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DOJ, FBI collaborate with Google, Facebook, and Twitter to make the seizures
Wednesday’s announcement followed the seizure of 92 domains in October that the DOJ also claimed were operated by Iran. The DOJ purports that the domains were being used to spread “Iranian propaganda” and “disinformation.”
The DOJ and the FBI work with US tech companies to make these seizures. “Thanks to our ongoing collaboration with Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the FBI was able to disrupt this Iranian propaganda campaign and we will continue to pursue any attempts by foreign actors to spread disinformation in our country,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair said in a statement.
Among the domains seized on Wednesday were four news websites the DOJ seized under the guise of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The claim against the websites is that they targeted US audiences without disclosing ties to a foreign government.
“Here, the four domains purported to be independent news outlets, but they were actually operated by or on behalf of the IRGC to target the United States with pro-Iranian propaganda in an attempt to covertly influence the American people to change United States policy concerning Iran and the Middle East,” the DOJ said.
One of the news sites taken down was the American Herald Tribune (AHT), a website whose editor in chief, Anthony Hall, is based in Canada. It’s not clear how the US government decided that AHT or the other websites are affiliated with Iran.
Investigative journalist Gareth Porter wrote about social media censorship AHT has faced. Porter’s report says the FBI encouraged Facebook, Instagram, and Google to remove or restrict ads on AHT. In 2018, AHT’s Facebook page was deleted, and the outlets account on Facebook-run Instagram was also removed.
In January of this year, CNN published a story that claimed AHT was founded in Iran. CNN quoted an unnamed official from the cyber-security firm FireEye. According to Porter, FireEye boasts that it has contracts with “nearly every department in the United States government.”
The official told CNN that FireEye had “assessed” with “moderate confidence” that the AHT’s website was founded in Iran and was “part of a larger influence operation.” The term “moderate confidence” comes from US intelligence agencies and means there is plenty of room for doubt.
AHT published authors with dissenting views, who often criticized US foreign policy towards Iran. If the DOJ uses shaky assessments like the one from FireEye to take these sites down, it sets a dangerous precedent for independent media outlets.
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US seizes another crop of Iranian propaganda domains masked as news outlets
Another 23 domains were seized by the US government.
According to the Department of Justice (DoJ), four of the 27 domain names -- "rpfront.com", "ahtribune.com", "awdnews.com", and "criticalstudies.org" -- were seized as they breached the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires website holders to submit periodic registration statements containing truthful information about their activities and the income earned from them.
The four domains purported to be genuine news outlets, but they were controlled by the IRGC and targeted audiences in the United States with pro-Iranian propaganda, the department said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the remaining 23 domains were seized as they targeted audiences in other parts of the world, the department added.
The domains were identified by the DoJ through ongoing collaboration with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
This follows an earlier crop of similar seizures made by the DoJ last month. For that earlier crop, the DoJ shut down 92 domains that were also used by the IRGC for disinformation campaigns.
"Within the last month we have announced seizures of Iran's weapons, fuel, and covert influence infrastructure," said John Demers, assistant attorney general for National Security.
"As long as Iran's leaders are trying to destabilise the world through the state-sponsorship of terrorism and the taking of hostages, we will continue to enforce US sanctions and take other legal steps to counter them."
In the past two months, the United States has made concerted efforts to publicly disclose Iranian foreign interference. In late October, the US Treasury department issued sanctions against five Iranian entities for allegedly attempting to influence the 2020 presidential elections. The five entities were allegedly controlled by the Iranian government and disguised themselves as news organisations or media outlets.
On the same day of the sanctions being issued, high-ranking government officials accused Iran of being behind a wave of spoofed emails that were sent to US voters. Spoofing the identity of violent extremist group Proud Boys, the emails threatened registered Democrat voters with repercussions if they didn't vote for Donald Trump in the upcoming US presidential election.
Meanwhile, Twitter said at the start of October that it removed around 130 Iranian Twitter accounts as they attempted to disrupt the public conversation following the first presidential debate.
Twitter said it learned of the accounts following a tip from the FBI.
"We identified these accounts quickly, removed them from Twitter, and shared full details with our peers, as standard," the social network said at the time.
^5000The mainstream imperialist media lie CONSTANTLY. Literally 24/7. And it's getting worse.
All of them do it: radio, tv, the newspapers, the movies. The internet. No exceptions.
The corporate Big Lie is pervasive and totalitarian. CBS does it. NBC does it. ABC does it.
CNN does it. FOX does it. NPR does it. And of course the NYTimes and WaPo do it.
Thousands of "diverse" voices telling you the same lies. Enough to convince anyone.
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