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DHS Homeland Threat Assessment Fails To Identify Iranian Influence Operations Targeting US Elections

October 18th, 2020 08:43

As the Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) report­ed ear­li­er, the US Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty has released its Octo­ber 2020 “Home­land Threat Assess­ment” which con­tains a short para­graph about Iran­ian influ­ence oper­a­tions. This para­graph is cen­tered on Iran­ian role in spread­ing what are called “false nar­ra­tives” con­cern­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. Accord­ing to the DHS report:

Iran­ian online influ­ence actors are employ­ing inau­then­tic social media net­works, proxy news web­sites, and state media out­lets to ampli­fy false nar­ra­tives that seek to shift respon­si­bil­i­ty for the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic to the Unit­ed States and oth­er West­ern nations. Tehran prob­a­bly will con­tin­ue to malign the Unit­ed States for enforc­ing eco­nom­ic sanc­tions, argu­ing these sanc­tions hin­der Iran’s abil­i­ty to put for­ward an appro­pri­ate pub­lic health response to the pan­dem­ic. Iran­ian actors have spread COVID-19 dis­in­for­ma­tion and false nar­ra­tives through videos, car­toons, and news sto­ries from state media out­lets on pop­u­lar social media plat­forms to appeal to U. S. and West­ern audi­ences. Iran­ian oper­a­tives have covert­ly used proxy net­works and sites to advance nar­ra­tives sug­gest­ing that the Unit­ed States cre­at­ed the virus as a bioweapon, that West­ern media is spread­ing lies about COVID-19 in Iran, and that the Iran­ian response to the pan­dem­ic was bet­ter than that of the Unit­ed States.

The DHS report also goes on to pre­dict that Iran­ian influ­ence oper­a­tions will con­tin­ue through­out 2020:

The DHS report also goes on Iran will con­tin­ue to pro­mote mes­sages sup­port­ing its for­eign pol­i­cy objec­tives and to use online influ­ence oper­a­tions to increase soci­etal ten­sions in the Unit­ed States. Tehran most like­ly con­sid­ers the cur­rent U. S. Admin­is­tra­tion a threat to the regime’s sta­bil­i­ty. Iran’s crit­i­cal mes­sag­ing of the U. S. Pres­i­dent almost cer­tain­ly will con­tin­ue through­out 2020.

Con­spic­u­ous­ly absent in the DHS report, and for unclear rea­sons, is any men­tion of Iran­ian-linked oper­a­tions influ­ence tar­get­ing US elec­tions. GIOR report­ed ear­li­er this week that an Iran­ian hack­er group known as Phos­pho­rus has con­tin­ued to attack the per­son­al accounts of peo­ple asso­ci­at­ed with the Don­ald Trump Pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. As not­ed in that report, aanaly­sis by the Unit­ed States Insti­tute of Peace (USIP) said Phos­pho­rous was behind an Octo­ber 2019 failed attempt to breach accounts con­nect­ed with Pres­i­dent Trump’s re-elec­tion cam­paign as well as the accounts of jour­nal­ists and US offi­cials. The GIOR report also cit­ed a US Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency elec­tion secu­ri­ty spe­cial­ist report­ed­ly said dur­ing a recent pan­el that “Iran is also get­ting into the influ­ence game…and is learn­ing from what oth­er adver­saries are doing.” A Reuters inves­ti­ga­tion has found more than 70 web­sites that push Iran­ian pro­pa­gan­da to 15 coun­tries, in an oper­a­tion that Reuters says cyber­se­cu­ri­ty experts, social media firms and jour­nal­ists are only start­ing to uncov­er.