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US sent texts to Russians, Iranians offering reward for info on election interference

The State Department confirmed Friday that it was behind text messages sent to Russians and Iranians promoting a multimillion-dollar bounty for information on foreign efforts to meddle in this year’s U.S. elections.

A spokesperson for the department said in an email said the messages were intended to foster international awareness of the issue and the reward.

“The U.S. Department of State’s Rewards for Justice (RFJ) program is advertising a reward offer through SMS messages and a variety of other communications tools and techniques. Our SMS messages refer back to the verified official Rewards for Justice social media accounts, which are available in multiple languages,” the spokesperson said.

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“To defend our upcoming elections, the United States Government stands ready to respond to foreign threats with sharp consequences.”

The comment comes after Russians and Iranians took to social media to discuss the unprompted text messages, leading to ridicule among some of the recipients.

“I just laughed,” Sadra Momeni, a developer based out of the Iranian city of Qom, told Reuters.

The State Department first announced Thursday it would offer a $10 million reward to anyone with information on the work of foreign governments to interfere in U.S. elections through cyber operations.

The department is specifically asking for people to come forward with information regarding individuals trying to use hacking operations to meddle in federal, state or local elections in a way that violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

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“The ability of persons, as well as foreign powers, to interfere in or undermine public confidence in United States elections, including through the unauthorized accessing of election and campaign infrastructure, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” the State Department wrote in a “wanted” notice.

Concerns over election meddling have remained top of mind for lawmakers after Russia’s complex effort to interfere in the 2016 election, which included a sophisticated social information disinformation campaign and hacks targeting election infrastructure in all 50 states, as well as the networks of the Democratic National Committee.

William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said Friday the government is primarily concerned over efforts by China, Iran and Russia to meddle again in 2020.

He said that China prefers President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE lose reelection because Beijing sees him as “unpredictable,” Russia is working to hurt former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska Jeff Daniels narrates new Biden campaign ad for Michigan MORE’s electoral chances because of “what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’ ” and Iran “seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections.”