The Iranian regime has crossed the Rubicon in its reaction to nonviolent protest and citizen dissent and is currently executing a slow-motion coup d’état which may usher in a new leadership dedicated to exercising the totalitarian power of the state.
In spite of the role played by connectivity in reporting the abuses of power and the violent repression of its citizens, the West seems unable to exercise any meaningful influence on the perpetrators of murderous violence. Opposing them merely exacerbates the propaganda of the autocratic authors of this repression. Web-based repositories hosted in the US and the world at large have become targets of the Iranian security establishment seeking to identify individuals who have opposed the state, a matter of arguably life-threatening urgency for those involved. If they want to act like a military junta then they should be treated as such. They clearly are using the Western infrastructure of the Internet for their own doubtful, and internationally criminal, purposes.
Cut Off the Internet
From the network map illustrated it appears, as confirmed by RIS database searches, that the primary Internet provider in Iran, DCI Autonomous Systems, owned and operated by the state and the source of all filtering and censorship, has worldwide connectivity through six transit providers, Turk Telecom (TTNet, AS9121), FLAG (AS15412), Singapore Telecom (AS7473), PCCW (AS3491), Telia (AS1299), and Telecom Italia Sparkle (AS6762). The regime itself blocked access to five out of six of these providers as part of their premeditated communications blackout on the eve of the announcement of the election results, as shown. The connectivity through TTnet at the time may have been an oversight. This demonstrates the ease with which a total Internet blackout can be accomplished either overtly or covertly on either side of the Internet Exchange Point.
If they seek to use the Internet as cultural candy for their population, to be dialed up, down or off at will, it seems that our infrastructure is being used by the regime to relieve a tension which they are incapable and unwilling to manage themselves. There is also the issue of the economic impact of such a blockade, which would render the economic sanctions the UN seems unwilling to impose irrelevant by interdicting the normal flow of inbound and outbound business related traffic. The Internet is a development of the enlightened and pluralistic culture which the Iranian leadership has consistently defined as their ideological enemy. One wonders why they should be permitted to utilise it for their own totalitarian purposes, both domestically and internationally.
It’s interesting to note that in spite of legality issues regarding cyber-warfare there seem to be no international conventions regarding the manipulation of routing information and BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) database management. This is evidenced by recent incidents:
In early 2008, at least eight US Universities had their traffic diverted to Indonesia for about 90 minutes one morning in an attack kept mostly quiet by those involved. Also, in February 2008, a large portion of YouTube’s address space was redirected to Pakistan when the PTA decided to block access to the site from inside the country, but accidentally blackholed the route in the global BGP table.
BGP hijacking and transit-AS problems Wikipedia
Obviously this would also restrict international access to PressTV, IRNA and IRIB websites hosted domestically in Iran, thereby cutting off the flow of regime propaganda to the rest of the world. Shucks.
Whether this is something which could or should be done formally or covertly, either by international convention, unilateral action or at a grass-roots level along the lines of the DDoS attacks on Iran in recent weeks is an open question. But it’s fair to say that international law is several decades behind the technology at this point, creating an opportunity for direct action. Whether this is done uniformly, sporadically or as a sequence of ‘rolling blackouts’ in response to Iranian intransigence and behaviour are all options to be considered. It’s times like these when one wishes that in a parallel universe there was an IWW local worldwide of Internet traffic engineers, network administrators and security professionals willing to embark on such an activity.
Blackout BBC Persia and VOA Farsi
The inbound broadcast of BBC Persia and VOA Farsi are used by the regime as a safety valve for internal discontent. When things are going well they permit these services to reach large segments of their population to give the people the illusion that they have access to the broader world. Now they are being used as a justification for criminal abuse of their own citizens and a scapegoat for allegations of external conspiracy against the state.
Shut them down. Find some diplomatic request from the regime to cease broadcast and display it in Farsi or transmit endless loops of Ayotallah Ahmed Khatami:
‘I call on the judiciary for a decisive confrontation with the leaders of these illegal demonstrations and ask for capital punishment against them without any mercy,’ Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, who is close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said at Friday prayers.
Iranian cleric wants death sentence for demonstration leaders Middle East News 26 Jun 09
The regime is using these broadcasts as both an excuse for their abuses and an outlet for the natural demand for relief from the endless Stalinesque repetition of hard-line narratives from their own leadership. They claim that these are the source and cause of internal discontent? Let’s shut them down for awhile and see how that works for them. Let’s not give them that opportunity and excuse.
Reimpose Tight Visa Restrictions
The US has a policy of denying visas to Iranian nationals. This seems to have some immediate relevance:
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Tehran’s U.N. envoy on Friday accused the United States of denying Iran’s first vice president and members of his delegation visas to attend a three-day U.N. conference on the global financial crisis.
Louis Charbonneau – U.S. denied Iran official visa for U.N. meeting: envoy Reuters 26 Jun 09
Recent tweets from Iran have indicated a reluctant desire to leave the country in the wake of the failure of the protests due to government brutality. This is a false hope and another safety valve the regime relies on to ameliorate discontent.
Cease Black Operations Against Iran
The $400M figure bandied about by the Iranian propaganda establishment is not entirely without foundation:
Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed t
o destabilize the country’s religious leadership.
Seymour M Hersh – Preparing the Battlefield The New Yorker 7 Jul 08
Forget it, unilaterally drop it. No misplaced support of the Mojahedin-e Khalq or other groups could possibly produce the kind of opposition which is arising natively from the government’s own actions. Accept their intelligence from time to time, OK, but as far as material and logistical support we should drop it and disown them publicly. Let’s remove the pretence of the excuse and distance ourselves from these indiscretions of the Bush administration. Iran is heaving under far deeper strains than these covert operations could produce, and from within.
Let the regime stew in its own juices and reap the cultural harvest it has sown without using the attractions of the Western media as an illicit ‘carrot’ and outlet for their disaffected population. The thesis of this diary is that there is some merit in imposing on the Iranian leadership the constraints which other military juntas such as Myanmar have created themselves. It is assumed that in the case of Iran the level of education and prosperity of the emerging middle-class is grossly incompatible with the opportunities offered by the regime and that the intentional provision of Westernised connectivity, controlled by the state, is a pressure valve used for the manipulation of the population for the narrow autocratic ends of their leadership.
This diary may very well qualify as a rant and an exercise in frustration and emotional exhaustion after the dramatic, inspiring and tragic events of the last few days but it seems in spite of the best intentions of the public in the US, Europe and elsewhere the actual impact we have had on the Iranian’s struggle with their regime has been negligible and in some respects perhaps even counterproductive. It may be more of a barometer of the diarist’s emotional state than his sobriety, but it is intended to consider a counterintuitive response to the events of the past few weeks that may in the long run be more constructive to the security and aspirations of the brave Iranians who have placed so much hope in the institutions of the West but found themselves virtually defenceless against the ruthlessness of their own leadership.