Pentagon Ran Secret Campaign To Smear China’s Covid Vaccine

The program used hundreds of fake internet profiles to stoke fear about the Chinese jab

The US military carried out a clandestine smear campaign to damage public opinion about China’s coronavirus vaccine, Sinovac, according to a Reuters investigation.The propaganda drive targeted populations across the developing world at the height of the pandemic and continued into the Joe Biden administration.

Reuters outlined the operation in a report published on Friday, citing unnamed US military officials familiar with the mission. The campaign was run from a “psychological operations center” in Florida between the spring of 2020 and mid-2021, and aimed to discredit the Chinese vaccine using a “combination of fake social media accounts on multiple platforms.”

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

The outlet identified around 300 phony X accounts used to disparage Sinovac in the Philippines, and described similar efforts in Central Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the developing world. The fake profiles garnered tens of thousands of followers before they were deleted from the platform.

Muslim users were targeted in particular, with the campaign seeking to “amplify the disputed contention that, because vaccines sometimes contain pork gelatin, China’s shots could be considered forbidden under Islamic law.”

The operation in the Philippines was carried out despite “strong objections” from top US diplomats in the region, and the Pentagon reportedly ignored concerns about the “collateral impact” of its disinformation. At least six senior State Department officials opposed the strategy, arguing that a global pandemic was “the wrong time to instill fear or anger through a psychological operation.”

The Sinovac smear campaign was part of a broader information war against US adversaries, which was intensified under the Donald Trump administration. While the military previously required State Department approval to carry out propaganda missions abroad, a secret Pentagon order allowed commanders to sidestep those restrictions starting in 2019. The order was later codified into law, explicitly authorizing secret “influence operations” against other countries – including “outside of areas of active hostilities.”

The military appears to have used similar tactics to push “pro-Western narratives” on several other social media sites in recent years. Some of the same fake accounts targeting Sinovac were previously flagged in a 2022 study by Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory, which found a network of profiles engaged in “manipulation” and “inauthentic behavior” on seven platforms.

While the Biden administration halted the Sinovac mission in 2021, the Pentagon appears set to continue its foreign propaganda activities. An unclassified strategy document published last year declared that the military could “weaponize information to manipulate an adversary’s perception of reality,” as well as use “disinformation spread across social media” and “false narratives disguised as news.”

Will Porter is assistant news editor at the Libertarian Institute and a regular contributor at Find more of his work at Consortium News and ZeroHedge.