(October 7, 2020 / JNS) The FBI has seized 92 domain names unlawfully used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to engage in a global disinformation campaign, announced the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday.
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 pro-Iranian propaganda to influence U.S. domestic and foreign policy in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The remainder spread Iranian propaganda to other parts of the world, according to the seizure documents.
FARA requires those lobbying on behalf of a foreign government to register with the DOJ.
That law requires, among other things, that persons subject to its requirements submit periodic registration statements containing truthful information about their activities and the income earned from them. Disclosure of the required information allows the federal government and American people to evaluate the statements and activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents.
Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), unauthorized exports of goods, technology or services to Iran—directly or indirectly from the United States or by an American—are prohibited.
The seizure documents describe how all 92 domains were being used in violation of U.S. sanctions targeting both the Iranian government and the IRGC.
“We will continue to use all of our tools to stop the Iranian government from misusing U.S. companies and social media to spread propaganda covertly, to attempt to influence the American public secretly and to sow discord,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. “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.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge John Bennett said “this investigation, initiated by intelligence we received from Google, was a collaborative effort between the FBI and social-media companies Google, Facebook and Twitter.”
According to the DOJ, four of the domain names—“newsstand7.com,” “usjournal.net,” “usjournal.us” and “twtoday.net”—were seized pursuant to FARA.
The remaining 88 domains targeted audiences in Western Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
The Iranian government and IRGC used website and domain services in the United States without a license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. All 92 domains are owned and operated by United States companies, according to the DOJ. Neither the IRGC nor the Iranian government obtained a license from the OFAC prior to utilizing the domain names.
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