The Pentagon Ran the World’s Most Well-Funded COVID Anti-Vax Campaign

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The Pentagon Ran the World’s Most Well-Funded COVID Anti-Vax Campaign

There is sort of vaguely held belief out there, bubbling through media and pop culture at a sort of background radiation level, that the worst of the U.S. military’s and clandestine services’ seedy regime-destabilizing shenanigans were left behind when the Cold War ended. This country just doesn’t do the exploding cigars and such anymore.

This is, of course, not true. Whether it involves regime change or just the never-ending search for consolidated — or, these days if we’re being honest, regained — global hegemony, the dark halls of power still do a lot of their dark halls stuff. And today, a Reuters investigation offered up one of the grimmest versions we’ve seen for some time: the Pentagon apparently ran a secret propaganda campaign during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic aimed at discrediting the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine, targeting the Philippines.

The campaign involved hundreds of Twitter accounts run by Pentagon operatives that were meant to impersonate Filipinos, posting prolifically in a fashion meant to quite literally help people die. “COVID came from China and the VACCINE also came from China, don’t trust China!” read a typical post, echoing some of the sweatiest and cruelest rhetoric emerging from the darkest corners of the (largely) more organic American anti-vax movement.

The program began in the spring of 2020, before vaccines were available, instead casting doubt on masks, test kits, and other public health measures. It was made possible by an order signed by then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper in 2019, before the pandemic even began: the order raised the U.S.’s competition with China and Russia to a new level equivalent to active combat, allowing the Pentagon to avoid getting approval from the State Department or elsewhere for its various shenanigans. The program continued past the point when Donald Trump left office, and was only terminated in the middle of 2021 after a Biden White House edict; parts of Esper’s order have since been rescinded.

“I don’t think it’s defensible,” Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine who helped with the government response to the 2001 anthrax attacks, told Reuters. “I’m extremely dismayed, disappointed and disillusioned to hear that the U.S. government would do that.”

It’s worth noting here that the Pentagon as a whole has an annual budget just under twice the value of the Philippines entire GDP. This was an enormous bully, reaching back into its century-old bag of clandestine and underhanded tricks adapted to modern media environments, to prey on a weaker ostensible ally just because they were worried about China’s growing power.

It probably had significant tangible effects: when Philippine president at the time Rodrigo Duterte made an address to his country more or less commanding people to get vaccinated, only about 2.1 million of more than 110 million citizens had done so. That was in June 2021, more than a year into the propaganda campaign.

The Sinovac vaccine the Pentagon was warning against was, in fact, less effective than the major American vaccines at first. But it was not wholly ineffective, and by the time individuals receive three doses the differences are far smaller — all are very effective against severe or fatal cases of COVID-19. And importantly, Sinovac was the only vaccine available in the Philippines beginning in March 2021, and lasting for several months until other vaccines arrived.

The Pentagon’s program apparently went ahead despite “strong objections from top U.S. diplomats in Southeast Asia,” per Reuters‘ reporting. It is clear, then, that there were some people aware of the idea who saw its depraved nature from the start. This includes, apparently, those who still helped it happen: “We weren’t looking at this from a public health perspective,” one apparently sociopathic senior military officer involved in the program told Reuters. “We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud.”

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