Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard military force hacked email and social-media accounts of Obama administration officials in recent weeks in attacks believed to be tied to the arrest in Tehran of an Iranian-American businessman, U.S. officials said.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, has routinely conducted cyberwarfare against American government agencies for years. But the U.S. officials said there has been a surge in such attacks coinciding with the arrest last month of Siamak Namazi, an energy industry executive and business consultant who has pushed for stronger U.S.-Iranian economic and diplomatic ties.
Obama administration personnel are among a larger group of people who have had their computer systems hacked in recent weeks, including journalists and academics, the officials said. Those attacked in the administration included officials working at the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs and its Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
“U.S. officials were among many who were targeted by recent cyberattacks,” said an administration official, adding that the U.S. is still investigating possible links to the Namazi case. “U.S. officials believe some of the more recent attacks may be linked to reports of detained dual citizens and others.”
Friends and business associates of Mr. Namazi said the intelligence arm of the IRGC confiscated his computer after ransacking his family’s home in Tehran.
The cyberattacks on the U.S. government come at an important juncture for U.S.-Iran relations. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have voiced hopes that the Iran nuclear agreement reached in July could spur greater cooperation between Washington and Tehran on regional issues. Last week, Iran for the first time took part in international talks aimed at ending the multisided war in Syria, where Tehran is backing the regime.
But the IRGC cyberattacks are the latest sign that hard-line factions inside the regime, including the military and office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, haven’t moderated their hostility toward Washington despite the landmark accord between Iran and six global powers including the U.S. Mr. Khamenei has repeatedly claimed in recent weeks that the U.S. was seeking to use the agreement, which constrains Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, to undermine and weaken the country’s Islamist government.
The arrests of Mr. Namazi and a Lebanese businessman with a U.S. green card have sparked new criticisms from Congress of the nuclear accord. Some lawmakers have called for the White House to ramp up sanctions on the IRGC, a move that Mr. Khamenei has said would violate the nuclear deal.
“Iran’s threatening behavior will worsen if the administration does not work with Congress to enact stronger measures to push back, including…targeted pressure against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) said Friday.
A spokesman at Iran’s United Nations mission in New York said Tehran has repeatedly been falsely accused of conducting cyberwarfare. “Iran itself was [the] target of many cyberattacks,” the diplomat said.