Iran last week announced the formation of a new cyber-police force to strike back in the Government’s escalating digital war against what it claims to be foreign-inspired political dissent.

The first unit in this online police force is operational in Tehran with secondary units planned for every major city in the country.

Such events in Iran are invariably accompanied by layers of political rhetoric, and this launch was no exception. The service would counter “espionage and riots”, in the reported words of police chief Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam.

Iran already has a known cyber-war unit called the ‘Iranian Cyber-Army’ – which has been blamed for attacks such as those against Twitter and Chinese social networking site, – but the new force is really designed to conduct information war against internal dissidents.
The government became aware of its weakness in this area after analysing the major anti-Government social unrest the country experienced in June 2009. At the time, the authorities had few ways of countering such activity short of pulling the plug on Internet access altogether.

“Through these very social networks in our country, anti-revolutionary groups and dissidents found each other and contacted foreign countries and triggered riots,” Moghaddam was quoted by news agencies as saying.

An interesting aspect of this unit is that it appears to be connected to mainstream policing. Individuals identified from activities in cyberspace could find themselves being arrested by local policemen. This is a cyber force but it has an implied and Orwellian connection to physical policing too.