Russia and Iran have both obtained US information about voters and taken action to influence public opinion ahead of the November 3 election, National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe said on Wednesday.
Ratcliffe said Iran had specifically sent “fake” emails to Americans “designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and harm President Trump.”
He said Iran had also distributed a video suggesting that people could send fake ballots, even outside the United States.
Ratcliffe said both Iran and Russia are trying to “communicate false information to registered voters, which they hope will cause confusion, then chaos and undermine confidence in American democracy.”
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate opponents,” he said.
The announcement came after registered Democratic voters reported receiving personally-addressed emails in the name of the Proud Boys armed militia group and from an Internet domain linked to the Proud Boys.
A number of voters in Florida and other key states in the election campaign between Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden said they had received the messages.
“You will vote for Trump on election day, otherwise we will come after you,” the email said.
“Change your party affiliation with Republicans to tell us that you have received our message and will abide by it. We know which candidate you voted for, ”they said.
“I would take this seriously if I were you,” the message concludes, adding the voter’s address. “Good luck.
Ratcliffe with FBI Director Christopher Wray next to him did not explain how the Russians and Iranians had obtained the voter information or how the Russians might have used it.
‘Undermining public confidence’
But U.S. voter registration information is widely available, with some states allowing anyone to access it, while others restrict it to political parties.
U.S. intelligence has repeatedly warned that Russia, Iran and China had been less involved in social media disinformation campaigns aimed at influencing U.S. voters.
In 2016, U.S. officials say Russian President Vladimir Putin is monitoring hacking and social media operations aimed at helping Trump win the election over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Iran’s alleged use of the Proud Boys name in emails came after Trump refused to distance himself and appeared to encourage the group, which has appeared at political rallies that are heavily armed and threatening others.
In early October 13, men in Michigan, some of whom identified with the group, were arrested for plotting to kidnap the state’s Democratic governor “start a civil war.”
Wray stressed that U.S. electoral systems remained secure.
“We will not tolerate foreign interference in our election or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” he said.
“We’ve been working for years as a community to build resilience in our infrastructure, and today that infrastructure is still robust – you need to make sure your voice counts.”