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Feds brief lawmakers on foreign election interference efforts in Florida

By Ana Ceballos and Alex Daugherty, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Ratcliffe has attributed the emails to Iran, though a spokesperson for Iran's mission to the United Nation has denied Tehran's involvement. The spoofed emails were "designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump," Ratcliffe said.

The assertion immediately raised suspicions among Democrats, who criticized Ratcliffe for politicizing the intelligence community to "carry water for the president." POLITICO reported this week that Ratcliffe went off script when he alleged the intimidating emails were meant to damage the president's reelection bid.

Soto and Murphy were not asked and did not comment on Ratcliffe's claims during the news conference Friday.

This election year, Florida lawmakers have also been concerned about Spanish-speaking residents in Florida being exposed to a barrage of deceptive claims and disinformation in social media and private messaging groups in WhatsApp.

Mucarsel-Powell, a Miami Democrat who attended Friday's briefing, last month asked the FBI for a briefing on what she described as a "surge in posts containing false or misleading information on social media." The FBI turned down her request for a briefing, telling her in an Oct. 15 letter that it was "not in a position to provide a briefing at this time."

The FBI, however, noted in the letter that "foreign actors and cyber criminals have been and continue to spread false and inconsistent information through various online platforms in an attempt to manipulate public opinion, discredit the electoral process, and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions."

"As in 2016 and 2018, we know that these adversaries are actively trying to influence electoral processes and outcomes of the 2020 election," the FBI wrote in the letter.

At the press conference on Friday, Soto said he believes the country is better prepared to handle foreign interference efforts than it was four years ago.

He pointed to social media companies taking a stricter approach to political advertisements, federal law enforcement getting better at identifying threats and communicating the problem to the public, and media outlets getting better at sniffing out "propaganda efforts of foreign nations."

 

"I think in all those four areas, America has learned and we have great confidence in our election security and the knowledge of the public," Soto said.

In 2016, none of Florida's federal elected officials were able to disclose which two counties saw their election systems penetrated by a Russian spear-phishing attack, and were angry that the FBI withheld the information when Florida voters were the victims.

Then, in 2019, Sen. Rick Scott and Florida's 27 House members received classified briefings from the FBI. The FBI did not allow lawmakers to say which two counties were breached, and were unable to provide lawmakers with the names of other Florida counties that were victims of attempted but unsuccessful breaches, even in a classified setting.

The names of the counties, St. Lucie and Washington, were eventually made public in media reports.

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(Ceballos reported from the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Bureau in Tallahassee, and Daugherty reported from the McClatchy Bureau in Washington, D.C.)

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