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US Indicts 2 Iranian Hackers for Alleged Attempts to 'Sow Discord' in 2020 Election

FILE - A woman fills in a ballot for the 2020 U.S presidential election in Fairfax, Virginia, Nov. 3, 2020.
FILE - A woman fills in a ballot for the 2020 U.S presidential election in Fairfax, Virginia, Nov. 3, 2020.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the indictment Thursday of two Iranian nationals for "their involvement in a cyber-enabled campaign to intimidate and influence American voters, and otherwise undermine voter confidence and sow discord, in connection with the 2020 U.S. presidential election," according to a press release.

Between August and November of 2020, Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian allegedly got voter information from at least one state election website and then used that information to send threatening emails "to intimidate and interfere with voters."

They also allegedly attempted to access other state election-related websites.

The two also allegedly created and distributed a video "containing disinformation about purported election infrastructure vulnerabilities."

Additionally, they allegedly "successfully gained unauthorized access to a U.S. media company's computer network," which the Justice Department says the two could have used to distribute more disinformation about elections. These plans, according to Justice, were stymied by the FBI and the media entity's cybersecurity efforts.

"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," Olsen said in a statement. "The department is committed to exposing and disrupting malign foreign influence efforts using all available tools, including criminal charges."

Charges against the two include "conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, intimidate voters, and transmit interstate threats."

The two indicted were among six sanctioned Thursday by the U.S. Treasury Department, who also allegedly were involved in "attempting to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election."

On Wednesday, the United States and Australia issued an advisory saying Iranian hackers were behind cyberattacks on targets in the health care and transportation sectors.

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