Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and the Cyber Threat
Posted by Ryan Mauro
Cuban, Iranian and Venezuelan officials have been caught actively considering cyber attacks on the U.S., including ones that would be “worse than the World Trade Center.” In the frightening documentary, the U.S.-based Spanish language Univision also exposes subversive operations by Iran in Latin America.
The undercover operation began after a former computers instructor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University was recruited by another professor in 2006 for a cyber terror plot requested by the Cuban embassy in Mexico City. The instructor, Juan Carlos Munoz Ledo, turned the tables on the Cuban government and later, its Iranian and Venezuelan allies. He said he’d go along with the plot and get some students involved to carry it out. In reality, he and his partners were starting a seven-month investigation that would expose the evils contemplated by these governments against the U.S.
Ledo and his team approached Mohamed Hassan Ghadiri in 2007, who was then Iran’s ambassador to Mexico. They discussed a plot to hack into American computer systems at nuclear power plants, the White House, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA and other critical sites from Mexico. A “digital bomb” would be implanted that would be “worse than the World Trade Center.” The footage of Ghadiri shows his excitement over the plot. He emphasized that the hackers should retrieve classified information because Iran needed to know if the U.S. was planning an attack. Ghadiri admits to having met with the students but claims that the Iranian regime rejected their offer to attack the U.S.
In 2008, the team approached Livia Acosta, the cultural attaché of the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico City. Like Ghadiri, she was interested in the cyber plot. She promised to put any information they provide into the hands of specifically Florida’s Turkey Point and Arkansas’ Nuclear One.. She was particularly pleased when the team claimed it could access the computers of nuclear power plants,
The documentary also revealed covert Iranian activities in Latin America. The journalists obtained footage from a failed terrorist attack against New York’s JFK Airport in 2007. It is widely known that Al-Qaeda was tied to the plot, but the involvement of Iran and Venezuela is less known.
The film reveals that the Iranian regime is still using Edgardo Ruben Assad, an operative involved in the 1992 bombing of Israel’s embassy in Argentina that killed 29 and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina that killed 85. Ghadiri worked to try to get this terrorist operative into Mexico. One team member was recruited by Ghadiri to go to Iran to study Islam for two months so he could come back and preach the regime’s ideology. He bravely went there and he met Muslim converts from Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia who all arrived for the same reason.
The filmmakers found out that Iran is financing mosques in Venezuela and Islamic terrorists are being trained in camps in the country. In 2010, Antonio Salas traveled to Venezuela by posing as a Palestinian jihadist. He learned of six camps in Venezuela and joined a Hezbollah branch in the country. He even met members of FARC, Hezbollah and Hamas in these camps. Univision’s investigators found out that the Iranian-backed terrorists in Venezuela engage in money-laundering and drug trafficking.
More evidence recently came out that Hezbollah and the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels have a three-way partnership in narcotics. A judge unsealed the case against Ayman Joumaa, who is accused of being involved in dealings between Colombian and Mexican cartels, specifically the Zetas. Joumaa used the Lebanese-Canadian Bank to launder money, which the Treasury Department has sanctioned for its Hezbollah ties.
The State Department said it found the documentary’s information “disturbing” but that the U.S. government doesn’t have any proof to confirm its allegations. President Obama has not commented on the matter, but did criticize Chavez’s alliances with Cuba and Iran in an interview with a Venezuelan newspaper. He said that Chavez is too busy “revisiting the ideological battles of the post.” Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, say they will hold hearings on Iran’s activities in Latin America.
The cyber plot may date back to 2007, but Iran’s interest in cyber warfare did not end then. Iran has decided to spend $1 billion bolstering its cyber warfare capabilities. Earlier this year, an Iranian defector reported that the Revolutionary Guards assessed that the U.S. power grid would be the best potential target for a cyber assault.
Apologists of Chavez and Iran will point to the fact that they did not conceive of the terror plot, but they did entertain it. This demonstrates a keen interest in doing harm to the U.S. through non-state proxies. If these are the types of actions being considered by Iran, Venezuela and Cuba that we know about, then what are they doing that we don’t know about?