The US Treasury Department has reported designating five Iranian entities, said to have been involved in the Iranian regime’s attempts to influence the forthcoming US elections. According to the press release:
October 22, 2020 Today, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated five Iranian entities for attempting to influence elections in the United States. The Iranian regime has targeted the United States’ electoral process with brazen attempts to sow discord among the voting populace by spreading disinformation online and executing malign influence operations aimed at misleading U.S. voters. Components of the Government of Iran, disguised as news organizations or media outlets, have targeted the United States in order to subvert U.S. democratic processes…The Iranian regime’s disinformation efforts have targeted a global audience through a variety of covert media organizations. Disinformation campaigns run by the Iranian regime focus on sowing discord among readers via social media platforms and messaging applications, and frequently involve mischaracterizing information.
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The five designated entities are
- The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – 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”.
- The IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) – Also known as the IRGC-Quds Force, it is one of five branches of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which specializes in unconventional warfare and military intelligence operations. It was once described by the US Army’s Iraq War General Stanley McChrystal as “an organization roughly analogous to a combination of the CIA and JSOC in the United States”. Qassem Suleimani, a senior IRGC figure who also served as the IRGC-QF’s commander was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq in January 2020. He was replaced by Esmail Ghaani, who has been sanctioned by US’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as a Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list (“SDN List”)
- Bayan Rasaneh Gostar Institute (Bayan Gostar) – said in the US Treasury’s press release to have been serving as a ‘front company’ for IRGC-QF propaganda efforts since at least 2015. The press release adds that towards the US elections, its personnel have planned to influence the election by exploiting social issues within the United States, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and denigrating U.S. political figures. As recently as summer 2020, Bayan Gostar was prepared to execute a series of influence operations directed at the U.S. populace ahead of the presidential election.
- The Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) – which on its website says it was established in 2007 in order to “create a strong and cohesive Islamic media bloc based on the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and for the purpose of confronting false and malicious propaganda of enemies of Islam and dissemination of accurate and comprehensive information.” IRTVU says that its main purpose is to use media to defend the “sanctities and interests of Islamic Ummah and support the rights and fair demands of Islamic communities and countries and share productions and experiences amongst the members”. IRTVU describes itself as “the largest Media Union in terms of membership, geographical coverage, religious, political and linguistic diversity, and membership of radios, televisions, media institutions and news agencies”, having more than 210 members from 35 countries and five continents.
- International Union of Virtual Media (IUVM) – which according to a 2018 Reuters report was part of a network that included anonymous websites and social media accounts in 11 different languages targeting internet users worldwide, as part of a wide apparent Iranian influence operation. Several social media platforms such as Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc, the parent company of Google, reportedly shut down some accounts and sites related to this group back in 2018.
Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) reporting on Iranian efforts to interfere in the US elections has also 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.
- A report earlier today that the US Department of Justice had seized 92 internet domains said to be used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as part of a global disinformation campaign.