US national security officials on Wednesday claimed that Iran and Russia have been trying to interfere with the 2020 US presidential election and in the process have obtained vital voter registration data. The announcement was made in a hastily organized press conference by National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe that was also attended by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Chris Wray.
Ratcliffe also claimed that Iran has been trying to pose as the far-right group Proud Boys to send threatening mails to Democratic voters. The announcement comes less than two weeks before the presidential election and the data obtained by Russia and Iran could be used to spread misinformation to voters.
Ratcliffe said at the press conference that Iran was responsible for sending threatening emails to Democratic voters posing as Proud Boys. Most of the emails accessed by the FBI were meant to "incite unrest". He also said that the two countries have obtained vital voter registration information that could be used to disrupt the smooth voting process and could cause damage to President Trump.
Although most of the voter registration information is public, Ratcliffe said that the data obtained by Iran and Russia could be used to "communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will sow confusion chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy".
Ratcliffe also said that so far Iran has been interfering and no such action from Russia but the United States is well aware that Russia too has in its possession some important voter registration information. However, he didn't explain in detail how the emails could cause damage to the President. The emails obtained by the nationals security officials were sent to registered voters from email@example.com and warned recipients to "Vote for Trump or else!"
Cause of Concern
The announcement made just 13 days ahead of the US presidential election shows the level of concern among top US officials that many foreign countries were trying to intimidate voters and undermine the confidence of many Americans in the integrity of the vote. That said, US intelligence agencies had earlier warned that Iran could try and interfere in the election and make an attempt to cause damage to Trump, while Russia was trying to help him.
The announcement definitely has shades of similar Russian interference during the 2016 US presidential election. At that time, thousands of fake bots were create on social media that pretended to be American voters. Besides, computer systems of Democrats were also got hacked.
Following Ratcliffe's announcement, White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that the news conference was an example of Trump putting "America first."
Iran on the other hand, denied such claims. "Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election and no preference for the outcome," Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesperson for Iran's mission to the United Nations, said in a statement. However, Radcliffe didn't mention anywhere in the announcement how widescale the emails have been.
Wray, however, still assured that the US election systems were still secure and "resilient" but did not offer further details on how the voter data was obtained or what the Russians could possibly do with the information.