John Bolton Will Get to Start His Iran War Because Nine Iranians Stole Academic Dissertations

Earlier today, Rod Rosenstein rolled out a dangerously vague indictment of nine Iranians, allegedly tied to the Revolutionary Guard, for hacking hundreds of universities and some private companies and NGOs.

I say it’s dangerously vague because, while it’s clear the Iranians compromised thousands of university professors, it’s not clear precisely what they stole. But it appears that most of data stolen from universities (some privacy companies, government agencies, and NGOs were targeted too) consists of scholarship.

[M]embers of the conspiracy used stolen account credentials and obtained unauthorized access to victim professor accounts, though which they then exfiltrated, or transferred to themselves, academic data and documents from the systems of compromised universities, including, among other things, academic journalist, these, dissertations, and electronic books.

The indictment describes the stolen data benefitting (along with the IRGC) “Iran-based universities.” And it specifies that the hackers sold the information so that Iranians could access US academic online libraries.

Magapaper sold stolen academic resources to customers within Iran, including Iran-based public universities and institutions, and Gigapaper sold a service to customers within Iran whereby purchasing customers could use compromised university professor accounts to directly access the online library systems of particular United States-based and foreign universities.

The indictment claims the Iranians stole “academic data and intellectual property” which cost the affected 144 US universities “$3.4 billion to procure and access.” But that’s reminiscent of the Aaron Swartz case (to which several people have likened this), where the prosecutor justified pursuing Swartz because he had downloaded “intellectual property that cost millions to create,” something like 4.75 million articles and 87 Gigabytes of data (See the extensive discussion about cost and damages in this MIT report.) DOJ accuses the Iranians of stealing 31 terabytes of data.

As I said, this is a dangerously vague indictment. And, from the metadata, it appears that the indictment may be more than a month old. ( h/t z3dster)

There are also not dates on any of the signature lines, so it may be this indictment has just been sitting in a drawer in southern Manhattan, waiting to serve as a casus belli.

Perhaps there was more sensitive data stolen here. Perhaps the professors who got hacked were more selectively targeted than the sheer number of academics targeted — 100,000 got phished, with almost 8,000 responding — suggests.

But absent far more details, this indictment seems to make an international incident out of people in a very closed society trying to access academic information that is readily available here.

I’ve long written about the potential downsides of indicting nation-state hackers, which is effectively what these guys are — particularly the possibility that doing so will invite retaliation against our own official hackers. But in some cases — with the OPM hack, with hacks of national security information, with the Russians who targeted the election — that might make sense.

But indicting nation-state hackers for stealing dissertations?

Update: This confirms what z3dster noted: this thing has been sealed since February 7. Why? And why did it get unsealed the day after Bolton was hired?

62 replies
  1. Julia G. Stone says:

    Indictment also sites having had to state governments, including Indiana where Pence was the governor prior to being VP.  This  New Yorker article cites a suspected connection between Trump and the IRGC. I’ve seen extensive reporting on this deal elsewher,  but I can’t recall where.

  2. Trip says:

    Where the hell is the cult who argue incessantly that we can’t trust “Deep State” because of the Iraq WMD lie, which was propagated in part by BOLTON? All is forgiven now?

    This dog and pony show is taking a terrifying turn. I can’t imagine that the timing of this ‘big’ announcement is only coincidental to Bolton’s appointment.

  3. SteveB says:

    Bolton to take up his role as from April 19

    12 May is next date when Iran agreement is due to be considered by US

    Guardian reported 6 hours ago that EU is preparing to offer credit to Iran if hit by the deal being undone.

    • Trip says:

      On April 9, 1997, John R. Bolton, a former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs in the Bush Administration, testified before the House International Relations Committee. In his written statement he asserted, “Treaties are ‘law’ only for U.S. domestic purposes. In their international operation, treaties are simply ‘political,’ and not legally binding.” In support of this assertion, he relied on several old Supreme Court cases dealing with with the effect of treaties in U.S. law or with reasons a government might put forward for declining to execute a treaty.

