washington — The U.S. intelligence chief on Tuesday accused Iran of egging on protests inside the United States against the Gaza war, including by paying demonstrators.

Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, stressed she was not alleging that Americans taking to the streets against Israel or U.S. policy were insincere or doing Iran’s bidding, but said Tehran was stepping up efforts.

“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.

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

“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.

Iran’s clerical state supports Palestinian militants Hamas, whose massive attack on Israel on October 7 has triggered a relentless Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip.

Iranian state-backed media seized on pro-Palestinian protests that swept U.S. campuses and accused the United States of hypocrisy in the crackdowns on some of the demonstrations.

Iran, an arch-nemesis of the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the pro-Western shah, has faced frequent charges of trying to target dissident voices in the West.

The United States has repeatedly condemned what it calls disinformation campaigns by China and especially Russia, including through deceptive social media posts.

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