US Sanctions Hacker Entities And Individuals Linked To Iran Intelligence | Iran International

US Sanctions Hacker Entities And Individuals Linked To Iran Intelligence

The US Department of State announced in a statement that it has sanctioned the Iranian cyber threat group Advanced Persistent Threat 39 (APT39), 45 associated individuals, and a front company, Rana Intelligence Company.

According to the State Department, these groups and individuals targeted at least 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as hundreds of individuals and entities in 30 additional countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.

The statement goes on to say that through Rana, and on behalf of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, the actors sanctioned today use malicious cyberattack tools to target and monitor Iranian citizens, particularly dissidents, Iranian journalists, former government employees, environmentalists, refugees, among others. Some of these individuals were subjected to arrest and physical and psychological intimidation by the Ministry of Intelligence.

These actors have also victimized Iranian private sector companies and domestic and international Persian language and cultural centers.

The State Department explained that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security tracks dissidents, journalists, and international companies for the regime.  It has recruited cyber threat groups, front companies, and hackers, and has employed malware to target innocent civilians and companies, and advance the regime’s malign agenda around the world.  Cyber actors advance Iranian national security objectives and the strategic goals of the Ministry of Intelligence by conducting computer attacks and malware campaigns against perceived adversaries, including foreign governments and other individuals the Ministry of Intelligence considers a threat.

The State Department promises in conclusion that the United States will not relent in its efforts to expose these threats and protect our homeland and our friends and allies.

US State Department Wishes Happy Cyrus The Great Day For All Iranians

In a video message on Tuesday, US Special Representative for Iran, Elliott Abrams congratulated Cyrus the Great Day to Iranians around the world.

Abrams said Cyrus’ legacy of religious tolerance and respect for human rights inspired many American presidents including Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the Virginia statute of religious freedom.

“But the Iranian regime doesn’t want its own people to celebrate Cyrus Day and it won’t let Iranians to gather at his tomb,” he added. “Why? Because the Islamic Republic represents the antithesis of Cyrus’ legacy.”

Mentioning some of the massive violations of human rights and religious freedoms by the regime, Abrams continued: The Ayatollahs persecute Bahais and other religious minorities, promote anti-Semitism, and throw human rights lawyers in jail. The regime tortured and executed champion wrestler Navid Afkari, to intimidate the protesters. And last year, it shot hundreds of innocent Iranians dead in the streets.

“This regime doesn’t want Iranians to remember the wisdom and tolerance of Cyrus, because as they do, the people are reminded just how much this regime has harmed their great nation,” Abrams added.

He ended his message with the hope for the freedom of Iranians, saying: “One day Iranians will be free again. And we look forward to celebrating Cyrus the Great Day together with you, then.”

UN Watchdog Confirms That Iran Is Building Underground Nuclear Site


AP - The Secretary-General of UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy confirmed that Iran has started building an underground centrifuge assembly plant after the explosion that destroyed the Natanz nuclear site.

Rafael Grossi also stated that Iran continues to stockpile greater amount of low-grade enriched uranium, which does not appear to be enough to produce a weapon.

Following the July explosion at the Natanz nuclear site, Tehran said it would build a new, more secure, structure in the mountains around the area. Satellite pictures of Natanz analyzed by experts have yet to show any obvious signs of construction at the site in Iran's central Isfahan province.

“They have started, but it’s not completed,” Grossi said. “It’s a long process.”

He would not give further details, saying it’s “confidential information.” Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear department, last month told state television the destroyed above-ground facility was being replaced with one “in the heart of the mountains around Natanz.”

Natanz hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. In its long underground halls, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium.

Meanwhile, Iran has been steadily exceeding the deal's limits on how much uranium it can stockpile, the purity to which it can enrich uranium and other restrictions to pressure those countries to come up with a plan to offset U.S. sanctions.

Pompeo: Iran, China, North Korea Have Tightened Coercive Measures On Religious Freedoms

On the 22nd anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement criticizing China, Iran, and North Korea for tightening their coercive measures to silence their people.

The statement begins by mentioning the fact that the United States was the country that enacted the International Religious Freedom Act, and reiterated that ”religious freedom and other themes of human dignity are – and will always remain – a core US foreign policy priority." 

The statement continues: Today, three of the world’s most egregious religious freedom abusers – the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Iran, and North Korea – have tightened their coercive measures to silence their own people.  Worse, the PRC has sought to eradicate all forms of faith and belief that don’t align with the Chinese Communist Party doctrine.

