Iranian intelligence was responsible for a recent campaign of emails sent to intimidate Florida voters, the FBI announced Wednesday night, adding that Russia was also working to influence the election.
The emails, which ominously instructed Democratic voters in Florida to switch to the Republican Party, purported to come from the Proud Boys, the right-wing group of Trump supporters that became a flashpoint during the first presidential debate.
But the emails were actually “spoofed” and had been designed “to incite social unrest and damage President Trump,” said John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence. Ratcliffe did not explain how the emails were damaging to Trump, because they were urging Democrats to switch to the Republican Party.
Ratcliffe didn’t provide any evidence for the attribution.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” he said.
Ratcliffe said Iranian intelligence sent “spoof emails designed to intimidate voters, incite unrest and damage” President Donald Trump. He didn’t elaborate on how the effort would harm Trump since the emails were sent to Democratic voters, threatening them against voting for former Vice President Joe Biden.
The emails were first identified by law enforcement and elections officials in Florida and Alaska before being turned over to federal authorities, U.S. officials told The Washington Post earlier Wednesday.
“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the emails warned.
The emails also said they were sent by the Proud Boys, which were “in possession of all your information,” instructing voters to change their party registration and cast a vote for Trump.
“Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply,” the emails state. “We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take it seriously if I were you.”
The Proud Boys are a far-right, male-only organization that supports Trump. The group also has ties to white supremacy.
The emails show a sender with the address firstname.lastname@example.org but Google Cloud spokesman Ted Ladd and Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio both said the domain was recently dropped from Google Cloud Services, leaving it without a secure host and potentially vulnerable to outside exploitation. To summarize:
- Google drops them, making them vulnerable
- Someone “overseas” learns about this and exploits the vulnerability
- The result is an email campaign that makes Trump look bad