Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said Iranian intelligence attempted to harm President Donald Trump with an email campaign threatening Democrats. Pool Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia have obtained voter information ahead of the U.S. presidential election and blamed Tehran for an email campaign to intimidate Democratic voters.
Ratcliffe appeared with FBI Director Chris Wray in a last-minute primetime event to reveal the attempts to interfere in the 2020 election.
"Iran and Russia have taken specific actions to influence public opinion related to our elections," Ratcliffe said.
"First, we have confirmed that some voter registered information has been obtained by Iran and separately by Russia," he said. "This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will sow confusion chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy."
Wray said that despite the efforts, it's not possible for either country to change Americans' votes.
"You should be confident that your vote counts," he said.
Ratcliffe said Iranian intelligence sent "spoof emails designed to intimidate voters, incite unrest and damage" President Donald Trump. He didn't elaborate on how the effort would harm Trump since the emails were sent to Democratic voters, threatening them against voting for former Vice President Joe Biden.
The emails were first identified by law enforcement and elections officials in Florida and Alaska before being turned over to federal authorities, U.S. officials told The Washington Post earlier Wednesday.
"You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you," the emails warned
The emails were purportedly sent by the Proud Boys, which were "in possession of all your information," instructing voters to change their party registration and cast a vote for Trump.
"Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply," the emails state. "We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take it seriously if I were you."
The Proud Boys are a far-right, male-only organization that supports Trump. The group also has ties to White supremacy.
The emails show a sender with the address email@example.com but Google Cloud spokesman Ted Ladd and Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio both said the domain was recently dropped from Google Cloud Services, leaving it without a secure host and potentially vulnerable to outside exploitation.
"There is no reason for us to send an email like that. To whoever did this, I condemn these people," Tarrio said, adding he believes the email address was "spoofed."
Officials in Florida's Alachua County and the Alaska Democratic Party said they were made aware of the emails on Tuesday morning and that the FBI had since become involved in the investigation. The Washington Post also reported instances of individual voters in Pennsylvania and Arizona receiving the emails, seemingly targeting Democrats using digital databases.
"The email appears to be a scam and we will be initiating an investigation into the source of the email along with assistance from our partners on the federal level," Alachua County Sheriff's Office officials said.
Cristopher C. Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said his office was aware of the emails while tweeting a warning on election-related rumors.
"FACT: Ballot secrecy is guaranteed by law in all states," Krebs wrote. "These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters' confidence in our elections."
Following the news conference, Democrats were quick to refute Ratcliffe's assertion about the emails' target, questioning whether his assessment that they were intended to harm Trump was founded in facts or just partisan spin.
"DO NOT listen to Ratcliffe. Partisan hack," Democrats of the House homeland security committee said in a now-deleted tweet, which was followed up with, "TO CLARIFY: These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump."
"Ratcliffe has TOO OFTEN politicized the Intelligence community to carry water for the President," it said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC that the intention by Iran in the two examples Ratcliffe gave concerning Tehran's election interference were unclear, especially since fears over mail-in ballots is a "Trump talking point."
"So, we don't know whether this is Ratcliffe's spin or whether it's the assessment of the analysts," he said.
In early August, the National Cyber Security Center issued a statement that it assessed Iran and China were attempting to influence the election, stating Russia's goal was primarily to "denigrate" Trump's Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, while Iran "seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections."
The analysis said Tehran's motivations were driven by worry that Trump's re-election could see a call for regime change in the Middle Eastern country.