State Department pings cell phones in Russia and Iran, hoping to root out election meddling

Investigations have shown Russia attempted to disrupt the 2016 elections

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A voter in Tuesday's primary in Washington
A voter in Tuesday's primary in Washington, D.C.
(Drew Angerer/Getty)
Updated: August 7, 2020 - 11:05am

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The U.S. government on Thursday sent text messages to cellphones across Russia and Iran, alerting users about a new State Department rewards program of up to $10 million for information about foreign entities attempting to interfere with the U.S. election. 

The effort is the latest in Trump administration's attempt to root out 2020 election meddling and show that it takes the threat of foreign interference seriously. Investigations have shown Russia attempted to disrupt the 2016 elections. 

Some Russians and Iranians joked that for $10 million they would be willing to tell the United States government anything it wanted to hear, or stage a hack and provide information about it to collect on the government's offer.

Others thought the effort was merely ungraceful and irritating, "By calling on people to talk for money about interference in American elections, the American special services are unceremoniously interfering in our life," wrote spokeswoman for the Russian government Maria Zakharova, according to the New York Times.

It was not clear what technology the government used to disseminate the messages, or how many messages were sent, but ultimately, the popularity of the effort among recipients is of little consequence, so long as it yields a meaningful handful of individuals with salient information.

This initiative by the U.S. government comes on the heels of a State Department report detailing Russian efforts to spread misinformation and confusion surrounding the novel coronavirus and global pandemic. 

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