Part 1: Iran in the U.S. Election

On October 21, John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, accused Iran and Russia of interfering in the U.S. presidential election. “Some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately, by Russia,” he said at a hastily arranged news conference. “We have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest and damage President Trump.”

The recent emails appeared to be from the Proud Boys, a far-right group that supports Trump but has been called a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Thousands of emails were routed through servers in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Estonia and Moldova, according to CBS News. They targeted Democrats in four states that Trump won in 2016: Alaska, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania. “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the message threatened. 

Some emails included a fake video on fraudulent voting. Mistakes in the video’s computer code reportedly pointed to Iran as the source. “Either they made a dumb mistake or wanted to get caught,” a senior U.S. official told Reuters. Private investigators from Google and other technology companies also blamed Iran.  Facebook said it removed a fake account that tried to to share the video. It also removed 11 other accounts, six pages and 11 Instagram accounts that had shared negative content about the United States, Israel and/or Saudi Arabia. The Facebook data reflected limited interest in the accounts. "About 120 accounts followed one or more of these Pages and about 700 people followed one of more of these Instagram accounts," according to Facebook.

On October 22, the Treasury Department sanctioned five government entities—some disguised as media outlets—trying to influence the U.S. elections. “The Iranian regime uses false narratives and other misleading content to attempt to influence U.S. elections,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

After the spoofed emails were sent, U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency (NSA) conducted an operation against Iranian hackers working for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to U.S. officials. General Paul Nakasone, who heads both the NSA and Cyber Command, did not mention a specific operation in an interview with reporters on November 3, but he said he was “very confident in actions” taken in the last several weeks and several months to deter adversaries from interfering in the election. 

The following are excerpts of statements by U.S. officials and the Iranian government.

 

President Trump

 

John Ratliffe, Director of National Intelligence comments on October 21:
“We have identified that two foreign actors, Iran and Russia, have taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections,” said DNI Director John Ratcliffe. “First, we have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and separately by Russia. This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.

“To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest and damage President Trump…Iran is distributing other content to include 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. These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries.”

 

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on October 22: “Iranian advanced persistent threat (APT) actors are likely intent on influencing and interfering with the U.S. elections to sow discord among voters and undermine public confidence in the U.S. electoral process,” CISA and the FBI warned.

“The APT actors are creating fictitious media sites and spoofing legitimate media sites to spread obtained U.S. voter-registration data, anti-American propaganda, and misinformation about voter suppression, voter fraud, and ballot fraud.

“The APT actors have historically exploited critical vulnerabilities to conduct distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, structured query language (SQL) injections attacks, spear-phishing campaigns, website defacements, and disinformation campaigns.”

 

Department of the Treasury press release on October 22: 
“Today, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated five Iranian entities for attempting to influence elections in the United States. The Iranian regime has targeted the United States’ electoral process with brazen attempts to sow discord among the voting populace by spreading disinformation online and executing malign influence operations aimed at misleading U.S. voters. Components of the Government of Iran, disguised as news organizations or media outlets, have targeted the United States in order to subvert U.S. democratic processes.

“'The Iranian regime uses false narratives and other misleading content to attempt to influence U.S. elections,' said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. 'This Administration is committed to ensuring the integrity of the U.S. election system and will continue to counter efforts from any foreign actor that threatens our electoral processes.'”

“Treasury designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), and Bayan Rasaneh Gostar Institute (Bayan Gostar) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13848 for having directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and International Union of Virtual Media (IUVM) were designated pursuant to E.O. 13848 for being owned or controlled by the IRGC-QF. The IRGC, including the IRGC-QF, has been designated under multiple authorities since 2007.

“The Iranian regime’s disinformation efforts have targeted a global audience through a variety of covert media organizations. Disinformation campaigns run by the Iranian regime focus on sowing discord among readers via social media platforms and messaging applications, and frequently involve mischaracterizing information.

“Since at least 2015, Bayan Gostar has served as a front company for IRGC-QF propaganda efforts. In the months leading up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Bayan Gostar personnel have planned to influence the election by exploiting social issues within the United States, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and denigrating U.S. political figures. As recently as summer 2020, Bayan Gostar was prepared to execute a series of influence operations directed at the U.S. populace ahead of the presidential election.

Treasury graphic

“IRTVU, a propaganda arm of the IRGC-QF, and IUVM aided Bayan Gostar in efforts to reach U.S. audiences. In addition, IRGC-QF outlets amplified false narratives in English, and posted disparaging propaganda articles and other U.S.-oriented content with the intent to sow discord among U.S. audiences. IUVM also posted conspiracy theories and disinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Treasury Department encourages the American people to confirm information received via social media intelligently by going to multiple trusted sources for news and information, particularly when the source or suspected source of the information is from outside the United States. More guidance specific to the U.S. 2020 election and disinformation campaigns can be found here: https://www.cisa.gov/rumorcontrol

“As a result of today’s designations, all property and interests in property of the persons designated today subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. In addition, foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate significant transactions for, or persons that provide material or certain other support to, the persons designated today risk exposure to sanctions that could sever their access to the U.S. financial system or block their property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction. Additionally, any entities 50 percent or more owned by one or more designated persons are also blocked.”

October 23, 2020: Department of State 
“The United States will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections. The whole of the U.S. government is using all the tools at our disposal to target those who attempt to interfere in our democratic process,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned. Yesterday’s action sanctions five Iranian entities pursuant to Executive Order 13848 for their efforts to spread disinformation and undermine our elections. We are also adding several cyber actors to our terrorist watch list and databases for their known association with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist, which will effectively prevent those individuals and their families from traveling to the United States.

