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Feds have charged two Iranians of posing as Proud Boys and interfering in U.S. 2020 election

Feds have charged two Iranians of posing as Proud Boys and interfering in U.S. 2020 election

On Thursday the Department of Justice announced charges against two Iranians on accusing them of assisting in the planning of a cyber-enabled effort to frighten and influence American voters in the 2020 election.

The campaign, which was first reported by American intelligence officials in October 2020, involved emails purporting to be from the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys sent to tens of thousands of registered voters. The emails threatened the recipients with bodily harm if they did not switch parties and vote for Trump.

Image of Proud Boys via Flickr/Anthony Crider is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, please visit: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

A senior Justice Department official told reporters in a conference call that the two Iranian defendants allegedly tried to compromise voter registration websites in eleven states “to create the appearance that election results could not be trusted” by misrepresenting that the election websites could accept fraudulent ballots, according to the indictment, which was filed in the Southern District of New York.

Prosecutors claim that one effort was successful, and the pair obtained information on more than 100,000 voters. The state that was to be attacked was not disclosed.

Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian were named as defendants. Officials with the Department of State’s Rewards for Justice Program indicated a reward of up to $10 million could be offered for information on or concerning Kazemi and Kashian’s activities.

The pair is also accused of making and sharing a film containing “disinformation concerning supposed electoral infrastructure weaknesses,” as well as hacking into the computer network of an unnamed U.S. media organization, which was blocked before any false claims could be delivered.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “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.”

Although the Iranians are not in detention, the charges and sanctions will make it difficult for them to travel.

Officials concluded the initiative failed since no voter registrations were changed.

Although the indictment does not name the Iranian government as the perpetrator of the campaign, intelligence officials have done so openly.

Kazemi and Kashian were “experienced Iran-based computer hackers who worked as contractors for an Iran-based company formerly known as Eeleyanet Gostar, and now known as Emennet Pasargad.”

According to the Justice Department, Eeleyanet Gostar is known to have offered services to the Iranian government.

Kazemi and Kashian are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, intimidate voters and transmit interstate threats, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of voter intimidation, each of which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison; and one count of transmission of interstate threats, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Kazemi is also charged with one count of illegal computer entry, which carries a five-year maximum punishment, and one count of willfully destroying a protected computer, which carries a ten-year maximum term.

The Treasury Department placed sanctions on Emennet Pasargad, Kazemi, Kashian, and four other Iranian nationals who lead Emennet Pasargad, according to the Justice Department statement.

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