Pompeo says China, Russia, Iran are spreading disinformation about coronavirus
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday accused China, Russia and Iran of carrying out disinformation campaigns related to the coronavirus pandemic, in what is an apparent effort to sow fear and confusion.
Speaking at the White House, Pompeo described the disinformation campaigns as being “pretty diffused,” saying that the government has seen individuals, as well as the three foreign adversaries, spread false information online.
“There are coordinated efforts to disparage what America is doing and our activity to do all the things President Trump has set into motion,” the secretary said during a press briefing on the coronavirus, standing next to Trump and his coronavirus task force.
“It is pretty diffused, unfortunately. But we have certainly seen it come from places like China, and Russia and Iran,” he said.
Earlier in the press briefing, Pompeo indirectly cited propaganda that Chinese government officials have peddled in an effort to cast away doubt about the origins of the virus.
A member of China’s foreign ministry has publicly claimed the coronavirus may have started in the United States, while Trump and other officials have repeatedly referred to the “Chinese virus” amid international scrutiny that Beijing sought to cover up the threat of the virus shortly after the outbreak first began.
“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected?” tweeted Lijian Zhao, a spokesman at the Foreign Ministry’s Information Department. “What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”
2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation! pic.twitter.com/vYNZRFPWo3
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020
Experts believe the coronavirus originated in a wet food market in Wuhan, China, where it was likely passed from different animals until a host carrying the disease transferred it to a human.
Pompeo also noted that there is false information being spread about the U.S. government instituting lockdowns.
“I want to talk about the disinformation that people are seeing on Twitter and around the world, some of it coming from governments and other individuals,” Pompeo said at the start of the briefing. “I just urge everyone as they are seeing information that at one time suggested that this virus somehow emanated from the U.S. army, this information about lockdowns that are taking place.”
“With the spread of COVID-19 we have seen a flurry of info, myths and disinformation about it — they are coming from various sources, not only from one, although disinformation efforts coming from Russia, linked to Russia or to clearly pro-Kremlin outlets have noticeably picked up,” Peter Stano, the spokesman for the European Union’s External Action Service, said during a press conference on Wednesday.
The U.S. has also had a recent violent back-and-forth with Iran, including a recent rocket attack blamed on Tehran-backed militias that killed two American and one British service member, a move that was seen as retaliation for the killing of an Iranian general.
To address the disinformation threat, Pompeo said the U.S. is doing “lots of things” to fight back.
“We want to make sure the American people go to trusted sources for their information. But we’ve made clear — we’ve spoken to these countries directly that they need to knock it off, we don’t approve of it. And then there are a handful of other things we are engaged in to make sure the right information is out there,” Pompeo said, emphasizing that transparency and accurate information protects Americans going forward.
The warnings about disinformation campaigns come after the U.S. intelligence community overwhelmingly concluded that Russia not only hacked Democrats, but they also carried out a sophisticated and widespread disinformation campaign during the 2016 election.
Since then, national security experts have warned that other foreign adversaries may be motivated to copy Russia and to use social media to try to disrupt U.S. elections going forward.