Read between the lines: The FBI just told Americans to ignore Trump's voter suppression

In a press conference this evening that John Ratcliffe, Donald Trump's intelligence puppet, made sure to politicize, the FBI announced that Russia and Iran have obtained access to voter registration files, and that Iran has targeted voters with intimidating messages. While Ratcliffe referred to Iran's activities as aimed at hurting Trump, FBI Director Christopher Wray refused to repeat the same talking points, stressing instead that the FBI was ready to address foreign and domestic threats to Americans' right to vote.

What the FBI seems to have identified as Iranian spoofs are intimidating emails to registered Democrats telling them to change their party registration, vote for Donald Trump, or else.

With some form of verbal and mental pretzelization of logic, Ratcliffe is claiming - without any evidence presented - that the emails with the express criminal instruction to increase Donald Trump's vote totals were actually meant to hurt Trump. For me Occom's razor would seem to apply.

Update: this piece of editorialization was apparently left out of Ratcliffe's briefing to Congress on the matter (meaning Ratcliffe made it up for the public's consumption).

It is a sad state of affairs when one has to parse and read between the lines of an intelligence and law enforcement community warning to the American people, but if one is to ignore Ratcliffe's rank editorializing, here is what the announcement revealed, factually speaking:

  • Two state actors, Iran and Russia, are engaged in active measures to undermine the US election.
  • Both Iran and Russia have separately obtained access to some voter registration files.
  • Iran has used some of the files it obtained to send spoofed emails, pretending to be from the white supremacist group 'Proud boys', with the specific purpose of intimidating registered Democrats into voting for Trump.
  • The FBI is working with local election and law enforcement officials to identify and and remove threats to Americans' right to vote.
  • The FBI is also working with social media companies to notify and prepare them for disinformation campaigns under way by a foreign adversary.

The intelligence community has been warning since 2016 that Putin is deploying active measures to help Donald Trump. There is no doubt about that. Did Wray drop a line in his statement about the FBI working with social media companies to hint that Facebook and Twitter were on the right track to have limited the spread of a tabloid propaganda piece aimed at damaging Joe Biden's family and sourced to a known Russian asset? Possibly. I'd even say likely.

Wray's statement that the FBI and its local offices are working diligently to counter federal election crimes like voter intimidation was both comforting and telling. It is comforting to know that the FBI will act to push back on white supremacist militia groups trying to wreck havoc at the polls, but it was also a clear warning to those same pro-Trump groups that we have seen attempting to block access to polling sites and intimidate voters.

Another important announcement from the FBI was that foreign actors are gaining access to voter registration data of Americans with our personal information on them. It is absolutely true that voter registration data is public information, and any campaign or political group can obtain the data from local or state election officials.

Today's announcement did not, however, state how Iranian and Russian government entities obtained access to the voter files. It appears improbable that they submitted requests for voter data to Sarasota county officials in Florida, in which case one (or both) of two distinct avenues are likely: they gained unauthorized access to electronic voter records maintained by state and local officials, and/or, one or more groups operating on the ground in the United States obtained the information through regular channels and passed it on to Russia and Iran.

If it is an electronic hack, questions remain unanswered about the level of access. Could the state actors alter registration data, and data about who has and hasn't already early voted or voted by mail? Could they already have done so? Donald Trump and Republicans have been holding up House measures to secure registration and voting systems, and this may land squarely at the feet of Donald Trump's ineptitude to protect the systems from the beginning. But I am reasonably confident that if the FBI had access of tampering with voter data beyond access, Wray would tell us.

If, on the other hand, there are groups passing this information onto malicious state actors, who are they? The only thing we do know is that US law enforcement and intelligence has connected multiple pro-Trump American figures to Russia.

But the most important part of today's conference was Wray's assurance that Americans' votes "will count." He is clearly stating that even though Donald Trump - and his lapdog DNI - have done their best to invite and promote chaos, including by foreign actors - federal law enforcement works for the American people, not the partisan interests of the president. Implicit in that is also a promise that law enforcement will not allow Donald Trump to retain a residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in defiance of election results should he lose.

Moral of the story: Keep voting, keep your eyes open, and keep the number to your local FBI field office handy.

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