Venezuela, Iran Linked to Alleged Cyberattack Plot
December 16, 2011
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (left) and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (right) in Tehran.
U.S. Spanish-language television network, Univision, has released an investigative documentary in which it is claimed that Venezuelan and Iranian diplomats negotiated with Mexican hackers to break into White House, Pentagon, and FBI databases, as well as U.S. nuclear facilities. Critical to these allegations are a series of recordings made by one of the hackers, who went undercover and attempted to document the conspiracy.
According to the report, Juan Carlos Munoz Ledo, a computer instructor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, was recruited in 2006 to participate in cyber attacks on US government websites. In later years he met with former Iranian ambassador to Mexico, Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri, and former cultural attaché of the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico, Livia Acosta, to give updates on the project’s advance. In a recording from one of these meetings, Acosta, who is now the Venezuelan consul in Miami, can be heard saying she could get information from the hackers sent directly to Hugo Chavez.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner says his government is probing the report but hasn’t confirmed its claims. However, he suggested Tuesday the implications were “very disturbing.”
Solomon Chang, a researcher on cyber security for strategic planning and forecasting consultancy Wikistrat, suggests the report raises “alarming” uncertainties as it remains unclear exactly what the hackers were trying to achieve. “Were they trying to advance their technological capabilities at the expense of the U.S. military? Are they simply trying to explore U.S. cybernetic structural weaknesses? Sabotage the infrastructures? These questions remain unanswered,” he said.
In response, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) has written Secretary of State Hilary Clinton asking for an investigation into Acosta as a result of her alleged “willingness to undermine U.S. interests.”
Earlier this year, Chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called for hearings on Iranian activities in Latin America. This week’s report comes just months after U.S. prosecutors accused factions in the Iranian government of a plot to recruit a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. by bombing a Washington-area restaurant.
In response to the Univision report, Venezuelan opposition leader Pablo Medina has called ties between his country and Iran troubling, and the latest allegations “very serious.” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, meanwhile, has called the report “lies.”