US seizes another crop of Iranian propaganda domains masked as news outlets

Another 23 domains were seized by the US government.

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Image: Department of Justice

The United States announced on Wednesday it has seized 27 domains that were used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to spread global covert influence campaigns.

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.

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