David Denehy, the Iran democracy program coordinator for the State Department from 2005 to 2007, said, “Our goal was to promote freedom of speech for Iranians to communicate with each other and the outside world. We funded and supported innovative technologies to allow them to do this via the Internet, cell phones and other media.”
Mr. Denehy added, however, that Iran’s democracy movement is being directed by Iranians.
“What we are witnessing now is the Iranian people utilizing these new technologies and that is on their own accord,” he said. “They have done it themselves. I hope the projects we funded have been helpful to them, but this is an Iranian-led movement.”
Another agency in the U.S. government that has provided seed money to help Iranians avoid Internet censorship is the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the body that oversees the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Farda, a Farsi-language radio station that stepped up shortwave broadcasts recently to counteract Iranian government efforts to jam the signal.
Ken Berman, acting director of engineering for the BBG, said he oversees a three-person anti-censorship team that focuses on China and Iran. He declined to provide the exact budget for the project, saying only that it was “under $5 million” a year.
“We have realized that Iran has a growing audience of young activist Internet users and we have repurposed our tools to work in Farsi and make it available to Iranians,” he said. “We open up the channels so the Iranian blogosphere is more accessible to Iranians in Iran.”
Mr. Berman said that one project his group funded was to design the Firefox Web browser to embed the TOR proxy system.
The anti-censorship operation has also benefited VOA, whose “traffic has gone up exponentially” since the unrest began in Iran, he said.
Mr. Berman said that this is not U.S. “meddling” in Iranian affairs.
“All we are doing is providing an open channel so Iranians can get information coming in and out,” he said.
Suad Jafarzadeh contributed to this report.