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Top intelligence official warns Iran meddling in Gaza protests inside US

The director of national intelligence said "actors tied to Iran's government" are encouraging the protests and "even providing financial support" to those participating.
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines speaks during a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 04, 2023 in Washington, DC. Haines testified alongside Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier and took questions on the intelligence communities annual threat assessment. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The top US intelligence official warned that Iran's government has covertly encouraged protests against the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, even providing financial support to demonstrators in the United States. 

Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, said that the targeted Americans might be unaware they are interacting with an Iranian campaign. 

“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 statement Tuesday. “We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests and even providing financial support to protesters.”

The Gaza war has ignited protests across the United States, mostly at college campuses where thousands of students this spring called on their universities to divest from Israeli-linked funds and urged the Biden administration to halt its provision of weapons to Israel. Haines underscored that Americans participating in the recent protests over Gaza had done so “in good faith” and that the intelligence does not indicate otherwise. 

Negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar are trying to bridge the gaps on a cease-fire proposal to halt the fighting that the Gaza Health Ministry says has killed at least 38,100 people, a majority of them women and children. Israel launched its war in retaliation for the militants’ killing of 1,200 people and taking 250 hostages during its unprecedented cross-border attack on Oct. 7. 

Haines’ warning on Tuesday comes two months after she told a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Iran had become more aggressive in its efforts to stoke discord and discredit democratic institutions ahead of the November presidential elections.  

On Friday, Iran elected Reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian in a runoff election to replace ultraconservative former President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a May helicopter crash. During the campaign, Pezeshkian vowed more engagement with the West and pledged to negotiate directly with the United States to lift sanctions.