      He has argued this more recently, as well. So why in hell would NK go the diplomatic route and sign agreements with the US?

      Further, he’ll argue that the agreement with Iran doesn’t matter since he doesn’t consider such agreements as binding anyway (even if participants are adhering to it).

      • SteveB says:

        He’ll be a cheer leader for blowing up the deal no doubt.

        He is deeply antithetical to all transnational bodies, and I have no doubt he will tub thump against the EU in due course which will be of a piece with Trumps instinct.

        EU has just recieved exemptions from steel etc sanctions, but I suspect this will be a focus for threats in due course.

        The indictment names a number of EU countries as targets of the Iranian hacks: thus a useful cudgel to beat the EU with for being weak on Iran twice over.

        EU also taking action against Russia which cuts across Trumpian apathy towards Putin.

        I hope I’m wrong but I can see the Trump WH sharpening its disagreements with its allies .

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Casuistry, from a Yaley who knows better.

        Constitutionally, adopted treaties become law in accordance with their terms and the constitutional framework of the state party to them.  In the US, after signature by the executive and ratification by the Senate, they rank in priority as domestic law below the Constitution, and above inconsistent congressional legislation and agency rules.  That they function and are enforced differently than purely domestic legislation Bolton uses as an argument that they are not laws.  Nonsense.

        Of course treaties are political, domestically as well as internationally.  Domestic legislation is certainly political – witness today’s omnibus spending bill.  Treaties are agreements between states – a political act among political actors.  They represent, in many cases, a binding commitment to work toward common goals or to organize common treatment of similar behavior.

        International postal agreements were important early modern examples.  They are why a letter posted in DC with a US stamp on it in the correct amount gets delivered in London rather than being tossed on a heap at the quayside or on the tarmac at Heathrow.  Airline agreements are more modern examples.

        Bolton is arguing that states – he means the United States – should have the right unilaterally to throw out a treaty whenever it suits their momentary fancy.  An acolyte of Dick Cheney, he believes that no self-restraint agreed by the United States could possibly be a valid restraint on the United States.

        Bolton’s is an argument for empire, for dominance and submission, and for chaos.  He’ll fit right in at Don Trump’s card table.

        • pseudonymous in nc says:

          Let’s not forget that Bolton’s first acts under W were to dick over the chemical and bio-weapons treaties, and to empower every warlord mustering child soldiers in Africa by nixing the small arms treaty. That dirty old man already has blood on his hands, and it’s still not enough blood for him.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The “cost of creation” argument is bullshit. It probably inflates real damages by orders of magnitude, which makes the number little more than a headline grabber.

    What’s the cost to access it, to read or copy it? Time might spend thousands to produce a single article. I can read it for the cost of a single magazine. I can read twelve months’ worth for the cost of an annual subscription, about the same cost as buying a few drinks at a local bar. In a few cases, the correct measure would be the cost to license it, often a single-digit percentage of revenue obtained by using the technology.

    This looks like garden variety computer crime and copyright violations, with the odd patent license problem thrown in. The computer crime aspect might add multiples to actual damages. But Rosenstein’s number appears to border on active deceit. I guess with Bolton coming into the West Wing and Foggy Bottom’s seventh floor empty, there’s nobody left to debate the issue who doesn’t wear a uniform.

    • greengiant says:

      The DOJ drove Adam Swartz  to suicide for less and these fellows are “Shiite terrorists” so this is a free for.  /sarcasm

    • Frank Probst says:

      See below for my comment on this.  I agree with your point, but a comparison to Time Magazine isn’t quite accurate.  Academic journals can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per year for an institutional subscription.  Individual subscriptions are often bundled with membership to a particular academic group or society, and those are typically in the hundreds of dollars.  So for your example, it’s probably about 10 times more for an academic article/issue/subscription (roughly, with a LOT of variation) than it would be for Time Magazine.  I’m guessing they’re counting the same journals and books over and over again for each institution, though, so to use your example, they’re probably not using the cost of one Time Magazine subscription.  They’re using the cost of 144 subscriptions.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        Academic journals can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per year for an institutional subscription. 

