Chinese COVID-19 Disinformation Campaign

The New York Times is reporting on state-sponsored disinformation campaigns coming out of China:

Since that wave of panic, United States intelligence agencies have assessed that Chinese operatives helped push the messages across platforms, according to six American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to publicly discuss intelligence matters. The amplification techniques are alarming to officials because the disinformation showed up as texts on many Americans' cellphones, a tactic that several of the officials said they had not seen before.

Posted on April 23, 2020 at 12:01 PM • 19 Comments

Comments

myliitApril 23, 2020 4:10 PM

From the OP:

“The propaganda efforts go beyond text messages and social media posts directed at Americans. In China, top officials have issued directives to agencies to engage in a global disinformation campaign around the virus, the American officials said.”

iirc, our president, awhile back, more or less, asked, or encouraged, the Chinese to interfere in our election.

myliitApril 23, 2020 5:20 PM

From the OP: “ ... Two American officials stressed they did not believe Chinese operatives created the lockdown messages, but rather amplified existing ones. Those efforts enabled the messages to catch the attention of enough people that they then spread on their own, with little need for further work by foreign agents. The messages appeared to gain significant traction on Facebook as they were also proliferating through texts, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

American officials said the operatives had adopted some of the techniques mastered by Russia-backed trolls, such as creating fake social media accounts to push messages to sympathetic Americans, who in turn unwittingly help spread them. ...”

Our president seems to be fanning the flames on both sides of the debate of locking down the country longer vs. opening it up sooner. Perhaps China, like Russia, wants to get Trump re-elected, but, regardless, wants to sow as much division as possible.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/opinion/coronavirus-protests-astroturf.html
“Who’s Behind the ‘Reopen’ Protests?
They are anything but spontaneous.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/as-protesters-swarm-state-capitols-much-of-the-coronavirus-backlash-is-coming-from-within/2020/04/22/e4d7b1ee-84c8-11ea-a3eb-e9fc93160703_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-the-conservative-networks-backing-anti-quarantine-protests/2020/04/22/da75c81e-83fe-11ea-a3eb-e9fc93160703_story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/podcasts/the-daily/coronavirus-lockdown-protests.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/21/us/politics/coronavirus-protests-trump.html

Finally, from the OP:

“President Trump and his aides are trying to put the spotlight on China as they face intense criticism over the federal government’s widespread failures in responding to the pandemic, which has killed more than 40,000 Americans. President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party are trying to shore up domestic and international support after earlier cover-ups that allowed the virus to spread.”


ALApril 23, 2020 8:25 PM

"Two American officials stressed they did not believe Chinese operatives created the lockdown messages, but rather amplified existing ones."
That's just part of a broader campaign to amplify any dissension, whether it's sowing a civil war within the Democratic party, or Texas succession. The approach is simply to stir the doo-doo.

I however notice that our own government engaged in a disinformation campaign, first by downplaying the infection in February, saying that the infection would clear up in warmer weather.

More noticeably (to me) was the lying about masks. First, they were represented as being of no use to the public, a message from the government that was uncritically repeated by the press. Then, (now currently), masks are being represented as preventing asymptomatic people from spreading the virus to others. But, still off the table is any discussion on whether the infectious dose influences the seriousness of any resulting illness, as it does with other viral infections, like SARS, MERS, and influenza. It would seem to me that if they don't know, the presumption should be that it does mirror other viral infections. Specifically, a mask, even a lousy one would seem to impede and lessen the ingestion of viral material.
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2238819-does-a-high-viral-load-or-infectious-dose-make-covid-19-worse/

Another area of disinformation is where the money is coming from in order to finance these bailout programs. The media is concealing that the government is issuing "debt" whereupon the Federal Reserve creates money, purchases the debt, and puts it onto the books of the Fed. Click on 1Y for more clarity. It is all printed money buying these "assets" that are being put onto the books.
https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/WALCL
There is lots of lying and concealing. The news cycle is long on anecdotes and short on substantive news. The Chinese are simply dumping a little gasoline onto a dumpster fire.

Default JournalistApril 23, 2020 9:03 PM

I systematically mistrust any news article that starts with things like "according to six American officials". Almost every single time these are US intelligence coordinated campaigns that news papers happily publish without corroborating the information. Directly from the analyst to the front page...

La AbejaApril 23, 2020 9:11 PM

state-sponsored disinformation campaigns coming out of China: ... techniques are alarming to officials because the disinformation showed up as texts on many Americans' cellphones, a tactic that several of the officials said they had not seen before.

