Accessibility links

Breaking News

Persian Letters

On the case? The Iran Cyberpolice booth at an international digital media fair in Tehran in 2012
ISight Partners, a Texas-based cyberintelligence firm, reported on May 29 that Iranian hackers have conducted a hacking campaign to spy on political and military figures in the United States using fake social media accounts in the past three years. The firm has not released the names of those targeted.

The methods they use match a hacking attempt made on Kit Bigelow, the former director of the Baha'i National Center in Washington, who first spoke about it to "The Daily Beast." RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari spoke to Bigelow on May 30.

RFE/RL: In the beginning of April, you became the target of a failed hacking attempt on your e-mail that came apparently from Iran. How did it happen?

Kit Bigelow: In February 2014, I received a LinkedIn request from a profile purporting to be [former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations] John Bolton. Because I had worked with the ambassador over a number of years on the case of the protection and defense of Baha'is, I was surprised to receive the invitation but it was not completely unexpected of former colleagues to reach out.

Over the period of several weeks, communication began between the individual purporting to be Ambassador Bolton and me through LinkedIn communication function. He asked me if I would be willing to review material he was preparing on human rights in Iran, and particularly to verify aspects [of it that] dealt with the persecution of Baha'is in Iran....

At the beginning of April, he indicated that the material that he had prepared was ready for my review and that his assistant would be sending to me login information to a website that was not yet live online. And I received the login information -- this is all the first week of April -- and I logged in, and I put in -- as requested -- I put in my e-mail address and then put in my password. It did take me to a website and it was a website all about Ambassador Bolton. So even as I entered the website, it was not evident to me that it was not real.

RFE/RL: So there was nothing to alert you? Did it all seem legitimate to you?

Bigelow: It did. And because it was about him I thought maybe he's intending to run for public office, because it was about his accomplishments and had lots of articles and news stories, and things like that.

RFE/RL: What was the name of the website?

Bigelow: It had the URL of Johnboltonoffice.com, and I have no idea whether it still exists. I have not gone back to it because it requires a special coding to get in, at least it did at that time, if in fact it still exists.

RFE/RL: When did the hacking attempt take place? After you logged in?

Bigelow: I had logged in in the evening and I went to sleep that evening, and had not given it another thought. I awoke early the next morning and had received from Google -- because I had done this through my Gmail account -- I received from Google a notification that there had been an attempt to access my account from Tehran, Iran.

At that point, everything fell into place. I knew exactly how that attempt could have taken place -- because of course the evening before I had put in a password. And Google had wonderful analytics and I was able to find that there had been two attempts from the United States during the middle of the night, and they had not alerted Google because the origin of the access had been here in the United States.

But it was the attempt from Tehran, which was still early morning, that had caused Google to raise the alarm and to block whoever was attempting to access my account. Luckily I had awakened to this at 6 a.m., so I was able to jump on this immediately and change my password and minimize any damage.

It was also at that point that the profile and everything that had transpired over the previous two months had been a ruse, had been a scam to draw me in, to [lead me to believe] it was he, Ambassador Bolton, in order to try to capture my Gmail account for whatever purposes the perpetrators of this scam might have wished.

RFE/RL: Were there further attempts to hack into your e-mail?

Bigelow: There were no further attempts. But what did continue to happen was that I was targeted through Facebook and LinkedIn and continue to this day to be targeted by several clearly fake individuals and profiles.

RFE/RL: You've worked for many years to highlight the plight of Baha'is in Iran who face state persecution. Do you think this is somehow connected to your work?

Bigelow: I think that it is connected to the work that I did do on behalf of the Baha'is for 25 years here in Washington, D.C. I think only that the desire to appropriate my e-mail address would have been to use my address and to send out some kind of information in my name that could have been harmful, either to the Baha'is or others.
People carry the coffin of Mohammad Jamali Paqale, an officer of the Revolutionary Guards reportedly killed in fighting in the Syrian capital Damascus, during his funeral in the southern city of Kerman in November 2013.
A former officer with Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has been killed in the fighting in Syria, Iranian media report.

The reports say that Abdollah Eskandari had travelled to Syria to defend the Sayida Zeinab shrine located in the southern suburbs of Damascus. The shrine is a center of pilgrimage for Shi'a from around the world.

The hard-line Rajanews reported that Eskandari, who according to the report headed the Martyrs Foundation in Fars Province until 2013, was "martyred" on May 26.

Other news sites reported that he was killed a few days earlier, on May 22. Eskandari's body has reportedly not been sent back to Iran yet.

In past months, Iranian media reported that more than a dozen Iranians, including members of the Revolutionary Guards, were killed in Syria. According to the reports, those individuals had traveled to Syria voluntarily to defend the holy shrine.

The Netherlands-based Radio Zamaneh put the number of IRGC officers killed in Syria since 2011 at more than 60.

The burial of at least one of them, IRGC officer Mohammad Jamali, was attended by the head of IRGC's Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, who is said to be in charge of the guards' overseas operations.

Iranian officials deny accusations that the Islamic republic is sending forces to Syria to assist Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. IRGC commanders and other officials claim Tehran provides only humanitarian and economic assistance, as well as technical help to Assad's regime.

Last week, Iran denied a report by "The Wall Street Journal" that it was sending Afghans to fight in Syria. "The Wall Street Journal" said elite forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guards were offering residency in Iran and monthly payments of $500 to Afghan refugees who agreed to go to Syria to fight.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham dismissed the report as "unfounded."

Earlier this month, an Iranian website posted pictures of what it described as the "glorious" funeral of two Afghans who, according to the report, had been killed in Syria by "terrorists." The two were identified as Hassan Mahmudi and Seyed Ahmad Hosseini.

The funeral in Qom was reportedly attended by the hard-line Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi, who congratulated the families of the two young men over their "martyrdom."

--Golnaz Esfandiari

Load more

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

Subscribe

Latest Posts

XS
SM
MD
LG