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Trump Initiated A Clandestine Influence Campaign Against China Via The CIA


Trump Initiated A Clandestine Influence Campaign Against China Via The CIA
President Donald Trump gave the Central Intelligence Agency permission to begin a covert campaign on Chinese social media two years after taking office with the goal of swaying Chinese public opinion against the government, according to a report by the news agency Reuters, based on information from former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the highly classified operation, .
According to three former officials who spoke with Reuters, the CIA assembled a small group of spies who disseminated false information to foreign news organisations while spreading false narratives about Xi Jinping's administration using fictitious online personas. The 2019 start of the project has not been previously publicised.
China has quickly increased its international presence over the last ten years by establishing commercial alliances, trade agreements, and military pacts with emerging countries.
According to the sources who spoke to Reuters, the CIA team supported claims that members of the ruling Communist Party were concealing illicit funds abroad and attacked China's Belt and Road Initiative, which finances infrastructure projects in developing nations, as corrupt and inefficient.
The negative storylines were true, according to U.S. officials, despite being leaked covertly by intelligence agents. They did not, however, divulge any specifics about these activities. According to two former officials, the goal of the Chinese attempts was to incite fear among the country's elites and compel them to spend money investigating hacks into Beijing's strictly regulated internet. According to one of these former officials, "we wanted them chasing ghosts."
CIA spokesman Chelsea Robinson did not confirm on the presence of the influence program, its goals or impacts.
The announcement of the CIA project, according to a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, demonstrates how the American government employs "public opinion space and media platforms as weapons to spread false information and manipulate international public opinion."
According to the sources, China had been making strong clandestine attempts for years to expand its influence globally, which prompted the CIA operation. Compared to his predecessors, Trump advocated for a more stringent approach to China during his presidency. The CIA programme represented a reversion to tactics used during Washington's confrontation with the former Soviet Union. Tim Weiner, the author of a book about the background of political warfare, declared that "the Cold War is back."
Reuters claimed it had no way to ascertain the significance of the covert activities or whether President Joe Biden's administration had continued the CIA programme. The National Security Council spokesperson for the Biden administration, Kate Waters, declined to comment on the program's existence or continued operation. According to two intelligence historians who spoke with Reuters, once the White House issues a presidential finding—an order granting the CIA the power to carry out covert actions—it frequently stays in effect for administrations to come.
Now leading the Republican field for president, Trump has hinted that if re-elected in November, he will deal with China even more harshly. John Bolton and Robert O'Brien, the former national security advisers to President Trump and those who served during the year the covert action directive was signed, respectively, declined to comment through their spokespeople.
Given the strength of China's economy and its capacity for trade retaliation, the operation against Beijing carried a considerable risk of raising tensions with the United States, according to Paul Heer, a former senior CIA specialist on East Asia who discovered the presidential order through Reuters.
For instance, in 2020, Australia demanded that China launch an inquiry into the causes of the COVID-19 epidemic, and Beijing responded by imposing agricultural tariffs that prevented billions of dollars' worth of Australian commerce.
Following years of warnings from the U.S. intelligence community and media reports, China was attempting to sow division in the United States through front groups by utilising bribery and threats to secure support from developing nations in geopolitical issues. This led to Trump's 2019 order.
Beijing abides by a "principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and does not interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States," according to China's Foreign Ministry.
After many cyberattacks by China and Russia on American companies, Trump granted the CIA more authority to conduct offensive cyber operations against US rivals a year prior, according to a Yahoo News report opens new tab. The existence of the previous order could not be independently verified by Reuters.
According to sources, the 2019 permission that Reuters was able to obtain is a more ambitious operation. It made it possible for the CIA to act not only in China but also in other nations where China and the US are vying for influence. The effort, according to four former officials, was aimed at public opinion in the South Pacific, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
"We felt like we were facing China with steel baseball bats and they were responding with wooden ones," a former national security officer who had firsthand knowledge of the discovery claimed.
Three former officials indicated that the authorization was written by Matt Pottinger, a senior National Security Council official at the time. According to one of those former officials, it included Beijing's purported use of malign influence, claims of stealing intellectual property, and its supposed military build-up as dangers to the national security of the United States.
Pottinger stated to Reuters that "it would be incorrect to assume that I would have had knowledge of specific U.S. intelligence operations," but he would not comment on the "accuracy or inaccuracy of allegations about U.S. intelligence activities."
According to Loch Johnson, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who studies the use of such tactics, covert messaging allows the United States to impose ideas in nations where censorship might prevent that information from coming to light or in areas where audiences wouldn't give much credence to U.S. government statements.
During the Cold War, the CIA frequently carried out covert propaganda operations, planting 80–90 articles a day in an attempt to weaken the Soviet Union, according to Johnson. According to released data, the CIA, for instance, established an astrological journal in East Germany in the 1950s to disseminate ominous forecasts about communist officials.
According to Heer, a former CIA analyst, there could be a backlash against Beijing from the illicit propaganda campaign.
Evidence of a CIA influence programme might assist Beijing "proselytise" in developing nations that are already wary of Washington, supporting Beijing's long-standing claims of dubious Western subversion.
Heer stated that the intended message would be, "'Observe how the United States meddles in the domestic affairs of other nations and disregards the concepts of peaceful coexistence.'" And that will be a message that resonates in some parts of the world.
According to Thomas Rid, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of a book on the history of political warfare, U.S. influence operations also run the risk of jeopardising dissidents, opposition groups critical of China, and independent journalists, who could be mistakenly portrayed as CIA assets.