110 votes

Reuters investigation: Pentagon ran secret anti-vax campaign to undermine China during pandemic

18 comments

  1. [5]
    MimicSquid
    Link
    This is just completely unacceptable. Going after public health is one of those things that can spiral out of control in the worst sort of way, and even if we were in a hot war engaging in...

    This is just completely unacceptable. Going after public health is one of those things that can spiral out of control in the worst sort of way, and even if we were in a hot war engaging in activities that primarily target the civilian population with disease would be a crime. This is just beyond the pale.

    69 votes
    1. [4]
      zipf_slaw
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Agreed, and I see it just like using a doctor to hand out vaccines in order to flush out Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan. lol, Rebecca Watson drew the same parallel

      Agreed, and I see it just like using a doctor to hand out vaccines in order to flush out Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan.

      lol, Rebecca Watson drew the same parallel

      19 votes
      1. [3]
        public
        Link Parent
        I hope those vaccines were at least real and useful against diseases faced by the locals.

        I hope those vaccines were at least real and useful against diseases faced by the locals.

        9 votes
        1. ChingShih
          Link Parent
          It seems like at least one aid organization caught up in the scheme was giving out actual Hep B vaccinations, so that's good. However the real blowback comes in the form of attacks on aid workers...

          It seems like at least one aid organization caught up in the scheme was giving out actual Hep B vaccinations, so that's good. However the real blowback comes in the form of attacks on aid workers since then and increased distrust of vaccinations (especially by the religious fanatics); notably the polio vaccine that had so much success in that part of the world and has since reversed course because people have negative associations with it either due to incorrect conspiracy theories or the association of western involvement.

          For others who might be curious, here's some brief background about the situation and also an extremely good and lengthy article about one of the doctors who (inadvertently???) participated in the vaccination program.

          13 votes
        2. rahmad
          Link Parent
          Doesn't matter if they were. Set back polio eradication by years, maybe a decade. All vaccine workers became viewed as CIA assets and thus untrustworthy. Really awful set of consequences.

          Doesn't matter if they were. Set back polio eradication by years, maybe a decade. All vaccine workers became viewed as CIA assets and thus untrustworthy. Really awful set of consequences.

          5 votes
  2. [4]
    arqalite
    (edited )
    Link
    This makes me so mad, I might break some Tildes rules with my reactions. Also take everything I say with a reactionary grain of salt as I'll probably pick and choose paragraphs that make me mad....

    This makes me so mad, I might break some Tildes rules with my reactions. Also take everything I say with a reactionary grain of salt as I'll probably pick and choose paragraphs that make me mad. Please read the whole article before reading my comment.

    It should honestly be called an outright war crime. While it's impossible to determine the impact of this, it's probably certain that an innocent Filipino person died, just because the US and China hate each other.

    I honestly don't want to know what other secret campaigns the Pentagon had, because I'm sure they're even more horrible.

    “We weren’t looking at this from a public health perspective,” said a senior military officer involved in the program. “We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud.”

    Understandable, have a nice day. I mean, go fuck yourselves with a cactus. The audacity to even say this is incomprehensible to me.

    As I progressed through the article, I developed a visceral disgust to the idea of disinformation campaigns, especially mass-scale operations headed by states. It just reeks of a complete disregard for the people that they're manipulating as their only goal is to just poke the enemy country with a stick and claim they're defending their citizens and allies. You're defending yourselves and putting everyone else at risk.

    “We didn’t do a good job sharing vaccines with partners,” a senior U.S. military officer directly involved in the campaign in Southeast Asia told Reuters. “So what was left to us was to throw shade on China’s.”

    I wish very mean things upon this person (which contextually might be the same person from above). "We fucked up, so we gotta make sure they fuck up as well, because if America isn't #1 we might as well kill everyone".

    The senior Defense Department official said that those complaints led to an internal review in late 2021, which uncovered the anti-vaccine operation. The probe also turned up other social and political messaging that was “many, many leagues away” from any acceptable military objective. The official would not elaborate.

    Remember what I said about not wanting to find out what else they were doing? Turn that up to 11.

    The Pentagon’s audit concluded that the military’s primary contractor handling the campaign, General Dynamics IT, had employed sloppy tradecraft, taking inadequate steps to hide the origin of the fake accounts, said a person with direct knowledge of the review.

    So the Pentagon's main problem with this, is that they got caught. Cool.

    And in February, the contractor that worked on the anti-vax campaign – General Dynamics IT – won a $493 million contract. Its mission: to continue providing clandestine influence services for the military.

