less than two Weeks before the 2020 US presidential election, tens of thousands of emails allegedly from the far-right Proud Boys threatened to “go after” Democrats if they did not vote for Trump. As officials warned at the time, the messages were part of a broader Iranian disinformation and influence campaign aimed at sowing division in the United States and undermining confidence in the electoral process. Now, the US Department of Justice has revealed an indictment accusing two Iranian citizens of carrying out those email bombings and more, providing new details about a daring scheme to interfere with elections.
Syed Muhammad Hussain Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, face charges of conspiracy, transmitting interstate threats, computer fraud and voter intimidation. The two allegedly worked for Iranian cybersecurity firm Emennet Pasargad, which Justice Department officials say has been contracted by the Iranian government. In addition to the indictment, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced, Thursday, the imposition of sanctions on the company, four of its leadership and the two accused.
“Allegedly, Kazemi and Kashian were part of a coordinated plot in which Iranian hackers sought to undermine confidence in the US presidential election and undermine confidence in the US presidential election,” US Attorney for the New York District, Damian Williams, said in a statement Thursday. “As a result of the charges disclosed today, and the simultaneous efforts of our partners in the US government, Kazemi and Kashian will forever look back on their shoulders as we strive to bring them to justice.”
Officials said they believed the accused were currently in Iran. The State Department announced a reward of up to $10 million for information on Kazemi and Kashian.
Court documents say that in addition to the threatening email campaign, the two men also tried to hack voter registration databases in 11 states and succeeded in one, where they were able to obtain data on more than 100,000 voters due to a configuration error. Officials declined to specify the country but The Wall Street Journal She stated in October 2020 that it was Alaska.
The defendants were also accused of hacking an unnamed media company that provides content management services to a number of newspapers and other publications across the United States. After the activity was revealed, the FBI warned the company that it had taken action to prevent unauthorized access. Officials say the attackers tried to connect to the company’s media network the day after the election, but found themselves cut off. Iranian hackers are known for crafting and distributing fake news articles that appear legitimate or even hacking real news websites to spread fake content.
The indictment also accuses the accused of carrying out other types of influence operations. Again disguised as “the proud boys,” they allegedly sent Facebook messages and emails to Republican members of Congress, Trump campaign staff and journalists alleging that the Democratic Party planned to exploit security weaknesses at state voter registration sites, modify mail-in ballots, and register Fake voters. . They also allegedly created and distributed a fake hacking video on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook that appeared to show attackers exploiting vulnerabilities in the electoral infrastructure to breach government voter websites and other platforms and generate fraudulent absentee ballots.