Iran and Russia using stolen data to target voters with threatening emails as part of election interference, FBI says

Iran and Russia have used stolen voter registration data to send fake emails to incite unrest and damage the integrity of the 2020 election campaign, according to the US intelligence community.

In a late press conference, Donald Trump’s Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI director Christopher Wray said the two countries had taken specific actions to influence public opinion on the election.

“They hope they will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy,” Mr Ratcliffe said.

He said the stolen data was used to send spoof emails in an attempt to damage Mr Trump, and send videos that falsely implied individuals could fraudulently cast ballots from overseas. Neither Mr Ratcliffe nor Mr Wray took any questions.

Shortly before the announcement, The Washington Post reported that Iran was behind threatening emails sent to Democratic voters this week claiming to be from the “Proud Boys”, which said the group was in “possession of all your information”.

“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the emails said. “Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you.”

Mr Ratcliffe said the actions were “desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” while Mr Wray said it was part of a concerted effort to undermine confidence in the election and make Americans believe their votes don’t count.

“Unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism,” Mr Wray said.

The timing of the FBI’s announcement of election inteference this late in the 2020 election campaign is reminiscent of the agency’s letter to Congress on 28 October, 2016, announcing it had reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Shortly before Wednesday’s press conference, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence acting chairman Marco Rubio and vice chairman Mark Warner urged Americans not to fall into traps set by enemies of the US and to view sensational claims related to the voting system with suspicion.

“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,” they said in a joint statement.

“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.”

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