US charges two Iranian hackers with election interference

Hackers accused of trying to intimidate US voters before 2020 presidential election

The US has charged two suspected Iranian computer hackers with election interference, accusing them of trying to intimidate American voters before last year’s presidential election by sending threatening messages and spreading disinformation.

The effort attracted publicity in the run-up to the November 2020 election, when law enforcement and intelligence officials held an unusual evening news conference to accuse Iran of orchestrating an email campaign aimed at intimidating Democratic voters in battleground states so they would vote for former president Donald Trump.

"State-sponsored actors, including Iranian groups, have engaged in covert and deceptive activities to disseminate disinformation through websites and social media designed to undermine Americans’ faith in US elections," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

It included a message that purported to be from a far-right group, the Proud Boys, that threatened Democratic voters with physical harm if they did not change their party affiliation and vote for Mr Trump.

US officials say the goal of the operation was not to change the results of the election but to sow confusion and discord and create the perception that the results could not be trusted.

The indictment, filed in federal court in Manhattan and unsealed on Thursday, accuses Iranian nationals Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian of helping orchestrate the scheme.

The US Treasury Department is also announcing sanctions against the men, their colleagues and the company they worked for.

"By taking this action, the US government demonstrates that we will hold state-sponsored actors to account for attempting to undermine public confidence in the electoral process and US institutions," Mr Blinken said.

The accused are not in custody and are believed to still be in Iran, but officials hope the indictment and accompanying sanctions will restrict their ability to travel.

“This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, co-ordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the US electoral system and to sow discord among Americans,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said.

“The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public.”

Updated: November 18th 2021, 7:21 PM