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Iran funding anti-Israel protests, US intelligence chief says

Actors with Iranian ties are “posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protest, and even providing financial support to protesters,” Avril Haines said.

Avril Haines, U.S. director of national intelligence, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee May 2, 2024 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.
Avril Haines, U.S. director of national intelligence, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee May 2, 2024 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Iran is trying to gain influence over anti-Israel protests in the United States, Avril Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, said on Tuesday.

“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,” she stated.

“We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests and even providing financial support to protesters,” added the former deputy director of the CIA.

The director of national intelligence is the head of the U.S. intelligence community, overseeing 17 agencies including the CIA, NSA and FBI.

Haines wrote that her statement is the first of a series of updates on foreign influence efforts ahead of the 2024 presidential elections. Iran is “increasingly aggressive” on that front, as it “attempts to undermine confidence in our democratic institutions,” she stated.

On May 30, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, wrote a public letter addressed to the “young people, whose awakened conscience has moved them to defend the oppressed women and children of Gaza.”

“Dear university students in the United States of America, this message is an expression of our empathy and solidarity with you,” he wrote. “As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it.”

“You have now formed a branch of the resistance front and have begun an honorable struggle in the face of your government’s ruthless pressure—a government which openly supports the usurper and brutal Zionist regime,” Khamenei added in his English-language missive.

The scale and organization of anti-Israel protests on college campuses and in cities across the country have raised questions about whether groups organizing the protests are receiving outside or even foreign funding. 

There is no intelligence suggesting that the anti-Israel protests are anything other than a “good faith” expression of the views of participants about Gaza, according to Haines, but Iran is seeking to exploit the protest movement.

“Americans who are being targeted by this Iranian campaign may not be aware that they are interacting with or receiving support from a foreign government,” Haines wrote. 

“We urge all Americans to remain vigilant as they engage online with accounts and actors they do not personally know,” she added.

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