by Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
. . .And the Obama administration's view of Iran as a loyal partner in peace.
As the Obama administration continues to trust the Islamic Republic and project it as a rational state actor or constructive regional player, Iranian ruling clerics are devising other plans for the United States.
After the nuclear deal was reached, Iran launched a series of unprecedented and sophisticated cyber attacks against State Department officials. Iranian hackers, who are linked to the government, gained access to some of the State Department officials’ emails and social media accounts.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, has the capabilities to conduct such espionage acts of cyberwarfare against the American government.
The Islamic republic’s military is aware of top secret confidential information, particularly information that is related to US foreign policy towards the Middle East and Iran. Some of the officials who have been targeted are those who inform US policies towards Iran.
As one senior American official told the New York Times, “It was very carefully designed and showed the degree to which they understood which of our staff was working on Iran issues now that the nuclear deal is done.”
The Islamic Republic is now joining Russia, China, and North Korea in orchestrating new ways to endanger US national security as well as inflicting billions of dollars in damages. Previously, Iran inflicted damages by infiltrating the system of other governmental institutions and gaining access to state’s secrets. According to a new report by a leading Israeli cyber security firm, ClearSky Cyber Security, the Islamic Republic has stepped up its cyber attacks and hacked into several governments including Israel.
Intriguingly, State Department officials were not even aware of the Iranian hackers' access to their accounts till Facebook informed them through the message, “We believe your Facebook account and your other online accounts may be the target of attacks by state-sponsored actors.”
Nevertheless, Iran’s cyber attacks and cyber espionage seem to be slanted in a much more immoral direction than those of Russia and China. For example, the hacks have focused on communicating with third parties through the victims accounts and by “using the social media accounts of young government employees to gain access to their friends across the administration.”
Iranian leaders are attempting to inflict destructive measures on the US through methods that are less likely to prompt a military response from Washington. As James Lewis, Director of the cyber program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, pointed out, “they [Iranians] are getting far more aggressive in cyber espionage, which they know is less likely to prompt a response from the United States.”
So, what has been the proportionate response from the White House? The Obama administration is ignoring such attacks and Secretary State John Kerry continues to argue that there is going to be hopefully more cooperation between the Islamic Republic and the US.
Normally, these kinds of cyber attacks and espionage trigger sanctions against the country which conducted them. But the administration continues to emphasize that the nuclear agreement will stay intact and sanctions will be lifted regardless of Iran’s actions. The administration will free up billions of dollars to the Iranian government as a result of this deal. This will undoubtedly further empower and embolden the Iranian military to increasingly damage US national security.
The Iranian hackers are often trained by the Russian government. As part of his charm offensive towards Tehran’s anti-Americanism, Putin met with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, this week, and gave him a copy of an old handwritten Quran. Coincidentally, Moscow lifted the ban on tech export to Iran on the same day that Putin arrived in Iran. Moscow and Tehran are drawing into a closer relationship due to their mutual rivalry with the United States. Iran’s hardline media outlets, including Keyhan’s newspaper, raved about Russia-Iran intensified cooperation. In addition, Putin announced that Russia is ready to provide a $5 billion state loan to Tehran and increase trade in several areas, including energy and railway electrification. But, more fundamentally, Russia and Iran are ratcheting up arms and nuclear sales. As Putin announced, his country will resume exporting nuclear technology to Iran, modernizing the heavy water reactor in Arak, and will support Tehran in exchanging additional and highly enriched uranium.
Congress needs to pass a bill which will put pressure on Iranian governmental institutions (including IRGC) that are engaged in such attacks. Otherwise, we are sending a message to the ruling clerics that the US leadership is weak and will not respond to any aggression by Iran.
It remains to be seen when the Obama administration will take the necessary measures against the Islamic Republic and refrain from viewing the ruling Islamist clerics as trustful partners.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a former senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington, DC and is a member of the Gulf Project at Columbia University. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu. Follow Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.
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