When an attractive young Middle Eastern woman contacted Saudi dissident Ali AlAhmed over Twitter last November, he was immediately suspicious.
The Associated Press was on the verge of publishing a story about how AlAhmed, who is based in the Washington area, had been targeted by hackers posing as a female journalist. Now, just two days before the article was set to go live, another young woman had sidled up to him over the internet, trying to entice him to read an article and share it online.
“They will never stop,” AlAhmed wrote in a Nov. 6 message to the AP. “They think a hot girl can lure me.”
The AP flagged the exchange to Canadian internet watchdog Citizen Lab, which was already helping AlAhmed deal with the hackers. Citizen Lab quickly determined that the Twitter account, purportedly belonging to an Egyptian writer named Mona A.Rahman , was part of a separate operation. In fact, she wasn’t even trying to hack AlAhmed — she was trying to enlist him in an ambitious global disinformation effort linked to Tehran.
In a report published Tuesday, Citizen Lab said A.Rahman was but a small piece of a yearsold, multilingual campaign aimed at seeding anti-Saudi, anti-Israel and anti-American stories across the internet. Citizen Lab, which is based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School, said it believes “with moderate confidence” that the operation is aligned with Iran. The campaign is another indication of how online disinformation is being tested by countries well beyond Russia, whose interference into the 2016 U.S. presidential election was laid out in vivid detail in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report .
“What this shows is that more and more parties are entering the disin ..