On June 22, 2021 Iran accused the United States of seizing control of several web domains for unknown reasons. The Islamic Republic News Agency identified a list of web-based news outlets that were targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), all of which are said to have ties linking them to the government in Tehran. When accessing the websites at the time of the alleged incident, notices appeared informing web page visitors that the current site was offline as “part of law enforcement action”.
It wasn’t only websites affected, according to the Associated Press. Some of the news outlets affected include Iranian state television’s English-language arm Press TV, the Yemeni Houthi rebels’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel and Al-Alam, the Iranian state TV’s Arabic-language channel. Marzieh Hashemi, an anchor for Press TV said in a statement to AP that while the organization is aware of the seizure of the network, no additional information has been given to the outlet. The seizure of these networks has not yet been publicly announced by the government, and the DOJ has not responded to any requests to comment.
This is not the first time that the DOJ has seized domains from Iran. In October of 2020, it was announced that 92 domains were seized under the Trump Administration. The DOJ publicly announced that they did this, and gave a reason: these sites were used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to spread disinformation and propaganda that was specifically aimed at Americans. These domains violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by operating without the needed registration and not informing the public that contents on the sites were being published on behalf of the IRGC.
In November of 2020 the DOJ admitted to seizing another 27 domain names said to be used by the IRGC to “further a global covert influence campaign”. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers commented, 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.”
Tuesday’s incident comes only days after the newly elected President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi publicly denied a meeting with President Biden. President Raisi also added that Iran’s ballistic missile program is “nonnegotiable.” This shows a counterproductive step in Biden’s plan to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, which former President Trump withdrew the U.S from in 2018.