WASHINGTON - Two suspected Iranian computer hackers have been charged with election interference, accused of trying to intimidate American voters ahead of last year's U.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 then-President Donald Trump.
The US Department of Justice building is seen in Washington, DC, on July 22, 2019. (Photo by Alastair Pike / AFP) (Photo by ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images)
That included a message that purported to be from a far-right group, the Proud Boys, that threatened Democratic voters with physical harm if they didn't change their party affiliation and vote for Trump.
U.S. 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 the federal court in Manhattan and unsealed on Thursday, accuses Iranian nationals named Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian of helping orchestrate the scheme. The Treasury Department is also announcing sanctions against the men, their colleagues and the company they worked for.
The defendants 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, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the head of the Justice Department's national security division, said in a statement. "The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public."