Chinese state-controlled social media have circulated what former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says is a forged U.S. government document as part of a propaganda offensive blaming the U.S. Army for COVID-19, which was first reported in Wuhan, China.
The document began circulating on the widely used platform Weibo in July. It claimed to contain internal remarks to West Point cadets in June 2020 by Mr. Pompeo, who stepped down as America’s top diplomat in January. By July 30, the document had been viewed more than 3.4 million times on Weibo and millions of more times on other social media sites.
In an interview, Mr. Pompeo denounced the document as a fake.
“This completely fake document is circulated knowing full well that it will be shown to be a fraud,” Mr. Pompeo told The Washington Times. “But to the tens of millions around the world who read it unaware of its made-up origin, it accomplishes many purposes” for the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Mr. Pompeo said the disinformation is an attempt by the Chinese government to distract attention from what he called Beijing’s “pandemic cover-up” regarding the origins and the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed millions around the world.
“Second, it seeks to diminish my stature and my credibility in the eyes of the unknowing reader, and this prospectively tries to diminish my attacks on their evil,” he said.
Stung by persistent reports that the virus that causes COVID-19 may have escaped from a Wuhan research lab, China has been running daily state media claims blaming the United States for causing the pandemic. The release of a forged document may be linked to the coming U.S. intelligence report on the origin of the virus.
President Biden in May ordered intelligence agencies to conduct a three-month study of the virus origin to settle a debate over whether it emerged from a laboratory accident in Wuhan or a natural zoonotic transfer from animals to humans. The Chinese government has denied that the virus came from one of its labs engaged in extensive research, including “gain of function” experiments to make viruses more infectious to humans.
China also has a covert biological weapons program and is said to be working on bioweapons capable of targeting specific ethnic groups.
An analysis of the document, posted July 30 on Weibo, reveals the use of a sophisticated technique of combining accurate information with disinformation. The English-language document claims to be “speech record” on a cover sheet bearing United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., “office of the dean.”
The “memorandum for cadets” then contains a transcript of Mr. Pompeo’s online remarks to West Point on June 13, 2020. However, those remarks were censored to remove the secretary of state’s statement to cadets that China is an “authoritarian” state.
Mr. Pompeo said the fraudulent part of the document is contained in a “Part II: Internal Speech,” which he said is an outright forgery. This section claims to quote Mr. Pompeo as saying the United States plans to defeat China in a war without “shedding blood and losing countless lives of soldiers.”
Written in broken English, the document states that Mr. Pompeo persuaded President Trump to avoid a military confrontation “even if Chinese government attack Taiwan.”
The document then has Mr. Pompeo purportedly confirming Beijing’s propaganda blaming the U.S. Army for introducing the coronavirus to China during the Military World Games in Wuhan in October 2019, just months before the first case of COVID-19 was officially recorded.
“Officers, you now may have an idea of the secret weapon mentioned by President Trump which was never a bomblet but the current coronavirus popular all over the world!” the document asserts.
The document appears similar to forged U.S. government papers that the Soviet KGB intelligence service produced during the Cold War.
The Chinese government, through state media, has orchestrated an international propaganda campaign demanding a United Nations investigation of the Army’s biological research laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland, where the “real” coronavirus was supposedly developed. The government organized an online petition that now has about 22 million signers calling for the probe.
The Weibo posting of the document was carried out by the netizen Fungus Rabbit under the headline “The United States has launched a biochemical war? Pompeo said the virus was an artificial leak.”
The poster stated: “This is a leaked document from the United States Military Academy at West Point. After I discovered it, I roughly translated it! After reading it, everyone: you will have a clearer understanding of the source of the new coronavirus.”
A spokeswoman for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, the unit charged with countering disinformation, said the COVID-19 crisis has underscored the lengths to which the Chinese government is willing to go to engage in aggressive information campaigns, including the use of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda.
“We stand against anyone who would spread disinformation around this important issue of public health,” the spokeswoman said. “The poor grammar used in this document of one of many indications it is a fabrication.”
A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not return an email request for comment.