Iran and Russia have both received information about American voter registrations and are trying to influence the public about the upcoming US presidential election, national security officials said Wednesday evening.
"Iran and Russia have taken specific measures to influence public opinion in connection with our elections," said John Ratcliffe, director of the National Intelligence Service, at a hastily planned press conference.
"First, we confirmed that some voter registration information was obtained from Iran and separately from Russia," Ratcliffe said at the meeting, which takes place less than two weeks before election day.
"This data can be used by foreign actors to try to convey false information to registered voters that they hope will create confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy."
In particular, Ratcliffe said, Iran "sent fake emails to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and harm the president." Donald Trump facing former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, in the election.
"In addition, Iran is distributing other content to include a video that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots from overseas," he said.
"This video and all allegations of such allegedly fraudulent ballot papers are not true," said Ratcliffe.
He added that "these actions are desperate attempts by desperate opponents. Even if the opponents make further attempts to intimidate or undermine voter confidence, you should know that our electoral systems are resilient and you can rest assured that your votes are being held are safe.
"While we haven't seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they received some voter information just like in 2016," said Ratcliffe.
Minutes before the press conference, the Washington Post reported that US officials had warned state and local authorities that Iran was conducting a misleading campaign to send threatening emails to Democratic voters while posing as members of the far-right group Proud Boys issued.
A Homeland Security official said on a call Wednesday to state and local election administrators that loopholes had been discovered in their election websites, the Post reported.
The emails appeared to be directed at Democrats using information from digital voter databases, the Post said, which quoted two US officials.
The news threatened recipients, some of whom were in swing states, "voting for Trump on election day or we will come after you," the Post reported.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, speaking at the post-Ratcliffe press conference, said: "We will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that may compromise the sanctity of your voice or undermine public confidence in the election result."
"You should be sure that your vote counts," Wray said. "Early unconfirmed claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism."
A White House official said the White House had been informed of the findings by the FBI and Ratcliffe's office.
"Since the start of administration, President Trump has directed law enforcement, defense and intelligence services to monitor and thwart any attempts to interfere in our election," the official said. "This shows that our major law enforcement efforts are working."
Trump, who lags Biden in national polls, has aggressively criticized heads of state efforts to expand access to postal ballot papers to provide a safe choice during the coronavirus pandemic.
The president has claimed without evidence that such plans will result in massive election fraud and his campaign has filed lawsuits to block some of the new mail-in voting rules.
Prior to the press conference, the chairmen of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a joint statement on "Opponent threats to US electoral systems and infrastructure".
The Chairman of the Acting Committee, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., And Vice-Chairman, Mark Warner, D-Va., Said they "urge every American – including the media – to be careful when it comes to unconfirmed, sensational allegations related to votes to believe or spread and vote. "