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Activities of the IRGC to tackle 'soft' threats
Activities of the IRGC to tackle 'soft' threats
Thursday, 20 May 2010
NCRI – The following is an intelligence report on the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) activities to counter threats to the regime. This focuses on the IRGC’s activities to tackle what the regime terms as “soft” threats.
Following the outburst of uprisings over the past year, officials of the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is responsible for domestic suppression of dissent, have been discussing “soft” threats and ways to deal with them. For the IRGC, soft threats imply so-called cultural attacks primarily through the internet and satellite TV. Cyber activities refer to internet communications whereby users are connected to each other through computers, networks, telephones, and satellite, among other things.
The following report will provide an overview of the activities of the IRGC with regards to such threats.
Although the paramilitary Bassij Force has been involved in all security arenas, since early 2008, the dimensions of its involvement broadened and it officially also penetrated the World Wide Web. In May 2008, Mehdi Razavi, the Deputy of the “Office to Enjoin Good and Forbid Vice (OEGFV)” of Khorasan Razavi province Bassij Force said, “Confronting cyber offences, including the internet and computer offenses, has been put on the agenda of the Directorate of OEGFV at Bassij Resistance of the Khorasan Razavi province.”
The Bassij Force initially started its actions by seeking out opposition websites and designating responsible organs to filter the sites and confront their owners. However, its stance gradually shifted from a “cultural” approach to a “confrontational” one.
On November 26, 2008, the state-run Fars news agency published an interview with Hamid-Reza Khaksar, Head of Bassij Public Relations. Khaksar referred to the Bassij Force’s cyber activities, saying, “Today, the enemy has infiltrated our cyber borders which encompass the internet, TV, and other media. The most suitable people for defending these borders are the Bassij forces.” He added, “There have either been no intelligence and operational bases established in these cyber borders or they have been set up late. That is why the enemy can currently do whatever it wants.”
Khaksar described Bassij’s duties in the cyber world as identifying the operational axes and subjects, categorizing the “enemy’s propaganda bases,” updating the intelligence database, monitoring and analyzing activities of the Bassij, and designing the architecture of Bassij intelligence web enterprise.
However, these attempts were not remotely sufficient to cover the entirety of the internet and various political and social activities conducted by Iranian students and dissidents. That is why the IRGC came to the fore at a qualitatively higher level.
The IRGC’s Goals
On November 14, 2009, Gerdab website described the IRGC’s cyber activities as follows: “By penetrating the World Wide Web and bolstered by the technological advances in the country, some destructive individuals and networks began their activities and exploited these advances as well as the internet. Identifying and confronting them required a suitable structure coupled with special technological measures. Realizing this danger, and grasping the threat that the country faces with regards to information and internet advances, serves as one of the reasons for establishing the Center for Investigating Organized Cyber Crimes. This center was established in 2007 in order to investigate and confront organized crimes of terrorism and espionage, as well as social and economic offenses on the internet. By investigating the organized and destructive activities which are primarily carried out by the arrogant powers’ intelligence networks in the country, this center identifies and controls these individuals and networks.”
Although the Center for Investigating Organized Cyber Crimes was set up in 2007, its first statement was issued in March 2009 in order to spread fear among the regime’s opponents, who were carrying out extensive activities on the internet. As has been made clear from the regime’s statements, the IRGC views the effects of the internet on the people and its forces as the main threat. In other words, its measures are focused in two directions:
1. Maintaining security: The nationwide protests in 2009 clearly demonstrated that popular disenchantment is entrenched in Iranian society, and that it will continue while surviving the regime’s suppression. The IRGC’s visible involvement was the result of the fact that the situation spiralled out of the control of the State Security Forces (SSF) and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). Even with the direct involvement of the IRGC, however, the protests continued to take shape at various stages, even advancing as far as breaking apart the regime’s security apparatus. An example of that was the December 2009 uprising on Ashura day.
2. Preventing defections in the IRGC: On the other hand, the IRGC is trying to shield its own personnel from the effects of the internet and satellites as well as the aftershocks of growing popular dissent by launching measures such as the “Purity Program,” which is essentially a cultural measure to teach the principle of velayat-e faqih (absolute clerical rule). In this regard, mullah Ali Saeedi, the Supreme Leader’s representative at the IRGC, announced on April 17, 2010 that the number of ideological and political education sessions for the IRGC’s cadres have tripled. He said, “We must fill the minds of everyone in society and especially the IRGC and Bassij personnel with more ideological teachings and improve their religious outlook. The deepening of spirituality and wisdom which results from ideological and political teachings must be palpable in the IRGC.”
• Even though organizationally the main responsibility of confronting soft threats rests with the Bassij, the reality is that the IRGC has entered the scene with all its might and has created the IRGC Cyber Defence Command Center in addition to the Bassij.
• The Cyber Defence Command Center was set up in 2007 after the appointment of Mohammad-Ali Jafari as the IRGC’s commander-in-chief.
• The Center for Investigating Organized Cyber Crimes is one of the institutions affiliated with the Cyber Defence Command Center. It has launched a website, www.gerdab.ir, where it publishes its activities.
• An individual identified as Mohammad Sadeqi heads the IRGC’s Center for Investigating Organized Cyber Crimes.
• The primary role of this center is to identify, control and attack websites and weblogs run by regime opponents.
• The center operates 24 hours a day to identify political opponents’ activities.
• All of the activities of the Cyber Defence Command Center are completely controlled by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization.
• Statistics about the number of forces used in this area are unclear, but an American military institution called Defence Tech has estimated the number of IRGC cyber forces to be around 2,400 people. These numbers are highly unrealistic especially since the regime’s organs point to the statistics published by the aforementioned website and describe themselves as one of the top 5 cyber armies in the world.