The treatment of Uighur Muslims by the Chinese Communist Party has caused global criticism and backlash, especially by the US. China has kept millions of Uighur Muslims in “re-education camps” in terrible condition.

Iran discriminates against religions and sects not officially recognized by the government. The Baha'i community is the most persecuted but other groups, such as Dervishes also find themselves under pressure. If the large Muslim Sunni community experiences various discriminations, including restrictions on holding high office or freely building their own mosques.

In its previous annual statement on religious freedom, the US Department of State had demanded that the violators of religious freedoms in Iran be identified and sanctioned.

The statement concludes: Every person, everywhere, has the right to believe or not believe, change one’s beliefs, speak one’s beliefs, gather, and teach.  On this International Religious Freedom Day, the United States is proud to promote and protect religious freedom.

President Of Iran’s State TV Demands Legal Action Against ‘Enemy Satellite Channels’

Almost 130 Persian speaking channels and 140 channels in ethnic Iranian dialects are actively broadcasting against our country, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Abdolali Ali-Askari announced on Tuesday.

He did not explain how he arrived at these numbers or offer any information about these channels. 

In a meeting with the IRIB legal experts, Ali-Askari said: “We must be able to legally investigate and neutralize this aggression.”

“It is unprecedented for us to file a legal complaint against the massive amount of negative propaganda and campaigns to change public opinion against us on satellite channels,” Ali-Askari continued.

He did not clarify, however, what charges and accusations will be used to sue the media outside of Iran.

Meanwhile, several international satellite channels of the Islamic Republic have been restricted or penalized on international satellite networks for broadcasting forced confessions and violating human rights.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has tried to bar satellite channels from broadcasting into Iran for decades and has used different methods to do so. 

For decades the regime has banned satellite dishes in the country and threatened citizens with fines and even jail time if they would install a satellite dish. Despite all these efforts, according to the most conservative estimates, over 70 percent of Iranians now use satellite dishes. In recent years the regime has mostly given up on that pursuit.

The regime has also been jamming satellite signals for decades, specifically Persian speaking news and political channels.


Seoul Delaying Decision On Frozen Iranian Assets Until US Election

The Chairman of Iran-South Korea Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday suggested that Seoul is stalling talks between the two countries over Iranian funds frozen in South Korea as it awaits the outcome of the United States presidential election.

“The central banks of the two countries are making provision for the release of our money in some manner,” Hossein Tanhai told the Iranian Labour News Agency on Tuesday. “There is no doubt that the [result of the] plans being made is tied to the outcome of the US elections. Both countries are awaiting the announcement of the US elections result.”

Tanhai said the funds frozen by Korean banks since US sanctions were tightened in May 2018 amounted to $8.5 billion.

Iranian diplomats have been busy in talks with trade partners to release delayed payments for Tehran’s exports and thereby replenish Iran’s foreign currency reserves, which have been depleted both through collapsed oil revenue and in support of the national currency, the rial, which has lost its value almost tenfold against the dollar since early 2018.

Several billions owed to Iran, mostly for the supply of electricity and gas, have been frozen in Iraq. An official of the Central Bank of Iraq on Thursday told Iran International that the bank was unable to pay the debt even in Iraqi dinars due to deepening US sanctions. 

Tehran has threatened legal action against Seoul, although on September 23 Vice-President Ali Vaezi expressed optimism that South Korean banks would release the funds. Korea has exported $500,000 worth of medicine and medical equipment to Iran since Seoul announced in April that Washington had granted it a license for some humanitarian trade with Iran.

Deputy Minister Says Tests Suggest 35 Million Iranians Have Had Covid

Iran’s deputy health minister has reiterated that studies in several cities indicate that as many as 35 million Iranians had caught Covid19 by September. But Dr Reza Malekzadeh, deputy minister with responsibility for research and technology, stressed that government policy was to control the epidemic, not to reach ‘herd immunity,’ which he said would be unethical.

Malekzadeh was quoted in the Hamshahri newspaper on Tuesday [October 27].  “A study that we conducted in April indicated that more than 25 million had already caught the virus,” he said.  “We estimate that a month ago the number…had increased to 35 million.” Malekzadeh said a larger study was underway with results expected in a month or two.

On September 14 Malekzadeh told Hamshahri that a study carried out on 10,000 asymptomatic subjects – including in Qom, an early epicenter of the pandemic, and Rasht in the north, a ‘hot zone’ soon after the Qom outbreak in February – had found more than 30 percent had caught the virus. Malekzadeh said the study had used blood samples, regarded as a more accurate means than regular Covid test kits.

