Iran agents infiltrating Gaza protests across US, top intel chief says

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The top US intel official revealed Tuesday that Iranian government agents were infiltrating pro-Gaza protests across the United States and targeting Americans by providing financial support at times.

“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. We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters,” Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines said.

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Widespread protests have erupted across the country, mainly on college campuses, since the start of the Gaza war, which started after the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. In response, Israel has bombarded Gaza and reduced a majority of the enclave to rubble in pursuit of Hamas militants.

US officials, including President Joe Biden, have accused Israel of indiscriminately bombing civilian-populated buildings and areas in Gaza. At least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, but it is unclear how many of those were Hamas members.

Following the monthslong war, protests in the United States called for ending military support to Israel and demanding colleges and universities to divest from Israeli-linked entities.

At times, these protests have grown violent, leading to violence against both Muslims and Jews.

Haines said Americans were being targeted by the Iranian campaign, unaware that they were interacting with or receiving support from a foreign government. “We urge all Americans to remain vigilant as they engage online with accounts and actors they do not personally know,” Haines said in her statement.

The intel chief reiterated previous concerns about Iran becoming “increasingly aggressive in their foreign influence efforts, seeking to stoke discord and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions… including in prior election cycles.”

Iran continues to adapt their cyber and influence activities, using social media platforms and issuing threats, she said. “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,” Haines added.

But Haines said she knows Americans who are taking part in the Gaza protests that are doing so in “good faith.”

“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,” she said.

Gabriel Noronha, a former State Department senior advisor on Iran, said the Iranian regime had invested in propaganda campaigns to influence Western opinion and decision-making for over a decade.

“Director Haines’ statement is a welcome if overdue turning point in the Biden administration, whose officials initially repeated and amplified Iranian state narratives, but are now increasingly waking up to the many threats posed by the regime,” Noronha told Al Arabiya English.

Read more: Doxxed, disciplined: US college students tally price of Gaza protests

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