US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said on Wednesday that Russia and Iran have both obtained US voter registration information and tried to interfere with the 2020 presidential election.
Ratcliffe said in his press conference, accompanied by the Director of FBI Chris Wray, that Iran was responsible for the email campaign. Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails, but officials familiar with the matter said the U.S. has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four states, including battleground locations like Pennsylvania and Florida. The emails falsely purported to be from the far-right group Proud Boys and warned that “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump. The emails also attempted to spread disinformation about voter fraud through a video linked in some of the emails.
“This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy," Ratcliffe said.
Ratcliffe said that government officials “have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump,” but did not say how. One possibility is the messages may have been intended to align Trump in the minds of voters with the Proud Boys after he was criticized for failing to unequivocally denounce the group during the first presidential debate.T
White House spokesperson Judd Deere said in a statement that as part of his “America First policy”, President Trump “has directed the FBI, DOJ, and defense and intel agencies to proactively monitor and thwart any attempts to interfere in US elections, and because of the great work of our law enforcement agencies we have stopped an attempt by America's adversaries to undermine our elections."
With reporting by AP
Iran's Representative In Vienna: We Reserve The Right To Respond To Assassination
In response to the assassination of the high-ranking IRGC member and head of Iran’s nuclear defense, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Vienna said Iran reserves its "essential right to take all the necessary actions in response to this terrorist attack.”
According to the Islamic Republic’s Fars news agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi said in a letter to the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Ghada Fathi Waly, that Iran will take “necessary action in response to the terrorist attack” and asked him to “unconditionally condemn this terrorist act in accordance with its efforts to eliminate terrorism.”
Gharib Abadi accused Israel of being involved in the assassination and wrote: “Obvious evidence shows the involvement of the Zionist regime in this terrorist attack.”
Previously, Iran’s ambassador to the UN Majid Takht-Ravanchi also in a letter to the secretary-general of the UN claimed Israel and the US were involved in the assassination.
Several countries in the Middle East have condemned the assassination of Fakhrizadeh.
“The UAE condemns assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and (calls) on all parties to exercise self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace," the Twitter account of the UAE foreign ministry wrote.
Kingdoms of Bahrain and Jordan also condemned the assassination, with the foreign ministry of Bahrain calling on “all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid the region drifting to new levels of instability and threatening peace."
Artists In Iran Told To ‘React Appropriately’ To Nuclear Official’s Killing
Ershad, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, has sent a message to several Iranian artists warning them not to remain silent regarding Friday’s assassination of top nuclear official Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, sources have told Iran International Television.
In the message, the security department of the Islamic Republic’s cultural watchdog told film, theater, music and cultural personalities that reacting “appropriately” to Fakhrizadeh’s death was their “human and national duty.” The message suggested that some artists who often “intervene” in issues “not related to their profession” had adopted a “deadly silence in this matter.”
Writers, actors and other cultural personalities have on occasion spoken out against human rights violations by the authorities or in defense of freedom of speech. Many have been prosecuted and jailed for signing petitions or writing open letters.
The Ershad message warned artists and cultural figures that remaining silent would lead “to fundamental criticisms” against them. Since the assassination, media outlets controlled by the government, Islamic foundations and security organs have all criticized cultural personalities for being silent about Fakhrizadeh’s assassination near Tehran. Some officials appear to have been flabbergasted by the killing, responding in often contradictory and incoherent ways – while the top security official claimed security forces had known in advance of the plot.
Tasnim news agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), published a condolence letter from some artists but also noted that the social media pages of many celebrities contained more views about the passing of footballer Diego Maradona than about Fakhrizadeh.
All Iranian government ministries and institutions have security departments that deal with political issues, including the ideological orientation of employees. Ershad plays a leading role in book, film and music censorship.
Dozens Arrested In Tehran For Anti-Government Graffiti
Information acquired by Iran International TV indicates that in the past two months Iranian security forces have arrested at least 40 people in Tehran for anti-government graffiti.
