The U.S. Department of Justice has seized 92 websites that are said to have been used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to spread false information. Four of the domain names – Newsstand7.com, usjournal.net, usjournal.us and twtoday.net – are disguised as real news organizations based in the United States, which the Justice Department has determined are controlled by the Iranian Guards. According to documents released Wednesday, the sites appear to target Americans for Iranian propaganda about U.S. domestic and foreign policy.
According to the Justice Department’s statement, the other 88 domain names are aimed at audiences in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, while also claiming to be genuine local news sites that actually operate to spread pro-Iranian false information. Google, Facebook inc. and Twitter Inc. helped the FBI investigate. Threat researchers at FireEye Inc.’s Mandiant division also discovered the seized domain names in 2018. At the time, according to Mandiant, the Iranian Guard’s business was peddling anti-Saudi, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian themes, while also promoting specific U.S. policies deemed favorable to Iran, including the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.
All of these seized domain names are owned and operated by U.S. companies. The seizure was carried out under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the President of the United States broad powers to regulate financial transactions in a state of emergency. In 1979, President Carter used the same tool to freeze Iran’s financial assets in the United States during the hostage crisis.
The Justice Department says the IRGC’s use of these domain names violates the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires foreign agents in the United States to publicly declare their identities so that the U.S. government and its residents can understand the sources of information and the identities of those who “attempt to influence U.S. public opinion, policies, and laws.” It added that these domain names for Americans were never registered under FARA.