Foreign Disinformation Campaign Stoking Virus Fears: Report

March 16, 2020 Updated: March 18, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

A foreign disinformation campaign aimed to sow fear in the United States over the novel coronavirus is currently underway, according to a new report.

Three unnamed U.S. officials told The Associated Press that they began confronting on March 15 what they called a “deliberate effort by a foreign entity” to ignite fears of a nationwide quarantine. Federal agencies, such as the National Security Council, addressed such claims on March 15, saying they were false.

“Text message rumors of a national #quarantine are FAKE,” the council stated on its official Twitter account on March 15. “There is no national lockdown. @CDCgovhas and will continue to post the latest guidance on #COVID19.” 

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times. The U.S. officials didn’t name the foreign entity they believe to be responsible, according to AP.

At a March 16 coronavirus task force press briefing, President Donald Trump acknowledged that there could be some “foreign groups that are playing games” but said it didn’t matter as he wasn’t implementing a nationwide lockdown.

The State Department recently summoned China’s ambassador to the United States after a top Beijing official suggested that the U.S. military was responsible for introducing the deadly coronavirus to the Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero of the pandemic.

A State Department spokesperson told The Epoch Times in a previous email that they have seen “how Beijing’s storyline on what has become a global pandemic has been shifting away from the Wuhan Huanan market since mid-January, indicating that Beijing is trying to avoid responsibility for the outbreak.”

The spokesperson was referring to a seafood and animal market in coronavirus epicenter Wuhan that Chinese officials initially cited as the potential source of the devastating outbreak.

“The US is not interested in assigning blame, but asks the Chinese government to offer full access and transparency in order to prevent further loss of lives inside and outside the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” the spokesperson wrote.

Alyssa Farah, press secretary for the Department of Defense, said China’s propaganda push on the origin of the virus was a ridiculous claim.

“As a global crisis, COVID-19 [should] be an area of cooperation between nations,” she wrote in a March 13 Twitter post. “Instead, the Communist Party of China has chosen to promulgate false & absurd conspiracy theories about the origin of COVID-19 blaming U.S. service members.”

States and municipalities have banned large public gatherings, closed schools, bars, and restaurants, and advised people to exercise social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on March 14 that Americans should aim to severely curtail leaving their homes, but he didn’t indicate the government would order a nationwide quarantine. He was specifically questioned on whether he’d like to see a “national lockdown.”

“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” said Fauci, a member of the White House task force on combating the spread of coronavirus. He heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Meanwhile, on March 16, national security officials said there had been a “cyber incident” involving the computer networks of the Department of Health and Human Services, but the networks were operating normally. They didn’t detail the scope of the incident.

“HHS and federal government cybersecurity professionals are continuously monitoring and taking appropriate actions to secure our federal networks,” according to NSC spokesman John Ullyot.

Although the officials didn’t name a specific entity responsible for the disinformation campaign, U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly cautioned that Russia, China, Iran, and other countries are engaged in ongoing efforts to influence U.S. policy and voters in elections.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Follow Bowen on Twitter: @BowenXiao_