U.S. indicts two Iranian hackers over 2020 election misinformation campaign


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By Devlin Barrett,

Two alleged Iranian hackers were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday and accused of engaging in a hacking and disinformation campaign targeting 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 sent threatening emails to 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.

Within days of that email campaign beginning, U.S. officials called a hastily assembled news conference to warn voters of the foreign influence operation and urge them not to believe the claims in the emails.

[U.S. undertook cyber operation against Iran in effort to secure 2020 election]

Officials said Thursday that they do not believe anyone switched their party affiliation or voted for a different candidate as a result of the emails. Matthew G. Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, alleged that the two Iranians “waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans.”

He said the department will continue to fight foreign disinformation campaigns “using all available tools, including criminal charges.”

Kazemi and Kashian allegedly tried to break into 11 state voter registration and information websites, according to the indictment. In one case, it alleges, they found a vulnerability that allowed them to successfully download information about more than 100,000 of that state’s voters.

On the day after the election, the pair allegedly also tried to break into the computer network of a company that provides content management systems to many U.S. newspapers, in an attempt to spread more disinformation. However, officials said, that attempt was unsuccessful because the FBI had already warned the firm about the alleged hackers’ previous entry into their system.

[How a battle over Trump computer accusations is playing out in court]

Officials said the two men worked for an Iran-based company formerly known as Eeleyanet Gostar, which is now called Emennet Pasargad. U.S. officials said the company is known to have provided services to the Iranian government.

After the Justice Department announced the indictment, U.S. officials said the government was imposing sanctions against six people tied to the Iranian company.

The indictment does not allege that the hacking and disinformation campaign was directed by the Iranian government. The two men charged Thursday are believed to be in Iran, U.S. officials said, which makes it unlikely they will be brought to an American courtroom any time soon.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

The Washington Post: Breaking News, World, US, DC News and Analysis


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