General Jalali: “Iran has begun to operate its first cyber army”

On 18 and 19 February 2012 a number of Iranian government entities held The First National Conference on Cyber Defense which addressed a number of issue including cyber security threats faced by the Islamic Republic and strategies to confront these threats.

General Gholam-Reza Jalali, head of the Passive Defense Organization of Iran (PDOI), was one of the key speakers at the conference. He explained that Iran had been one of the first victims of cyber-warfare, referring to the Stuxnet worm which some believe to have been a U.S. and/or Israeli operation that successfully disrupted Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts. Despite the difficulties however, he emphasized that Iran had overcome these obstacles and shown its strength. General Jalali, citing recent moves by the United States to downsize its military while expanding its cyber defense infrastructure, expressed his belief that this was an indication of the increasing importance of cyberspace as a strategic domain for the great powers.

In characterizing Iran’s cyber security strategy going forward, he indicated that “Iran has begun to operate its first cyber army”. In earlier comments on 17 February he also discussed the “dangers” posed by Google, Yahoo, and other Western cyber powers to the privacy of Iranians and as a consequence to the Islamic Republic’s national security. He called for the creation of a “national Internet” in order to address these “dangers” as soon as possible.

The PDOI, which has been created during the tenure of the Ahmadinejad administration under the guidance of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is directly responsible to the military chain of command, with its head appointed directly by the Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Hassan Firouzabadi. While the Islamic Republic is believed to have been involved in a number of cyber operations via the Iranian Cyber Army, its military efforts in cyberspace now appear to be taking on a much more coherent and organized form, with both defensive and offensive capabilities, under the auspices of the Cyber Defense Organization. The conference also indicated that Iran would be soon creating a National Cyber Defense Strategy, similar to the one promulgated by U.S. President Barack Obama, in order to better identify threats and delineate responsibilities in safeguarding Iran’s computer networks and the essential infrastructure which rely on them.

In a recent interview Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told CNN that “Iranians are unusually talented in cyber warfare for some reason we don’t fully understand…The Iranians are clearly a cyber security threat in our future.” Schmidt’s comments do not appear to be too far off the mark, especially as the Islamic Republic begins to integrate cyberspace as an integral part of its overall vision of national security.