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Iran, Russia reject US accusations of election interference

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe arrives for a briefing with lawmakers on Capitol Hill about reports of Russia paying bounties for the killing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, July 2, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia and Iran have rejected U.S. claims that the two countries have been interfering with the 2020 presidential election next month.

Iran said on October 22 that it had summoned the Swiss envoy in Tehran, who represents U.S. interests in the country because Washington and Tehran have no diplomatic ties, to protest against what it called the “baseless” U.S. accusations.

Similarly, the Kremlin in Moscow said the accusations are “absolutely groundless.”

The reactions come a day after U.S. national security officials said that Iran and Russia have both obtained American voter information and are attempting to influence public opinion ahead of the November 3 election.

The announcement at a rare news conference less than two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the U.S. government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.

“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,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told state TV.

Iran’s mission at the United Nations also rejected the U.S. accusations.

“Unlike the United States, Iran does not interfere in other country’s elections,” the mission’s spokesman, Alireza Miryousefi tweeted late on October 21.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Chris Wray said at the press conference on October 21 that the United States will inflict costs on any foreign countries meddling in the U.S. election. Despite the Iranian and Russian actions, they said Americans can be confident in the U.S. electoral process.

“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” Ratcliffe said.

Ratcliffe said Iran has been sending spoof e-mails designed to intimidate voters, create social unrest, and damage President Donald Trump.

He said Iran was responsible for intimidating e-mails sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania.

The threatening e-mails, falsely purporting to be from the far-right group Proud Boys, warned voters that “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump, a Republican.

The voter-intimidation operation apparently used e-mail addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

It wasn’t clear if the information was hacked or obtained another way, such as through criminal networks on the dark web. Some voter information is publicly available.

Ratcliffe said that U.S. intelligence has not observed the same action from Russia, but that “we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016.”

He said Iran is also distributing other online disinformation, including video that suggests individuals could cast fraudulent ballots even from overseas.

“This video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true,” Ratcliffe said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have previously said that Iran, Russia, and China are seeking to interfere in the 2020 election.