        And yet submitters to academic journals are not paid. Peer reviewers are typically also not paid. If you want to publish your doctoral work under open access, you typically have to pay to do so.

        (Fuck Reed Elsevier.)

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    OT, regarding Trump unwillingly signing a six-month budget bill, he spent a lot of time attacking the drugs problem.  If the Don means what he says, he could start by regulating gun sales to Mexico.  The US is its largest suppliers of licit and illicit weapons.

    Or the Don could make it personal.  He could demand that all buyers and renters at properties he owns or manages, which used to include Panama, demonstrate that their funds come from legitimate sources.  That is, that they are not laundered and did not come from, say, drug lords or organized crime.  Cash sales would be right out.  (UK’s financial services regulations place a similar burden on solicitors, intermediaries in most UK property sales.)  That would show the world that Donald Trump means business and that he puts his money where his mouth is.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I just figured out why Donald Trump is adamant about building his great wall.  He thinks it will keep out the Mongol hordes, we’ll be able to see it from space, and a thousand years from now, it will be the most important tourist attraction people will buy tickets to see, because his name will still be on it.  Correcting the emperor is never an easy task.

  6. Bob Conyers says:

    I think when this is all over it will be ludicrous to think Trump was convinced by any facts. He wants his invisible jets (he thinks F 35s are literally invisible) to blow things up. Bolton will repeat the word bomb over and over until it happens. Personally I think the bogus story of sonic weapons in Havana is all it would take for Bolton to tip Trump into bombing Tehran.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    From the UK Independent and HuffPost, the high court, after a four-day delay, granted the Information Commissioner a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s premises. Text of warrant still unavailable. Mr. Justice Leonard said he would issue his reasons for the warrant next Tuesday.

    The IC had requested a warrant Monday morning. Delays, including an adjournment on Thursday, remain unexplained. The warrant was issued late on Friday. IC officers entered the premises Friday evening. On the Tuesday, however, unexamined crates were seen leaving CA’s premises throughout the day. One can only hope that Mr. Justice Leonard’s warrant is broad enough to all the IC to trace them.

    CA’s offices are apparently in close proximity to those of its affiliated companies. Alexander Nix, CEO of CA until a few days ago, remains a director of one or more companies affiliated with CA.

    • harpie says:

      Liam O’Hare; 

      Hiding in plain sight: SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, has deep ties to the British establishment.  Thread. /  I write for @bellacaledonia on how Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group are the same thing and are closely aligned to the British establishment. / Let’s take a look at their directors […] 

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Yep, see my earlier posts on O’Hare.  Good source.

        Bloomberg lists their directors: hard Tory, venture capital, a Mountbatten (3rd cousin, once removed from the Queen), old Etonians.  Add a comely assortment of contracts for the FCO, MOD and the security services and you have a fine example of the old boy net.  Rumpole and Oxonian John Mortimer would have skewered them.  But they will be expert at avoiding consequences; it’s the OBN’s defining characteristic.

  8. Rugger9 says:

    Iran is an adversary that needs better planning to address militarily, since it is a more homogeneous society with Persian pride.  Also, courtesy of Ronald Reagan, they had been getting their spare parts for the F-14s, and that is still an effective fighter.  Note also that the geography of the Straits of Hormuz are not favorable to prevent Iran from closing the waterway with mines.  As tough as Iraq was in the “peace” after “shock and awe”, Iran will be worse especially if Russia helps them to weaken us.

    It needs more than a tweetstorm.

