The Morning Jolt

National Security & Defense

Iran’s Giant Middle Finger to the Biden Administration

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2021. (Official Khamenei Website/Handout via Reuters)

On the menu today: Not only is Iran plotting to kidnap American citizens, but on a wide variety of fronts, the regime in Tehran is biting the Biden administration’s outstretched hand; the U.S. may have taken a worthwhile action against Russian hackers; and Andrew Cuomo is still lying about how many New Yorkers died from COVID-19 — not by a handful of cases or a rounding error, but by more than 10,000 deaths.

The More Things Change, the More Iran Stays the Same

At some point, the Biden administration will have to stop letting the Iranians urinate on its shoes while it’s inviting them to further negotiations about their nuclear program. Tehran is not interested in making concessions, and it is not interested in changing its behavior. The mullahs think the Biden administration is a bunch of naïve suckers, and they don’t really hide their contempt.

For starters, the U.S. must not make concessions to regimes that plot to kidnap American citizens who dare criticize that regime:

In an indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan, four Iranians were charged with conspiring to kidnap the journalist and author, Masih Alinejad.

. . . The four defendants all live in Iran and remain at large, the prosecutors said, identifying one of them, Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, 50, as an Iranian intelligence official and the three others as “Iranian intelligence assets.” A fifth defendant, accused of supporting the plot but not participating in the kidnapping conspiracy, was arrested in California.

The indictment describes a plot that included attempts to lure Ms. Alinejad, an American citizen, to a third country to capture her and forcibly render her to Iran. The intelligence official, Mr. Farahani, and his network used private investigators to surveil, photograph and video record Ms. Alinejad and members of her household in Brooklyn, the government said.

The extensive surveillance that Mr. Farahani’s network procured included the use of a live, high-definition video feed depicting Ms. Alinejad’s home, prosecutors said.

“This is not some far-fetched movie plot,” William F. Sweeney Jr., the head of the F.B.I.’s New York office, said in a statement.

. . . Another of the agents, Kiya Sadeghi, researched a service offering what the government described as military-style speedboats for a self-operated maritime evacuation out of Manhattan; and maritime travel from New York to Venezuela, whose leadership has friendly relations with the Iranian government.

Meanwhile, beyond New York City:

When the Iranians take actions such as those, the Biden administration looks foolish for removing Iranian oil-company officials from financial blacklists, lifting sanctions on Iranian energy companies, and contemplating lifting sanctions on Iran’s ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Why are we making life easier for a regime that keeps trying to kill or otherwise harm our citizens and our allies?

The International Monetary Fund just released new figures indicating that the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign had dramatically reduced Iran’s “Gross Official Reserves” — that is, its holdings of gold and foreign currencies by official monetary institutions — from $122 billion in 2018 to $4 billion in 2020. Between sanctions and the problems of COVID-19, the Iranian regime was quickly going broke*. Elliot Abrams observes that, “Whenever we hear that ‘the maximum pressure campaign failed,’ we ought to recall that IMF statistic: Iran’s reserves almost disappeared between 2018 and 2020.” By unilaterally relieving some sanctions in hopes of some future concessions, the Biden administration is grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

Yes, the Biden policy hasn’t been total appeasement so far. Late last month, U.S. military forces launched airstrikes against operational and weapons-storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, where Iranian-backed militias were launching drone attacks against U.S. forces. And I don’t know if a recent cyberattack against Iran’s rail network was the work of the U.S. government; it doesn’t really fit our methods or goals. It’s a civilian target, and the U.S. doesn’t really gain much by lousing up the commutes of ordinary Iranian citizens:

Iran’s railroad system came under cyberattack on Friday, a semi-official news agency reported, with hackers posting fake messages about train delays or cancellations on display boards at stations across the country.

The hackers posted messages such as “long delayed because of cyberattack” or “canceled” on the boards. They also urged passengers to call for information, listing the phone number of the office of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Okay, that last detail is funny.

Foreign policy can be complicated, but in the end, it boils down to incentives, deterrents, and consequences. Right now, the Iranians don’t even fear the consequences of launching a plot to kidnap an American citizen off the streets of New York for being an outspoken critic of the regime.

And speaking of tough rhetoric not matching up with the administration’s actions . . .

