June 30, 2011 -- Iran has developed counter-measures to take on the "internet in a suitcase" program supposedly developed by the U.S. to bring online access to dissidents living under autocratic regimes, the country's spy chief said.
"We had predicted these [U.S. devised] actions, for example the internet in suitcase, and devised proper ways to combat them," Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said Wednesday, according to Iran's Fars News Agency.
Funded in part by the U.S. State Department, the "internet in a suitcase" is part of a classified multi-platform telecommunications program led by the United States to provide dissidents around the world the ability to "undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks," according to a report earlier this month by The New York Times.
But according to the Iranian report, the purpose of the program is actually to connect those dissidents directly with the CIA and is only a small front in the U.S. cyber confrontation mostly directed at Iran. The U.S. State Department confirmed the existence of the "internet in a suitcase" program after The Times report, but CIA declined to comment today on Iran's ability to stop it.
Richard Clarke, former White House advisor on counter-terrorism and ABC News consultant, said he believes the U.S. does have the capability to deploy "internet in a suitcase" devices, but Iran is also probably capable of combating that particular tactic right now.
In order to be of any use to internet users in the country, Clarke said, the devices would have to broadcast on a common frequency -- a frequency for which the government would be able to scan and jam if necessary. Also, it's likely the devices could be geo-located and physically shut down by government-loyal security forces.
"The plain old 'internet in a suitcase' I think is easily defeated," Clarke, author of "Cyber War," said. However, Clarke said the technology could be indispensible in countries that are already in crisis and "stupid enough" to shut down the whole internet.
The first such instance of such drastic tactics -- which The Times said helped invigorate the "internet in a suitcase" initiative -- occurred in Egypt the midst of its popular uprising in January when the government became the first to almost completely shut off the internet connection to the country in an effort to silence protesters. Earlier this month Syria followed suit, reportedly managing to knock out two-thirds of all Syrian networks.
Iran also has a history of strict internet censorship. Following its 2009 elections, the Iranian government attempted to crackdown on the proliferation of online protests, despite the support for dissidents from around the world.
"Governments that are respecting universal human rights have no reason to fear a free internet... It's long been a kind of tagline of anti-corruption programs, et cetera, that sunshine is the best disinfectant," a senior State Department official said of the program earlier this month. "Well, these technologies seem to be the best amplifier of sunshine in many ways."