American intelligence officials are blaming the Iranian government for the barrage of emails Tuesday that threatened Alaska voters in more than a dozen communities to “vote for Trump or else.”
John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, identified the alleged perpetrator at a Wednesday evening news conference.
“We have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters,” Ratcliffe said.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” he added. “Even if the adversaries pursue further attempts to intimidate or attempt to undermine voter confidence, know that our election systems are resilient, and you can be confident your votes are secure.”
Iran’s involvement in the email campaign was first reported by the Washington Post.
In a phone interview from Washington, D.C., U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican who’s taken an aggressive stance against Iran, said actions like the emails are “attacking what I think is one of the greatest elements of our country, which is: We’re a representative democracy and they’re not.”
“And that’s why I think looking at ways to retaliate in a time and place of our choosing would be very appropriate, and certainly what I’ll be pressing for,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he has not yet been briefed on the incident, but he added that he plans to ask federal officials for more details — including about why his state’s voters, specifically, were targeted.
In a prepared statement, Al Gross, Sullivan’s Democratic-endorsed independent opponent in the November election, accused Sullivan of “hiding in the corner while Iran and Russia have made it clear they intend to meddle in our election.”
“Alaskans don’t want any foreign interference in our election,” the statement quoted Gross as saying.
In emails and social media posts Tuesday, more than a dozen Alaskans reported that messages were sent to people in Anchorage, Eagle River, Soldotna, Kenai, Homer, Haines, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Bristol Bay, Denali Park, Palmer and the Fairbanks area.
The messages appeared to target registered Democrats and also went to voters in Florida, national media reported. The senders claimed to have “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure” and said they would know how recipients voted, in spite of the fact that the Alaska Constitution guarantees the secrecy of voters’ ballots.
Alaska elections officials have not addressed the claim that the “voting infrastructure” had been compromised, and the Post reported Wednesday that “authorities had detected holes in state and local election websites and instructed those participating to patch their online services.”
A spokeswoman for the Alaska Division of Elections, Tiffany Montemayor, said in an email that the state “has had calls with our federal partners in relation to intimidating emails voters are receiving.”
“However, there was no specific attribution to any nation,” Montemayor added. She declined to comment further.
One of the email addresses that sent the messages — firstname.lastname@example.org — suggested that the senders linked to the Proud Boys, a far-right group known for its violent demonstrations.
But the group’s leaders denied any involvement and cybersecurity experts said the senders relied on servers in the Middle East, Estonia and Singapore.