That's the Tammany Hall boiler room. They're not very technically astute when it comes to computers and cell phones.

Impossibly StupidApril 23, 2020 11:31 PM

I systematically mistrust any news article that . . .

Yes, far better to listen to random people posting comments online under the pseudonym Default Journalist (or what have you). I appreciate that Bruce allows anonymous commenting, but rabble-rousing like this is why I'd really like to see him at least attach an IP address to these posts. This is why I always link to my web site, and why I seldom put much stock in the words of anyone posting here that doesn't. Online disinformation campaigns aren't exactly new, so I'm not going to pretend I'm shocked China would try to do it for COVID-19. People need to get it through their thick skulls that "social media" is mostly just toxic strangers who make it their business to ruin your day.

rapid fireApril 24, 2020 12:28 AM

MAKE AMERICA LOBOTOMIZED AGAIN
------------------------------
The Untold Story of JFK's Sister, Rosemary Kennedy, and Her Disastrous Lobotomy
https://people.com/politics/untold-story-of-rosemary-kennedy-and-her-disastrous-lobotomy/

The Forgotten Story Of Rosemary Kennedy, Who Was Lobotomized So That JFK Could Succeed
https://allthatsinteresting.com/rosemary-kennedy-lobotomy

The Truth About Rosemary Kennedy's Lobotomy
A never-before-seen photo surfaces of the forgotten Kennedy, who, after a disastrous lobotomy, was rarely heard from again
https://people.com/books/rosemary-kennedy-the-truth-about-her-lobotomy/

When Rosemary was 23 years of age, doctors told her father that a form of psychosurgery known as a lobotomy would help calm her mood swings and stop her occasional violent outbursts.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary_Kennedy#Lobotomy

Clive RobinsonApril 24, 2020 3:24 AM

@ ALL,

Does this pass the sniff test?

Firstly as others have noted the "six unnamed US officials", does it matter how many there are? The thing is there are rules and either they are breaking them or they know for some reason they will never get called to account.

Bearing in mind the way "whistle blowers" have been treated in the last 12years I think it's safe to say,

1, It's very well known who they are.
2, They have the authority to say such things.
3, That the US Gov want's to put out a "deniable message".

Thus the question arises as to "Who, Why and What?", that is

1, Who is behind it?
2, Why they are doing it?
3, What they hope to gain by it?

I think it is rather more than "stiring the do-do", I suspect it is part of a covert political act to sway US opinion for a specific reason.

But let's assume that the actions have happened the "Who, Why and What?" question arises again.

Thus you have to ask the "Who?" question in a broader sense, that is the "First, Second and Third Parties" question

1, US
2, Chinese
3, Others

Then fill in what you suspect for the "Why and What"

The NYT article gives a plethora of reasons as to "Why?" various factions in the US might do it and aludes in part to the "What?" they would gain from it.

Oddly they don't do the same for the Chinese except in a very very hand waving fashion. And they do not give consideration to "others" such as what say Russia might gain from it, or North Korea, Iran, or quite a few others.

Thus you might suspect the whole article is written as an attack on the current US political classes by the NYT.

My advice this story is most definitely not about it's title, and thus I would treat the whole thing with extream caution...

Brian SpilnerApril 24, 2020 5:19 AM

WTH has such a re-printing of a NYT newsflash to do with security? it says more about NYT than about what might go on _in the real world_

I mean, NYT is saying there is disinformation coming from China - surprise, surprise, fear and surprise (nobody expects the Spanish inquisition). We have all read things like this for years now. Did it do any better? The world of politics and business is full of disinformation (ok, let's call it lies). But instead of pointing out to other nations, the media could start right there in country where they come from. Ah, hold on, there are ppl in powerful positions- hm, we better scream about things our readers cannot change.

this is so lame, so without context - Bruce, are u serious about this?

The Internet is killing everyone! :)April 24, 2020 9:55 AM

I'm going to address the broader topic of "spreading disinformation" here... and not just with the original topic.

The whole internet has become completely full of disinformation, to such a degree that I'm not sure there's anything that's trustworthy anymore, to be honest... You can't trust government officials, when all they do is lie lie lie (and it's so ridiculously obvious)... you can't trust random spam from strangers, for obvious reasons... you can't trust random hysteria forwarded by friends, what's that all about... you can't trust news organizations, who all have an agenda (not the least of which is money making: what makes money? spreading fear does, not facts... the more ridiculous the story the more eyeballs and money...) The entire earth has melted down into not a single thing is trustworthy anywhere!

