Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign threats to the 2024 elections on May 15, 2024

Iran Seeks to Influence 2024 Elections, US Intelligence Chief Says

Thursday, 05/16/2024

Iran will pose a significant threat to the upcoming US elections, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Wednesday, predicting that Tehran will intensify its cyber and influence activities.

“Iran is becoming increasingly aggressive in their efforts,” Haines told the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “[They] seek to stoke discord and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions, as we have seen them do in prior election cycles.”

Influence by “foreign actors” has been a source of apprehension in recent US elections, especially since 2016, when ‘Russian meddling’ became a major theme, with people on both parties accusing the other of having benefited from it.

Haines in his Senate briefing Wednesday also singled out Russia as the “most active foreign threat” to US elections, adding that China and Iran were also “significant actors” in trying to leave their mark.

On Iran, specifically, he said: “They continue to adapt their cyber and influence activities, using social media platforms, issuing threats, and disseminating disinformation. It is likely they will continue to rely on their intelligence services in these efforts and Iran-based online influencers to promote their narratives.”

There seems to be a growing consensus in Washington that the ‘influence’ offensive from the regime in Tehran has to be taken seriously, even though it’s not yet as serious as threats from Moscow and Beijing –and perhaps not on the same global scale.

This was pointed out Wednesday by the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, Michael Froman, who suggested in an interview with CNN’s Christian Amanpour that the outlook is not all gloom, as those worried about or affected by such threats rally to fend them off.

“There’s a concerted effort by Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea to challenge the rules-based international order…but it has strengthened, in many respects, alliances around the world. So there’s been an action and a reaction.”

Russia, China, and Iran deny all such accusations, punching back with allegations of American influence campaigns –and direct interventions– across the world. This is a game to which Iran seems to be a new but fast-learning player, attempting to shape not just public opinion and discourse, but also high-level decisions and policy.

“There is evidence that some think tanks, advocacy organizations, and universities are uncomfortably close to a U.S. enemy,” Policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, Jason Brodsky, posted on X.. “ Some of them do so unwittingly, others perhaps wittingly. They risk becoming components of an information operation benefitting Tehran.”

This has been well documented by Iran International and Semafor in a number of exclusive, investigative reports.

Interestingly enough, the Iranian regime is no longer hiding its intentions, even publishing research papers on the subject of ‘influence’.

In a 128-page report published recently, an Iranian think tank (SARAMAD), recommends a number of measures to be considered after the 2024 US elections, including establishing “a network of elite lobbyists” to indirectly “advance” the regime’s interests in “policies and US public opinion."

The report calls for the creation of a "special network" in the US that would “put Iran's interests first” and are able and willing to express their views to "restore Iran's image”.

This, of course, has been pursued before –and with some success– in such measures as the Iran Expert Initiative, whose affiliates worked tirelessly to promote the regime’s stance during and after the negotiations that led to the 2015 nuclear deal. A key figure in that initiative, Arianne Tabatabaei, is now a high-ranking official at the Pentagon, while her mentor, Robert Malley, President Joe Biden’s former Iran envoy is being investigated by the FBI for potentially criminal mishandling of official documents.

The US Congress has been trying to learn more about Malley’s case for months–including the reasons his security clearance was suspended– but the State Department has refused to offer information.

Some Biden critics accuse him of ‘appeasing’ Iran. They say he has been paralyzed by fear of ‘escalation’ that he thinks could lead to an “all-out war” in the Middle East, failing to confront, even to recognize the magnitude of threats posed by, the Iranian regime.

“Many US media and think tankers refuse to believe that Iran would seek to run sophisticated info operations on US soil,” former national intelligence manager on Iran Norman Roule posted on X. “It's past-time for the kid gloves and denials to drop.”

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