On Tuesday, an unknown number of Democratic voters in four states were targeted with a threatening email urging them to “vote for Trump or else!”, stating that “we will come after you” if they didn’t. While these emails appeared to have come from a violent, neo-fascist group known as the Proud Boys, the group said they had nothing to do with the matter.
Based on a U.S. government statement, Iran is responsible for the activity and group impersonation.
In recent years, Iranian information operations have continued to push boundaries using bold and innovative approaches. However, this incident marks a fundamental shift in our understanding of Iran’s willingness to interfere in the democratic process. While many of their operations have been focused on promoting propaganda in pursuit of Iran’s interests, this incident is clearly aimed at undermining voter confidence.
We believe the email campaign, which purported to come from the Proud Boys, was designed to play on fears of voter intimidation and stoke existing tensions. Likewise, an associated video which purported to show intrusions into election systems and other malfeasance was also intended to prey on fears that election infrastructure could be subverted and hacked.
The information operations we have seen from Iran to date have been about amplifying pro-Iranian messages and pushing a desired narrative out into the world that’s anti-Saudi or ant-Israeli or pro-JCPOA. This is different. This is deliberate interference in our democracy and it crosses a major red line. I think the Intel community scored a win here against Iran today.
Iranian information operations date back at least eight years and they have grown beyond fake news sites and social network activity to elaborate tactics, such as impersonating journalists to solicit video interviews and placing op-eds. They have even impersonated American politicians.