Thursday, July 8, 2021

Iran Disinformation Points Way For Near Peers and Others


The NY Times June 30, 2021 On line edition ran an article: “Iran Disinformation Effort Went Small to Stay Under Big Tech’s Radar” (see:, which is a photo source)


According to the article “Over several months, Iranian agents had infiltrated small WhatsApp groups, Telegram channels and messaging apps that Israeli activists used for intimate discussions among dozens to thousands of people.”


There are several ‘intelligence indicators’ in this small sentence. The first of which is that disinformation is not the exclusive domain of top level threats. Secondary and near peer adversaries are able to harness this cost effective influence weapon.


Secondly, even seemingly secure applications such as WhatsApp are subject to compromise.

If Iran can do this then certainly it is within the capabilities of others such as North Korea and a number of non-state terrorist actors such as ISIS.


The ability to send focus, point to point, messages is a critical tool because the combination of text and images will cause the recipient to pause at a minimum, if not accept the message as true, not so much because of its content, but because of its trusted delivery path.

This adds a new wrinkle to influence operations and further democratizes the cyber domain battlespace.


You can fin an in-depth summary of the Iranian Cross Platform Influence Operation at: 


Among the survey’s conclusion is: “The direct approach to Israeli citizens, made through internal protesters’ WhatsApp groups, represents a dangerous escalation of methods. Establishing a personal connection with unsuspecting citizens is a novel technique and is suspected to be merely the tip of the iceberg regarding methods of foreign intervention in Israeli democracy.”

The penetration of WhatsApp can also yield interesting intelligence as the interloper is now inside a trusted virtual perimeter. This threat was confirmed in the NY Times article cited below: “In these closed messaging groups, people tend to trust one another and share more freely because there is a feeling that they share the same politics, and that the app itself is secure and safe,” said Gonen Ben Itzhak, an Israeli lawyer who once worked for Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency. He was among dozens of Israelis who said the Iranian efforts had targeted them.


The App also provides top cover while websites can and are targets for government action. On June 22, 201 the NY Times ran an article, U.S. Seizes Iran-Linked Websites at Key Point in Nuclear Talks (see:, another photo source) which describes the US Justice Department actions after the recent Iranian election.


The message is clear for PSYOPers – be prepared on all fronts and don’t count seemingly less resource endowed enemies and adversaries out.


Karen Naumann, APR said...

Also a clear message for the importance of Public Affairs and Communication Strategists in IO.

Unknown said...

They need new apps.