Justice Dept: Seized News Domains Were Violating Sanctions

Officials fault news sites for 'malign influence'

The US Justice Department has finally issued a statement related to the seizure of the domain names of multiple overseas news websites, including PressTV.com. The statement reports 33 website domains were seized for being at least partly represented by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union, with three others operated by Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah.

The argument is that the union is under US sanctions since October, and that it is prohibited from obtaining domains from a US service without a license. The Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) said the union’s sites were “disguised as news organizations or media outlets” and had engaged in “malign influence operations.”

Having domain names from US-based TLDs is a technical violation, at best, but gave the Justice Department an excuse to go after them at will. That they’ve chosen to do so immediately after Iran’s election is troubling, to say the least, and suggests the US is being openly spiteful to the new government.

It is also unclear how they decided who was in league with the Iranian union, as domains related to sites not based in Iran (like Palestine Today TV) were also taken. The common feature is that these are overseas news outlets which often disagree with US government narratives.

The websites themselves don’t appear to be entirely gone, with PressTV still operating from its Iranian domain name. al-Alam is similarly still available that way. The global nature of the Internet, and the US limitation in seizing anything but US-based TLDs, means this is not a reliable method to remove content.

This means the seizures are in the long run little more than an inconvenience for the outlets, and probably worse news for the US-based TLDs, as they seem less trustworthy and free from censorship. End users will just get used to using overseas domains to access those sites.

DISCLOSURE: The author of this article made multiple guest appearances on PressTV.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.