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”.