The United States says it has sanctioned six Iranian individuals and one entity for attempting to influence last year's U.S. presidential election and charged two of the individuals with election interference.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced the sanctions in a statement on November 18, saying that it has identified "attempted cyber-enabled intrusions by state-sponsored actors, including Iranian actors who sought to sow discord and undermine voters’ faith in the U.S. electoral process."
The sanctions came as a result of the collective efforts of the Treasury Department, the State Department, and the FBI, the statement said.
Suspicions about election interference first surfaced weeks ahead of voting day, when law enforcement and intelligence officials alleged that both Russia and Iran were attempting to interfere in the election and had gained access to some U.S. voter-registration data.
The November 18 statement said that in the three months ahead of the poll, the state-sponsored cyberactors, who obtained or attempted to obtain U.S. voter information from U.S. state election websites, were responsible for an online operation "to intimidate and influence American voters, and to undermine voter confidence and sow discord, in connection with the 2020 U.S. presidential election."
They spread disinformation on social media and sent threatening e-mails as well as distributed a fake video "in an attempt to undermine faith in the election by implying that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots."
The Treasury Department said it had sanctioned Iranian cybercompany Emennet Pasargad for its leading role in the attempts to influence the election process. Emennet had already been sanctioned in 2019 when it had a different name, for aiding Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Electronic Warfare and Cyberdefense Organization (IRGC-EWCD).
Also sanctioned were Emennet manager Mohammad Bagher Shirinkar and Emennet employees Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian, who "executed cyber-enabled operations as part of the campaign to influence the election."
Three members of Emennet's board -- Mostafa Sarmadi, Seyyed Mehdi Hashemi Toghroljerdi, and Hosein Akbari Nodeh -- have also been placed on the sanctions list.
The sanctioned actors' property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction have been blocked and U.S. persons have been prohibited from engaging in transactions with them or otherwise risk being subjected to sanctions themselves.
Two of the individuals subjected to the sanctions -- Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27 -- were also indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges that they obtained confidential U.S. voting information from at least one state election website.
The defendants are not in custody and are believed to still be in Iran, but officials hope the indictment and accompanying sanctions will restrict their ability to travel.
The State Department announced a reward of up to $10 million for information on or about the activities of the two.
The indictment, filed in federal court in Manhattan and unsealed on November 18, says the two obtained access to a U.S. company's computer network in a plot to disseminate false claims about the election, but their plot was foiled with the help of the FBI and the company, which the indictment did not identify by name.