- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Iran is recruiting a hacker army to target the U.S. power grid, water systems and other vital infrastructure for a cyberattack in a future confrontation with the United States, security specialists will warn Congress on Thursday.

“Elements of the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] have openly sought to pull hackers into the fold” of a religiously motivated cyberarmy, according to Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Lawmakers from two House Homeland Security subcommittees will hold a joint hearing Thursday about the cyberthreat posed by Iran — as tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program continue at a high level and as a possible Israeli strike against it looms.

The Washington Times obtained advance copies of witnesses’ prepared testimony.

In his remarks, Mr. Cilluffo says that, in addition to the recruiting by the Revolutionary Guards, another extremist militia, the Basij, “are paid to do cyberwork on behalf of the regime, [and] provide much of the manpower for Iran’s cyber-operations.”

Both militias are thought to be under the control of Iran’s clerical leadership, headed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Two Revolutionary Guard leaders have been indicted by U.S. prosecutors in connection with a suspected plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States by bombing a prominent Washington restaurant.

“Over the past three years, the Iranian regime has invested heavily in both defensive and offensive capabilities in cyberspace,” states testimony from Ilan Berman, vice president of the hawkish American Foreign Policy Council, in his remarks for Thursday’s hearing.

Estimates of the skill level of Iran’s hacker army vary, but Mr. Cilluffo points out that a veritable “arms bazaar of cyberweapons” is accessible through the Internet hacker underworld.

“Adversaries do not need capabilities, just intent and cash,” he states.

Mr. Cilluffo was recruited by President Bush on Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He helped set up the Office of Homeland Security in the White House and left for George Washington University in 2003.

In 2009, Iran’s nuclear program was attacked by a cyberweapon called Stuxnet. Although there is no definitive evidence of Stuxnet’s origins, Iran has blamed the United States and Israel and has been girding for a conflict in cyberspace ever since.

“For the Iranian regime the conclusion [drawn from Stuxnet] is clear: War with the West, at least on the cyberfront, has [already] been joined, and the Iranian regime is mobilizing,” states Mr. Berman.

The tensions between Iran and the West have taken unconventional forms besides cyberwarfare.

Iran claimed this month that it has been able to copy sensitive technology from a U.S. drone that crashed over its territory. It also has accused the United States and Israel of killing several of its nuclear scientists.

In a statement released Wednesday night, Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican and chairman of the cybersecurity, infrastructure protection, and security technologies subcommittee said that “if recent reports are accurate that Tehran is investing $1 billion to expand their cyberwarfare capabilities, Iran will be a growing cyber threat to our U.S. homeland.”

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