  9. Rapier says:

    There is a non trivial chance that Iran will be preemptively nuked. Tehran and probably Qom at least. War over before it starts. End of Iran as a viable state. Israel then moves in and wipes out Hezbollah in Lebanon and wipes out Assad. Syria is chopped up. Turkey and the Saudis can work on establishing a sort of new caliphate in the Middle East. Eventually Sunnis retake Iraq’s government. The end of Shia Islam as a political force.

    This also blows a giant hole in China’s Belt and Road and a source of gas and oil they are counting on. America is Great again. Trump the great leader.

    Oil prices rise. A giant bonus for the Saudis and oil corporations in general. Russia loses strategically in all senses, except the higher oil price. They will just have to deal with it. Look West again, or…

    I believe this is a rough outline of the dream of Trump, Israel and the Saudis. The latter two might do the deal, deliver the nukes.

    I know. Off the wall.

    • Rugger9 says:

      With Bolton there and the Kaiser needing a distraction, your top event might happen, but the collapse of the Shias is not a foregone conclusion (they are a majority in Iraq) even if the Israelis (likely if Bibi is there) and/or the Saudis (doubtful they’ll help, they didn’t even liberate Khajeh back in the day) join in.  A couple of nukes will not get everything, and FWIW will need to include Bandar Abbas at least.  I will agree that is how Bolton and his new boss thinks though.

  10. JD12 says:

    Bolton appears to be advocating for the same strategy that made Iraq such a big failure, meaning he either hasn’t learned from mistakes or just doesn’t care. Western leaders relied on Ahmed Chalabi for intelligence and thought he could help lead a country he’d been exiled from for years. But the intelligence was bad, he wasn’t nearly as well connected and informed as they thought, however they ignored his credibility issues because it fit their agenda. He advised the de-Ba’athification that brought the country to civil war.

    Bolton wants exiles to form the new regime in Iran, even though exiles are no longer familiar enough with their home countries, and populations don’t want to be governed by perceived outsiders. It’d be like crowning Marco Rubio in Cuba, where he is very much hated.

    Also, Bolton wants to do this very soon.

    Just eight months ago, at a Paris gathering, Bolton told members of the Iranian exile group, known as the Mujahedeen Khalq, MEK, or People’s Mujahedeen, that the Trump administration should embrace their goal of immediate regime change in Iran and recognize their group as a “viable” alternative.


      • TheraP says:

        Oh, Lord!

        As the spouse of someone who left his country 50 years ago, though has stayed in touch, visited and even watches the news there (on the web) every day – he no more could lead his country now than could I (a native of the US). (Despite his long-ago prominent leadership role in a student strike against the regime – in the late 50’s.)

        Bad, stupid move! But then, that’s what’s sitting the White House.

        How bad will things get? Before the Cavalry comes?

        • JD12 says:

          They could be racing against the cavalry. Trump is emboldened now, and he recently said in a meeting that he’s not worried about the midterms because Bush was saved by 9/11. He thinks a war would help Republicans. We can hope the public learned after being duped by Bush, but mass psychology shows that larger groups can become more irrational.

          • pseudonymous in nc says:

            OTOH, if you look at the UK, there’s still a deep scepticism about foreign misadventures. The Iraq hangover lasts.

            The assumption that rally-round-the-flag will work in 2018 if the Idiot decides to nuke Pyongyang or Tehran doesn’t hold. But if that happens, we’re all fucked anyway even if a million people storm the presidential palace.

        • posaune says:

          There’s a calvary?  Sorry to question — this has been quite the grim week.   Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it does.  I’m almost ready to put up a picture of Hindenburg.

          • TheraP says:

            Cavalry… I wish!

            Yes, things are getting worse and worse. I just read the article at the Times about Bolton’s connection to CA, through his PAC, which starting in 2014 was data mining and voter targeting using psychographic info from CA/FB, which is scary as hell with this new appointment:


            So now I’m wondering what Bolton’s real role is in this White House. Is Kelly Ann Conway somehow involved in this too?

