The Lead

U.S. intel officials say Iran was behind threatening emails sent to voters in Pa., elsewhere, report

By: - October 21, 2020 9:25 pm

Iran and Russia both have obtained American voter registration data and Iran used the information to send threatening emails to American voters, the New York Times reported Wednesday, citing information made public by senior U.S. intelligence officials.

National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray said there was no indication that “election tallies were changed or that information about who is registered to vote was altered, both of which would threaten to alter actual votes,” the Times reported.

On Tuesday, voters in four states: Alaska, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania, received threatening emails that claimed to be from the Proud Boys, the far-right group that supports President Donald Trump, but instead appeared to be part of a “deceptive campaign making use of a vulnerability in the organization’s online network,” the Washington Post and other news outlets reported.

The emails, which gleaned voters’ information from publicly available voter files, told voters to change their registration and vote for Trump or “we will come after you,” the Post reported. Officials in Florida and Alaska, which were among the states impacted, were investigating the emails, the newspaper reported.

Pa. Dems among voters targeted in threatening email campaign, report

During a conference call with journalists on Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, whose office oversees elections and voters issues statewide, said she didn’t have specific information on the incident, but was “aware that [emails] were sent to voters in multiple swing states. And so we’re working closely with, the Attorney General on these types of things. We have regular check ins with them to make sure counties have been keeping us in the loop on what they’re hearing. It will be investigated should we receive any information.”

Deputy Secretary of State Jonathan Marks said the agency had not received specific complaints from counties.

A spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the state’s top law enforcement office had not been called in to investigate the Pennsylvania emails, but stood ready to assist if it were.

In a statement, Shapiro said his office “has been in court every day for months protecting every voter in Pennsylvania and we won’t stand by idly while groups like this try to interfere and scare voters. I know the president has urged these groups to stand by but if my office finds proof they are meddling in this election — they will be standing with their hands cuffed. This election is underway and each voter’s voice must be heard.”

On Wednesday night, the Times reported that it was not clear what Iran was trying to accomplish by sending the emails. Ratcliffe said the effort was aimed at hurting Trump, according to the Times. Intelligence officials have said Iran opposes the Republican president’s re-election, the newspaper reported. But if the emails intimidated Democrats, they could have harmed Democratic nominee Joe Biden, according to the Times.

“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 said, according to the Times.

Capital-Star Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison contributed to this story.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.