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Iran behind pro-Trump 'hit list' of U.S. election officials, FBI says

The attribution is the second time in two months that federal officials have said Iran imitated threats of right-wing violence to stoke fear around the election.
Daily Life In Tehran As New US Sanctions Loom
A woman walks past an Iranian flag painted on a wall in Tehran, Iran, on Sept.18, 2018.Scott Peterson / Getty Images file

Iran created an online "hit list" of U.S. government officials who helped conduct and certify the 2020 U.S. presidential election, federal officials announced Wednesday.

Titled "Enemies of the people," the list was framed as a call to arms for supporters of President Donald Trump to take revenge on more than a dozen federal and state officials, as well as employees of the voting equipment manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems.

The FBI and the U.S. Cybersecurity Agency “possess highly credible information indicating Iranian cyber actors almost certainly were responsible” for the site, which has since been taken down from its initial URL, the agencies wrote in a statement. The agencies didn’t elaborate how they were able to make that attribution.

The list included photos and purported home addresses and contact information of people who some Trump supporters have tied to baseless conspiracy theories for why he lost the election: FBI Director Christopher Wray; the former director of the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Christopher Krebs; and Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.

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Alireza Miryousefi, the spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, rejected the allegations and said Iran had been targeted in the past by U.S. cyber attacks.

“Iran itself is the largest victim of cyber attacks, including Stuxnet, and has always emphasized the need for the establishment of a global mechanism to prevent cyber attacks at the United Nations, and at other international institutions,” he said in an email to NBC News. “On the other hand, the United States, which is known as the biggest cyber threat in the world, has prevented the creation of such an international mechanism, and publicly declares creating chaos in Iran (in any way possible) as its aim.

“Iran is not involved in inciting violence and creating unrest in the United States, however, and these accusations against Iran are reminiscent of accusations of some uninformed American officials in the past. For example, in the Stuxnet case, when a DHS official accused foreign countries of cyber-attacking the US, even while it was Stuxnet that was fire-backed to the US. “

News that the FBI had concluded Iran was responsible was first reported Tuesday by The Washington Post.

“The post-election creation of the Enemies of the People website demonstrates an ongoing Iranian intent to create divisions and mistrust in the United States and undermine public confidence in the U.S. electoral process,” the agencies said.

The report is the second time in two months that federal officials have said Iran imitated threats of right-wing violence to stoke fear around the election. They previously said that Iran had engineered a campaign of intimidating emails sent to registered Democrats in Florida that purported to come from the Proud Boys, a pro-Trump authoritarian group.

Russia, which launched a multipronged election interference effort for the 2016 election, has yet to be accused of a similar, substantive effort in 2020. Joe Slowik, a researcher at the cybersecurity firm DomainTools who had analyzed the hit list when it was first released, noted at the time that it was registered with a Russian site and with a Russian email address, but said in a text message that that would have been an effort by Iran to cast doubt on whether they were responsible.

Krebs, who Trump fired soon after the election for leading an effort to debunk conspiracy theories, sued the Trump campaign for defamation and has said he received death threats against his family.

Whitmer, according to prosecutors, was the target of planned political violence from domestic actors. In October, authorities arrested 13 members of two militia-like groups on charges of plotting to kidnap and possibly kill the governor.

A spokesperson for Whitmer, Tiffany Brown, said in an email that the governor was grateful for law enforcement officers.

"This news is deeply troubling and further points to why such intense, hateful rhetoric needs to stop," Brown said. "The governor has repeatedly urged those with a platform to speak out against it and help turn down the heat."

Barb Byrum, the clerk of Ingham County, Michigan, said that the impact of Iran's hit list pales in comparison to Trump's own sustained comments against election officials since he lost.

"Many of my dedicated colleagues in election administration have received death threats and other disturbing messages, and visits at their home," Byrum said in a phone interview.

"The president of the United States has been encouraging this kind of domestic terror on our election administrators for well over a year," she said, "individuals who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that all qualified registered voters have an opportunity to exercise their right to vote."