The activities of the IRGC and the Bassij Force
• On April 3, 2009, the IRGC released a statement announcing the arrest of a large number of “internet offenders.” One of the detainees was Vahid A. (alias: Arya Daneshkar). Among his charges were “connections with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran and the Good Youth Party affiliated with the monarchists.”
• In early October 2009, one of the companies tied to the IRGC, Etemad Mobayyen, purchased more than 50% of Iran Telecommunications company worth over $8 billion. As such, the IRGC took a huge leap in controlling internet and satellite communications.
• All internet service providers are under the control of the MOIS and the IRGC. Therefore, they can conveniently control internet traffic. This was one of the reasons for taking ownership of the Telecommunications company by the IRGC.
• The Bassij Force has begun extensive efforts to launch its own weblogs in order to control the internet environment. According to statements by Bassij officials, this organ is trying to set up 10,000 Bassij weblogs.
• Mostafa Dodangeh, Manager and Coordinator of the Raad (Thunder) Cyber Team, said on April 24, 2010: The Raad Cyber Team was set up by a number of Bassij Force students at universities in Zanjan province in order to deal with websites, weblogs, and internet bases launched by [Israel].
• As mentioned above, a major portion of the IRGC’s activities are concentrated on educating its own forces and youths and teenagers. Brig. Gen. Jokar, the Commander of the Students and Teachers Bassij Organization, said on April 1, 2010: As we enter the fourth decade of the revolution, the enemy carries out its ploys through soft threats against youths.
• In April 2010, Marzieh Ahmadian, a member of the Student Bassij, demanded that secular professors be banned from teaching at universities. Referring to the soft threats of the “enemy,” she said: Serious measures have to be implemented in this regard.
IRGC Intelligence Organization and control over the internet
With the creation of the IRGC Intelligence Organization in September 2009, the Center for Organized Cyber Crimes was placed under the authority of this organization. Mullah Taeb, the Head of the IRGC Intelligence Organization, expanded the center’s activities in order to curb the uprising and suppress forces.
Gathering and briefing of IRGC Intelligence at Sarollah Base
Mullah Taeb, the Head of the IRGC Intelligence Organization, organized a briefing session on January 2010, for commanders of IRGC intelligence and Tehran’s Bassij in Sarollah Base. The topic was to plan for confronting subsequent protests. Brig. Gen. Mohaqeq, Commander of the Intelligence Unit of Sarollah Base and Brig. Gen. Sayyari, an IRGC commander, accompanied mullah Taeb in this gathering. Taeb reported about the control of SMS messages and cyber activities, saying: There have been good discoveries in cyber space over the past several months, and in some cases these have led to the detention of leaders of the unrest.
Broadening internet control among suppressive organs
In addition to the Bassij and the IRGC Intelligence Organization, which are involved in controlling and censoring material on the web, on Tuesday, November 10, 2009, it was revealed on the sidelines of the open session of the regime’s Majlis (Parliament) that the Supreme National Security Council has divided responsibilities for implementing the country’s security policies among various police and security organs. Ruhollah Hosseinian, a member of the regime’s Majlis and an avid Ahmadinejad supporter, told a reporter from the state-run Etemad daily on Tuesday after the open session, “Security measures like installing satellite jamming equipment, the involvement of numerous security organs in the course of the post-elections incidents, and transferring the monitoring of the internet to the State Security Forces are among some of the measures implemented by the SNSC in order to confront the soft threat of the state’s enemies.”
Husseinian, a close friend of the culprit of the so-called chain killings of the 1990s, explained, “Transferring the responsibility to monitor the internet to the State Security Forces was implemented because the internet is an enormous environment. It has various security, cultural and political dimensions, and monitoring it would require the involvement of an array of different forces.”
According to mullah Hosseinian, filtering and restricting access to websites and weblogs used to be done by the Ministry of Guidance and later by MOIS. Currently, a part of it is under the authority of the SSF. Hosseinian explained, “The responsibility of the IRGC, the SSF, the Guidance Ministry and Telecommunications company with regards to cyber media have been clarified in detail. Accordingly, the Guidance Ministry and the Telecommunications company are considered to be the frontline actors, while the IRGC and the SSF would monitor and be responsible for providing security.”
Drafting laws to control and censor the internet
On January 7, 2010, a website affiliated with the Iranian government, Raja news, listed “examples of computer crimes,” as follows:
1) Forming societies, associations and groups in the cyber world with the intention of disturbing the security of the country.
2) All threats of bombings.
3) Material that is harmful to the basis of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
4) Publishing material against the principles of the constitution.
5) Propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
6) Disturbing national unity and creating divisions among the society’s sectors, especially through promoting racial and ethnic issues.
7) Provoking combat forces or individuals who in some way serve the armed forces to rebel, defect, surrender or refuse to carry out military duties.
8) Inciting and encouraging individuals and groups to carry out acts against the security, dignity and interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran both inside and outside the country.
9) Propaganda in favour of groups and organizations that oppose the Islamic Republic of Iran.
10) Revealing and illegally publishing confidential government and public documents, directives and secret topics.
11) Revealing and illegally publishing secrets of armed forces.
12) Revealing and illegally publishing military plans and location of bases.
13) Illegal publishing of closed-door negotiations at the Islamic Consultative Assembly.
14) Illegal publishing of behind-the-doors judicial trials and investigations of judicial authorities.
15) Insults against state and public officials, organs and organizations.
16) Libel against state and public officials, organs and organizations.
17) Disseminating lies and deceiving the public against state officials, organs and organizations.