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On the eve of the final presidential debate, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced at an election security news conference that Iran and Russia "have taken specific actions to influence public opinion related to our elections."
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe confirmed that Iran is sending fake emails posing as the far-right Proud Boys with the intention of aiding Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“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 stated.
Specifically, Ratcliffe continued, Iran sent "spoofed emails designed to intimate voters, incite unrest, and damage President Trump" and is "distributing other content to include a video that implies individuals could cast fraudulent ballots even from overseas."
“This video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true,” Ratcliffe said, adding that “these actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries. Although, we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016.”
The Washington Post reported earlier that Department of Homeland Security officials told state and local election administrators that a foreign government was responsible for the online barrage of threatening emails arriving this week in the inboxes of Democratic voters, according to authorities on the call "who all spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity."
The messages appeared to target Democrats through “voter files" gathered from commercially-available digital databases. Recipients were instructed to change their party registration and cast their ballots for President Donald Trump.
“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the intimidating communications warned, which reportedly reached three swing states by Tuesday night.
The deceptive campaign utilized an Internet domain, officialproudboys.com, associated with the Proud Boys. The enlisted domain was recently dropped by a hosting company that services Google Cloud. Without a secure host, the organization's online network was left vulnerable to exploitation. Voters using Comcast, Yahoo and Gmail accounts were affected.
The FBI scheduled the impromptu press conference on Wednesday night for what the federal agency calls a "major election security" issue.
FBI director Christopher Wray, assistant attorney general for national security John Demers, and Christopher Krebs from the Homeland Security Department’s Cyber Security and Infrastructure division were slated to attend. The briefing set for 7:30 p.m. came less than two weeks before Election Day.
“We are 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," Wray followed Ratcliffe at the podium, telling Americans they "should be confident that your vote counts" but “early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Ahead of the announcement, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence leaders issued a joint statement regarding “threats from adversaries to U.S. election systems and infrastructure.”
Acting committee chairman Sen. Marco Rubio and the vice chairman Sen. Mark Warner stated they “urge every American – including members of the media – to be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting.”
Before the foreign election interference was uncovered and verified by the U.S. government, the left lapped up the disinformation and shared the Iranian propaganda.
Vanity Fair titled its debunked reporting, "Trump's Calls to Intimidate Voters May Already Be Paying Off." The hit piece claimed that the president "has been increasingly explicit in encouraging voter intimidation," referencing Trump's "stand back and stand by" remark during the first presidential face-off late last month. However, the article acknowledged the Post's coverage, but still asserted: "Nevertheless, the prospect of political violence could make Americans anxious about going to the polls, weakening turnout.
The Lincoln Project, the infamous Never Trump group, alleged in a since-deleted post: "The Proud Boys are attempting to scare voters away from the polls. This is punishable by up to a year in jail and a blatant attempt to prevent people from voting. Let’s find them and make them famous."
"Oh so that Proud Boys story today was amplified disinformation from the media yet again," conservative commentator Mike Cernovich tweeted.