Iran and Russia have obtained voter registration information with the goal of interfering in the presidential election, U.S. officials said at an impromptu news conference Tuesday night.
John Ratcliffe, the intelligence director, and FBI Director Chris Wray said the U.S. will impose costs on any foreign countries interfering in the 2020 U.S. election.
Even with the recent discovery of Iran’s and Russia’s actions, officials assured citizens that their votes will count and the election’s integrity is still in tact.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries," Ractliffe said.
This news conference comes as Democratic voters in at least four battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, have received threatening emails, falsely purporting to be from the far-right group Proud Boys. The emails warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn't vote for President Donald Trump.
The voter-intimidation operation evidently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can also include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation.
The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election.
According to Ratcliffe, the interference has been designed to incite social unrest and damage to the president.
"This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sew chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.
To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump. You may have seen some reporting on this in the last 24 hours or you may have even been one of the recipients of those emails," he said.
In addition, Ratcliffe added that Iran was distributing a video with false information about fraudulent ballots.
"Iran is distributing other content to include a video that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas. This video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true," he said.
"These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries. Even if the adversaries pursue further attempts to intimidate or attempt to undermine voter confidence, know that our election systems are resilient and you can be confident your votes are secure. 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. Rest assured that we are prepared for the possibility of actions by those hostile to democracy," Ratcliffe continued.
Noting that his agency was responsible for investigating election crimes, Wray vowed to take action in order to ensure the integrity of U.S. elections. He said that Americans should be "confident" that their votes count. "We are not going to let our guard down," he added.
Catherine Park contributed to this report.