Part 2: Familiar Vectors of Viral Disinformation

Former White House leadership headlines an event hosted by an authoritarian cult. Attendees have popped up around m/disinformation, raising questions about what their appearances mean.

NOTE: This is the second installment written in response to the appearance of former White House officials who headlined alongside a merciless dictator at an event held by a group with a history of coercive behavior, sex abuse, links to foreign intelligence, fraud, spreading disinformation, and extremist ideology. The question is why?

Disclaimer: The author does not accuse any parties of wrongdoing, but is “just asking questions.”


Read Part 1

Something that is absolutely critical to understand before reading Part 2 is that claims made about coronavirus are not new. You can see similar claims in an archive of outbreaks and associated disinformation from 2001 to 2021.

Outbreak Disinformation


Fast-forwarding to 2020, on Jan 26 the Washington Times published the unsubstantiated story Coronavirus may have originated in a lab linked to China's biowarfare program.1 Written by Bill Gertz, the article cited a single source, an Israeli intelligence officer Dany Shoham. The article quoted Shoham as saying the virus “may have originated in a lab linked to China’s biowarfare program.”

Shoham would not corroborate the claim, according to Foreign Policy, though even with corroboration the quote could hardly be called strong evidence. Gertz's man-made virus story was flanked by appearances on Steve Bannon’s podcast to discuss the article on Jan 25 and 27, 2020, where the two publicized the claims.

At the same time all of this discussion of the bioweapons story was happening, virologists had already weighed in and found nothing suspicious or abnormal about the virus.

While China was not forthcoming and withheld information that could have helped the situation, it isn’t true that we did not have enough information to act sooner. Chinese scientists reached out to Australian virologists by Jan 10th to share the genome. By January 12th, every virologist with a functional lab and internet access had the information needed to do three things:

  1. Ascertain whether this was a natural virus by looking for signs of manipulation.

    • The virus showed no signs of manipulation, something that would be evident in a man-made virus.

  2. Design a test and start making them. 

  3. Sequence the genome to try to figure out how long this has been spreading in humansthis particular detail may have mattered most of all

Study Claiming Man-Made Virus Backed by Bannon-Guo Groups

Recalling that this story in the US kicked off thanks in part to Bill Gertz and Steve Bannon, enter Yan. As the lead author of a Sept 2020 paper, Yan asserted that the Chinese government “intentionally” released the virus into the world. The paper was not peer-reviewed. 

The Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation, groups founded by Bannon and G News owner Guo Wengui, are the institutions associated with Yan’s paper. Guo is a billionaire member of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and a controversial figure who commands considerable media manipulation capacity.

Guo contracted Bannon for $1,000,000 worth of consulting in 2018 after meeting in 2017, so they appear to have become fast friends.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security reviewed Yan’s paper, finding extreme issues: In Response: Yan et al Preprint Examinations of the Origin of SARS-CoV-2.

Despite the problems with the story, the New York Post ran it on Sept 11, 2020.

New York Post later edited the title of the piece to “Chinese virologist claims COVID was made in lab — but US studies don’t agree.”

Yan can be seen in a photo with Giuliani, Bannon, and Guo’s friend Lude, some time on or before Sept 12, 2020, which segues into yet another disinformation effort.

Same People Different Story

A Guo-linked outlet hosted by Guo’s friend Lude, stated “there will be evidence of collusion between the Biden family and the CCP in the next three weeks,” during a show that aired Sept 25, 2020.

On October 14, 2020, the New York Post ran a now-infamous disinformation story. Platforms blocked the story knowing that the intelligence community warned ahead of time something like this was likely coming because the US was being targeted.

Official accounts like @JudiciaryGOP tweeted about it alleging censorship, which was factually inaccurate. So did elected officials who almost certainly had the experience and knowledge to know there was good reason to question the story. Not to do so, might have been to cooperate with an adversary.

The Senate Judiciary Committee should have had access to intelligence that would have strongly suggested a possible disinformation effort—although even an honest failure to see the problematic aspects of the story would not pardon anyone. There have been countless public intelligence reports, some of which are linked below.

Rather, a failure to see why this story was a threat to the US and democracy would be a testament to woefully inadequate fluency in fields that are critical for those with access to information that could be used to threaten our national security.

“Regarding reports that I received an FBI briefing warning me that I was a target of Russian disinformation, I can confirm I received such a briefing in August of 2020.”

