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State Department offers up to $10M reward for info on foreign election interference

The State Department is offering up to $10 million to those who provide information on foreign interference in U.S. elections, officials announced on Thursday.

The Rewards for Justice program aims to gather information that leads to the identification or location of any foreign person or entity “who knowingly engaged or is engaging in foreign election interference,” department officials wrote in a statement. Information that hinders foreign election interference will also be accepted.

“This conduct includes covert, fraudulent, deceptive, or unlawful acts … undertaken with the specific intent to influence voters, undermine public confidence in election processes or institutions,” officials said, adding that the acts must violate federal criminal, voting rights or campaign law.

The most recent and high-profile instance of foreign election interference occurred in 2016, when the Russian government interfered with the presidential election with the goal of helping Donald Trump defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. For years, Trump characterized claims of Russian influence as a “hoax,” but a 158-page bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report found that the Kremlin strongly favored the Republican candidate.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump infamously told a room of reporters in 2016, referring to a private server Clinton had used when she was secretary of State in the Obama administration. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

In a 448-page report, special counsel Robert Mueller found that the Russian government interfered in the election in “sweeping and systemic fashion,” compromising Democrats’ computer networks and targeting state and local election offices.

Foreign election interference today is often thought of as disinformation campaigns online, electronic vote tampering and malicious cyber activity, but instances of foreign misconduct stretch back many decades.

In 1968, the first documented case of foreign election interference happened during Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign against his Democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. In an attempt to tarnish the Democratic administration’s image, Nixon coordinated with the South Vietnamese government to avoid peace negotiations with President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President Humphrey. The Johnson administration knew about the plot but couldn’t tie Nixon to the arrangements, causing the interference to remain private until years later.

About a decade later, another case on foreign election interference occurred involving Iran. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter found himself in a bind when 63 American diplomats and servicemen were held hostage by students who stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Republican candidate Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager was rumored to have colluded with the Iranians to delay the hostage release until the election was over, since an earlier successful release of hostages might sway the election favorably for Carter. Soon after Reagan was sworn into office, the American hostages were released and flown back from Tehran.

Since its beginning in 1984, the Rewards for Justice program, which is administered by the Diplomatic Security Service, has provided more than $250 million to more than 125 people in an effort to resolve national security threats, officials said.