Let's take 5G towers as an example: People are burning them down, because they've become afraid everyone's going to die from them... What? Ok... take a quick peek at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-ionizing_radiation and see the graph there of the different wavelengths? It makes no logical sense whatsoever for visible light (that tiny sliver with the rainbow in it) to be safe, yet everything else on either side of that is "dangerous radiation" and "gonna kill you if you get exposed to it".... No. Surely it's a gradient, where one edge of the graph is at least somewhat dangerous, and the other edge is a pretty safe, and there's a simple graduation between safe and dangerous somewhere between there.... If things on both side of that "visible light" line (like wifi on the left, and x-rays on the right) are both dangerous, then surely everyone would have died long ago just from being in the daylight every single day of their lives. I mean, even in the shade, or inside, we're bombarded by visible light, all day long, as long as we're not fumbling around in complete darkness, right? If you think the "radiation" from cell phones is so dangerous, gouge your eyes out, and turn off the lights, and live in a pitch black cave, please. It's just so ridiculous.

And now thousands upon thousands of people are starting to believe the earth is flat? What? Look, I've literally flown around it in both directions, and experienced the rotation (a very long day in one direction, and 2 sunsets and 2 sunrises in one day the other way), don't tell me it's flat And no, all airlines haven't been flying way out of their way for almost a hundred years, wasting quadrillions of dollars of fuel just to deceive me... It's just so ridiculous.

And don't get me started on "chem trails"... People don't think logically about how clouds work? You know, hot moist air that turns cold, where does the water go, etc...

So, with all this background, back to the original post here: ok, China may be spreading disinformation... and the New York Times (and their sources) isn't? Come on... Put down the internet. Stop reading it completely. Also stop watching news on TV. It's all gonna kill you by turning you into a quivering mass of fear. That's the conclusion I've come to.

The Internet is killing everyone! :)April 24, 2020 10:15 AM

Oh, and the irony of the internet being the only place I can logically explain to so many people why to stop reading the internet... ;)

myliitApril 24, 2020 12:57 PM

@AL

“... More noticeably (to me) was the lying about masks. First, they were represented as being of no use to the public, a message from the government that was uncritically repeated by the press. Then, (now currently), masks are being represented as preventing asymptomatic people from spreading the virus to others. But, still off the table is any discussion on whether the infectious dose [from incoming viruses] influences the seriousness of any resulting illness, ...”

I’ll take a guess, with the caveat that l’m not qualified to review the relevant science. Since our president, and his special people, may have been incompetent or negligent, anything our president and his SP can do to stir the doo-doo, or promote confusion, or add noise, or consume column inches, regarding insufficient ppe, including masks, may be to their advantage.

On a darker note, perhaps more Illness and more deaths could be useful for a wannabe authoritarian’s game plan.

vas pupApril 24, 2020 4:23 PM

My attention was caught by this statement by POTUS:
“They do it and we do it and we call them different things,” he said. “Every country does it.”

That is true.

Yeah, we are always angels and all other are devils. Really?
What is most important for IC officer: loyalty or truth?

There is old statement: do not look for the straw in somebody eye when you do have log in your own.

Era of unpunished actions during unipolar world is over. Do we like it or not, but that is what we should accept and change behavior accordingly.

We play in our foreign policy checkers, Russian play chess, but Chinese play Go.

I still have doubts where recent riots in Hong Kong where coming from.


gordoApril 24, 2020 4:30 PM

March 9, 2020, Italy announces national quarantine.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Italy_coronavirus_lockdown

March 15, 2020, U.S. NSC says rumors about a US national quarantine are fake.
https://twitter.com/WHNSC/status/1239398218292748292?s=20

March 23, 2020, 9 statewide stay-at-home orders are in effect.
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-stay-at-home-order.html

April 23, 2020, CBS News survey headline: "Americans prioritize health over economy".
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/americans-prioritize-staying-home-and-worry-restrictions-will-lift-too-fast-cbs-news-poll/

myliitApril 25, 2020 11:25 AM

Donald Trump’s Debt to China

https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/donald-trumps-debt-to-china

“Earlier this week, the right-leaning commentator Walter Russell Mead published a column in the Wall Street Journal arguing that Donald Trump’s best chance of being reëlected in November is to run against China. “With the economy in shambles and the pandemic ravaging the country, making the election a referendum on China is perhaps Mr. Trump’s only chance to extend his White House tenure past January 2021,” Mead wrote. This strategy would enable Trump to exploit a coronavirus-related distrust of China, Mead added, and it would create problems for Democrats which would include, but also go beyond, Hunter Biden’s business ties to the Middle Kingdom. Plenty “of other senior Democrats have made money (in China), supported trade policies that gave away too much without holding Beijing accountable, or praised China’s government in ways that would make painful viewing in a campaign ad today,” Mead said.