In the past three years there have been widespread anti-government protests across the country, including the bloody protests of November 2019. Anti-government graffiti, particularly against the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards, has become more frequent. Social media over the past two months has seen many photos of graffiti about the November protests and their victims, vowing revenge, including calls for ‘Death to Khamenei.’
An informed source told Iran International TV that most of those arrested for such graffiti are aged between 20 and 40. The source added that detainees had not been allowed legal representation and that their families had been threatened to ensure their silence over the arrest.
Some detainees have been forced to make “confessions” and at least two of the young people have been coerced into saying they did the graffiti under the influence of drugs, sources in Iran say. The Iranian security forces often favor dissidents making televised confessions, either implicating themselves or others.
Hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested by security forces during the November 2019 protests.
Iran has not announced figures for deaths or arrests, but Amnesty International has reported the killing of at least 304 protesters, including at least 23 minors. Reuters on December 23, 2019 said three sources close to Khamenei’s inner circle had confirmed he had grown impatient and ordered officials to stop the protests. According to Reuters about 1,500 people were killed in the two weeks after November 15.
As Top Iran Official Buried, Calls For 'Punishment' Of Those Responsible
Speaking at a funeral ceremony for Iran’s slain nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on Monday, the Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier-General Amir Hatami said the culprits would be pursued “to the end.” In a short message read on his behalf, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for serious efforts to track down “those who ordered and carried out” the assassination and for “definite punishment.”
The ceremony was held at the Ministry of Defense, before Fakhrizadeh was taken for burial at Emamzadeh Saleh cemetery, Tajrish, north Tehran.
Hatami thanked the “nations and governments” that had condemned the killing and warned governments and international organizations that had failed to do so that “terrorism” would “catch up” with them if they continued to display “double-standards.” The European Union on Saturday condemned Fakhrizadeh’s killing as a “criminal act…counter to the principle of respect for human rights the EU stands for” and extended condolences to the family.
Monday’s ceremony was attended by the Revolutionary Guard Commander-in-Chief Major-General Hossein Salami, the regular Army Commander Major-General Abdolrahim Mousavi, Revolutionary Guards Qods Force Commander Brigadier-General Esmail Ghaani (Qaani), and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi.
Fakhrizadeh was assassinated on Friday in Absard, a resort town in the Damavand area east of Tehran. Several Iranian officials including President Hassan Rouhani have pointed fingers at Israel and the United States over the killing.
No official report about the details has been released. The Iranian media have offered at least four contradictory accounts, including one claiming there were no assailants at the scene and that remote-controlled machine guns were used. Another account claimed at least 12 were involved in the ambush.
The media and some officials have also blamed “intelligence gaps” and “infiltration” in Iran’s intelligence bodies for Fakhrizadeh’s death.
Russia Urges Iran To Avoid ‘Emotions’ In Reaction To Scientist’s Killing
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, has cautioned Iranian lawmakers not to rush to cancel cooperation with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), based on “emotions’ triggered by the assassination of a top nuclear official.
An overwhelming majority in the Iranian parliament voted Sunday to review a bill that would halt implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treat (NPT), after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior manager and scientist in the country’s nuclear program was assassinated November 27.
“Such reaction is understandable, but emotions aren’t always helpful,” Ulyanov tweeted on Sunday. “Observers note that, probably, the assassination was aimed at undermining #JCPOA and cooperation with #IAEA.” Russia is among world powers that signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement.
Many analysts have suggested that if Israel is behind the killing, its aim was to lure Iran into retaliation, thereby dashing chances of negotiations among world powers to revive the JCPOA. US President-elect Joe Biden has said he will rejoin the JCPOA once in office. President Donald Trump called the agreement inadequate and withdrew the US in May 2018, imposing draconian sanctions on Iran.
Iran still allows the IAEA to conduct regular inspections of its nuclear facilities according to understandings reached when JCPOA was signed, despite having reduced other commitments set by the agreement. Russia as a signatory has urged the revival of the agreement and is wary of Iranian actions that could harm prospects for dialogue.
NYT Op-Ed Tells Biden: This Is Not The Middle East You Left Four Years Ago
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman advised President-elect Joe Biden that if he wants to return to the Iran nuclear deal he has to take note that the Middle East has changed in the past four years when he was not in the government.
