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US Reports Seizing 92 Internet Domains Used By Iranian Revolutionary Guard For Disinformation

October 28th, 2020 12:48

The US Depart­ment of Jus­tice announced ear­li­er this month that it had seized 92 inter­net domains used by Iran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard as part of a glob­al dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign. Accord­ing to the USDOJ press release:

Octo­ber 7, 2020 The Unit­ed States has seized 92 domain names that were unlaw­ful­ly used by Iran’s Islam­ic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps (IRGC) to engage in a glob­al dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign, announced the Depart­ment of Jus­tice. Accord­ing to the seizure doc­u­ments, four of the domains pur­port­ed to be gen­uine news out­lets but were actu­al­ly con­trolled by the IRGC and tar­get­ed the Unit­ed States for the spread of Iran­ian pro­pa­gan­da to influ­ence Unit­ed States domes­tic and for­eign pol­i­cy in vio­la­tion of the For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act (FARA), and the remain­der spread Iran­ian pro­pa­gan­da to oth­er parts of the world.  In addi­tion, the seizure doc­u­ments describe how all 92 domains were being used in vio­la­tion of U.S. sanc­tions tar­get­ing both the Gov­ern­ment of Iran and the IRGC.

The press release iden­ti­fied the four domain names seized pur­suant to FARA as “newsstand7.com,” “usjournal.net,” “usjournal.us,” and “twtoday.net. Accord­ing to an IT news site report, these four domains were direct­ed at an Amer­i­can audi­ence, while the oth­er 88 tar­get­ed audi­ences in Europe, the Mid­dle East, and South­east Asia. Accord­ing to the report, the domains all mas­quer­ad­ed as news out­lets and media orga­ni­za­tions while one of the domains, newsstand7.com, used the slo­gan “Aware­ness Made Amer­i­ca Great” and pub­lished arti­cles relat­ing to US Pres­i­dent Trump, the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, US unem­ploy­ment, COVID-19, and police bru­tal­i­ty, among oth­er top­ics. An archived cap­ture of one of the address­es used by the “US Jour­nal” reveals it was try­ing to por­tray itself as a left-lean­ing, pro­gres­sive out­let. The site’s ‘About US’ sec­tion claimed:

US Jour­nal is a gen­uine­ly inde­pen­dent online media out­let ded­i­cat­ed to strength­en­ing and sup­port­ing inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism, and to improv­ing the public’s access to inde­pen­dent infor­ma­tion sources…USJ aim is to inspire action and advo­ca­cy on the human rights, social jus­tice, media, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and reli­gion, equal­i­ty and peace and more. We pub­lish a diverse mix of break­ing news, insight­ful views, videos and press releas­es cov­er­ing issues that res­onate with pro­gres­sives in every cor­ner of the globe. We works dili­gent­ly to uncov­er and pub­lish hon­est, inde­pen­dent news and infor­ma­tion that you can rely on.

Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) report­ing on Iran­ian efforts to inter­fere in the US elec­tions has included:

  • A report on Microsoft-detect­ed cyber-attacks involv­ing an Iran­ian group iden­ti­fied as “Phos­pho­rus.”
  • A report on crim­i­nal charges raised against Iran­ian hack­ers includ­ing van­dal­ism of US websites.
  • A report on the lat­est DHS Home­land Threat Assess­ment that failed to iden­ti­fy Iran­ian efforts direct­ed at the elections.
  • A report that nation­al secu­ri­ty offi­cials have accused Iran of try­ing to inter­fere with the upcom­ing US elec­tions by send­ing vot­ers fake emails intend­ed to look like they had been sent by the Proud Boys, a far-right, pro-Trump group.

Accord­ing to a BBC pro­file, the Islam­ic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps (IRGC) was set up short­ly after the 1979 Iran­ian rev­o­lu­tion to defend the coun­try’s Islam­ic sys­tem and to pro­vide a coun­ter­weight to the reg­u­lar armed forces. In April 2019, the U.S. State Depart­ment announced its inten­tion to des­ig­nate the IRGC in its entire­ty as a For­eign Ter­ror­ist Orga­ni­za­tion (FTO). In May 2020, Brig. Gen. Moham­mad Hejazi was appoint­ed the new IRGC’s Quds Force deputy com­man­der after its for­mer head Gen­er­al Qassem Soleimani had been killed in a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad’s inter­na­tion­al air­port. Since its foun­da­tion, the IRGC has become a major mil­i­tary, polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic force in Iran. Reuters opined in 2019 that the IRGC, com­pris­ing an esti­mat­ed 125,000-strong mil­i­tary with army, navy, and air units, is more than a mil­i­tary force. “It is also an indus­tri­al empire with polit­i­cal clout and is loy­al to the supreme leader”.