    But they still renewed that contract because the only thing worse than a sloppy disinformation campaign is no disinformation campaign. I'll expect the worst to come out of this.

    I don't like the Chinese government and I'm very much aligned with Western culture and values - I'll easily admit that. But things like these make me realize that the East/West divide is so artificial and fake. What they do, we do as well. Any action on one side meets an equal reaction on the other, and nobody makes an effort to do better.

    Is it that hard to see China do something and decide "actually, we won't do that, we're better than that"? But no, we need to "win" at everything, regardless of the consequences.

    If this is what winning looks like, then I don't want to play anymore.

    50 votes
    1. updawg
      Link Parent
      The other thing that gets me about this just from a strategic perspective is that it seems like it would have been simple enough to not question the efficacy of vaccines in general while still...

      The other thing that gets me about this just from a strategic perspective is that it seems like it would have been simple enough to not question the efficacy of vaccines in general while still dragging China/Sinovac through the mud. Just say something like "it is China's fault that all this is happening, so why would you reward them by buying their masks/vaccines/etc?"

      That way, people can also say "well, Sinovac is my only option, so I will use it, but I should try to cut ties with China in the future."

      19 votes
    2. Boaty_McBoatyson
      Link Parent
      Without being a socialist or communist myself, I do think their way of slicing the cake of global power horisontally along class lines (economic, intellectual) makes more sense in light of...

      Without being a socialist or communist myself, I do think their way of slicing the cake of global power horisontally along class lines (economic, intellectual) makes more sense in light of revelations such as this one. Countries and states seem more and more like vehicles of keeping a semblance of democratic support for oligarchs in charge of the US/EU.

      A pet theory of mine that I would love to have disproved is that a lot of our institutions are dysfunctional because of the principal agent-type issues. I mean what would you do if you have years of career sunk cost, a family, a mortgage and the continuance of your career and future earnings are dependant on you spearheading a very amoral campaign? Not trying to create excuses for anyone, just trying to understand the structural underpinnings of the issues we constantly face in the west.

      Becoming a whistle-blower seems like a pretty rough path to take unless you like living in Russia away from your family forever or in a tiny room in the Ecuadorian embassy like Assange.

      13 votes
    3. darreninthenet
      Link Parent
      "The only winning move is not to play"

      "The only winning move is not to play"

      2 votes
  3. chocobean
    Link
    What a terrible thing to have been done. And Really, "they started it"? Incredible. It wouldn't have been that hard for them to say, hey we got dirt on China trying to blame us for COVID,...

    What a terrible thing to have been done. And

    She also noted that China had started a “disinformation campaign to falsely blame the United States for the spread of COVID-19.”

    Really, "they started it"? Incredible. It wouldn't have been that hard for them to say, hey we got dirt on China trying to blame us for COVID, citizens, gather around and look at how awful they are. The US didn't have to join them in the mud.

    And Philippines again, really? Haven't the Philippino people suffered enough?

    in Pakistan, where the Central Intelligence Agency used a fake hepatitis vaccination program in Abbottabad as cover to hunt for Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind behind the attacks of September 11, 2001. Discovery of the ruse led to a backlash against an unrelated polio vaccination campaign, including attacks on healthcare workers, contributing to the reemergence of the deadly disease in the country.

    Oh of course it wasn't just one country's innocent civilians affected. Wonderful.

    :(

    But........all things considered, these are not equal evils. The reporters are safe, you and I are reading this in our own homes without fear of this article being wiped, and my posting "Both the Trump and Biden administration are responsible for these deaths" isn't going to result in my parents having people bang on their doors at 3am asking them why I'm posting this online.

    15 votes
  4. [4]
    RobotOverlord525
    Link
    The people responsible for this program need to be court-martialed. This is despicable and unacceptable. We shouldn't be stooping to Xi and Putin's levels. Having "PsyOp" campaigns to counter...

    The people responsible for this program need to be court-martialed. This is despicable and unacceptable. We shouldn't be stooping to Xi and Putin's levels.

    Having "PsyOp" campaigns to counter Chinese and Russian influence in foreign countries? Sure. I get that. It makes sense. But they don't need lies in order to counter the bullshit being spewed by these authoritarian regimes. Just telling the people of Russia and China the truth about their governments would be enough. And it would be independently verifiable by the targets of those campaigns (if they can find access to legitimate, uncensored information, of course).

