2 Iranians charged with threatening US voters in 2020
Washington Two Iranian computer hackers have been accused of election interference, accused of trying to intimidate American voters ahead of last year’s US presidential election by sending threatening messages and spreading disinformation.
The effort attracted publicity in the run-up to the November 2020 election, when law enforcement and intelligence officials held an unusual evening news conference to accuse Iran of orchestrating an email campaign designed to intimidate Democratic voters in battle-wracked states into voting for then-President Donald Trump.
This included a letter allegedly from the far-right group, Proud Boys, that threatened Democratic voters with physical harm if they did not change their party affiliation and vote for Trump.
US officials say the goal of the far-reaching influence operation was not to alter the election results but to sow chaos and discord and create a perception that the results could not be trusted.
The indictment, filed in federal court in Manhattan and revealed Thursday, accuses two Iranian nationals, Seyed Mohammad Hossein Moussa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian, of helping to organize the scheme. The Treasury also announces sanctions against the men, their colleagues, and the company they worked for.
The defendants are not in custody and are believed to remain in Iran, but officials hope that the indictment and accompanying sanctions will restrict their ability to travel.
As part of the online campaign, officials say, hackers attempted to hack voter websites in 11 states and successfully downloaded voter information for more than 100,000 people in one state. They also sent what officials described as carefully organized letters to Americans of both major political parties.
The indictment says that, for Republican officials and people associated with the Trump campaign, the hackers crafted Facebook messages that falsely claimed Democrats were planning to commit voting fraud. An artificial video has spread across social media platforms purporting to show individual hacking of state voting sites and registration of fraudulent absentee ballots. In the case of Democrats, officials say, the hackers sent emails threatening to “stalk” voters who did not support Trump.
“This indictment illustrates how two Iran-based actors launched a purposeful and coordinated campaign to undermine confidence in the integrity of the American electoral system and to stir up discord among Americans,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the Justice Department’s chief of national security. He said in a statement. “The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence American public opinion.”
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