Director of national intelligence warns that Iran is funding anti-Israel protests in US


WASHINGTON — Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, said Iran was seeking to interfere in the U.S. election and was stoking protests against Israel as it wages war with Hamas, including through funding demonstrations.

“In recent weeks, Iranian government actors have sought to opportunistically take advantage of ongoing protests regarding the war in Gaza, using a playbook we’ve seen other actors use over the years,” Haines said in a comment posted to the DNI website. “We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters.”

Haines, who is Jewish, said that Iran’s activities should not taint genuine protesters or inhibit robust speech. She said targeted protesters may not be aware they are interacting with a foreign government.

“I want to be clear that I know Americans who participate in protests are, in good faith, expressing their views on the conflict in Gaza – this intelligence does not indicate otherwise,” she said. “Moreover, the freedom to express diverse views, when done peacefully, is essential to our democracy, but it is also important to warn of foreign actors who seek to exploit our debate for their own purposes.”

The statement did not specify which protests were funded and what is the extent of the funding. Florida’s government and multiple lawsuits have alleged that U.S.-based bodies, including groups that have organized some of the campus protests, are aligned with Hamas, the terrorist group that launched the war on Oct. 7, and which receives funds and backing from Iran.

Iran also funds other terror groups in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it attacked Israel directly earlier this year, prompting a direct Israeli retaliation.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League and a prominent law firm filed a suit alleging that Iran, Syria and North Korea abetted the Oct. 7 attackers; the suit seeks financial compensation for the attack’s American victims.

Haines’ statement said Iran’s support of protests was one piece of its efforts to interfere with American democracy. American security agencies have tracked foreign interference from Russia, China and Iran since at least 2016, when Donald Trump was elected. Federal agents in 2021 filed charges against two Iranian hackers for interference in the election the previous year, in which, according to a U.S. attorney, they sought “to undermine faith and confidence” in the vote.

“Iran is becoming increasingly aggressive in their foreign influence efforts, seeking to stoke discord and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions, as we have seen them do in the past, including in prior election cycles,” Haines’ statement said. “They continue to adapt their cyber and influence activities, using social media platforms and issuing threats. It is likely they will continue to rely on their intelligence services in these efforts, as well as Iran-based online influencers, to promote their narratives.”

There have been separate charges filed over the years against agents working for Iran for mass hacking attacks on Americans, one as recently as February. One of the largest operations, revealed in 2019, was allegedly led by a former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist.

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