WASHINGTON — More than 30 web domains linked to the Iranian regime were seized by U.S. agencies on Tuesday, a U.S. government official said.
The U.S. seized sites operated by government-run PressTV as well as social media channels affiliated with Iran-backed militias in Iraq. The seizures come as the Biden administration is in the midst of negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program and follow the election of a new president who has rebuffed calls from Washington to curb its support for proxies fighting across the region.
Visitors to the affected websites were greeted with a banner that said the domains had been seized by the U.S. government as part of enforcement action taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but Tehran’s government has condemned previous seizures of Iranian websites as unlawful and part of an influence campaign against Iran.
The seizure notice cites several legal justifications for the action, including civil and criminal forfeiture laws, as well as the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which grants the president the power to regulate international commerce in response to threats to U.S. security.
In the past year, the Justice Department has seized scores of websites linked to the regime, including in October when the U.S. seized internet domain names used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military unit designated by the U.S. as a terror group for its role in managing Iran’s foreign proxies. Among the proxy websites targeted by the U.S. last year and again on Tuesday: the Iraq-based militia Kata’ib Hezbollah.
The U.S. is able to seize the sites because they use internet infrastructure either in the U.S. or owned by U.S.-based firms. The Commerce Department is involved in the operations because its Bureau of Industry and Security division is responsible for export controls.