored the U.S. government's concern about efforts by 
foreign countries to influence the election by spreading false information 
meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote. 
Such direct attempts to sway public opinion are more commonly associated with 
Moscow, which conducted a covert social media campaign in 2016 aimed at sowing 
discord and is again interfering this year, but the idea that Iran could be 
responsible suggested that those tactics have been adopted by other nations, 
too.

   "These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries," said John 
Ratcliffe, the government's top intelligence official, who, along with FBI 
Director Chris Wray, insisted that the U.S. would impose costs on any foreign 
countries that interfere in the 2020 U.S. election and that the integrity of 
the election is still sound.

   "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 two officials called out Russia and Iran for having obtained voter 
registration information, though such data is sometimes easily accessible and 
there was no allegation either country had hacked a database for it. Iran used 
the information to push out spoofed emails, officials said, and created a video 
that Ratcliffe said falsely suggested that voters could cast fraudulent ballots 
from overseas.

   Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials 
familiar with the matter said the U.S. has linked Tehran to messages sent to 
Democratic voters in at least four states, including battleground locations 
like Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona. The emails falsely purported to be from 
the far-right group Proud Boys and warned that "we will come after you" if the 
recipients didn't vote for Trump.

   Though Democratic voters were targeted, Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails 
were intended to hurt Trump in the contest against Democrat Joe Biden, though 
he did not elaborate on how. It would not be the first time that the Trump 
administration has said Tehran is working against the Republican president.

   An intelligence assessment released in August said: "Iran seeks to undermine 
U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in 
advance of the 2020 elections. Iran's efforts along these lines probably will 
focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and 
recirculating anti-U.S. content."

   A spokesman for Iran's mission to the United Nations, Alireza Miryousefi, 
denied Tehran had anything to do with the alleged voter intimidation.

   "Unlike the U.S., Iran does not interfere in other country's elections," 
Miryousefi wrote on Twitter. "The world has been witnessing U.S.' own desperate 
public attempts to question the outcome of its own elections at the highest 
level."

   Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador on Thursday over the 
allegations. The Swiss Embassy has overseen America's interests in Tehran since 
the aftermath of the 1979 hostage crisis.

   "The Islamic Republic of Iran, while rejecting the allegations and the fake 
reports, again emphasizes that there's no difference for Tehran which candidate 
goes to the White House," the ministry said in a statement.

   Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the 
announcement, but he repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is 
opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will 
swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.

   "Iran doesn't want to let me win. China doesn't want to let me win," Trump 
said. "The first call I'll get after we win, the first call I'll get will be 
from Iran saying, 'Let's make a deal.'"

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of 
the House intelligence committee, said the "disturbing" threats cut to the 
heart of the right to vote.

   "We cannot allow voter intimidation or interference efforts, either foreign 
or domestic, to silence voters' voices and take away that right," they said in 
a statement.

   Asked about the emails during an online forum earlier Wednesday, 
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific 
information. "I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states 
and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things 
and others," she said.

   While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated U.S. 
election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done 
so, and it was not clear how officials were able to identify Iran so quickly.

   The operation represented something of a departure in cyber-ops for Iran, 
which sought for the first time on record to undermine voter confidence. Iran's 
previous operations have been mostly propaganda and espionage.

   A top cyberthreat analyst, John Hultquist of FireEye, said the striking 
development marked "a fundamental shift in our understanding of Iran's 
willingness to interfere in the democratic process. While many of their 
operations have been focused on promoting propaganda in pursuit of Iran's 
interests, this incident is clearly aimed at undermining voter confidence."

   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 Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.

   Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of 
operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.

   "These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters' 
confidence in our elections," Christopher Krebs, the top election security 
official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after 
reports of the emails first surfaced.

 
 
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