Friedman argues that the all-important issue now is not Iran’s nuclear program, but its development of precision-guided missiles and weapons systems that pause a clear threat to Israel and the Persian Gulf Arab states. The clear proof for this threat was demonstrated in the September 2019 attack on Saudi oil installations by precision-guided Iranian drones and missiles, he says.
That incident was a pivotal turning point that the columnist says united America’s regional allies into a “loose coalition” against Iran, especially as President Donald Trump decided not to respond militarily to the brazen Iranian attack, signaling that Saudi Arabia and others could not necessarily count on American protection. This led to even closer security cooperation between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“Trump forced Israel and the key Sunni Arab states to become less reliant on the United States and to think about how they must cooperate among themselves over new threats — like Iran — rather than fighting over old causes — like Palestine. This may enable America to secure its interests in the region with much less blood and treasure of its own. It could be Trump’s most significant foreign policy achievement,” Friedman writes.
“President-elect Biden knows the region well, but if I had one piece of advice for him, it would be this: This is not the Middle East you left four years ago.”
Iran's Zarif Slams Hardline Rivals For Making Overtures To US
In an exclusive interview with an Iranian website, published on Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif alleged that some hardliners have been sending "signals" to the United States to convince them that working with a hardliner administration in Iran will be easier than working with the administration of President Hassan Rouhani.
"Some people send signals to the United States [saying] they are easier to work with. We have kept silent about these [overtures] but it doesn't mean that we don't notice such signals," Zarif told Entekhab news website in the long interview, which appears to have taken place before the assassination of Iran's nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on Friday, as Zarif does not mention the incident.
"I'm not accusing any individual but I know and have been informed that they have told [the Americans or European powers?] that [our moderate rivals] are not going to remain in power and their influence will be short-lived," he added while stressing that those who make such overtures enjoy having "a propaganda machine and political cover" to accuse him of being a "spy" or "agent of globalists". "They believe that [Joe] Biden's victory [in the US elections] will help moderates and reformists to gain power in the [upcoming] elections.”
Zarif added that country’s foreign policy should be pursued in a “cohesive manner”. Iran-based political commentator Mohammad-Sadegh Javadi-Hessar in an interview Sunday told Iran International TV that hardliners have attempted such moves in the past and Iran’s foreign relations are influenced by several “centers of power”.
In another part of the interview Zarif reiterated that he has no intention to run in the presidential elections of June 2020 although many have tried to encourage him to run.
Iran Guards General Says Revenge For Slain Official Should Not Be 'Based On Emotions'
A high-ranking official of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Brigadier-General Mohammad-Esmail Kowsari, on Sunday said reaction to the killing of senior nuclear operative Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on Friday is certain but should not be "based on [immediate] emotions". Iranian officials have blamed Israel and the United States for the assassination without providing evidence.
"We cannot react to this issue based on [immediate] emotions. But we will never forget. We will take revenge for these cherished [slain nuclear scientists] but the time, place and kind of revenge will be decided by the authorities. People want the authorities to definitely demonstrate [Iran's] power to make them regret what they have done," Kowsari, Deputy Commander of IRGC's Sarallah Headquarters of Tehran, said in an interview with the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) on Sunday.
Other IRGC top brass have also promised "hard revenge" for Fakhrizadeh's killing. IRGC Commander-in-Chief Major-General Hossein Salami on Friday in a statement said "perpetrators [of the killing] will be severely punished, while Major-General Abdolrahim Mousavi, Commander-in-Chief of Iran's regular Army, said Iran "reserves the right to take revenge from the enemy in any other arena."
In reaction to the January targeted killing of IRGC's Qods Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stressed "revenge" but in his message after the killing of Fakhrizadeh he has urged "investigation and definite punishment" of those "who ordered and perpetrated" the assassination.
Some Iranian hardliners have been urging immediate reaction to Fakhrizadeh's killing by targeting Israeli and American interests. In an opinion piece on Sunday, the hardline Kayhan newspaper urged a destructive "deterrent" attack on Israel's port city of Haifa.
