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US Department of Justice takes down rogue domain names

Seized Domains
(Image credit: US Department of Justice)

The US Department of Justice has announced that the United States has seized 92 domain names that were unlawfully used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to engage in a global disinformation campaign.

According to the seizure documents, four of the domains alleged to be genuine news outlets but were in fact controlled by the IRGC and used to influence US domestic and foreign policy in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The remaining 88 domains were used to spread propaganda from Iran to the rest of the world.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security, John C. Demers explained in a press release how the US is actively fighting fake news and disinformation campaigns, saying:

“We will continue to use all of our tools to stop the Iranian Government from misusing U.S. companies and social media to spread propaganda covertly, to attempt to influence the American public secretly, and to sow discord. Fake news organizations have become a new outlet for disinformation spread by authoritarian countries as they continue to try to undermine our democracy.  Today’s actions show that we can use a variety of laws to vindicate the value of transparency.”   

Rogue domains

Of the 92 domain names, four of them (newsstand7[.]com, usjournal[.]net, usjournal[.]us and twtoday[.]net) were seized in accordance with FARA. The act establishes a registration, reporting and disclosure regime for foreign journalists so that the US government and its citizens are informed regarding the source of information and the identity of people trying to influence the country's public opinion, policy and law.

While these four domains targeted the US, the remaining 88 targeted audiences in Western Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. The masqueraded as genuine news outlets while actually being operated by the IRGC to spread pro-Iranian disinformation.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Bennet noted how the US government worked alongside the country's tech giants in its investigation, saying:

“Today, we successfully seized 92 domains involved in a disinformation campaign conducted by Iran-based actors to promote pro-Iranian propaganda.  This investigation, initiated by intelligence we received from Google, was a collaborative effort between the FBI and social media companies Google, Facebook, and Twitter. This case is a perfect example of why the FBI San Francisco Division prioritizes maintaining an ongoing relationship with a variety of social media and technology companies.  These relationships enable a quick exchange of information to better protect against threats to the nation’s security and our democratic processes.”