            I’m hoping EW is busy parsing all of this and somehow putting it together (and sending for the Cavalry… I wish!)

            Dear Lord, I hope these High School Kids can save the day down the road!

              • TheraP says:

                And that is the tragic truth.


                Now I reread what you wrote, bmaz, and either you accidentally misspelled “calvary” or it was an interesting and deliberate reference to “Good Friday”. But… boy we are into uncharted territory!

    • greengiant says:

      “The MEK as a viable alternative”.  That is so rich.  Follow the money.  Pity the fools that thought Trump would drain the swamp.

  11. Frank Probst says:

    Some context would be helpful here. If you access other indictments that Rosenstein has filed via the same method, is there more metadata associated with the pdfs, or are they about the same as this one? The lack of metadata may not mean quite as much if it’s somehow stripped by some part of the process that generates the final pdf.

    As for what was stolen, it sounds like it was, well, library access at the university level. As in, pretty much exactly what you’d get if you were an undergrad at a major university in the US. To benefit Iran-based universities. Why? Probably because academic journals and books are obscenely expensive. And library subscriptions cost more for a lot of things than individual subscriptions. If we’re talking about 144 US universities, and you count the same academic book 144 times, a book that costs $100 would be counted as $144,000 of intellectual property theft (assuming all 144 universities bought a copy). And journals are typically even more expensive per year. You could hit the $3.4 billion level pretty quickly that way. It’s a large-scale theft of intellectual property, and it isn’t really victimless, because the institutions that are paying are subsidizing the theft. But it doesn’t sound like we’re talking about anything that has to do with national security here.

    All that being said, I’ll bet most academics are most curious about whether or not their dissertation was deemed worthy of being stolen. (That was, to be honest, the first thing I thought when I read this.)

    • bmaz says:

      Filing metadata would be well out of Rosenstein’s purview. Would either be set by the filing AUSA or someone at OPA loading it up for public release. Since it seems to be earlier, I would bet on the former.

  12. yogarhythms says:

    Excellent storyline thank you EW.

    May 12 Dear Leader will not renew Iran Nuclear agreement. Bolton’s first climax conquest in years will be short lived. EU is already shoring Iran anticipating US unilateral inability to renew Iran Nuclear agreement. 15 years of Iraq branded war on terror is alive and well says Rudy G. So why not share the wealth by gifting Iran a new regime. War on terror is like war on drugs a failed policy masquerading. “War on terror/drugs is really War on Hope, Compassion and Caring”. Bob Olson.

  13. Thomas Paine says:

    Given ongoing FBI investigations of Bolton’s Super Pac and potential connections between Bolton, the Russian gun nut, Torshin and the NRA, how is it possible for Bolton to get the TOP SECRET / Sensitive Compartment Information (SCI) clearance and access he will need to do his job as National Security Advisor ?  I assume he will get an Interim clearance, but, given Gen. Kelly’s heartburn over allowing past WH staffers with Interim clearances to see SCI-level information, how can Bolton even start this job until the FBI clears his SSBI ??

    • matt says:

      I was wondering the same thing.  And, his association with Cambridge Anylitica- it being the possible linchpin between Russian interference and the Trump campaign.

    • JD12 says:

      The press needs to do a better job on this. On top of the PAC stuff they’re not giving a good picture of his history. They’re making sure everyone knows he’s a hawk, but they’re not giving the details on how he is biased and has major character and credibility issues. The Senate failed to confirm him in his UN job, and the issues that concerned them still exist, and may even be worse. It’s completely irrational to appoint a National Security Adviser who wouldn’t pass Senate confirmation. He’s a serious national security liability! It’s not just a partisan opinion, either.

  14. GKJames says:

    The timing’s interesting. To what extent did DOJ coordinate this with the WH? And does this take the choir-boy sheen off of Rosenstein?