The column sounded cynical, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Trump’s campaign has already released an ad highlighting Hunter Biden’s connection to a Chinese bank, and Trump said last weekend that if Joe Biden was elected foreign countries such as China and Mexico would “own” him. On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo upped the ante, blaming China for the global covid-19 death toll. In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, he said, “China caused an enormous amount of pain, loss of life, and now a huge challenge for the global economy and the American economy, as well, by not sharing the information they had” about the virus. Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and a longtime China hawk, called for a big military buildup in East Asia. “The Chinese Communist Party will try to exploit the world’s weakness in the wake of a virus it unleashed,” Cotton claimed on Thursday. “We cannot allow it to succeed.”

With criticisms of Trump’s handling of the pandemic growing and new opinion polls showing him trailing Biden in several key battleground states, we are sure to see more of these diversions. But adopting a China campaign strategy would also present a number of problems for Trump, beginning with the fact that Hunter Biden’s investment partnership isn’t the only American business that received funding from Chinese entities. In 2012, the Bank of China, a commercial bank owned by the Chinese state, provided more than two hundred million dollars in loans to a New York office building that Trump co-owns, Politico reported on Friday. The loans will come due in 2022, “in the middle of what could be Trump’s second term,” the timely article noted.

The building in question is 1290 Avenue of the Americas, which is located between West Fifty-first and West Fifty-second Streets. The majority owner of the building is Vornado Realty Trust, a big real-estate company that is run by the veteran developer Steven Roth. In 2007, the Trump Organization acquired a thirty-per-cent stake in the Sixth Avenue building and also in separate Vornado development, in San Francisco. By all appearances, the Vornado stake has been one of Trump’s most successful investments, and the Bank of China played a significant role in its success. “The debt stems from a $950 million refinancing deal in 2012, to which the Bank of China chipped in $211 million,” the Politico article said. “Vornado’s federal financial disclosures show it and the other owner of 1290 Avenue of the Americas—Trump—are still indebted from the 2012 deal.”

To be sure, there is no suggestion in the Politico story that the Chinese bank supplied this large sum of money specifically to curry favor with Trump. He hadn’t officially entered politics in 2012, and the Chinese institution also participated in other American real-estate deals around the same time. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal from 2013, the Bank of China was “already one of the largest foreign lenders to commercial real estate in the U.S., helping finance prestige properties.” The Journal story said that the Chinese bank extended the 2012 loan to Vornado intending to package it into mortgage bonds, which it could then sell to other investors at a profit.

But the fact remains that Trump, through his thirty-per-cent stake in the building on Sixth Avenue, has benefitted personally from a big Chinese investment, one that is still in place. The Politico article linked to a filing from Vornado to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which shows that the nine-hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar loan carries an annual yield of 3.34 per cent and is due in November, 2022. “There are definitely legitimate questions that are raised by Hunter Biden’s actions,” Robert Maguire, the research director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Politico. “They are not even in the same ballpark as the conflict of interest questions raised by President Trump’s continued relationship with his own company.”

Whether Trump’s businesses received more loans from state-owned Chinese banks—or other investors with ties to foreign governments—is unknown because Trump refuses to release his complete tax returns and other financial records. The “financial disclosure law did not require him to disclose any business loans he had not personally guaranteed,” Walter Shaub, a former head of the Office of Government Ethics, which establishes standards for the executive branch, wrote on Twitter on Friday. “So, who knows who else he owes money? I’ll tell you who: The lenders who have him in their grip.”

We do know that Trump-family companies have done business with Chinese entities on other occasions, too. In 2017, a Trump-branded golf resort in Dubai hired two Chinese firms to do construction, McClatchy reported. And, since Trump has been in the White House, the Chinese government has issued numerous trademarks to Ivanka Trump’s businesses.