    As for other countries, like the Philippines? Well, countering Chinese narratives about how the United States created COVID-19 is one thing, but doing so through disinformation absolutely crosses lines. And damaging the public health of another country in order to weaken the influence of a geopolitical rival is just disgusting. There is blood on the hands of everyone who authorized that program. From U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to then-Special Operations Command Pacific General Jonathan Braga and who knows how many others. Esper should be tried in a civilian court and Braga should be court-martialed.

    But I know that no one with any real power is going to be punished in any way for this. I expect no more than a slap on the wrist, if that.

    14 votes
    1. [3]
      daywalker
      Link Parent
      This is not an exception. This is par for the course for US. It's a feature of your system.

      We shouldn't be stooping to Xi and Putin's levels.

      This is not an exception. This is par for the course for US. It's a feature of your system.

      11 votes
      1. [2]
        MimicSquid
        Link Parent
        I'm not saying that your statement is false, but it seems unrelated to what you quoted? It can be entirely true that this sort of awful action is par for the course for great powers and also...

        I'm not saying that your statement is false, but it seems unrelated to what you quoted? It can be entirely true that this sort of awful action is par for the course for great powers and also something that shouldn't be done. You're making a statement of fact and the bit you're quoting is a moral stance. They're rather orthogonal to each other.

        2 votes
        1. daywalker
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          "Stooping down to" implies US the state is any better. It's not, in terms of international politics. This is a point worth reminding, as the belief in US's supposed moral superiority is also...

          "Stooping down to" implies US the state is any better. It's not, in terms of international politics. This is a point worth reminding, as the belief in US's supposed moral superiority is also propaganda, even when one is lamenting a deviation from that norm. When someone does that, it's worth saying that "No, dude, US has been like this forever. It's not a bug, it's a feature."

          8 votes
  5. DesktopMonitor
    Link
    Haven’t read many articles that make out social media execs to be the good guys in the room.

    The military program started under former President Donald Trump and continued months into Joe Biden’s presidency, Reuters found – even after alarmed social media executives warned the new administration that the Pentagon had been trafficking in COVID misinformation.

    Haven’t read many articles that make out social media execs to be the good guys in the room.

    5 votes
  6. daywalker
    Link
    American government was found to spread disinformation and control the narrative on American social media sites. Obviously the only sensible response should be to ban American sites, and then...

    American government was found to spread disinformation and control the narrative on American social media sites. Obviously the only sensible response should be to ban American sites, and then force a sell. This is the way to protect our freedoms and interests from American autocrats.

    4 votes
  7. l_one
    Link
    Oh this sucks so much. I find myself just not wanting to believe it, in part because of the marked increase in disinformation operations being used. But that desire to not believe is itself bias -...

    Oh this sucks so much.

    I find myself just not wanting to believe it, in part because of the marked increase in disinformation operations being used. But that desire to not believe is itself bias - what I want to be true or not true has absolutely no bearing on reality.

    If there are any news organizations out there that can be considered to maintain the highest levels of reliability and integrity, certainly Reuters is among them. I would also not put any depth of depravity past Trump - though again, that must at least in part also be considered bias (although I feel that bit is quite grounded in objective reality and a history of proven actions both unethical and illegal) - but part of that bias is to attribute such action on the part of the US government to Trump (who I greatly dislike), while ignoring or lessening my focus on every other person in the loop who would have had some degree of influence over such an operation.

    Ok, my gut-level initial inability to give credence to something horrible aside, the actions themselves:

    What a stupid, murderous, harmful thing to do. As the article mentions, the damage from this kind of action doesn't stay limited to a single event, a single sickness. Convince people to not trust science and medicine, to not trust the experts telling them 'hey, this works and will save your life' tends to stick around with those people, and then spread to everyone they talk to who believes what they say over what a government says. That is a rather widespread, long-lasting harm. Then there's all the people around the world who held anti-vax views and died from COVID, leaving one to wonder how much smaller that number would have been without these actions.

    2 votes
  8. LukeZaz
    Link
    Meta-post, feel free to tag as off-topic Note to the tag/title editing crew: I included "Reuters investigation" in the title to distinguish it from being seen as clickbait by a no-repute site,...

    Meta-post, feel free to tag as off-topic
    Note to the tag/title editing crew: I included "Reuters investigation" in the title to distinguish it from being seen as clickbait by a no-repute site, since the headline is rather... eyebrow-raising, to say the least. I'm open to the addition being removed, but please consider the reasoning first. Thanks!

    28 votes