U.S. Prosecutors Seize 92 Websites Used by Iran to Spread Propaganda

Participant hold their laptops in front of an illuminated wall at the annual Chaos Computer Club (CCC) computer hackers' congress, called 29C3, on December 28, 2012 in Hamburg, Germany. The 29th Chaos Communication Congress (29C3) attracts hundreds of participants worldwide annually to engage in workshops and lectures discussing the role …
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The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) announced on Wednesday it has “seized 92 domain names that were unlawfully used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to engage in a global disinformation campaign.”

DOJ said four of those 92 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).”

IRGC is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the wing of the Iranian military controlled directly by its mullahs and ayatollahs. The U.S. government designated the IRGC a terrorist organization in April 2019.

The Justice Department listed the four domains the IRGC operated in America as newsstand7.com, usjournal.net, usjournal.us, and twtoday.net. All four purported to be “independent news outlets” but were, in truth, controlled by the IRGC or operated on its behalf, and none were registered with the U.S. government as required by FARA.

ZDNet reported on Thursday that the newsstand7.com domain “used the slogan ‘Awareness Made America Great’ and published articles relating to U.S. President [Donald] Trump, the Black Lives Matter movement, US unemployment, [Chinese coronavirus], and police brutality, among other topics.”

The other web domains were employed to “spread Iranian propaganda to other parts of the world.” All of them were allegedly operated in violation of U.S. sanctions against both the Iranian government and the IRGC. None of them obtained the required licenses from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) before using their domain names.

Visitors to all of the seized sites are now greeted by a message stating the domain has been “seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.”

“Fake news organizations have become a new outlet for disinformation spread by authoritarian countries as they continue to try to undermine our democracy. Today’s actions show that we can use a variety of laws to vindicate the value of transparency,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

“Today we are 92 domains closer to shutting down Iran’s worldwide disinformation campaign. This important work will continue.  Iran cannot be allowed to hide behind fake news sites.  If Iran wants to be heard using U.S. facilities, it must reveal its true colors,” added U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David L. Anderson.

The FBI thanked Google, Facebook, and Twitter for assisting with the investigation, launched after Google alerted the FBI to the Iranian network. The FBI’s San Francisco division coordinated its efforts with the California-based tech companies.

Reuters noted on Thursday that its own investigation in 2018 found 70 “pseudo-media outlets” employed to “covertly spread Iranian state propaganda in 15 different countries that were geopolitically significant to Tehran.” This would suggest that either Reuters didn’t find all of the web domains identified by the FBI, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, or the network grew from 70 to at least 92 domains over the ensuing two years.

Reuters asked the Iranian embassy in London to comment on the FBI seizure. The embassy “did not immediately respond.”

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