Iran has ramped up its capacity to engage in cyber warfare with the creation of a new Supreme Council of Cyberspace and a 120,000-strong ‘cyber army’ trained by the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Iran hasn’t been shy about its bids to monitor, filter and block content on the Internet,” Farnaz Fassihi writes. “Now it has taken the next leap, turning online censorship into an institution …launching what amounts to a centralized command structure for online censorship.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called today for respect for human rights and freedom of expression in Iran, in a statement to mark Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
“The people of the United States join you in welcoming the opportunities of this New Year and the possibilities for strengthening ties of family and friends,” she said. “And as we face new challenges, we remain committed to our support for universal human rights and the freedom of expression — rights that promote peace and progress.”
But the IRGC’s PR unit announced that it had recruited 120,000 ”cultural soldiers in the past three years to combat ‘a soft cyber war’ against Iran,” Fassihi notes:
The IRGC’s new network—named Basir, or “Perceptive”—is a domestically built, secure telecommunication channel that will allow its highest-level officers to communicate and command brigades in the case of an attack…These “cybersoldiers” monitor online activity of opposition sites and dissidents, bombarding websites with comments and producing blog content in support of the regime and hacking emails and computers, according to a computer programmer in Iran employed by the telecommunication ministry. They report to various state bodies, including intelligence, judiciary and the IRGC, which in turn have top officials sitting on the new council.
“These strong measures to confront the Internet recently prove two things: the Internet has been an extremely effective way of distributing information and the regime is frightened by it,” said Ali Jamshidi, a telecommunications expert with the opposition Green Movement.
“The main priority of the country is to confront [the enemy's] soft warfare which is aimed at creating doubt, discord and pessimism among the masses of the people,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the Basij militia.
The regime has published a ‘blacklist’ of 60 organizations allegedly conducting soft war against the Islamic Republic, including the National Endowment for Democracy, National Democratic Institute, and International Republican Institute, along with human rights monitors, the Brookings Institution think tank and media outlets such as the BBC and Voice of America.
Iran was the worst violator of Internet freedom in 2012, according to Reporters Without Borders. The Islamic Republic was more restrictive that 11 other states—including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, China and Belarus—that impede Internet access, censor content and imprison cyberactivists.
Reporters Without Borders is one of the signatories to a letter released today by human rights and civil society groups calling on the UN Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The regime is intensifying its attacks on its critics abroad as well as at home, writes Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, a former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada.
“There is increasing – and compelling – evidence of Iranian footprints in a series of recent aborted terrorist attacks in India, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Thailand,“ he notes. “The Revolutionary Guard Corps has been at the forefront of a long-standing global campaign of terror against perceived opponents of the regime.”
The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center has linked senior regime officials to the extrajudicial murder of at least 162 political activists in 18 countries from East Asia through Western Europe to the United States. In a particularly brazen incident, Iranian agents assassinated four Kurdish activists at a Berlin restaurant in 1992. A Berlin court concluded that “Iran’s political leadership ordered the crime.” By its ongoing and escalating state-sponsored terror on foreign soil, Iran is in standing violation of every cannon of domestic and international law.
“The spate of violence is particularly worrying given the recent and incendiary pronouncements by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, to the effect that Israel is a “cancerous tumor” that must be eradicated, and will be eradicated,” writes Cotler, the Canadian representative on the International Parliamentary Coalition Against Terrorism.
*Signatories included the African Center for Human Rights and Democracy, the African Democracy Forum, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the International Federation for Human Rights, United4Iran and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network.
Several of the signatories are grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.