Intelligence Report Citing Iran Rekindles US Debate On Election Interference
A declassified United States intelligence report on the 2020 presidential election released on Tuesday [March 14] has breathed new life into America’s debate over foreign interference in its elections. “Foreign malign influence is an enduring challenge facing our country,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said Tuesday.
The 15-page report, released by Haines’ office, confirmed allegations that close associates of former President Donald Trump aligned with Russian efforts to discredit his 2020 challenger Joe Biden. Reuters news agency has quoted three sources that Washington will next week impose sanctions on Russia as a result, a likely move also reported by CNN.
The report, based on assessments made by intelligence officials during the Trump presidency, was culled from a classified report given to Trump on January 7, the day after his supporters stormed Congress in an effort to prevent the certification of election results.
The report also found a “multi-pronged covert influence campaign” by Iran against Trump during the election. It said Tehran’s efforts had been more aggressive than in the past and continued after the poll was over, with a common aim of encouraging discord. It suggested these were probably approved by Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.
The declassified report refers specifically to a flurry of emails sent to Democrat voters in electorally-marginal states, purportedly from the far-right Proud Boys, threatening them if they did not vote for Trump. This attempt at reverse psychology, attempting to motivate such voters by giving an impression of Trump supporters using dirty tricks, was highlighted during the election in a news conference by then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Academic specialists quoted in Newsweek magazine’s website disagreed over whether the Iran findings would undermine Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew the US in 2018. Mehrzad Boroujerdi, of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said it would add “another layer of complexity.”
Iran’s official stand in the US presidential election was neutral. While some principlists voiced support for Trump, it was widely believed in Iran and elsewhere that the government of President Hassan Rouhani looked to Trump’s defeat as a step towards lifting the draconian sanctions imposed by Trump after leaving the nuclear deal in 2018.
The US intelligence report suggest that while Tehran did not attempt to manipulate votes or affect election infrastructure, it did try to exploit vulnerabilities on state election websites, and did “compromise US entities associated with election infrastructure as a part of a broad targeting effort across multiple sectors worldwide.”
The report’s general conclusion that foreign interference did not extend to manipulating actual voting is one confirming the election result’s integrity and rebutting claims from Trump that the election was fraudulent. The report found “no indications that any foreign actor attempted to interfere in the 2020 US elections by altering any technical aspect of the voting process, including voter registration, ballot casting, vote tabulation, or reporting results.”
The report also cited efforts by Cuba, Venezuela, and the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah to influence the election. But it ruled out Chinese interference, as has been alleged by some Republicans as well as John Ratcliffe, Trump’s last director of national intelligence. “China sought stability in its relationship with the United States and did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught,” the report concluded.