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U.S. sanctions Iranian entities for election meddling

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin designated five Iranian groups Thursday for attempting to meddle in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Pool photo by Toni L. Sandys/UPI
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin designated five Iranian groups Thursday for attempting to meddle in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Pool photo by Toni L. Sandys/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 23 (UPI) -- A day after U.S. intelligence officials blamed Iran for conducting an email campaign attempting to intimidate Democratic voters, the Trump administration blacklisted five Iranian entities including its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for meddling in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

The Treasury Department on Thursday said it designated the IRGC, the IRGC's Quds Force and the Bayan Rasaneh Gostar Institute for being apart of Tehran's "brazen attempts" to sow discord among U.S. voters through spreading disinformation online as well as conducting other malign influence operations.

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"The Iranian regime uses false narratives and other misleading content to attempt to influence U.S. elections," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "This administration is committed to ensuring the integrity of the U.S. election system and will continue to counter efforts from any foreign actor that threatens our electoral processes."

The Treasury said it also designated the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union and the International Union of Virtual Media for being owned or controlled by the Quds Force.

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The sanctions were leveled less than a day after Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced late Wednesday that Iran had obtained U.S. voter registration information and was behind emails sent to Democratic voters in several states warning them to vote for Trump "or we will come after you."

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The emails were spoofed to seem to come from the Proud Boys, a far-right, male-only organization with White supremacy ties.

Ratcliffe had claimed Iran's meddling was intended to harm the president, which received harsh criticism from Democrats accusing him of politicizing intelligence information.

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The Treasury on Thursday made no reference to the emails nor the specific tactics used by the sanctioned entities, generally stating that Iran's disinformation campaigns "focus on sowing discord among readers via social media platforms and messaging applications and frequently involve mischaracterizing information."

The department said Bayan Gostar, the front company for IRGC Quds Force's propaganda operations, has tried to influence the election by denigrating U.S. political figures and exploiting social issues, including the coronavirus pandemic.

"As recently as summer 2020, Bayan Gostar was prepared to execute a series of influence operations directed at the U.S. populace ahead of the presidential election," the Treasury said in the release.

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It said IRGC Quds Force outlets, such as Bayan Gostar and the two media companies blacklisted Thursday, have amplified false narratives and posted disparaging propaganda articles and other such content, including COVID-19 conspiracy theories, to sow discord among U.S. voters.

The sanctions freeze all U.S. property and assets of the designated entities while barring U.S. citizens from doing business with them.

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Both the IRGC and the IRGC's Quds Force have been designated several times since 2007 with the Trump administration labeling the IRGC a terrorist organization in April 2019.

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The United States on Thursday separately sanctioned Iraj Masjedi, Iran's ambassador to Iraq and a senior IRGC Quds Force general, for acting on the elite military unit's behalf to destabilize Iraq.

"In his decades of service with the group, Masjedi has overseen a program of training and support to Iraqi militia groups and he has directed or supported groups that are responsible for attacks that have killed and wounded U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq," the Treasury said in a separate release.

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