Sen Ron Johnson (R-WI)
 

The Twitter account @Judiciary GOP shared a link to Congressman Jim Jordon’s website to circumvent Twitter’s ban on the New York Post link. The Judiciary Twitter account, presumably concerned with the balance of freedom of private industry and limitation of government overreach into society, sought to undermine the platform’s rights.

In doing so it also may have assisted an adversary intent on destroying our nation from the inside.

The lack of prudence and maturity, along with leveraging the event to provoke a feeling of oppression among followers, is disquieting. The behavior is difficult to reconcile with something unintentional. Indeed, it is difficult to reconcile with democracy.

On Congressman Jim Jordan’s website where a blog post discusses the alleged personal laptop of Hunter Biden saying:

Other material extracted from the computer includes a raunchy, 12-minute video that appears to show Hunter, who’s admitted struggling with addiction problems, smoking crack…as well as numerous other sexually explicit images.

Blog at jordan.house.gov

Substance use disorders are real afflictions not uncommon among those who experience significant childhood trauma like one might expect for a child who witnesses the death of his mother and infant sister.

All other issues aside, this is a shocking invasion of a private citizen’s struggle that has no place in the American political sphere. Intimidating political opponents through unethical means is a hallmark of autocracy across time and space.

Understanding foreign interference is part of the job.

If someone lacked the network or skillset needed to verify whether the story was true or not, the entire experience was likely very different. For those people, it likely felt like censorship, a narrative that leaders have guided people toward for years.

It seems doubtful that any member of Congress would be so ill-informed about methods adversaries use to influence the US that they could fail to see it—although if so, that would hardly pardon them for lacking information essential to protecting our national security. The State Department broke it down for everyone barely a month earlier.

The intelligence community had been warning for months and everything from the content to the method of laundering the information was extremely familiar: soviet style—hack and leak with real and fake documents mixed, given to or left for someone to find about a political opponent.

Although the warnings were withheld from the public for unclear reasons, Congress should have known about the efforts to influence our 2020 election.

The most concerning aspect of the @JudiciaryGOP’s effort—one it appears to have undertaken with other elected officialswas its politically advantageous misrepresentation of an effort to halt a foreign influence operation as censorship.

It calls to mind the words of late Senator McCain who addressed an occasion where an elected official sided with an adversary over Americans.

These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

Sen. John McCain

Sen. Ted Cruz does not assure his followers that there is more than meets the eye. Instead, he portrays something else: a threat. This was not the first or last time Sen. Cruz portrayed outrage when it was doubtful he lacked the information necessary to fully understand the situation.

The public, however, likely lacked the ability to ascertain that and may have experienced this as a threat.

As the former assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security for the Trump administration explained:

“(Trump) uses rhetoric to scare people. This is a known psychological tactic that if you get people to fear, they tend to follow you to the solution of ‘How are we going to save ourselves?’ And his answer is, ‘It’s me. If you vote for me, I will save you.’ 

Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security for the Trump administration

Notably both the GOP Judiciary account and Rep. Green deleted these tweets at the same time on the same day—23 weeks after posting them.

Others have deleted communications in relation to Jan 6th and censorship claims.

Bottom Line: Members of Congress should have recognized what looks like an information operation. Neither conclusion seems charitable but either they failed to identify suggesting unfitness for their positions or they knew and allied with an adversary.

Eye of Newt

Leading up to New York Post story, the one-time Congressman shared an article from the Washington Times. A week after the New York Post story ran, Newt Gingrich shared an intelligence report—though it’s not clear how he came to possess it— about Hunter Biden on Twitter with his 2+ million followers.

The report was authored by a man who does not exist. Analysts realized that the author’s eyes had the hallmarks of a GAN2 created face. While very lifelike, these faces still have small imperfections that distinguish them from real ones—for now, that is.

  • A thread if you’d like to know more about what Ms. Thomas found.

More Overlap with Misleading Information

Giuliani, Bannon, and Guo all play a significant role in priming the public for the “Stop the Steal” campaign, Covid vaccine conspiracy content, coronavirus bioweapons theory content, and election disinformation (see timeline at end of article).

All of this raises questions about whether government funding was in any way involved as that would violate the prohibition on the government using covert propaganda on the public. It begs whether donors support funding used in that fashion.

Covert propaganda refers to media materials prepared by a government agency and then disseminated by a non-government outlet with the source undisclosed. What defines covert propaganda materials is that they are “misleading as to their origin.” The source must be intentionally misleading, however, and not just due to administrative carelessness. The agency in question must desire that its authorship be obscured, and it must take steps to ensure that obscurity. “A critical element of covert propaganda,” reads a Government Accountability Office opinion, “is the concealment of the agency's role in sponsoring such material.