“For far too long, the Iranian regime has used its state propaganda machine to lie to the Iranian people and fan the flames of hatred against the United States. Iran has now deployed some of the same propaganda and media infrastructure in an attempt to undermine elections in the United States. The five entities designated – the IRGC, the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), Bayan Rasaneh Gostar Institute, Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), and International Union of Virtual Media (IUVM) – have engaged directly or indirectly in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in, foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, or are owned or controlled by entities engaged in such activity.

“Through covert media operations, including targeted disinformation efforts directed at U.S. voters, the Iranian regime has demonstrated its intent is to undermine American elections. Over the past few months, Bayan Gostar, a front company for IRGC-QF propaganda efforts, has actively planned influence operations involving U.S. elections. IRTVU and IUVM appear to be propaganda arms of the Iranian regime that assisted in these efforts.”

“The individuals added to the terrorist watchlist are known members of the IRGC’s cyber operations unit. Those with the technical and educational skills required to carry out malicious cyber acts should take note; we will hold accountable those who join the IRGC and carry out malicious cyber activities. Talented Iranians should use their skills to promote peace and foster prosperity for their families, not assist the Islamic Republic in conducting its oppression at home and spreading terror abroad.”

October 30, 2020: Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
“CISA and the FBI are aware of an Iranian advanced persistent threat (APT) actor targeting U.S. state websites—to include election websites. CISA and the FBI assess this actor is responsible for the mass dissemination of voter intimidation emails to U.S. citizens and the dissemination of U.S. election-related disinformation in mid-October 2020.”

“Further evaluation by CISA and the FBI has identified the targeting of U.S. state election websites was an intentional effort to influence and interfere with the 2020 U.S. presidential election.”

 

Congressional Statements

Bipartisan statement by Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Warner on October 21:
“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,” Marco Rubio of Florida, the acting chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia said in a statement.

“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.”

 

Democrats

Chris Murphy, Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 22:
The e-mails told voters to support Trump but the DNI is sure the intent was to hurt Trump? That’s a dubious claim that seems motivated by the Administration’s desperation to distract from Russian interference and create false equivalencies between Russian and Iranian efforts,” Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat, said in one of two tweets. “These ARE scary. I can certainly imagine a voter getting this email and deciding it would be safer not to vote. But these emails were sent to Democrats, not Republicans. So the effect seems clear - to discourage Democrats from voting. That’s not what the DNI said last night,” he added.

Email


Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader on October 21: 
“I did receive a classified briefing this afternoon… It was clear to me that the intent of Iran, in this case, and Russia in many more cases, is to sow -- basically to undermine confidence in our elections.” The action was not "aimed at discrediting President Trump,” the New York Democrat said. “It was rather done to undermine confidence in our elections, aimed at Democrats, Republicans, independents.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff on October 21:
“Today, we learned about disturbing threats from foreign adversaries aiming to influence the upcoming elections using voter registration data, in an effort to sow chaos and undermine voters’ trust in our elections and democratic institutions," the representatives said in a joint statement

“The bedrock of our democracy is that every citizen has a right to vote and to have that vote count as cast.  We cannot allow voter intimidation or interference efforts, either foreign or domestic, to silence voters’ voices and take away that right.

“The next two weeks before the election and the days that follow November 3rd will be critical.  Tomorrow, when we are briefed by the intelligence community, we expect to delve further into these reported attacks and the Administration’s strategy to combat and prevent them.

“In the face of these ongoing attempts to undermine Americans’ confidence in our elections, it is more essential than ever that voters exercise their sacred constitutional right to vote and to participate in our democracy.”

 

Amy Klobuchar, Ranking Member of Senate Rules Committee (with oversight over federal elections) on October 21:
“Any interference in our democracy is unacceptable, and efforts to suppress the vote must be stopped. As adversaries continue their efforts to undermine our election systems, we must arm ourselves with accurate information from trusted officials,” the Minnesota senator said in a statement

“As we continue to get information on threats to the election, it is on all of us to reject misinformation and to tell the truth. Our election systems span 50 states, five territories, and thousands of jurisdictions. State and local election officials are working around the clock, and experts have concluded that the integrity of our election system is strong. The best defense against those trying to undermine our democracy is the resolve of the American people, who are voting by the millions as we speak. Keep voting. Keep your resolve. Keep making your voices heard.”

 

Republicans

James Risch, Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees
“Any attempt by a foreign government to influence the outcome of an American election is not only illegal – it’s a direct threat to our democracy. Iran & Russia will be held accountable,” the senator from Idaho tweeted.

Marco Rubio

 

Iranian Reaction

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on November 2: 
Zarif denied the U.S. allegations of election meddling. President Trump is “the single person who is making the most important and effective affront against the U.S. electoral system,” he told CBS News. Zarif said that Iran had received a letter from the Trump administration warning that Washington would not tolerate any interference. The White House had yet to confirm that it sent the letter as of November 2. 

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on October 22:
“Iran’s strong rejection of American officials’ repetitive, baseless and false claims was conveyed to the Swiss ambassador...As we have said before, it makes no difference for Iran who wins the U.S. election,” he told state media. The Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to protest the allegation.

“In addition to rejecting the repeated claims as well as fabricated, clumsy and fraudulent reports of US regime officials, the Islamic Republic of Iran reiterates that it makes no difference for Tehran which of the two current candidates will enter the White House,” he said.

Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s U.N. mission, on October 21:
“Unlike the U.S., Iran does not interfere in other country's elections. The world has been witnessing U.S.'s own desperate public attempts to question the outcome of its own elections at the highest level,” he tweeted.

“These accusations are nothing more than another scenario to undermine voter confidence & are absurd. Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election & no preference for the outcome. U.S. must end its malign and dangerous accusations against Iran.”

 

 

Updated