Earlier this week, former assistant attorney general Jack Goldsmith reached the point of exasperation with the Biden administration’s warnings to Vladimir Putin about Russian hackers:

On July 9, President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States will take “any necessary action,” including imposing unspecified “consequences,” if Russia does not disrupt ransomware attacks from its soil. The problem with this warning is that the United States has been publicly pledging to impose “consequences” on Russia for its cyber actions for at least five years — usually, as here, following a hand-wringing government deliberation in the face of a devastating cyber incident. This talk has persisted even as adverse cyber operations have grown more frequent and damaging. It is ineffective and, in the aggregate, self-defeating . . .

Amazingly, the United States is in exactly the place it was five years ago when the Russians interfered in the 2016 election. It still has not figured out how to impose costs on the Russians that outweigh the Russians’ perceived benefits from these cyber operations. Whatever combination of public and secret sanctions it has been imposing clearly is not doing the trick.

The good news is that maybe U.S. cyberdefense is finally adding up to, as Elvis would put it, a little less conversation and a little more action:

A Russian-based hacker group blamed for a massive ransomware attack earlier this month has gone offline, sparking speculation about whether the move was the result of a government-led action.

The webpages of the group known as REvil disappeared from the dark web on July 13, cybersecurity researchers said. Both its data-leak site and ransom-negotiating portals were unreachable.

The researchers said that it was unclear whether the outage was the result of actions taken by law enforcement or whether REvil had voluntarily taken down its sites.

“The situation is still unfolding, but evidence suggests REvil has suffered a planned, concurrent takedown of their infrastructure, either by the operators themselves or via industry or law enforcement action,” John Hultquist of Mandiant Threat Intelligence said in a statement quoted by AFP.

The White House and U.S. Cyber Command declined to comment, according to the Associated Press.

Let’s hope REvil becomes permanently REmoved from the Internet.

Yes, Andrew Cuomo Is Still Lying about New York’s COVID-19 Death Toll

Remember how lots and lots of progressive activists, and their allies in the media, were absolutely convinced that the state of Florida’s death records had been altered and falsified to hide a terrible death toll because of the decisions of Ron DeSantis? And to this day, they still insist that’s the case, even though every medical official in the state says it’s a bunch of nonsense?

It turns out that the story is somewhat close to true, except it’s not DeSantis in Florida, it’s Andrew Cuomo in New York State:

The federal government’s count of the COVID-19 death toll in New York has 11,000 more victims than the tally publicized by the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which has stuck with a far more conservative approach to counting virus deaths.

The discrepancy in death counts continued to widen this year, according to an Associated Press review, even as the Democrat has come under fire over allegations that his office purposely obscured the number of deaths of nursing home residents to protect his reputation.

New York state’s official death count, presented daily to the public and on the state’s Department of Health website, stood at around 43,000 this week. But the state has provided the federal government with data that shows roughly 54,000 people have died with COVID-19 as a cause or contributing factor listed on their death certificate.

“It’s a little strange,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. “They’re providing us with the death certificate information so they have it. I don’t know why they wouldn’t use those numbers.”

Yes, “strange” is one word for it. “Shameless,” “appalling,” and “disqualifying from high office” would be others. It would be nice to live in a world where the true allegation about Cuomo generated as much anger and denunciation as the false allegation about DeSantis.

*Iran’s dire state isn’t that far away from the grim portrait envisioned in the first chapters of Hunting Four Horsemen.

ADDENDA: Dan McLaughlin is right; if Time wants to run an op-ed column entitled “The Conservative Case Against Banning Critical Race Theory,” they should not select a former clerk for Ruth Bader Ginsburg who recently wrote a report entitled, “On the Origins of Republican Violence.”

Phil Klein is right; if Democrats are determined to pass a $3.5 trillion wish-list spending bill through reconciliation, there’s no good reason for Republicans to sign on to the other, smaller infrastructure bill.

Ramesh Ponnuru is right; “President Joe Biden says the U.S. is facing a crisis of democracy, but he’s not acting as though he believes it.”

And finally, Vox was spectacularly, laughably wrong, a few years back, when it sneeringly disputed one of my tweets and claimed that, “China is tackling climate change with all guns blazing. The US, not China, is the laggard in this relationship.”


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