Relative to the size of the two-hundred-and-eleven-million-dollar loan in 2012, these dealings were minor, but they confirm the essential truth that Trump, despite his rhetoric, is a participant and a beneficiary of the global economic system that he blames for the gutting of the American middle class

...”

DamienApril 27, 2020 2:15 PM

@AL:

Regarding masks: that is a reflection of the difficulty of crafting a simple, easy to communicate, and effective public message, combined with the concerns over the availability of PPE for healthcare workers, as well as the rapidly evolving understanding of the nature of the virus and it's vectors of transmission. It certainly didn't help that there was no clear messaging out of the Federal government, so that this process had to be done by countless mayors and governors individually with very limited coordination.

On money: I've seen no 'disinformation' about where the money is coming from. What you just described is the way every USD originally came into existence. There is widespread lack of awareness of the monetary system, but continuing to not overtly highlight the mechanisms behind the system is hardly 'disinformation.' That's just the way it is. :o)

MyliitApril 30, 2020 10:35 AM

@Damien, @AL

Our vice president at work and intentionally not wearing a protective mask [1], while visiting the Mayo Clinic on 28 April 2020

Damien wrote: “Regarding masks: that is a reflection of the difficulty of crafting a simple, easy to communicate, and effective public message, combined with the concerns over the availability of PPE for healthcare workers, as well as the rapidly evolving understanding of the nature of the virus and it's vectors of transmission. It certainly didn't help that there was no clear messaging out of the Federal government ...”


[1] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/apr/28/mike-pence-wears-no-face-mask-mayo-clinic-visit/ With photo

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/pence-criticized-not-wearing-face-mask-mayo-clinic

The WSJ skipped this story.


myliitMay 4, 2020 11:22 AM

Obviously, whether in the united states of amnesia (USA), Russia, China, etc., imo, governments’ lie to or mislead their citizens not infrequently. Please don’t check your critical or skeptical thinking skills at the coat rack. Here’s an attempt at putting a Pompeo truth claim into a “truth sandwich” (truth – false claim – truth). [2]

1) Pompeo asserts a claim not backed yet by U.S. intelligence. [1] afaik

2) From the Guardian “ Pompeo has a patchy record on characterising US intelligence estimates.

He repeatedly claimed there was no direct evidence linking the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to the murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, contradicting substantial US evidence implicating him.

He also repeatedly claimed there was evidence of an “imminent threat” to US embassies posed by the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, who the US killed in a drone strike in Baghdad on 3 January.

A formal letter justifying the strike sent by the White House to Congress in February made no mention of an imminent threat.”


3) Pomeo’s truth claim: Again, from the Guardian, “ [Pompeo] _claimed_ on Sunday there is “enormous evidence” the coronavirus outbreak originated in a Chinese laboratory – but did not provide any of the alleged evidence.”


4) the Guardian again, “Beset by criticism of its response to the outbreak and management of the ensuing public health crisis [and the poor state of the economy and wall street losses], the Trump administration has sought to focus blame on China.

Most epidemiologists say that while it is possible the outbreak started in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where coronaviruses have been intensively studied, it is a far less likely scenario than the theory that it was transmitted naturally from bats through an intermediary animal, mutating along the way to become dangerous to humans.

On Tuesday, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Gen Mark Milley, said “the weight of evidence” pointed to natural transmission but was not conclusive.

Beijing has rejected the suggestion the virus could have escaped from a laboratory. But Chinese authorities have not allowed foreign experts, including investigators from the World Health Organization, to take part in the investigation into the origins of the virus. Nor have they shared samples taken from wild animals at the Wuhan livestock market where they claim the outbreak began.

In 2018, US diplomats and scientists raised concerns in state department cables about safety standards and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Analysis of the first 41 Covid-19 patients in medical journal the Lancet found that 27 had direct exposure to the Wuhan market. The same analysis found that the first known case of the illness did not.”


[1]
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/03/mike-pompeo-donald-trump-coronavirus-chinese-laboratory

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/03/us/politics/coronavirus-pompeo-wuhan-china-lab.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/03/world/coronavirus-news.html and search Pompeo

[2] https://www.emptywheel.net/2020/04/07/like-all-else-trumps-inspector-general-turnover-is-about-pandemic/ Truth sandwich, for example

“ ... Nor does either headline put Trump’s false claims in context. The paper could use the recommended truth sandwich for egregious false claims by politicians: truth – false claim – truth. Or it could simply try, “Trump cllaims without evidence…” or “…despite the evidence….””

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