The long-standing clerical dictatorship in Iran, which has maintained its illegitimate rule through oppressive measures and violent suppression of its own people for over four decades, faces a significant challenge in controlling public awareness. Since its early days, the regime has waged a war against freedom of speech and the press, consistently avoiding transparency.
In the digital age, the regime and its leadership have encountered a new obstacle. The internet has become a vital source of information for people of all ages, posing a significant challenge to the regime’s efforts to control and manage what they refer to as “cyberspace.” Despite allocating substantial resources to curb the flow of information, their attempts have been largely unsuccessful.
Recently, on May 29, an Iranian dissident group successfully infiltrated and gained access to a trove of highly sensitive materials belonging to the regime’s top officials. Among these leaked documents, evidence has emerged revealing the regime’s ongoing attempts to suppress dissent.
One particular leaked communication, written and signed by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and dated December 12, 2019, just weeks after a nationwide uprising sparked by a rise in gas prices, sheds light on his determination to revise his regime’s approach toward the internet. In the document, Khamenei orders relevant organizations to expedite the implementation of a project known as the National Network.
This communication highlights Khamenei’s personal resolve as the highest authority in the regime to use various means of monitoring, controlling, and managing the internet to subdue a restless society. In the letter, Khamenei calls for a complete internet shutdown to suppress the popular uprising. Consequently, he has commanded a network of organizations to establish the infrastructure for the National Network, an intranet designed to disconnect Iranian society from the global internet and maintain strict control over information flow.
The letters and their translation are reflected below:
The National Information Network and its prominent role in safeguarding the country’s independence, meeting the public’s needs, and reducing foreign interference is a matter that has been emphasized multiple times, and recent events further underscore the importance of this issue. Despite the efforts made by all stakeholders, including the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, the National Center for Cyberspace, and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the evaluation report of the National Center for Cyberspace indicates that the actions taken by the National Information Network have not aligned with the decisions of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace. Therefore, it is necessary to take action regarding the following priorities:
1- Within two months, the Supreme Council of Cyberspace should review and approve the architectural framework and master plan of the National Information Network, which will be presented by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology within three weeks. The plan should address the national needs of cyberspace and provide the country with immunity against internet disconnections from external sources.
2- Within the next two months, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology should provide the National Center for Cyberspace with an operational plan (including implementation schedule and expected outcomes) to complete, organize, strengthen, and sustain the National Network. This plan should ensure the provision of all infrastructure and foundational services of cyberspace to meet the people’s needs independently, based on a specific timeline (such as popular search engine services, messaging apps, data centers, and operating systems) with internal management.
3- The National Center for Cyberspace is responsible for guiding and monitoring the proper implementation of the National Information Network, as well as managing the overall services and content of the country’s cyberspace. This center must play an essential role in the project’s execution process and ensure compliance with its requirements.
4- The necessary structure and budget should be provided by the government to fulfill the tasks of the National Center for Cyberspace as stated in item three.
5- A progress report should be sent to me every three months.
Peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah,
Seyyed Ali Khamenei
Office of the Esteemed Leader
Dr. Firouz Abadi,
Honorable Secretary of the Supreme Council and Head of the National Center for Cyberspace
Peace be upon you,
Attached is the text of the proclamation from the Supreme Leader, may his sublime shadow endure, regarding the National Information Network.
Mohammad Ali Golpayegani
Islamic Republic of Iran
Supreme Council of Cyberspace
National Center for Cyberspace
Secretary of the Supreme Council and Head of the National Center
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,
Respected Hojat al-Islam va al-Muslimin, Dr. Raisi,
Honorable President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Chairman of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace,
Greetings and respects,
While wishing you the acceptance of your devotions and prayers during the blessed month, given the importance of the National Information Network, several provisions in the 2022 budget law, including section “A,” subparagraph “4,” section “Y,” subparagraph “6,” and subsections “Z” and “H,” have allocated resources to this national project. Considering the mission of the National Center for Cyberspace in this regard, which has been approved by the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, and particularly the explicit directive of the esteemed Supreme Leader (may his sublime shadow endure) (attached image) regarding “receiving relevant operational plans from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and reviewing them” and also “providing the necessary requirements for the fulfillment of these important roles by the National Center, including the specific provision of structure and budget by the government for the realization of these matters,” I kindly request that, if deemed appropriate, you communicate this matter appropriately to the Management and Planning Organization and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology so that the necessary preparations and mechanisms for implementing the directives of the esteemed Supreme Leader and addressing his concerns regarding the National Information Network can be established, and with increased interaction and cooperation among the organizations, the pace of progress can be accelerated.
Seyed Abolhasan Firouzabadi
Confidential Secretariat of Presidency
Registration Number: M/4577
Date: 28 – 4 – 2022
Islamic Republic of Iran
Office of the President
Chief of Staff
In the Name of Allah
Dr. Zarepour, Honorable Minister of Communications and Information Technology,
Dr. Mir Kazemi, Honorable Deputy of the President and Head of the Organization for Planning and Budget
Peace be upon you,
Respectfully, attached herewith is a copy of the letter numbered 29446/M dated 26 – 4 – 2022 from the esteemed Secretary of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace regarding the “request for the provision of prerequisites and mechanisms for the implementation of the order of the Supreme Leader (may his sublime shadow endure) regarding the National Information Network.” Please review and take appropriate action.
Dr. Firouzabadi, Honorable Secretary of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, for information.