The prohibition also applies to communications prepared by private contractors at the behest of a government agency.


Cornell Law

Bannon-Guo Update in May 2021

Chinese businessman with links to Steve Bannon is driving force for a sprawling disinformation network, researchers say.

Graphika found that Guo’s media manipulation empire criticized the Chinese Communist Party. Researchers also found promoted harassment campaigns against anti-CCP Chinese dissidents, activists, and other perceived enemies in six countries.

These campaigns have been linked to multiple violent incidents, and raise questions about the authenticity of Guo’s claims about being against the CCP. It’s not clear why someone against the Chinese Communist Party would target its critics or pay people to protest or hurt them. Perhaps, Guo is merely a more subtle version of what the Moon cult was in the 70s and 80s.

The danger in remotely cooperating with adversaries when it serves them is that it won’t stop where cooperators would like.

That’s merely how adversaries get our leaders to open the door.

Open, the door most certainly is.


Covid, Media Manipulation, China and the US, a Timeline

Apr 2018


Oct 2019


Jan 4, 2020: Earliest claim identified by the DFRLab and AP regarding China allegedly releasing the virus.


Jan 10, 2020: Chinese scientists shared the genome by Jan 10; Australia shared it with virologists worldwide. This information allows you to make tests.

“This posting is communicated by Edward C. Holmes, the University of Sydney on behalf of the consortium led by Professor Yong-Zhen Zhang, Fudan University, Shanghai”

“Disclaimer:
Please feel free to download, share, use, and analyze this data…. If you have any other questions –then please also contact us directly.
Professor Yong-Zhen Zhang,
Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center & School of Public Health,
Fudan University, Shanghai, China.
email: zh*********@shphc.org.cn”


Jan 12: China shared the genetic information with WHO; WHO shared genome with the world, too.


Jan 13: Germany makes its testing protocol public. The US declines to use.


Jan 17: Public health leader Imperial College London published an article that provided evidence the outbreak hadn’t been controlled. Many agreed with Imperial College, me among them.


Jan 13–19: WHO reported these via the disease outbreak network (DON). The reports strongly suggested continued spread.


Jan 19: New information suggested the virus had started spreading between September and November.

This finding meant we could not control the outbreak with travel restrictions alone. It had been around for too long. The proverbial cat was already out of the bag.


Jan 22: WHO makes a public statement expressing that human-to-human transmission was likely happening in Wuhan.


Jan 24

  • Jasper Fuk-Woo Chan and colleagues submitted a paper published in The Lancet confirming human-to-human transmission had and was happening.

  • President Trump Tweets:

According to financial disclosure forms, Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) each sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stocks within days of the Senate holding a classified briefing on Jan. 24 with Trump administration officials on the threat of the coronavirus outbreak.”

— The Hill

Jan 25: Gertz appears on Bannon’s Podcast—War Room: Pandemic launched on January 25 as a spin-off to War Room: Impeachment2


Jan 26: Washington Times spurs bioweapons claims that are then covered by other American outlets

  • The outlet added a comment two months after the article ran, but experts knew this information at the time it was originally published


Jan 27: Gertz appears on Bannon’s podcast again to discuss coronavirus as a man-made virus.

Gertz returned to the show on January 27, claiming, “Obviously, the question of their covert biological weapons program should come into play here.” Bannon replied, “Your point is that there are no coincidences” related to the coronavirus, and the lab facility raises “certain suspicions.”

Madeline Peltz, Feb 20203


Jan 28, 2020: China starts to react to accusations by saying there is no evidence that the virus is manmade.


Jan 28, 2020: Bannon posts on Facebook, “Things are not as they appear.”


Feb 5, 2020: Congress holds a hearing and learns:

Travel bans will not stop this [additional action on Mar 16]

The evidence said the virus could already be spreading in the US [guidelines disallowed non-travelers from testing until Mar 4]

Experts stated that current US policy could not keep Americans safe; it was too late for restrictions [many studies showed this]

—Testimony from pandemic expert Dr. Nuzzo included [full document]

“We have a travel Band-Aid right now. First, before it was imposed, 300,000 people came here from China in the previous month. So, the horse is out of the barn.”


