CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – A federal grand jury has indicted two Iranian nationals for their attempts to hack computer systems and interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York filed charges against Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, following an investigation conducted by the Cleveland FBI Field Office. The case was assigned to agents with the Cleveland FBI who specialize in investigating the type of hacking used in the scheme.
Federal officials said they aimed to intimidate voters and disrupt the election.
The indictment states Kazemi and Kashian obtained confidential U.S. voter information from at least one state election website, sent threatening emails meant to intimidate voters, created and shared a video showing a fake attempt to hack election systems, attempted to access 11 states’ voting-related websites and gained access to a media company’s computer network in an unsuccessful attempt to post fake stories about the election.
Federal officials said Kazemi and Kashian, working on behalf of a cyber security company with ties to the Iranian government, tailored different messages to Democrats and Republicans in an attempt to sow distrust in the election and undermine American democracy.
Authorities said the defendants attempted to hack 11 state voter websites, including voter registration websites, and successfully exploited the system of one unidentified state to download information of more than 100,000 voters.
According to the indictment, in October 2020, members of the conspiracy claimed to be associated with the white supremacist group Proud Boys and sent messages to Republican members of Congress, Trump campaign officials, White House advisors, and media members claiming the Democratic Party was planning to exploit voter systems to commit election fraud. The messages included a video depicting a fake attempt to hack state voter websites.
The indictment also alleges that Kazemi and Kashian sent threatening emails purporting to be from the Proud Boys to tens of thousands of registered Democrats, threatening harm if they did not change their affiliation and vote for Trump. Voters in Alaska and Florida reported receiving the emails.
Investigators said there was no evidence the scheme was successful in getting voters to change their registration and votes. Federal intelligence leaders publicly announced Iranian actors were behind the emails in October 2020, before the election.
Federal investigators said Kazemi and Kashian are experienced computer hackers who worked as contractors for the Iran-based company formerly known as Eeleyanet Gostar and now known as Eminent Pasargard.
They are both charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, intimidate voters and transmit interstate threats, one count of voter intimidation, and one count of transmission of interstate threats.
Kazemi is also charged with one count of unauthorized computer intrusion and one count of computer fraud.
Authorities said sanctions were planned against Kazemi, Kashian, the company, and its leaders, who are not in custody.
A reward of up to $10 million is available for information on Kazemi and Kashian’s activities.