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Russia, Iran have obtained US voter data and personal information to influence election says FBI

Then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe speaks at a press conference Oct. 21, 2020.
October 22, 2020

On Wednesday night, Director of National Intelligence  John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Chris Wray announced Iran and Russia have both obtained U.S. voter data and have been engaged in efforts to sway public opinions ahead of the U.S. election.

Ratcliffe and Wray offered little information about Russia’s election interference activities but said that Iran was behind a voter intidimation campaign, sending threatening fake emails to voters. Some of the emails reportedly sent by Iranian operatives were made to look as though they came from right-wing groups like the Proud Boys, and were sent to Democratic Party voters.

The press conference warning about Russian and Iranian election interference comes after an August intelligence community report which assessed Russian interests to denigrate presidential candidate Joe Biden and promote President Donald Trump, along with Chinese and Iranian interests to undermine Trump’s reelection chances.

On Wednesday, Ratcliffe said the faked emails by Iran were meant to “intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump.”

Ratcliffe said Iran was also promoting a video claiming individuals could cast fraudulent ballots from overseas.

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

According to the New York Times, the voter information being used appeared to come largely from publicly available information and may have been merged with private information like email addresses, obtained from other databases by hackers. The officials did not claim Russia or Iran hacked into official voter registration systems.

The press conference reportedly came amid intelligence community concerns that Iran planned to take further measures to influence voters in the coming days.

“This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy,” Ratcliffe said Wednesday.

Ratcliffe said Russia had also obtained some voter information, but that intelligence officials have not seen the same efforts by Russians as were observed with Iranian actors.

Wray said, “We’re not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election.

“When we see indications of foreign interference or federal election crimes, we’re going to aggressively investigate and work with our partners, to quickly take appropriate action,” Wray added. “We’re also coordinating with the private sector—both technology and social media companies—to make sure that their platforms are not used by foreign adversaries to spread disinformation and propaganda.”

Wray called on Americans who suspect criminal activity to report it to their local FBI field office.

“As always, the men and women of the FBI remain committed to protecting the American people, our democracy, and the integrity of our elections,” Wray said. “We are not going to let our guard down.”