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State Department Text Messages May Harm Iranian Recipients, Expert Says

Screenshot of the video with Persain caption attached to Rewards for Justice Program's tweet.

A London-based Internet expert on Thursday said that a text message from the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program which some Iranians have received is likely to put their lives in danger.

Russian media reported that Russian citizens also received similar messages on Thursday.

Nariman Gharib has published screenshots of the message received by some Iranians recently that says the government of the United States will pay a reward of up to $10 million to those who offer information on foreign attempts to influence U.S. elections. The message links to a tweet by the Persian-language account of the Rewards for Justice Program.

"Cybercriminals beware: The United States will offer a reward of up to $10 million for any information on foreign attempts to influence U.S. elections," the tweet of the Rewards for Justice Program in Persian says. The tweet provides the program's communication channels on Whatsapp, Signal and Telegram. A short infographic video with Persian caption is also attached to the tweet.

The English account of the program has also tweeted about about the subject of interference in U.S. elections. "If you have information on foreign interference in U.S. election through computer fraud or hacking, let us know and you could be eligible for a reward," the tweet reads and links to the website of the Rewards for Justice Program.

"What a dangerous move! @RFJ_USA has sent random mass text messages to Iranian numbers," Gharib wrote in a tweet on Thursday ​and added that receiving this text message may put people's lives in danger. He also pointed out that those recipients who have no clue about the program could be frightened by it.

Iranian authorities often send threatening text messages to people randomly. One of the tweets sent to random people by the Intelligence Ministry some time ago warned the recipient that "any contact and cooperation with hostile elements abroad through email, safe portals and other means of communications is a criminal act and will entail legal prosecution. It is necessary to cut the contact. This text message is the last security warning to you".

Under Gharib's post someone commented: "Warn them. Tell them this [Iran] is not Europe. Here even receiving a text is considered a crime. The good thing is that they sent mass [messages]. If there were a few it could really become problematic for the recipients".

Apparently, the message has been sent to both Twitter and Telegram users in Iran en masse.

Screenshots of the text message sent to people inside Iran in Nariman Gharib's tweet.

Rewards for Justice Program is a counterterrorism rewards program of the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service which since its establishment in 1984 has offered rewards for information to prevent acts of international terrorism against U.S. persons or property worldwide.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday told reporters about the offer of "up to $10 million" for information leading to the identification or location of any person acting at the direction or under the control of a foreign government who interferes with U.S. elections by engaging in criminal cyber activities.

Pompeo has said that he is confident other countries such as China, Iran and Russia will try to meddle in the upcoming November election but will not succeed. “The American people should rest assured that whether it’s Chinese interference, Iranian interference, Russian interference, or North Korean interference, any country, or even non-state actors who now have capabilities to try to meddle in our elections ... and that foreign influence is minimized,” he said on July 15.

The State Department has paid over $150 million since 1984 to more than 150 individuals across the world for information.

Iranian news agencies and websites have extensively reported Pompeo's comments about foreign interference in U.S. elections and the reward for helping prevent it but none has so far disclosed that Iranians have been receiving text messages about the promised reward.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.