Several reports in both American and Israeli media have recently been circulating the claim that Iran is increasingly likely to respond to draconian U.S.-imposed sanctions by conducting “cyberattacks” against the United States. According to this narrative, “Iranian hackers have laid the groundwork to carry out extensive cyberattacks on U.S. and European infrastructure and on private companies,” prompting the U.S. to consider launching a preemptive “counterattack” in response.
Quoting anonymous U.S. government officials, think tanks and “experts,” these articles assert that the sanctions the U.S. re-imposed on Iran this Tuesday are “likely to push that country to intensify state-sponsored cyber-threat activities,” activities that one expert called “the most consequential, costly and aggressive in the history of the internet, more so than Russia.”
However, upon closer examination, it is clear that these warnings of an imminent Iranian cyberattack are dubious at best — aimed at ending the U.S.’ isolation on the issue through dishonest intelligence, while also justifying a U.S. “preemptive counterattack” on Iran’s infrastructure in a bid to further destabilize the nation, in service to the Trump administration’s overall goal of regime change in Iran.
Most of these articles, in introducing the “threat” posed by Iranian state-sponsored hackers, state that they originated with “cybersecurity and intelligence experts.” However, just sentences later, when these experts are quoted they specifically state that no evidence of such a threat even exists.
For instance, an Associated Press story, which begins with the statement that “the United States is bracing for cyberattacks Iran could launch in retaliation for the re-imposition of sanctions,” quotes Priscilla Moriuchi — director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, a cyber-threat intelligence company — as saying the following just two sentences later: “While we have no specific threats, we have seen an increase in chatter related to Iranian threat activity over the past several weeks.”
In saying so, Moriuchi essentially admits that there is no threat from Iranian hackers, merely stating that there has been a jump in “chatter” related to Iranian threat activity. Notably, the “chatter” is not attributed, meaning that this increase could be a result of U.S. or Israeli intelligence hyping the possibility of a threat, not necessarily Iranians or their allies threatening a cyberattack.
Furthermore, Moriuchi is hardly unbiased, as her company, Recorded Future, counts among its clients several U.S. weapons manufacturers like Raytheon, and also regularly collaborates with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as well as technology companies that double as U.S. military contractors, such as Google and Palantir. Notably, Recorded Future was initially funded by both Google and In-Q-Tel, the venture-capitalist arm of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
In addition, this report and others rely on the analysis of equally flawed “experts” to make their case. For instance, NBC cites “Iran expert” Behnam Ben Taleblu, who states that “Iran has a penchant for using such tools against the West.” However, Taleblu is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the hawkish neo-conservative think tank that has long championed preemptive bombings against Iran.
The FDD is so stacked with notorious neo-conservatives that it has long been called the successor to the now-defunct think tank Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which was instrumental in promoting the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses. The FDD is also closely associated with National Security Adviser John Bolton, who promised just last year that the Iranian government would be toppled before 2019. However, NBC left out this important context, merely calling the FDD “a conservative think tank in Washington.”