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FBI charges 2 Iranians for 2020 election interference; $10M reward offered

Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian (Department of Justice/screenshot)
November 18, 2021

On Thursday, the Biden administration charged two Iranian nationals for cyber-related “disinformation” campaigns designed to influence the 2020 election between then-President Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The State Department’s Rewards For Justice Program is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information on the Iranians.

According to the Department of Justice, Iranians Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, acquired confidential United States voter information for at least one state. The pair used the secret information to create and disseminate a “video containing disinformation about purported election infrastructure vulnerabilities.”

They also tried accessing multiple states’ voting websites, and gained unauthorized access to an American media company’s computer network.

Prosecutors alleged the conspirators claiming to be “a group of Proud Boys volunteers” sent Facebook messages and emails to Republican Senators and members of Congress, people linked to the presidential campaign of Mr. Trump, White House advisors, and members of the media.

The messages claimed that Democrat Party operatives were working to exploit “serious security vulnerabilities” in voter registration websites to “edit mail-in ballots or even register non-existent voters.”

“As alleged, Kazemi and Kashian were part of a coordinated conspiracy in which Iranian hackers sought to undermine faith and confidence in the U.S. presidential election,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York said in a statement. “Working with others, Kazemi and Kashian accessed voter information from at least one state’s voter database, threatened U.S. voters via email, and even disseminated a fictitious video that purported to depict actors fabricating overseas ballots.”

Both Kazemi and Kashian are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, intimidate voters, and transmit interstate threats; one count of voter intimidation; and one count of transmission of interstate threats.

Kazemi is also charged with one count of unauthorized computer intrusion, and one count of computer fraud.

The DOJ said the pair “are experienced Iran-based computer hackers” who worked for an Iran-based company formerly called Eeleyanet Gostar, which is now known as Emennet Pasargad. Eeleyanet Gostar allegedly provided cybersecurity services in Iran, including to the Iranian government.

“This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in a statement.

“The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public. The Department is committed to exposing and disrupting malign foreign influence efforts using all available tools, including criminal charges.”