Ron Klain, currently serving as Chief of Staff to the Biden administration

Feb 7, 2020:


Feb 10, 2020: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson asks a doctor on his show whether there was evidence that this was “not a naturally occurring virus, that it was somehow created by the Chinese government.”


Feb 16, 2020: Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins


March 10: In a meeting with Republican senators, President Trump said:

“This was unexpected…And it hit the world. And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”


March 11: WHO states it is “deeply concerned” about the “alarming inaction.” The US restricts travel to more affected regions on Mar 11. Experts testified over two months earlier that travel restrictions would fail.


Mar 16, 2020: Guo pushes man-made virus disinformation in an article titled, “The CCP Virus Is Lab-Made and the CCP Has Antidote for It”

Mar 16, 2020: President is forced to enact 15 days to slow the spread. This is the first time the President calls it the “Chinese Virus.”


Mar 19, 2020: President’s campaign emails supporters about the pandemic.


April 17: A political strategy guide in the form of a 57-page memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, urged Republican candidates to deflect from the failures and missteps.

Between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021, there were 3,800 anti-Asian incidents reported, and they didn’t happen in a vacuum. 68% of those reports were of women.

—E Rosalie, 2021

Apr 20, 2020: A periodic transaction report filed on April 20 in the name of Rep. Michael McCaul shows a purchase of $50,000-$100,000 worth of shares in Chinese tech behemoth Tencent Holdings in late February. McCaul represents Texas’ 10th district and serves as a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


May 6, 2020: Russia appears to play both sides, standing by China in the press, publishing disinformation accusing China and the US, and embarrassing the US Secretary of State in the international arena:

Russia said the U.S. must provide evidence to support its allegations that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory instead of a wet market in Wuhan, as many researchers believe. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow could not “show any solidarity” with the claims, which have been mostly promoted by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both of whom have said they have seen proof concerning the virus’s origins but have declined to provide any such materials.

“We consider it not a proper time, being somewhere in the middle of a severe crisis, an unprecedented crisis, to try to blame everything on the international health organization [the World Health Organization] or, the next day, on China,” Peskov said in an interview released yesterday.

Source: Just Security Early Edition: May 7, 2020

May 7, 2020: Posting about the China Task Force appears to be coordinated around May 7/8 and May 18/19. See more tweets in the archive via the button below.

China Task Force Tweets



Sept 11, 2020: New York Post publishes Yan’s claims in an article titled “Chinese virologist claims she has proof COVID-19 was made in Wuhan lab”

  • New York Post later edited the title of the piece to “Chinese virologist claims COVID was made in lab — but US studies don’t agree”


Sept 25, 2020: Guo linked outlet says, “there will be evidence of collusion between the Biden family and the CCP in the next three weeks,” airing Sep 25, 2020.

  • Guo’s friend Lude in a video from Sept ‘20 hinting at the Hunter Biden story. He can be seen with Bannon, Yan, and Giuliani, likely in Sept of 2020 but the date is not certain.

October 14, 2020: New York Post runs a now-infamous disinformation story:


Oct 23, 2020: Newt Gingrich shares an intelligence report—though it’s not clear how he came to possess it— about Hunter Biden on Twitter with his 2+ million followers.

OSINT researcher Elise Thomas found a Twitter account for the report author. It linked to a webpage where she found a copy of the report from Aug ‘20.

The author’s eyes had the hallmarks of a GAN2 created face. While very lifelike, these faces still have small imperfections that distinguish them from real ones—for now, that is.


Oct 2020: Bannon and Guo flood American information space with Hunter Biden conspiracy theories


Nov 2020: Guo network pushes disinformation


Sept 2020 to Present: Giuliani, Bannon, and Guo appear to play a role in priming the public for the “Stop the Steal” campaign long before the election took place.

1

Note about the origin of coronavirus: The origin of the virus still needs to be fully investigated but the claims made in the study by Yan et al (2020) were conflicting, incoherent. While the virus is not a man-made one, it is possible that it could have escaped from a lab, however unlikely that may be. Lab accidents have happened in the past but we know about them because coverups are far less common than the movies would have you believe.

Natural spillover is not only possible, but something experts had warned for years would eventually happen. If someone had asked me before the outbreak what time of year I’d expect it to happen, I would have said the fall—Sept to Nov—and that’s precisely when both SARS-1 and -2 burst on the scene. Some have taken the secrecy on the part of the Chinese government as evidence of guilt but that doesn’t logically follow. They were secretive about SARS and are secretive and controlling about nearly everything. It’s an autocratic government.

3

Ibid.