Iran is responsible for emails meant to intimidate American voters and sow unrest in multiple states, and Tehran and Moscow have also obtained voter registration information with the goal of interfering in the election, U.S. officials said at a rare news conference Wednesday night just two weeks before the vote.
John Ratcliffe, the intelligence director, and FBI Director Chris Wray said the U.S. will impose costs on any foreign countries interfering in the 2020 U.S. 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 Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Warner, the Acting Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively, of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following joint statement on Wednesday evening before the FBI’s news 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. They may seek to target those systems, or simply leave the impression that they have altered or manipulated those systems, in order to undermine their credibility and our confidence in them.
“As we enter the last weeks before the election, we urge every American – including members of the media – to be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting. State and local election officials are in regular contact with federal law enforcement and cyber security professionals, and they are all working around the clock to ensure that Election 2020 is safe, secure, and free from outside interference.”