The studies have been based on serological tests that can identify antibodies – immunoglobins (IgG) in the case of coronavirus – in the blood. These antibodies are employed by the body against viruses and bacteria, and they far outlast the source of infection so that their presence reveals the earlier occurrence of the infection.

Sanctioned Iranian Oil Minister Zanganeh Says US Is Desperate

Iran’s oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh has dismissed the United States decision to sanction him for supporting the country’s Revolutionary Guards. In a tweet on Monday, soon after a statement by the US Department of Treasury, the veteran minister called the move “a desperate reaction to the failure of Washington’s policy to bring [Iran’s] oil exports down to zero.”

The US imposed secondary sanctions on Iran’s oil exports in November 2018, after it withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement, which US President Donald Trump had called “the worst deal in history.” Iran’s 2.5 million barrel-a-day crude exports have fallen to less than 400,000, depriving the country of most of its foreign currency earnings and sending it into a deep recession.

On Monday October 26, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), along with Zanganeh, and several affiliates for their “financial support” of IRGC’s Qods (Quds) Force.

Some analysts doubt that further US sanctions change much. “Iran’s oil industry will not be crushed,” Zanganeh wrote in his tweet. “I have no assets outside Iran to be subjected to sanctions. My life and honor at the altar of Iran.”

Iran Tells French Diplomat Allowing Publication Of Muhammad Cartoons Is An 'Insult'


Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the French charge d’affaires in Tehran on Tuesday [October 27] to register dissatisfaction over the French government’s stance over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The French charge d’affaires was told that Iran denounces any insult or disrespect for the “holy prophet of Islam and other Islamic sanctities by any individuals or officials.”

Following the beheading of a French history teacher by a Muslim student over the cartoons on October 16, French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated France’s position to defend freedom of speech including a right to publish such caricatures. “We will not give up cartoons,” Macron told a memorial ceremony at the Sorbonne on October 22.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan are among the Muslim countries that have condemned France’s approach. There have been popular protests against Macron across the Islamic world, as well as boycotts of French goods, while Iran has remained relatively quiet.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a tweet Monday, October 26, called the publication of the cartoons “an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech,” and an insult to “1.9 billion Muslims.” On the same day, 240 members of the Iranian parliament condemned the cartoons, calling them an “insult and [sign of] disrespect.”

While Iran might feel it cannot afford to remain silent on the issue, it has received France’s diplomatic support at the United Nations in resisting United States pressures for extended sanctions. Paris did not support Washington’s failed demand to extend an arms embargo on Iran that recently lapsed.


Letter Of 24 Iranian Authors To PEN Pleading For Release of Four Iranian Authors

In a letter to PEN international association of writers and human rights organizations, 24 Iranian authors, translators, and university professors pleaded with them to make efforts to release three Iranian authors and a journalist in Iran.

The signatories of the letter asked for the immediate release of Bektash Abtin, Kayvan Bazhan, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, three members of the Iranian authors association, and also Khosrow Sadeghi Boroujeni, journalist and social researcher.

“Let the world hear the voice of our incarcerated colleagues and use all your resources to demand their immediate release from prison,” the letter pleads.

Yervand Abrahamian, Dariush Ashouri, Sohail Asefi, Babak Ahmadi, Sohrab Behdad, Azadeh Parsapour, Akram Pedram Nia, Saeed Hariri, Nasim Khaksar, Mehrdad Darvishpour, Moirou Ravanipour, Faraj Sarkouhi, Reza Allamehzadeh, Morad Farhadpour, Farshin Kazemi Nia, Arash Kia, Amir Kianpour, Iman Ganji, Mehran Mostafavi, Akbar Masoum Beigi, Farhad Naamani, Azar Nafisi, Payman Vahabzadeh, and Mohsen Yalfani are the signatories of the letter.

The signatories state that the charges against these four prisoners are “baseless and pure lies” and say the main purpose of these arrests and convictions are to put more pressure on the authors and the people.

The authors also express concerns in the letter about the crisis of the rising number of coronavirus patients in Iranian prisons.

Previously, PEN International had expressed “deep concerns” about the three Iranian writers' trial. PEN had also demanded the release of Iranian human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh earlier.


Police Intervention Leads To Injuries In Iran Workers Protest

In a protest of Iranian National Oil Company retirees and a group of current workers in Tehran, police intervention lead to altercations and some of the protesters were wounded.

