Intel officials say Iran, Russia seeking to influence election
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe warned Wednesday that Russia and Iran are behind efforts to sway public opinions related to the 2020 presidential election.
“We have identified that two foreign actors, Iran and Russia, have taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections,” Ratcliffe said an abruptly scheduled press conference on election security threats.
In particular, Ratcliffe said Iran is behind sending spoofed emails that aim to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump. He also said it is behind circulating other content such as a video that appears to encourage individuals to fraudulently cast ballots, even from overseas.
“This video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true,” Ratcliffe said.
He warned that the individuals who receive such emails should not be alarmed, nor should they spread them further.
“Do not allow these efforts to have the intended effect. If you receive an intimidating or manipulative email in your inbox, don’t be alarmed and do not spread it,” Ratcliffe said.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries. Even if the adversaries pursue further attempts to intimidate or attempt to undermine voter confidence, know that our election systems are resilient. And you can be confident your votes are secure,” Ratcliffe said.
The DNI said the intelligence community has determined that Russia and China have also separately obtained some voter registration information.
“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. Rest assured that we are prepared for the possibility of actions by those hostile to democracy,” he said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, who spoke after Ratcliffe, said it is a primary responsibility at the agency to investigate malicious cyber activity such as attacks on election infrastructure, malign foreign influence operations and other election-related crimes.
He said the bureau is working with the private sector, including technology and social media companies, to help prevent foreign adversaries from again using the platforms to spread disinformation.
Wray also encouraged individuals to view claims that their vote won’t count with “a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Both Ratcliffe and Wray also praised the intelligence officials for catching these efforts to interfere.
“The great women and men of the intelligence community caught this activity immediately,” Ratcliffe said.
Officials did not take any questions at the end of the press conference. Just before it began, Senate Intelligence Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) issued a joint statement warning of election system threats.
“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,” Rubio and Warner wrote.
The intelligence community overwhelmingly concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, in which it sought to help Trump and hurt his political rival through cyberattacks and a sophisticated disinformation campaigns.
U.S. officials have since warned the Kremlin is again working to interfere in this election cycle by seeking to “denigrate” Trump’s opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.