The Department of Justice (DoJ) announced it has charged two Iranian nationals for their role in a cyber-enabled disinformation and threat campaign “to intimidate and influence American voters, and otherwise undermine voter confidence and sow discord” in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, had obtained unauthorized access to a state election website, attempted to gain access to several other state election websites, sent threatening Facebook messages and emails to voters, created and distributed a video with disinformation about “purported election infrastructure vulnerabilities,” and obtained access to a U.S. media company’s network.
“This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in a press release. “The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public. The department is committed to exposing and disrupting malign foreign influence efforts using all available tools, including criminal charges.”
Kazemi and Kashian started their disinformation and threat campaign in August 2020, and continued until November 2020, the DoJ said.
According to the department, Kazemi and Kashian were claiming to be Proud Boys volunteers and sent false election messages to members of the GOP and Donald Trump campaign claiming that the Democratic party was planning to exploit “serious security vulnerabilities” in state voter registration websites to “edit mail-in ballots or even register non-existent voters.”
The DoJ explained the two attempted to use stolen credentials to gain access to the media company’s network on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the election. However, at that point, the FBI and media company had “mitigated the conspirators’ unauthorized access and these log-in attempts failed.”
“The FBI remains committed to countering malicious cyber activity targeting our democratic process,” Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran of the FBI’s Cyber Division said. “Working rapidly with our private sector and U.S. government partners and ahead of the election, we were able to disrupt and mitigate this malicious activity – and then to enable today’s joint, sequenced operations against the adversary.”