Iran To Step Up Cyber-Attacks on US Officials

Iranian regime hackers have reportedly been targeting US officials involved in formulating American policy toward Tehran.

The cyber warfare unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an Iranian military force separate from the main and close to the regime’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has engaged in a “flurry” of hacking efforts against the email and social-media accounts of senior officials in the Obama administration, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

That surge has included policymakers at the US State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and Bureau of Iranian Affairs, the report said, citing unnamed American officials. Academics and journalists linked to Iranian issues were also targeted.

The timing of the hacks may be linked to the October arrest in Iran of the Iranian-American dual citizen Siamak Namazi, an advocate of normalization, and to a broader battle analysts believe is taking place within the Iranian regime over fears by hardliners close to Khamenei that the nuclear deal reached with world powers in July could herald liberalization and a warming of ties with the West.

“US officials were among many who were targeted by recent cyber-attacks,” an administration official was cited by the Journal as saying. While any link to the Namazi arrest was still under investigation, “US officials believe some of the more recent attacks may be linked to reports of detained dual citizens and others,” the official said.

Namazi is the latest American or dual-citizen American-Iranian to be held by Iran on charges of espionage that Western governments have viewed as fraudulent claims meant to justify security crackdowns against advocates of normalization.

Last month, an Iranian court convicted Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian of espionage over accusations that he was a key figure in a powerful, shadowy American spy operation in the Islamic Republic. US officials and the Washington Post have vehemently denied the accusation and slammed Rezaian’s trial as unjust.

Reacting to the Journal report, a senior administration official told Reuters that “we’re aware of certain reports involving Iran. While I don’t have a comment on the specific reports, we are aware that hackers in Iran and elsewhere often use cyber-attacks to gain information or make connections with targets of interest.”

Namazi’s arrest, together with that of a Lebanese citizen living in the US led to calls from members of Congress critical of Tehran to impose new sanctions on the IRGC, seen as the leading actor in the crackdown on Americans.

“Iran’s threatening behavior will worsen if the administration does not work with Congress to enact stronger measures to push back, including…targeted pressure against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” the Journal quoted Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) as saying.

Khamenei and other senior officials have warned that the regime’s longstanding hostility to the United States, which officials still refer to in public speeches as the “Great Satan,” among other epithets, would continue. Khamenei has explicitly cited the nuclear deal reached with six world powers in July and intended to curb the regime’s nuclear program, in exchange for massive easing of international sanctions, as an attempt by the West to weaken his regime. He has recently banned the import of American consumer goods or bilateral talks with the US in the wake of the deal.

An Iranian spokesperson at the nation’s UN mission dismissed the allegations of cyber-attacks, saying his country has been falsely accused of such conduct in the past and that “Iran itself was [the] target of many cyber-attacks.”

1 reply
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is behind a recent wave of cyberattacks on email and social media accounts of White House personnel that are believed to be connected to the arrest of an Iranian-American businessman last month, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.

    Siamak Namazi, 40, a Dubai-based businessman who has spent most of his life advocating improved ties between the U.S. and Iran, was arrested in October as he was visiting relatives in Tehran. His detention came after an Internet freedom group said a Washington-based Lebanese citizen, Nizar Zakka, disappeared while on a trip to Tehran in September.

    Officials told The Journal Obama administration personnel are among a large group of people who have had their computers hacked in recent weeks, including journalists and academics. Some of the officials hacked include those employees of the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs and its Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

    “U.S. officials were among many who were targeted by recent cyberattacks,” an administration official told the newspaper, adding the U.S. is still investigating possible connections to the Namazi case. “U.S. officials believe some of the more recent attacks may be linked to reports of detained dual citizens and others.”

    Though President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry had hoped the recent nuclear deal would further cooperation between the two nations, the cyberattacks from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the arrest of Namazi and Zakka’s disappearance have signaled that Iranian hardliners have not toned down their hostile rhetoric toward Washington.

    The IRGC has developed a team of hackers, trained by Russia, to focus on different Wall Street banks and Saudi oil companies, U.S. officials say, adding that Iran’s cyberattacks have regularly been a test of U.S. defenses.

    “Iran’s threatening behavior will worsen if the administration does not work with Congress to enact stronger measures to pushing back, including … targeted pressure against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said Friday.

    A spokesman at Iran’s United Nationals mission in New York downplayed the attacks, saying Tehran has been falsely accused of committed cybercrimes. However, Namazi supporters fears Iran is working to build an espionage case against him.

    Namazi has also been accused of being an apologist for the regime, but apparently had a falling out with hardliners in the Revolutionary Guard who have long been suspicious of him.

    The Journal reports the IRGC has repeatedly hacked other Iranian-Americans and people tied to them, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, family members say. During the days surrounding Rezaian, Iran’s security forces gained access to his social media accounts and tried to use them to connect him to their investigation.

    Rezaian was convicted of espionage in an Iranian court last month. No sentence has been announced.

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