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Google Cites CIA-Backed Firm in Ban of Allegedly Iran-Backed Accounts

© REUTERS / Dado RuvicPeople are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with a Google logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica October 29, 2014.
People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with a Google logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica October 29, 2014. - Sputnik International
Google followed in the footsteps of fellow tech giants Twitter and Facebook by blacklisting accounts a CIA-backed cybersecurity firm claims with “moderate confidence” are linked to Iran’s government.

Google banned 58 accounts allegedly linked to Iran from its platforms on Thursday after "working closely with FireEye," a cybersecurity firm bankrolled by the Central Intelligence Agency.

In a blog post, Google said it banned 39 YouTube channels, six blogs and 13 Google+ accounts. Between the 39 YouTube channels, videos had been viewed just 13,466 times, meaning that the reach of the alleged Iranian operation was miniscule.

Google followed in the footsteps of Facebook, which on Tuesday banned 652 pages, groups and accounts on its platforms, including Instagram. The reach of those entities, some of which were believed to be Russian-operated in addition to Iranian, was also very small. Twitter followed suit that same day, banning 284 accounts "engaging in coordinated manipulation," and saying in a statement, "it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran." 

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Google, like Facebook, worked with the CIA-funded cybersecurity firm FireEye in identifying the accounts it removed. Twitter merely stated that it is "committed to engaging with other companies and relevant law enforcement entities." 

"We're still investigating, and we have shared what we know with the US and UK governments," Facebook's head of Cybersecurity Policy, Nathaniel Gleiche, wrote.

According to Gleicher, the social media giant got a tip from FireEye, a cybersecurity firm that has received venture capital funding by the CIA since 2009, Sputnik News reported. The CIA's "not-for-profit strategic investor," In-Q-Tel, boasts of its "strategic partnership" with FireEye, calling it a "critical addition to our strategic investment portfolio for security technologies."

The company was one of the few to actually forensically analyze the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) after it was supposedly hacked in 2016 during the elections. But FireEye's methodology in attributing the "hack" to Russia has raised eyebrows among experts. FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March 2017 that the company attributed the blame to Russia based on "deduction" and "process of elimination."

A spokesperson for the company also told Defense One that the hackers "wanted experts and policymakers to know that Russia is behind it," which seems like an odd aim given that since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, Russia has been sanctioned 217 times and has had diplomats expelled from the US, in addition to seeing heightened military posturing along its borders.

Like Facebook's previous bans of "Russia-linked accounts" and accounts displaying activity supposedly consistent with the alleged Kremlin-run Internet Research Agency troll farm, many of the pages identified by FireEye are left leaning and anti-Trump, according to a Thursday release from the cyber firm.

"We assess with moderate confidence that this activity originates from Iranian actors," it said. Those accounts included Liberty Front Press, Berniecrats, US Journal, Real Progressive Front, The British Left, Critics Chronicle, Instituto Manquehue and some social media accounts boosting their posts while pretending to be real people, among others.

One of those allegedly fake real people, in a tweet highlighted by FireEye, called for a boycott of the Hajj, accusing Saudi Arabia of using pilgrims' money to "kill and displace" people in Yemen. 

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Multiple media outlets have characterized the banned accounts as attempting to influence the 2018 midterm elections, which Twitter, Google and Facebook have not claimed. The Associated Press, for example, tweeted that the accounts were "intending to disrupt US election," without any evidence whatsoever.

"The social media companies are by and large American companies, and they want to be in favor with the US government," web developer and technologist Chris Garaffa told Radio Sputnik's By Any Means Necessary on Wednesday, prior to Google's announcement.

"They will do the bidding of the US government when it comes to data collection [and] when it comes to taking down pages that are not acceptable."

"It's a huge PR weapon that the American government has that almost no one else does," he added.

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