Iran Hardliner Paper Urges Destructive Attack On Haifa To Deter Israel
The hardline Kayhan newspaper in Iran published an opinion piece on Sunday urging a destructive “deterrent” attack on Israel’s port city of Haifa, after the assassination of the country’s top nuclear operative on Friday.
The piece, written by a commentator Sadollah Zarei, advocated a large-scale attack on Haifa to inflict maximum pain and civilian casualties, as the only way to establish a deterrence against “the Zionist enemy” and the United States. It added that previous Iranian reactions to Israeli air attacks in Syria targeting Iran-backed forces were weak. Zarei argued that even Iran’s January 8 ballistic missile attack against US bases in Iraq was not sufficient warning.
Iran claims it has evidence that Israel was behind the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Although he is called a scientist by Iran’s officials and state media, in fact he was a high-ranking member of the notorious Revolutionary Guards or IRGC. Israel has not acknowledged or denied its role in the attack.
Kayhan is financed by the office of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and its editor has the title of Khamenei’s representative at the newspaper. It usually advocates uncompromising and even extremist domestic and foreign policies.
President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday said that although Iran should avenge the killing, now would not be the right time as the assassination was planned to force Iran to react, thus reducing chances of any negotiations with the incoming Biden administration. But in a statement Khamenei directed all officials to find and punish those involved in the operation and those who issued the order.
Flood Shuts Down Four Cities In Iran's Khuzestan Province
After heavy rain in several cities of the southwestern province of Khuzestan in Iran, all businesses were shut down on Sunday in the cities of Ahvaz, Mahshahr, Ramshir, and Omidiyeh.
At the same time, local officials in Bushehr province also reported houses flooding in two cities and in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province, first responders are on full alert.
The chairman of Khuzestan’s crisis management office announced that due to the flooding and the problems that it will cause the citizens, all government buildings and banks in Ahvaz, Mahshahr, Ramshir, and Omidiyeh are closed on Sunday; the shut down does not include hospitals and centers of the relief operation.
The director of Red Crescent in Khuzestan province said the aid workers of Red Crescent have provided relief to 729 people stuck in the flood and 133 people were moved to safer locations. It also reported that nine houses were destroyed in Izeh and Baghmalek counties.
The governor of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province said the meteorologists have projected heavy rains and floods in the rivers in the upcoming days and people need to be more careful.
Local officials in Lorestan province in the west of Iran have also issued flood warnings and asked people to avoid unnecessary travel.
Iran witnessed heavy rain and flooding last year in 10 provinces across the country which caused millions of dollars in damages and many dead or injured.
Iranian Nursing Organization To Rouhani: 30 More Nurses Died Of Coronavirus In November
In a letter to President Rouhani, members of the board of Iranian Medical Organization warned about the increasing objections and discontent and of the medical staff and the increasing number of casualties among the nurses.
The Nursing Organization lists the problems the nurses face, including exhaustion, heavy workload, staff shortage, decreasing wages, partial overtime, job security, and high rate of contraction.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, this is the fifth time that the leaders of the Nursing Organization are writing a letter to the president of Iran.
The letter states that in November alone, 30 nurses died across the country from coronavirus.
According to the letter so far 84 nurses have died of coronavirus in Iran and 50,000 nurses have contracted COVID-19, and 8000 have left their job.
The board member of the organization said in some hospitals and coronavirus wards sometimes a nurse has to manage 10 or more patients.
The letter asks Rouhani to form a workgroup to provide better financial and mental support and a better working environment for the nurses.
In recent months, health workers in several cities across Iran have protested their wages and working conditions during the pandemic.
In July, nurses in Mashhad had planned on a peaceful protest in front of the courthouse regarding their low income. Reports indicate that the security forces attacked the nurses and beat them with tasers and batons.
In September, nurses at the Rouhani Hospital gathered to protest over low and unpaid wages in Babol city in Mazandaran province, northern Iran. They told ILNA they were faced particular challenges due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In October, health care workers in Iran’s capital gathered outside the parliament to protest about their inadequate work conditions, as the coronavirus crisis has worsened in the country.