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US led covert anti-vaccination campaign to undermine China's COVID efforts: report | Coronavirus pandemic News

US led covert anti-vaccination campaign to undermine China's COVID efforts: report |  Coronavirus pandemic News
US led covert anti-vaccination campaign to undermine China's COVID efforts: report |  Coronavirus pandemic News


At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the US military launched a covert campaign to counter what it perceived as China's growing influence in the Philippines, a country particularly hard hit by the deadly virus, an investigation finds from the Reuters news agency. .

Using fake internet accounts designed to impersonate Filipinos, the military's propaganda efforts have morphed into an anti-vaccination campaign, Reuters reported in an article published Friday. Social media posts decried the quality of face masks, test kits and the first vaccine that would be available during the Sinovac inoculation in the Philippines and China.

The clandestine operation has not been previously reported. It aimed to sow doubt about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and other life-saving aid provided by China, according to the Reuters investigation.

It identified at least 300 accounts on X, formerly Twitter, that matched descriptions shared by former U.S. military officials familiar with the operation. Almost all of them were created in mid-2020 and centered around the tagline #Chinaangvirus Tagalog for China is the virus.

COVID comes from China and the VACCINE also comes from China, don’t trust China! a typical tweet from July 2020 read. The words were displayed alongside a photo of a syringe next to a Chinese flag and a chart of soaring infections. Another article said: From China PPE, face mask, vaccine: FALSE. But the Coronavirus is real.

After Reuters questioned X about the accounts, the social media company removed the profiles, determining they were part of a coordinated bot campaign based on activity patterns and internal data.

The US anti-vax military effort began in spring 2020 and expanded beyond Southeast Asia before ending in mid-2021.

The Pentagon tailored the campaign to local audiences in Central Asia and the Middle East using a combination of fake social media accounts across multiple platforms to spread fear of Chinese vaccines among Muslims at a time when the virus was killing dozens thousands of people every day.

A key part of the strategy: amplifying the controversial claim that because vaccines sometimes contain pork gelatin, the Chinese shots could be considered prohibited under Islamic law.

The military program began under former President Donald Trump and continued months into Joe Biden's presidency, even after alarmed social media executives warned the new administration that the Pentagon was peddling COVID misinformation , Reuters said.

The Biden White House issued an executive order in spring 2021 banning the anti-vax effort, which also disparaged vaccines produced by other rivals, and the Pentagon launched an internal review.

Spokespeople for Trump and Biden did not respond to requests for comment on the clandestine program, Reuters reported.

A senior Defense Department official acknowledged that the U.S. military has engaged in covert propaganda to denigrate the Chinese vaccine in developing countries, but the unnamed official declined to provide details.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the U.S. military uses various platforms, including social media, to counter these malign influence attacks targeting the United States, its allies and partners. She alleged that China launched a disinformation campaign to falsely accuse the United States of being responsible for the spread of COVID-19.

Dismayed, disappointed, disillusioned

In an email, China's Foreign Ministry said it has long maintained that the U.S. government is manipulating social media and spreading false information.

A spokesperson for the Philippines' health ministry said Reuters' findings deserve to be studied and heard by the relevant authorities in the countries concerned.

Some U.S. public health experts have condemned the Pentagon program, saying it puts civilians at risk for potential geopolitical gain.

I don't think it's defensible, said Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth Colleges. I am extremely dismayed, disappointed and disillusioned to learn that the US government would do this.

Efforts to stoke fear over Chinese vaccinations risked undermining overall public trust in government health initiatives, including U.S.-made vaccines that later became available, Lucey and others said .

Although Chinese vaccines have been found to be less effective than U.S. vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, all have been approved by the World Health Organization. Sinovac did not respond to a request for comment.

It should have been in our best interest to get as many vaccines into people's arms as possible, said Greg Treverton, former chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, which coordinates analysis and strategy across the many agencies. Washington espionage.

What the Pentagon did, Treverton said, crosses the line.




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