With less than three months to go before the presidential election, Trump administration officials appear to be spying on foreign nationals in an effort to prevent election interference.
Russians and Iranians woke up Friday morning to bizarre spam messages encouraging them to report any evidence of US election interference to the U.S. State Department and offering a hefty financial incentive to do so this.
“The United States pays up to $ 10 million for any information on foreign interference in the US election,” the messages read in Russian and Persian.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the generous reward the day before, citing the efforts of “Russia and other malevolent actors.”; The State Department said the Justice Rewards program will provide a $ 10 million reward for information leading to the identification of those trying to disrupt the U.S. election at the behest of a foreign government. In the announcement, the department encouraged recipients to contact the nearest US embassy or consulate.
A link attached to some of the Russian messages leads to the Russian version of the verified Justice Rewards Twitter account, according to the Russian exit Meduza. The messages were reportedly distributed across the country in cities such as Saratov, Krasnodar, Ulyanovsk, Chelyabinsk, Perm, Yekaterinburg and Tyumen.
Many Russians were sent to social media to distribute images of annoying text messages, with some comparing the offer to a “reward for betrayal.”
Timofei Zhukov, a lawmaker in Yekaterinburg, posted a picture of such a message, which apparently indicated that it had been sent using a popular spam distribution service.
The citizens of Iran seemed just as confused by the messages.
A software developer in Tehran told Reuters he thought the message was “a kind of cyber attack”.
A State Department spokesman appeared to confirm the tactics of mass text messaging in a statement: “The U.S. Department of State Justice Rewards Program advertises a reward offer through SMS messages and a variety of tools and other communication techniques. Our SMS messages refer back to the official verified Justice Rewards accounts, which are available in many languages. “
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova mocked the State Department’s “chain letters” in a Facebook post, accusing the US intelligence services of “interfering in our lives.” “What is this, if not a real hybrid attack?” she wrote, accusing US authorities of targeting the Russian population to try the Kremlin’s intervention.
The State Department’s massive campaign message comes as Democratic lawmakers call for more information about specific foreign schemes to interfere in the upcoming election. Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election cast a shadow over the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and Iran made similar encouragement, albeit to a lesser extent.
As William Evanina, director of the National Counter-Electoral and Security Center, issued a stern warning last month about China, Iran and Russia, all posing “a direct threat to the structure of our democracy” plotting to influence in the 2020 election, Democrats described Evanina’s statements on foreign threats as “so general as to be almost meaningless.”
Democrats have expressed particular concerns about a tainted campaign against Joe Biden conducted by pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians alongside Rudy Giuliani. They fear that distortion from that Kremlin-friendly campaign is being fed to Homeland Security Senate Speaker Ron Johnson as part of his investigation into the former vice president and his relationship with Ukraine – an investigation launched after much controversy by Trump and his allies, and is fully embraced by many Republicans as Biden won the ballot.