By Ben Tinsley
There is a growing concern in both Israel and the United States that funds from sanctions relief in the Iran nuclear deal could be used to bolster Iran’s ability to launch increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.
The cyber threat posed by Iran has only grown over the past five years, explained Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas. He said a recent cyber security hearing identified Iran as a cyber haven of particularly malicious intent.
“Iran’s actions as a cyber aggressor prove the need to take swift action before its cyber capabilities become even more sophisticated,” Ratcliffe said.
This topic dominated a Homeland Security and cyber security meeting held in Israel the first week of May. In attendance were a congressional delegation from the United States and top Israel leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon.
The meeting confirmed the importance of maintaining America’s unwavering support for Israel as the USA’s strongest ally in the Middle East, stated Ratcliffe, who led that delegation to Israel.
“It’s s critical that we remain unified in our collective fight against terrorism,” Ratcliffe said.
On Thursday, May 12, Ratcliffe introduced a new bill, the Iran Cyber Sanctions Act of 2016. It would require the president’s administration to impose sanctions on cyber hackers linked to the government in Iran.
Various leaders in the North Texas Jewish community cautiously applauded the initiative to protect Israel and America.
“I can tell you cyber hackers are something we are very concerned about — especially coming out of Iran,” said Dan Prescott, chairman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas board.
‘Issue of concern’
Bob Goldberg, executive director at Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, said he was not familiar with the bill but is always a proponent of cyber security.
“Cyber security is certainly is an issue of concern — something of which we are aware and trying to stay prepared,” he said.
Ratcliffe’s is not the first bill to go after Iranian cyber terrorists. Just last month, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, introduced a nearly verbatim Senate version of the Iran Cyber Sanctions Act of 2016, known as S. 2756.
Ratcliffe voted numerous times against the Iran nuclear agreement when it was brought before Congress in 2015. This was, in part, due to the possibility that increased revenue from the agreement might be used to enhance Iran’s cyber capabilities.
Ratcliffe said during their discussions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed deep concerns that Iran may use funds from the nuclear agreement to bolster its cyber capabilities.
“This reinforced the necessity of using sanctions as a tool in deterring such destructive behavior that so greatly threatens our national security,” he said.
Local reaction to Iran deal
Last year, the Iran deal created uneasiness throughout the United States.
Among those reactions locally:
- Leaders from the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and the Jewish Community Relations Council issued a public statement opposing it.
- The JCRC sponsored and presented a three-part series about the Iran agreement to educate the community about the many facets of the Iran deal as well as its impact.
- The American Jewish Committee Dallas invited two speakers to discuss how the Iran nuclear deal was expected to impact the Jewish community.
During the recent meeting in Israel, Ratcliffe was joined by Rep. Jim Langevin, D-Rhode Island, who sits with him on the House Homeland Security Committee. Also in attendance were Iddo Moed, head of Cyber at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Dr. Eviatar Matania, head of Israel’s National Cyber Bureau; Isaac Ben-Israel, head of the Israel Space Agency and security and diplomacy educator at Tel Aviv University; Citi’s Technology Innovation Lab; and Microsoft Israel.
As the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Ratcliffe led numerous cyber-specific meetings with industry leaders and Israeli government representatives.
Authorization to sanction
If approved, his new bill pushes the administration to take action on an April 2015 executive order that authorized the Treasury Department to sanction individuals and entities that engage in malicious cyber activities against the United States.
In March the Department of Justice announced the indictment of seven hackers connected to the Iranian government.
Directed at American banks and a New York dam, the attacks represented the first time the U.S. charged state-sponsored individuals for seeking to disrupt the networks of key industries.
“The attacks by the Iran-linked hackers confirmed concerns previously voiced by top experts regarding the country’s malicious intent,” Ratcliffe said.
Anita Zusman Eddy, JCRC executive director, said she has not heard any reaction to the cyber terrorism bill or the issue in general from the local community.
“But we certainly support strong enforcement against malicious cyber activities against the United States generated by Iran or any other entity,” she said.