Retirees and veterans of the Iran-Iraq war employed by the company gathered outside its headquarters to demand unpaid pensions, salaries and veteran benefits.

Police and security guards of the oil company intervened to disperse the crowds leading to physical confrontations injuring several protesters.

In videos published on social media some people are seen with bloody faces and wounded.

A woman and a few men try to climb the iron fence of the building to enter the offices and complain, shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ (God is great).

Similar protests had taken place in July and August at the same location, when protesters were carrying signs demanding the government and politicians not to “illegally” touch their pension fund and leaving the funds to be managed by its beneficiaries.

There were lao reports of teachers protesting in the oil-rich Khuzestan Province and share holders of Tehran’s stock market. After a phenomenal rise since earlier this year, the stock market has gone down more than 30 percent, leaving small investors, who were trying to protect their savings from runaway inflation, with huge losses.

Ghalibaf Follows Khamenei In Muting Rouhani Criticism

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Qalibaf), the speaker of Iran’s Parliament (Majles), says he and parliamentarians will keep their complaints about the Rouhani administration to themselves and will not air them in public.

Ghalibaf was responding to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who on Saturday criticized differences among Iranian officials and insisted that “certain recent measures to denigrate the administration and President Hassan Rouhani were wrongful.”

Khamenei was referring to a motion tabled by over 40 Iranian lawmakers to impeach Rouhani over his economic management and foreign policy. The motion was led by the head of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Mojtaba Zolnouri.

Zolnouri also led a public demonstration against Rouhani in Qom, and in a tweet called on Khamenei to have Rouhani executed. Following the statement by Khamenei, Zolnouri immediately announced that he regarded the Leader’s words as a religious mandate.

Although the impeachment motion has been removed from the agenda of the Majles, several lawmakers have continued criticism of the Rouhani administration despite Khamenei’s comments.

Khamenei has said at least twice since June that he wants Rouhani to stay in office until the end of his presidency. Khamenei called impeachment “a costly and time-consuming process” and said little time remained before Rouhani’s term of office expires in the summer with him ineligible to stand for a third consecutive time.

Lawmaker Says Government Has Lost Control Of Iran's Economy

A member of Iran’s parliament has said that the government “has lost control of the economy and the markets,” and President Hassan Rouhani has isolated himself in his office and does not appear in public.

Eghbal Shakeri representing Tehran in the Iranian Majles blamed the impasse on “lack of planning” on Sunday [October 25] and said “the purchasing power of the people is now one-third of last year” and the government has no plans that could help the people to come out of the current economic hardship.

Iranian hardliners and even many reformists are harshly criticizing Rouhani for the worsening of Iran’s economic situation amid harsh US sanctions. But few are able or willing to say that all key foreign policy and economic decisions are made by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has vehemently opposed negotiating with the United States.

Washington demands a more solid nuclear agreement with Tehran that would restrict the country permanently from acquiring nuclear weapons and demands a fundamental change in Iran’s foreign policy. Khamenei is not ready to make such far-reaching concessions.

The current Iranian parliament was elected in February, with the overwhelming victory of hardliners in a low-turnout election. The solid majority promised to “rescue Iran’s economy” but nothing much has been done.

Shakeri said that managers of many state-controlled enterprises are waiting for guidance from the parliament, while it is the government that should come up with plans and the Majles only has a role to oversee the executive branch. He complained that “middlemen” have taken over the markets.

Australia Asks Iran About Report Academic Moved From Prison

AP Canberra – 26 October 2020 - Australia is seeking information from Iran on reports that a British Australian academic who was convicted of espionage has been moved to a mystery location, the foreign minister said on Monday.  

Kylie Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was arrested in Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018.

She was moved in August to Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran, but the Iranian Association of Human Rights Activists reported she was moved to an unknown location on Saturday.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australian Ambassador to Iran Lyndall Sachs had a consular visit with Moore-Gilbert at Qarchak "a short time ago" and Australian officials "are seeking further information" on the reports she had been moved.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade describes securing Moore-Gilbert's release as an "absolute priority."

Iranian state media and officials have not acknowledged Moore-Gilbert was moved.

She is among a number of Westerners and dual nationals held by Iran that activists and UN investigators believe is a systematic effort to gain leverage in negotiations with the West.

Moore-Gilbert has gone on hunger strikes and pleaded for the Australian government to do more to free her.

Those pleas include writing to the prime minister that she had been subjected to "grievous violations" of her rights, including psychological torture and solitary confinement.