Iran's spy agency finds voice in cyberspace

Associated Press Modified: October 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm •  Published: October 10, 2012

"The leadership, particularly within the hardline elements of the Intelligence Ministry, has an obsession with the notion that Washington is coordinating a soft revolution to unseat the Islamic Republic," said Suzanne Maloney, an Iranian affairs expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Part of Iran's counterstrategy appears to be a kind of information overload in response to U.S. initiatives, such as the State Department's launch last year of a "virtual embassy" in English and Farsi that seeks to reach out to ordinary Iranians. The site was quickly blocked by Iranian authorities, but firewall bypasses such as proxy servers are widely used by Iran's young and tech-skilled population.

"There is probably an element of mimicry here as well," said Maloney. "The Iranians enjoy turning the table on Washington and imitating American tactics."

Last week, a U.S. broadcast oversight board accused Iran of jamming regional radio and television programming that includes the Persian services for the Voice of America and the BBC. And on Monday — two days after the website was launched — Iran's Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi claimed that Iran's secret services have the upper hand in the Web war with the West.

"The intelligence apparatus confronts enemy measures in the cyber front," the official IRNA news agency quoted Moslehi as saying.

The intelligence minister was at the center of one of Iran's most public political feuds. Khamenei last year demanded Moslehi keep the post despite objections from Ahmadinejad, who was so angered that he boycotted government meetings for more than a week. In response, the ruling clerics arrested dozens of Ahmadinejad's allies and left him politically weakened entering his final year in office.

A journalist at Tehran's moderate Shargh newspaper, Soroush Farhadian, interprets the new website as an effort by intelligence agency to gain its own voice.

"One of the objectives is to demonstrate its independent position rather than speaking through the semiofficial news agencies," he said.

There is also a potential for touches of candor amid the high-voltage propaganda. One article appears to buck the official line that sanctions on Iran's oil exports are meaningless. It notes Iran has "paid heavy costs" in its showdown with the West.

"On the one hand, Iran has faced problems with a cut in its main source of revenue. On the other hand, the West has taken all measures to force Iran to give up its nuclear program," the post said. "Despite all the costs suffered by the West to stop Iran's nuclear program, the Islamic Republic has continued its path and the West has failed."


Murphy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.