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US Indicts Two Iranian Hackers Over 2020 Election Disinformation Campaign

November 29th, 2021 15:17

US media is report­ing that two Iran­ian hack­ers were indict­ed by the US over attempts to influ­ence vot­ers and spread dis­in­for­ma­tion ahead of the 2020 US Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Accord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton Post report:

Novem­ber 18, 2021 Two Iran­ian men were indict­ed by the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment on Thurs­day, accused of a brazen hack­ing and dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign that tar­get­ed Amer­i­can vot­ers in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.  Seyyed Kaze­mi, 24, and Saj­jad Kashi­an, 27, alleged­ly sent threat­en­ing emails to try to scare vot­ers, attempt­ed to break into sev­er­al states’ vot­ing-relat­ed web­sites and gained access to a U.S. media company’s com­put­er net­work.  Offi­cials say the pair emailed thou­sands of vot­ers in Octo­ber, includ­ing many Democ­rats. They alleged­ly claimed to be Proud Boys and threat­ened the email recip­i­ents with phys­i­cal attacks if they did not change par­ty affil­i­a­tion and vote for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. The emails seemed to tar­get pri­mar­i­ly vot­ers in Flori­da and Alas­ka, offi­cials said at the time.  The same illic­it effort also pushed a video through Face­book, Twit­ter and YouTube that claimed to show some­one hack­ing into vot­er web­sites to cre­ate fal­si­fied over­seas and absen­tee bal­lots, accord­ing to the indict­ment. The court fil­ing said that video also false­ly claimed to be affil­i­at­ed with the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a his­to­ry of vio­lence that large­ly embraced Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Read the rest here

The report notes that the indict­ment does not allege that the Iran­ian gov­ern­ment direct­ed the hack­ing and dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign, but the sanc­tions announce­ment by the Trea­sury Depart­ment said the hack­ers were “state-spon­sored,” an accu­sa­tion echoed by Sec­re­tary of State Antony Blinken.

The US Jus­tice Department’s full indict­ment can be accessed here.

In March, we report­ed on a report by the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty exam­in­ing for­eign threats to the 2020 US fed­er­al elec­tions, con­clud­ing that Iran car­ried out a mul­ti-pronged covert influ­ence cam­paign intend­ed to under­cut for­mer Pres­i­dent Trump’s reelec­tion prospects. Accord­ing to that report:

We assess that Iran car­ried out a mul­ti-pronged covert influ­ence cam­paign intend­ed to under­cut for­mer Pres­i­dent Trump’s reelec­tion prospects—though with­out direct­ly pro­mot­ing his rivals—undermine pub­lic con­fi­dence in the elec­toral process and US insti­tu­tions, and sow divi­sion and exac­er­bate soci­etal ten­sions in the US. We have high con­fi­dence in this assess­ment. We assess that Supreme Leader Khamenei autho­rized the cam­paign and Iran’s mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence ser­vices imple­ment­ed it using overt and covert mes­sag­ing and cyber operations.

Read the full report here.

Iran is one of the most active influ­ence actors in its use of hack­ers and oth­er cyber oper­a­tions. The coun­try also employs an exten­sive net­work of affil­i­at­ed groups and orga­ni­za­tions such as the Islam­ic Cen­ter of Eng­land. Iran also funds PressTV, a glob­al media oper­a­tion in sup­port of its goals.