Two suspected Iranian hackers have been charged with electoral interference, accused of attempting to intimidate American voters ahead of last year’s US presidential election by sending threatening messages and spreading disinformation.
The effort drew publicity in the run-up to the November 2020 elections, when law enforcement and intelligence officials held an unusual evening press conference to accuse Iran of orchestrating a campaign by email aimed at intimidating Democratic voters in battlefield states into voting for then- President Donald Trump.
This included a post that claimed to be from a far-right group, the Proud Boys, which threatened Democratic voters with physical harm if they did not change their party affiliation and vote for Trump.
U.S. officials said the goal of the large-scale influence operation was not to alter the election results, but to create confusion and discord and to create the perception that the results could not not be reliable.
The indictment, filed in Manhattan federal court and unsealed Thursday, accuses Iranian nationals named Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian of helping orchestrate the scheme. The Treasury Department is also announcing sanctions against the men, their colleagues, and the company they worked for.
The defendants are not in custody and are believed to still be in Iran, but officials hope the indictment and accompanying sanctions will restrict their ability to travel.
As part of the cybercampaign, officials say, hackers attempted to compromise voter websites in 11 states and successfully uploaded voter information for more than 100,000 people in one state. They also sent what officials described as carefully curated messages to Americans from both major political parties.
Misinformation is everywhere online and is becoming even more prevalent as election day approaches. Clark Fouraker of NBCLX explains how to spot misinformation as well as how to clean up your social media feeds to avoid encountering fake news.
To Republican officials and those associated with the Trump campaign, according to the indictment, hackers created Facebook posts that falsely claimed Democrats were planning to commit voter fraud. A fabricated video posted on social media platforms purported to show an individual hacking state voting websites and recording fraudulent mail ballots. In the Democrats’ case, officials said, hackers sent emails threatening to “go after” voters who did not support Trump.
“This indictment details how two Iranian-based actors waged a targeted and coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the US electoral system and sow discord among Americans,” Deputy Attorney General Matthew Olsen said, Head of the National Security Division of the Ministry of Justice. , said in a statement. “The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns work and seek to influence the American public.”