US Continues to Expose Iranian Efforts to Expand Hacking, Missile Activities

The CSO article called attention to a number of specific projects including phishing attacks on targets in Western governments and industries, as well as the evasion of internationally-enforced embargos for the purpose of securing banned “dual use” technology and further expanding the regime’s arsenal of tools for cyberattacks and the development of more conventional weapons. The article notes that both the hacking and the smuggling efforts are frequently traceable to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which reportedly oversaw security breaches of American infrastructure and financial systems.

The lead-in to the article was the recent press attention that has been given to the case of Behzad Mesri, the Iranian hacker responsible for stealing intellectual property from the HBO television network and attempting to leverage it for the extortion of six million dollars. Mesri is not currently in US custody, but he has been indicted in absentia in an apparent effort to send a message to other Iranian hackers that their identities will likely be found out and they will not be safe in countries that are allied to the US.

The public exposure of Mesri’s case is also reportedly part of an effort by the White House to bring attention to various instances of illegal behavior by Iranian nationals with known ties to their government. This effort reflects US President Donald Trump’s assertive policy toward the Islamic Republic, and it may help his administration to build consensus both within the US government and among US-allied states for the expansion of sanctions and other forms of pressure on the Iranian regime.

Continuing this trend, the US government is currently engaged in efforts to declassify information linking Tehran to missiles that have been fired in Saudi Arabian territory by the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Of particular concern is one missile that was shot down over King Khaled International Airport on November 4, making it the deepest penetration of Saudi territory by the Iran-backed militant group.

Foreign Policy Magazine reported upon the pending declassification on Monday and described it as part of a “public relations blitz” by the Trump administration at a time when European partners remain resistant to an Iran policy that could be seen to undermine the 2015 nuclear agreement with that country. Critics of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action maintain that its failure to address Iran’s development and transfer of ba

llistic missiles is an unacceptable oversight, and even some defenders of the agreement such as French President Emmanuel Macron have called for a separate deal to contain those activities.
Tehran has repeatedly rejected such calls, insisting that it will accept no foreign imposition on its defensive capabilities. In lieu of ballistic missile provisions in the JCPOA itself, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling upon the Islamic Republic to voluntarily avoid further work on such nuclear-capable weapons. But Foreign Policy indicated that the Iranians took this as a “green light” for them to proceed according to their own preference. They have done so openly, and they are widely suspected of using their expanded capabilities to increase the missile range of militant proxies including but not limited to the Houthi.

Iran’s ongoing missile activities thus stand alongside recent hacking efforts, where they represent a more conventional threat to Western interests. Iranian hardliners themselves are eager to call attention to this fact, as Al Jazeera emphasized on Sunday. The Qatar-based news outlet reported upon recent comments by Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the IRGC, declaring that the Islamic Republic would further expand its missile range if it perceived a threat emanating from Europe.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently issued a statement limiting the range of all Iranian missiles to 2,000 kilometers, and while the IRGC accepted this limitation it also insisted that it was technically meaningless, in that the country’s missile range could be lengthened almost immediately if the limit was rescinded.

Salami reiterated this claim on Saturday in an interview with state television, saying, “…If we have confined the range of our missiles to 2,000 kilometres until today and have not increased it any further, it is not because of a lack of technology, because we have no limitations for the range of our missiles in technological terms.”

Al Jazeera also quoted the IRGC’s commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari as saying that the 2,000 kilometer limit is enough to put Iranian missiles in range of most US interests and forces in the Middle East region. Such commentary is indicative of the ongoing growth of anti-Western rhetoric coming from the IRGC, the Iranian military, and political hardliners. Last week, it was reported that Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, the new commander of the country’s naval forces had insisted Iran would soon be able to execute plans to send warships to the Atlantic and even the Gulf of Mexico.