    • Trip says:

      It’s bizarre, to put it lightly, that Bill Kristol has become the darling of MSNBC and CNN.

      Aside from his own horrid history, look what he suggested last last year:

      Bill Kristol‏Verified account @BillKristol

      For what it’s worth, I’d say what’s needed is broad government experience. They won’t (presumably) take Abrams. How about John Bolton?
      5:03 AM – 14 Feb 2017

  15. harpie says:


    “The Bolton PAC was obsessed with how America was becoming limp wristed and spineless and it wanted research and messaging for national security issues,” Mr. Wylie said. “That really meant making people more militaristic in their worldview,” he added. “That’s what they said they wanted, anyway.”


    To add some color to new reporting on John Bolton PAC marketing strategy, here are some banner ads our new national security advisor ran in early 2014. Pretty dark.

    • harpie says:

      George Will: Bolton’s belief in the U.S. power to make the world behave and eat its broccoli reflects what has been called “narcissistic policy disorder” — the belief that whatever happens in the world happens because of something the United States did or did not do. 
      Sarah Kendzior‏ : “No development exists in isolation, and no opportunity to exploit the system for nefarious ends goes unused by the Trump team.”

    • harpie says:

      The Intercept, 3/23/18:  
      JOHN BOLTON, PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s pick to be his new national security adviser, has a long association with a group infamous for its role in publishing “fake news” and spreading hate about Muslims. […] But one role that has received relatively little scrutiny is his work as chair of the Gatestone Institute, a nonprofit that focuses largely on publishing original commentary and news related to the supposed threat that Islam poses to Western society. He has served in that role since 2013. […]

    • harpie says:

      [WARNING-Breitbart link]: This is what Bolton thought of Pence’s presence at the Olympics:  “I think Vice President Pence actually has a very important, delicate mission in South Korea as the Olympics open, to show that we’re sticking with South Korea and Japan,” he said. “We’re not going to let North Korea try and confuse the world with the female hockey teams playing together.”


  16. Kathleen says:

    How absurd is it when MSNBC’s Ari Melber and Lawrence O’Donnell consistently use Bill “Bloody” Kristol to discuss middle east issues as well a the dangers of John Bolton as the National Security Adviser.  O’Donnell regularly has Kristol, Frum, Max Boot on to discuss these foreign policy issues.

    Deadly war hawks analyzing deadly war hawks.  How absurd.  These war fucks were all on the same war pushing team.  Still are.

    O’Donnell, Melber and sometimes  Andrea Mitchell and Joy Reid have all provided platforms for these war hawks to set the stage for a military intervention in Iran.  This has been going on for several years now.  Melber ‘s show is relatively new however he is following in O’Donnell’s footsteps promoting these war fucks. Now Bolton heads up the sociopath’s war team from a serious position of power.

    Instead of being on trial at the Hague for being complicit in crimes against humanity Bolton now the NSAdviser and Kristol, Frum, Boot, Pletka etc regulars on MSNBC.


  17. Willis Warren says:

    Part of me thinks Bolton is there to spy on tRUmp. This is the guy who would assassinate Julian Assange and hates Russians. Something doesn’t make sense

  18. SpaceLifeForm says:

    The John Bolton Super PAC, founded by the former ambassador to the United Nations, paid Cambridge Analytica more than $811,000 for “survey research” during the 2016 campaign, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Overall, the PAC paid the British firm nearly $1.2 million over two years, according to The New York Times

    [But which ‘British firm’ really got the money?]

    [Shell games.  A NY tradition]


    Incorporated on
    20 July 2005


    Incorporated on
    6 January 2015

  19. harpie says:

    Donaeld The Unready‏ @donaeldunready 

    Donaeld The Unready Retweeted Wulfgar the Bard
    Another great change in the Witan with John the Berserker replacing another failed Pict McDisaster. John brings energy, GREAT facial hair and a pathological hatred on non-Mercians to the table. Great guy!


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