Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announces that Russia and Iran are taking 'specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections'
- Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced on Wednesday that Russia and Iran have "taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections."
- "First, we have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately, by Russia," Ratcliffe said. "This data can be used by foreign actors to communicate false information to registered voters" to sow chaos and undermine confidence, he added.
- Ratcliffe went on to say that national security officials have "seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump."
- He added that Russia has also "obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016."
- Earlier Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security officials told state and local election officials that threatening emails sent to Democratic voters claiming to be from the far-right group, the Proud Boys, actually came from Iranian actors.
- Separately, the FBI is investigating whether unverified emails about Hunter Biden published by The New York Post and amplified by President Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, are part of a foreign influence operation.
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Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced on Wednesday that Iran and Russia have "taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections."
"First, we have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately, by Russia," Ratcliffe said. "This data can be used by foreign actors to communicate false information to registered voters" to sow chaos and undermine confidence, he added.
Ratcliffe went on to say that national security officials have "seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump."
He also said that Iranian actors are distributing other content including "a video that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots even from overseas. This video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true," and are "desperate attempts by desperate adversaries."
"Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016," he said. "We are prepared for the possibility of actions by those hostile to democracy."
Ratcliffe did not indicate that foreign actors breached election systems or infrastructure, and ProPublica reporter Jessica Huseman noted that most voter registration is public anyway.
Minutes before the spy chief's announcement, the Washington Post reported that US officials have concluded Iranian actors were responsible for sending threatening emails to Democratic voters claiming to be from the Proud Boys, a far-right group that supports President Donald Trump.
The emails said the Proud Boys were "in possession of all your information" and ordered the recipients to vote for Trump in the November election.
"We are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone… everything)," the email said. "You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. 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."
The email appeared to come from the address "[email protected]" But CBS News reported earlier Wednesday that the messages were linked to overseas servers.
Separately, the FBI is investigating whether unverified emails purporting to belong to Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, were planted in conservative media as part of a foreign influence operation. Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, gave a copy of the hard drive containing the emails to The New York Post last week, which subsequently published them.
Trumpworld seized on the emails as proof that Joe Biden inappropriately leveraged his position as vice president in 2015 and 2016 to stymie a criminal investigation into the Ukrainian natural company Burisma Holdings, whose board Hunter was serving on at the time. As Business Insider has previously reported, there is no evidence that this theory holds merit. But Trump widely amplified it and claimed it showed Biden, who is currently leading him in the race for the White House, is a "corrupt politician."
Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Sen. Mark Warner, of Virginia — the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee — released a statement shortly before the news conference Wednesday warning about hostile foreign adversaries who "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."
The statement continued: "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."
Rubio and Warner went on to urge the public and members of the media to "be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting." They also reassured the public that local election officials are regularly in contact with federal law enforcement and cybersecurity officials to "ensure that Election 2020 is safe, secure, and free from outside interference."
Russia, Iran, and China have been at the top of national security officials' radars as foreign adversaries looking to meddle in the US election. Over the summer, the US intelligence community concluded that Russia does not want Biden to win the election, while China does.
"Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer," National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina said in a statement in August.
"We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection," the NCSC director wrote, pointing to Chinese concerns over the administration's criticisms of Beijing's handling of COVID-19, the shuttering of one of its diplomatic missions, and its efforts to derail China's ambitions in the South China Sea, among other things.
"We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia 'establishment,'" Evanina wrote. "This is consistent with Moscow's public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration's policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia."
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