As the tension between President Donald Trump and Iranian authorities continues to escalate, an ominous warning shot rang out in recent days in the form of a briefly defaced federal government website. The site for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) — which makes Congressional and government documents available to the public — briefly displayed an edited image depicting Trump’s face getting punched by a fist wearing a sleeve indicating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC. The imagery included a claim that it’s the work of Iranian hackers. Trump catapulted this latest round of hostilities forward with an abrupt airstrike killing top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who’d led the Quds Force, which is a specialized IRGC arm.
The exact identity of those behind the hack is unclear at this point, although authorities have definitely already geared up for serious cyberattacks from the Iranian government itself, which has promised harsh retaliation against the U.S. over the Soleimani killing. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) spokesperson Sara Sendek explained:
‘We are aware the website of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was defaced with pro-Iranian, anti-US messaging. At this time, there is no confirmation that this was the action of Iranian state-sponsored actors. The website was taken off line and is no longer accessible. CISA is monitoring the situation with FDLP and our federal partners.’
Gary Somerset, who works as chief public relations officer for the U.S. Government Publishing Office, which oversees the targeted website, backed up this explanation of the situation, adding:
‘An intrusion was detected on GPO’s FDLP website, which has been taken down. GPO’s other sites are fully operational. We are coordinating with the appropriate authorities to investigate further.’
CNN notes that besides the directly anti-Trump imagery, text that had been put on the page in English, Arabic, and Farsi (a language of Iran) “conveys a message of support for “oppressed” people in the Middle East.” The text also said the page had been “Hacked by Iran Cyber Security Group HackerS.” Separate from this kind of warning shot situation indicating how off-the-rails that the situation could get, fears have circulated about Iranians targeting the power grid, financial services, and other vulnerable similar targets.
That’s in addition to the danger to physical U.S. targets. Although Iranian authorities have vowed to retaliate, the shape of that retaliation is still emerging. One IRGC commander threatened ships coming through the area and even the U.S. ally of Israel, saying that Iranians could hit their city of Tel Aviv.
Trump has responded to the insistence on revenge by vowing to commit apparent war crimes. After claiming that civilian cultural sites were being considered for strikes, he reiterated to reporters over the weekend:
‘They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.’
War crimes are not defined by the personal preferences of a documented egomaniac.