CSIS accuses Russia, China and Iran of spreading COVID-19 disinformation – National

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A report by the Canadian intelligence service accuses Russia, China and Iran of spreading COVID-19 disinformation to promote their strategic ambitions.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service named the trio of countries in a declassified report titled COVID-19: Global Effects and Canada’s National Security Interests.

He said Russia was “actively spreading disinformation accusing the West of being responsible for the virus,” as part of a wider campaign to discredit the West, promote Russian influence and lobby for it. the end of Western sanctions.

China, meanwhile, “is focused on a propaganda campaign that protects its own reputation and national legitimacy while touting its aid in the event of a pandemic overseas,” said the assessment, tagged Secret / Canadian Eyes. Only.

At the same time, China’s internal restrictions were not widely reported, and data on infection and death released by Beijing were “unreliable,” the CSIS wrote.

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For its part, the Iranian regime’s heightened disinformation campaign seeks to shift responsibility for domestic shortcomings in the management of COVID-19 to foreign actors (particularly US sanctions).

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Misinformation about COVID-19 has flourished since the start of the pandemic, fueling what has been called an “infodemic” of conspiracy theories and lies amid efforts to contain the coronavirus.

Declassified documents obtained by Global News under the Access to Information Act show that CSIS is monitoring the national security implications of the phenomenon.

“Threat actors have used the pandemic as an opportunity to spread disinformation online,” CSIS spokesman John Townsend said on Wednesday when asked about the documents.

“It is important to note that disinformation, coming from anywhere in the world, can have serious consequences, including threats to the safety and security of Canadians, erosion of trust in our democratic institutions and the confusion over government policies and advisories, including information about COVID. -19 pandemic, ”he said.

“State-sponsored disinformation campaigns are an example of foreign interference.”

The Chinese embassy has denied spreading disinformation about COVID-19, while the Russian embassy said it would comment after receiving a link to the CSIS statement. Iran has no embassy in Canada since the countries severed diplomatic ties in 2012.

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A CSIS report published to Global News under the Access to Information Act.

Professor Stephanie Carvin said Moscow and Beijing are engaging in COVID-19 disinformation for different purposes.

“In the case of Russia, it’s just a kind of continuation of trying to sow discord within Western democracies, whether it’s by amplifying conspiracy theories or simply trying to discredit certain initiatives that governments are doing, ”she said.

But China had different goals, said Carvin, associate professor of international relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

“I think they are primarily concerned about their international reputation and their perceived lack of transparency regarding the pandemic in their own country. And they claimed the pandemic may have started in other countries like Italy.

“So what we’re really seeing is a variety of players engaged in this area for multiple purposes. And that’s, of course, how they normally work, anyway. It’s just that I think because so much global attention is being paid to the pandemic, it’s no surprise that they are hanging on to it.

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CSIS documents reveal that the agency’s Intelligence Assessment Branch, as well as the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Center, regularly prepare internal briefings on issues related to COVID-19.

Topics include exploitation of the pandemic by extremist movements and 5G conspiracy theorists, and the promotion of pandemic disinformation by authoritarian adversaries of Canada.

Some of the documents indicate that they were prepared for senior officials from the Privy Council Office, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Canadian Heritage, as well as the Deputy Minister Operations Committee. .

The documents were partly redacted on the grounds that they contained information on the prevention of hostile activities. They cover the period between January and May 2020.

“CSIS is clearly monitoring any updates regarding the pandemic,” said Ahmed al-Rawi, assistant professor at Simon Fraser University School of Communication.

He said the CSIS documents covered four main areas of interest to intelligence services: Russia, China, Iran and extremist groups.

“They seem to be worried about the impact of conspiracy theories on Canadians,” said Al-Rawi, who also heads The Disinformation Project.

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Misinformation about COVID-19 has had an impact on behavior, according to a study conducted by researchers at McGill University and the University of Toronto, and published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review.

The study found that disinformation about the virus was associated with less respect for social distancing, and that those most likely to have misconceptions about the pandemic were more reliant on social media.

But one of the report’s authors, Aengus Bridgman of McGill University, said there was little evidence that disinformation campaigns were having an impact, and that most of the disinformation was disseminated by politically engaged people. on the Internet.

In March, a COVID-19 conspiracy theory from a Canadian website was posted on Twitter by the spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry.

In March, a COVID-19 conspiracy theory from a Canadian website was posted on Twitter by the spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry.

A Top Secret CSIS report cited the example of a Chinese Foreign Ministry official promoting the COVID-19 lies from a Montreal-based conspiracy theory website.

Although the virus originated in China, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted a post on Twitter claiming that it was created in a U.S. biological warfare lab.

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The online post alleged that the pandemic was “a one-world order cover operation” to use vaccination to reduce the world’s population and create “a digital control system,” CSIS wrote.

There is no credible evidence to support the theory.

The article Zhao tweeted was from Global Research, which CSIS described as a “Canadian conspiratorial publication” that publishes content that portrays Russia’s response to COVID-19 in a positive light while claiming that Moscow is a victim of “Western conspiracies”.

According to the CSIS report, the Global Research article tweeted by Zhao was “exploited as part of a growing alternative narrative that seeks to cast doubt on the COVID-19 pandemic originated in China.”

The website did not respond to a request for comment.


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Coronavirus: COVID-19 and fear fueling conspiracy theories


Coronavirus: COVID-19 and fear fueling conspiracy theories – May 31, 2020

The pandemic has “widened the rifts between authoritarian states and western liberal democracies,” according to another CSIS intelligence assessment, dubbed Top Secret.

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The pandemic “represents a threat to the stability of the regime” for some states, according to the assessment.

“At the same time, the warring states have used the pandemic as an opportunity to present themselves as legitimate alternatives to Western liberal democracies, which are currently struggling to cope with the crisis.

“Global strategic competition is increasingly focused on a race to find a solution and to recalibrate supply chains and other vital mechanisms ensuring social and economic stability.”

Last week, the National Cyber ​​Threat Assessment 2020 also identified Russia, China and Iran, as well as North Korea, saying their state-sponsored cyber programs pose the greatest strategic threat to Canada. .

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