Iranian hackers forged pre-election mailings of the Proud Boys, but the actual post-election performance of this and other groups was more disruptive.
If in the 2016 US presidential election foreign meddling operations were led by Russia, in the 2020 election the focus was on Iranian hackers, because of the novelty they represented in a field of operations where Russians and Chinese were equally active, each pursuing their own interests. In particular, Tehran wanted a defeat for Donald Trump so that his Democratic successor would reverse the tough sanctions regime imposed against the Iranian regime. But these cyberspace actions by Iran, Russia and China were ineffective due to the heightened alertness of US security and intelligence agencies. In the end, these outside attempts to discredit US democracy and undermine voter confidence in its electoral system were dwarfed by the damage caused by the domestic chaos itself.
Assault on the Capitol in Washington on 6 January 2021 [TapTheForwardAssist].
article / María Victoria Andarcia
Russia was always in the US security spotlight during the 2020 election year, after its meddling in the presidential election four years earlier. However, while the main concern remained Russia and there were also fears of an expansion of China's operations, Iran made headlines in some of the warnings issued by the US authorities, probably because of the ease with which they were able to attribute various actions to Iranian actors. Despite this multiple front, the development polling did not yield any evidence that foreign disinformation campaigns had been effective. The swift identification of the actors involved and the offensive reaction by US security and intelligence services could have prevented the 2016 status . As the Atlantic Council has noted, this time 'domestic disinformation overshadowed foreign action'.
Given the direct consequences that Joe Biden's arrival in the White House may have on Washington's policy towards Iran, this article pays more attention to Iran's attempts to affect the US election development . The impact of Iranian operations was minimal and had a smaller profile impact than those carried out by Russia in 2016 (which in turn had less involvement than in previous elections).
In May and June 2020, the first movements in Microsoft accounts were recorded, as the company itself would later reveal. An Iranian group called Phosphorus had succeeded in gaining access to the accounts of White House employees and Trump's re-election campaign team. These were early signs that Tehran was setting up some kind of cyber operation. subject
In early August, the Center for Counterintelligence and National Security's director , William Evanina, accused Tehran - as well as Moscow and Beijing - of using disinformation on the internet to "influence voters, unleash disorder and undermine public confidence" in the system. Regarding Iran, it said: "We assess that Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions and President Trump, and to divide the country ahead of the 2020 election". She added that Iranian efforts were focused on spreading disinformation on social media, where it circulated anti-US content. Evanina attributed the motivation for these actions to Iranian perceptions "that President Trump's re-election would result in a continuation of US pressure on Iran in an effort to encourage regime change".
Following the televised discussion between Trump and Biden on 29 September, Twitter deleted 130 accounts that "appeared to originate in Iran" and whose content, which it had placed on knowledge by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was intended to influence public opinion during the discussion presidential election. The company provided only four examples. Two of the accounts were pro-Trump: one Username was @jackQanon (at reference letter to the conspiratorial group QAnon) and the other expressed support for the Proud Boys, a far-right organisation with supremacist links to which Trump had order "be on guard and be vigilant". The other two accounts had expressed pro-Biden messages.
In mid-October, director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, referred on press conference to Iranian and Russian cyber action as a threat to the electoral process. According to Ratcliffe, the Iranian operation consisted primarily of a series of emails purporting to be sent by the group Proud Boys. The emails contained threats of physical force for those who did not vote for Trump, and were intended to instigate violence and damage Trump's image by associating his campaign with radical groups and efforts to intimidate voters. Interestingly, the Proud Boys would later gain prominence for themselves in the post-election rallies in Washington and the takeover of the Capitol.
department While Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Jatibzadeh denied these accusations, stressing that "Iran is indifferent to who wins the US elections", the US authorities insisted on their version and the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned five Iranian entities for attempting to undermine the presidential elections. According to OFAC'sstatement , the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Quds Force used Iranian media as platforms to spread propaganda and disinformation to the US population.
agreement According to OFAC, business Iranian audiovisual media company Bayan Gostar, a regular Revolutionary Guard collaborator, had "planned to influence the election by exploiting social problems within the United States, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and by denigrating US political figures". The Islamic Iranian Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), which OFAC considers a propaganda arm of the Revolutionary Guard, and the International Virtual Media Union "assisted Bayan Gostar in his efforts to reach US audiences". These media outlets "amplified false narratives in English and published derogatory propaganda articles and other content directed at the United States with the intent to sow discord among US audiences".
The US claims that Iranian interference was not limited to the election, which took place on 3 November (with an unprecedented level of advance and postal voting), but continued in the weeks that followed, seeking to take advantage of the turmoil caused by the Trump administration's questioning of the result election. Days before Christmas, the FBI and department 's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) revealed that Iran was allegedly behind a website and several social media accounts aimed at provoking further violence against various US officials. The website entitled "Enemies of the People" contained photographs and information staff of both officials and staff from the private sector who were involved in the process of counting and authenticating votes cast in the election, sometimes in the face of allegations of fraud maintained by Trump and his supporters.
The action attributed to Iran can be interpreted as a way to avenge the drone strike ordered by Washington to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, head of the Qurds Force in Iraq, for whose death on 3 January 2020 Tehran had vowed retaliation. But above all it reveals a continuing effort by Iran to alleviate the effects of the Trump-driven US policy of 'maximum pressure'. Given Biden's stated intention during the election campaign to change US foreign policy towards the Islamic Republic, the latter would have the opportunity to receive a looser US attention if Trump lost the presidential election. Biden had indicated that if he came to power he would change policy towards Iran, possibly returning to the nuclear agreement signed in 2015 on the condition that Iran respect the limits on its nuclear programme agreed at the time. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was considered a milestone in the foreign policy of then President Barack Obama, but then the Trump administration decided not to respect it because it considered that issues such as Iran's missile development and its military interference in other countries in the region had been left out.
A few days before the inauguration of the new US president, Iranian President Hassan Rohani urged Biden to lift the sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic and return to the 2015 nuclear agreement . Iran hopes that the Biden administration will take the first steps to compensate for the actions of the previous administration and thus move towards a possible understanding between the two nations. The decision to return to agreement will not be made immediately as Biden inherits a divided country and it will take time to reverse Trump's policies. With the Iranian presidential elections approaching in June this year, the Biden administration is buying time to attempt a reformulation that will not be easy, as the context of the Middle East has changed substantially over the past five years.