Lead Republican McCaul: The US Must Meaningfully Confront Chinese Communist Party Propaganda 

By: House Foreign Affairs Lead Republican and China Task Force Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX)

The Hill

June 19, 2020

In the 1980s, the AIDS virus was ravaging the world, but little was known about its origin. The Soviet Union seized on this fear to launch one of their most notorious disinformation campaigns. Dubbed “Operation Infektion,” Soviet intelligence operatives spread conspiracy theories blaming American scientists for developing the virus as part of biological weapons research. The operation was intended to damage America’s reputation abroad and divert attention from both the spread of AIDS within the USSR and U.S. accusations the Soviet Union was developing biological weapons.

If these goals and tactics sound familiar, they should: once again, we are facing a virus that’s devastated the world – and another malign dictatorship is using disinformation and propaganda to sow fear, undermine America’s reputation, and deflect attention from their communist corruption.

Since late last year, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has used every trick in their handbook to cover up their lies, which ultimately led to the virus becoming a pandemic. They silenced doctors and journalists reporting the truth. They cajoled their handpicked leader of the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote their lie the virus did not spread from human to human. They allowed massive travel during their Spring Festival, helping the disease to spread not only throughout China but into other countries. And true to form, they launched a massive disinformation and propaganda campaign to deflect blame from their coverup.

As more and more countries demand answers for the CCP’s mishandling of the outbreak, they have ratcheted up both the quantity of propaganda and the rhetoric behind those lies. And the CCP has something the USSR did not – the internet.

The CCP has weaponized the internet and American social media outlets – outlets the Chinese people are not allowed to access under the oppressive regime – to further spread disinformation in the United States and globally. Sadly, these social media outlets have repeatedly chosen to placate the CCP and allow them to continue posting propaganda rather than standing up for the truth.

The most well-known CCP internet conspiracy theory is their outrageous tweet that the virus originated in the United States and was planted in China by the U.S. Army. But they have also taken to posting crude cartoons about the U.S., spreading lies about U.S. allies like France when they have critiqued the CCP’s handling of COVID-19, and releasing videos in Arabic that target the Middle East and blame the coronavirus on the United States.

Offline, Beijing has engaged in “mask diplomacy” – sending medical supplies around the world in an attempt to cast themselves as a worthy partner in the fight against coronavirus and in the hope the world will forget the CCP’s failures are to blame for our global suffering. Of course, their subsequent propaganda conveniently failed to mention just how many of these supplies were defective or how they reportedly hoarded their stockpile while they lied about the spread of the virus within their own borders.

While the U.S. government has pushed back against these aggressive actions by the CCP, more needs to be done. It was not until far too late in the Cold War that the United States established the Active Measures Working Group (AMWG), a State Department-led interagency group that not only tracked, but actively confronted Soviet disinformation. Complementing the efforts of the U.S. Information Agency to broadcast truthful information into closed states, the AMWG was highly effective, including successfully dismantling the Soviets’ “Operation Infektion.”

Both of these government entities became defunct shortly after the Berlin Wall fell. But today the United States is once again squaring off against authoritarian regimes that use disinformation and propaganda to amplify narratives that denigrate the West. Today, the U.S. Agency for Global Media continues the historic mission of the U.S. Information Agency to broadcast truthful information. But the AMWG has no modern-day parallel. That is why I will soon be introducing legislation to revive the spirit and offensive mandate of the AMWG for our modern-day ideological competition with the CCP.

We don’t have time to waste re-learning the lessons of the Cold War. The U.S. must reincarnate a modern version of the AMWG and create a long-term strategy to discredit and disassemble the CCP’s disinformation campaign.

Rep. Michael McCaul represents the 10th District of Texas and serves as the Republican leader for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the chairman of the China Task Force in the House of Representatives.