Nov. 4 (UPI) — Federal authorities on Wednesday announced they have seized 27 websites posing as news organizations linked to Iran as part of its efforts to thwart Tehran’s spread of disinformation within the United States and abroad.
Four of the websites seized targeted Americans in an attempt to influence U.S public opinion and policy, the Justice Department said in a release, adding the remaining websites targeted audiences throughout the world to further Iran’s disinformation campaign.
The seizure is part of the Justice Department’s efforts to prevent Iran from interfering in its democracy and follows federal authorities taking hold of 92 domains last month.
The Justice Department said the websites either violated U.S. sanctions targeting the Iranian government and the IRGC or the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which oversees the activities of people and entities working for foreign countries. The four websites, prosecutors said, violated the FARA by not disclosing it was being operated on behalf of the IRGC to target the United States with pro-Iranian propaganda to influence Americans concerning Middle Eastern policy.
“This work will continue,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David Anderson said in a statement. “We cannot allow Iran’s attachment to fake news to overtake our commitment to the rule of law.”
According to the Justice Department’s affidavit to support the seizures, the websites posing as news organizations prompted messaging against President Donald Trump and the U.S. withdrawal from an Obama-era nuclear accord with Tehran as well as anti-Israeli narratives and the condemnation of Iranian adversary Saudi Arabia.
“The anti-U.S., anti-Saudi and anti-Israeli material being promoted is in line with Iranian foreign policy and similar to previously identified Iranian covert influence campaigns,” the document said. “Also consistent with known Iranian covert influence campaigns, the network accomplishes Iranian propaganda objectives by manipulating U.S. public discourse and sowing discord in the American people through use of U.S. social media platforms and inauthentic news media outlets.”
The affidavit said Iran produced the fake news media imitating legitimate news sources and posted to websites that are prominent in search results for authentic news media.
The breadth and sophistication of the network of websites is widespread, orchestrated and coordinated, potentially includes thousands of inauthentic domains and social media accounts used to promote Iran’s propaganda, it said.
“The FBI has identified well over 1,000 domains, email accounts and social media accounts from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and the FBI believes that many more exist,” the document said.
Late last month, U.S. intelligence blamed Iran for having obtained voter information ahead of the U.S. presidential election and having spoofed emails sent to voters in order to intimidate and incite unrest.