“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.
Iranians are responsible for a voter intimidation email campaign that was made to look like it came from the Proud Boys and was also spreading disinformation about voter fraud through a video linked in some of the emails.
“We have already seen Iran sending spoof emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President (Donald) Trump,” Ratcliffe added. “You may have seen some reporting on this in the last 24 hours, or you may have even been one of the recipients of those emails.”
A source in a Florida election office told CNN that during an FBI briefing Wednesday, agents told them the Proud Boy email threats about voting for Trump came from a nation state — and they are seeing them across the country. The source said the agents told them these emails “were not the work of a Florida guy in his basement.”
Russia has not taken the same actions, Ratcliffe said, but has obtained some voter information, just as Moscow did in 2016.
Ratcliffe spoke alongside FBI Director Chris Wray at a hastily arranged news conference on Wednesday evening to announce the foreign election interference.
“We are prepared for the possibility of actions by those hostile to democracy,” Ratcliffe said.
Along with Russia and China, Iran was named as one of three foreign adversaries seeking to interfere in the 2020 race in an unprecedented statement from the intelligence community’s top election security official, Bill Evanina, on August 7.
“We assess that Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on on-line influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content,” the statement, issued on behalf of the entire intelligence community, said.
“Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s reelection would result in a continuation of US pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change,” it added.
The same statement said that the US intelligence community assesses “Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.'”
“This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia … Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television,” it added.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Donie O’Sullivan and Evan Perez contributed to this report.