Washington: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Russia, China and Iran for spreading "disinformation" on COVID-19 and carrying out coordinated efforts to "disparage" American attempts towards containing the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at the White House on Friday, Pompeo described the disinformation campaigns as being "pretty diffused" and urged Americans to ensure that they are getting their information from a reliable source and not a "bad actor" trying to create and flow information that they know is wrong.
"I wanted to talk about the disinformation the people are seeing both on Twitter and around the world. Some of it coming from government, some of it coming from other individuals," Pompeo told reporters.
He identified three countries for these "disinformation campaigns".
"It is pretty defused unfortunately but we have certainly seen it come from places like China and Russia and Iran where there are coordinated efforts to disparage what America is doing and our activity to do all of the things that President (Donald) Trump has set in motion here," Pompeo said.
"I did just urge everyone as they are seeing information that at one time suggested somehow this virus emanated from the United States Army, this information about lockdowns that are taking place, every American, indeed people all around the world should ensure that where they turn to for information is a reliable source and not a bad actor trying to create and flow information that they know is wrong," he added.
The Secretary of State acknowledged that to combat the fast-spreading pandemic was a "tough fight".
A total of 230 people had died in the US due to the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic by Friday evening. The number of confirmed cases has jumped to over 18,000, an increase of over 10,000 in less than 50 hours. Coronavirus cases have been reported in all the 50 States in the US and District of Columbia as well as Puerto Rico.
Globally, the death toll from the virus has risen to 11,397 with more than 275,427 cases reported in over 160 countries and territories.
"The American people are tougher. Our diplomatic teams are working around the clock to help them keep safe both home and abroad and we're showing once again the global leadership that America has always delivered. It's been great to see countries around the world rallied behind what President Trump and his team is doing," Pompeo said.
Pompeo's statement came after Dick Durbin and Jeff Merkley led a group of eight Democratic Senators in urging the State Department to take action against foreign actors "who are weaponising disinformation" to undermine efforts by the US and its global partners to inform the public about efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic.
Recent EU reports of Russian efforts to sow disinformation about COVID-19 echo warnings made by Lea Gabrielle, the Special Envoy of the Department of State's Global Engagement Center (GEC), to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Russia is behind "swarms of online, false personas" seeking to spread misinformation about COVID-19 on social media sites, the Senators wrote.
According to the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, these "malign activities" demonstrate how false narratives about COVID-19 are "truly global and spread faster than the virus itself".
"Moreover, now that the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic, cybercriminals are loading malicious software onto tracking maps, government reports, and health fact sheets in multiple languages," they wrote.
A recent study by the Israel-based cybersecurity group Check Point revealed that Chinese hackers such as "Vicious Panda" posed an "advanced persistent threat" in this sphere and are likely being funded by the Chinese government, the Senators said.
"Furthermore, despite efforts by companies like WhatsApp to work with governments and other partners to mitigate the spread of false information on their social media platforms, misinformation continues to be shared unabated in countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan, and Brazil," they said.
In their letter to Pompeo, the Senators also pressed US officials to refrain from using derogatory and inaccurate language that attributes COVID-19 to a specific region or country.
"This global challenge requires international leadership that the United States is uniquely positioned to provide and one that the GEC was specifically established to coordinate.
"Similarly, US officials should refrain from using derogatory and inaccurate language that attributes COVID-19 to a specific region or country, including 'Wuhan virus' or 'foreign virus.'† Such terminology plays directly into the hands of malign actors who wish to undermine international efforts to combat the virus in a coordinated manner," the Senators wrote.
Updated Date: Mar 21, 2020 12:43:47 IST