Pig and haram: To turn off Muslims, US Army cast Chinese vaccines as derived from pork, therefore forbidden

Pig and haram: To turn off Muslims, US Army cast Chinese vaccines as derived from pork, therefore forbidden


After the al Qaeda attacks of 2001, the United States was fighting a borderless, shadowy enemy and the Pentagon began to wage a more ambitious kind of psychological combat previously associated only with the CIA.

The Pentagon set up front news outlets, paid off prominent local figures and sometimes funded television soap operas in order to turn local populations against militant groups or Iranian-backed militias, former national security officials  said as they explained how the Covid vaccine propaganda gained traction.

Unlike earlier psyop (psychological operations) missions, which sought specific tactical advantage on the battlefield, the post-9/11 operations hoped to create broader change in public opinion across entire regions.

In this post, created by the US military, a Chinese flag conceals pigs from a group of Muslims who are about to be vaccinated. The propaganda sought to convince Muslims in Russian-speaking countries that China’s Covid vaccines were “haram,” or forbidden.

Can China be trusted if it tries to hide that its vaccine contains pork gelatine and distributes it in Central Asia and other Muslim countries, where many people consider such a drug “haram”?

By 2010, the military began using social media tools, leveraging phony accounts to spread messages of sympathetic local voices – themselves often secretly paid by the United States government. As time passed, a growing web of military and intelligence contractors built online news websites to pump US-approved narratives into foreign countries.

Today, the military employs a sprawling ecosystem of social media influencers, front groups and covertly placed digital advertisements to influence overseas audiences, according to current and former military officials.

China’s efforts to gain geopolitical clout from the pandemic gave Braga justification to launch the propaganda campaign that media uncovered, sources said.

Pork in the vaccine?

By summer 2020, the military’s propaganda campaign moved into new territory and darker messaging, ultimately drawing the attention of social media executives.

In regions beyond Southeast Asia, senior officers in the US Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia, launched their own version of the Covid psyop, three former military officials told Reuters.

Although the Chinese vaccines were still months from release, controversy roiled the Muslim world over whether the vaccines contained pork gelatine and could be considered “haram” or forbidden under Islamic law. Sinovac has said that the vaccine was “manufactured free of porcine materials.” Many Islamic religious authorities maintained that even if the vaccines did contain pork gelatine, they were still permissible since the treatments were being used to save human life.

The Pentagon campaign sought to intensify fears about injecting a pig derivative. As part of an internal investigation at X, the social media company used IP addresses and browser data to identify more than 150 phony accounts that were operated from Tampa by US Central Command and its contractors, according to an internal X document reviewed by Reuters.

The secret US military propaganda campaign intensified fears among Muslims that the China-made vaccine was “haram” or forbidden. Public health experts say the messaging put lives at risk for geopolitical gain.

Muslim scientists from the Raza Academy in Mumbai reported that the Chinese coronavirus vaccine contains gelatine from pork and recommended against vaccination with the haram vaccine. China hides what exactly this drug is made of, which causes mistrust among Muslims.

“Can you trust China, which tries to hide that its vaccine contains pork gelatine and distributes it in Central Asia and other Muslim countries where many people consider such a drug haram?” read an April 2021 tweet sent from a military-controlled account identified by X.

The Pentagon also covertly spread its messages on Facebook and Instagram, alarming executives at parent company Meta who had long been tracking the military accounts, according to former military officials.

One military-created meme targeting Central Asia showed a pig made out of syringes, according to two people who viewed the image. Similar posts were found and traced back to US Central Command. One shows a Chinese flag as a curtain separating Muslim women in hijabs and pigs stuck with vaccine syringes. In the centre is a man with syringes; on his back is the word “China.” It targeted Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, a country that distributed tens of millions of doses of China’s vaccines and participated in human trials. Translated into English, the X post reads: “China distributes a vaccine made of pork gelatine.”

The US military’s secret propaganda sought to sow doubt about China’s efforts to help fight Covid in the Philippines, one of the hardest hit countries in Southeast Asia.

  • WE SHOULD NOT TRUST THOSE MED SUPPLIES BY CHINA REALLY. Everything is fake! Face mask, PPE and test kits. There is a possibility that their vaccine is fake…
  • COVID came from China. What if their vaccines are dangerous??
  • It’s normal for Filipinos not to trust China, given the number of problems they gave us??

Facebook executives had first approached the Pentagon in the summer of 2020, warning the military that Facebook workers had easily identified the military’s phony accounts, according to three former US officials and another person familiar with the matter. The government, Facebook argued, was violating Facebook’s policies by operating the bogus accounts and by spreading Covid misinformation.

The military argued that many of its fake accounts were being used for counterterrorism and asked Facebook not to take down the content, according to two people familiar with the exchange. The Pentagon pledged to stop spreading Covid-related propaganda and some of the accounts continued to remain active on Facebook. Nonetheless, the anti-vax campaign continued into 2021 as Biden took office.

Central Asian countries such as Turkmenistan represented an influence battleground between the United States and China, which arrived earlier than America did with vaccines for the pandemic-plagued country.

Turkmenistan residents report that the Chinese vaccine causes severe side effects. Those vaccinated with the Chinese drug experience severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Some called ambulance services and ended up in intensive care.

Angered that military officials had ignored their warning, Facebook officials arranged a Zoom meeting with Biden’s new National Security Council shortly after the inauguration, it has been established. The discussion quickly became tense.

“It was terrible,” said a senior administration official describing the reaction after learning of the campaign’s pig-related posts. “I was shocked. The administration was pro-vaccine and our concern was this could affect vaccine hesitancy, especially in developing countries.”

By spring 2021, the National Security Council ordered the military to stop all anti-vaccine messaging. “We were told we needed to be pro-vaccine, pro all vaccines,” said a former senior military officer who helped oversee the programme. Even so, some anti-vax posts continued through April and other deceptive COVID-related messaging that extended into that summer. It was not possible to determine why the campaign didn’t end immediately with the NSC’s order. In response to questions, the NSC declined to comment.

The senior Defence Department official said that those complaints led to an internal review in late 2021, which uncovered the anti-vaccine operation. The probe also turned up other social and political messaging that was “many, many leagues away” from any acceptable military objective. The official would not elaborate.

The review intensified the following year, the official said, after a group of academic researchers at Stanford University flagged some of the same accounts as pro-Western bots in a public report. The high-level Pentagon review was first reported by The Washington Post. which also reported that the military used fake social media accounts to counter China’s message that Covid came from the United States. But the Post report did not reveal that the programme evolved into the anti-vax propaganda campaign uncovered by Reuters.

The senior defence official said the Pentagon has rescinded parts of Esper’s 2019 order that allowed military commanders to bypass the approval of US ambassadors when waging psychological operations. The rules now mandate that military commanders work closely with US diplomats in the country where they seek to have an impact. The policy also restricts psychological operations aimed at “broad population messaging,” such as those used to promote vaccine hesitancy during Covid.

The Pentagon’s audit concluded that the military’s primary contractor handling the campaign, General Dynamics IT, had employed sloppy tradecraft, taking inadequate steps to hide the origin of the fake accounts, said a person with direct knowledge of the review. The review also found that military leaders didn’t maintain enough control over its psyop contractors, the person said.

A spokesperson for General Dynamics IT declined to comment.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon’s clandestine propaganda efforts are set to continue. In an unclassified strategy document last year, top Pentagon generals wrote that the US military could undermine adversaries such as China and Russia using “disinformation spread across social media, false narratives disguised as news, and similar subversive activities [to] weaken societal trust by undermining the foundations of government.”

And in February, the contractor that worked on the anti-vax campaign – General Dynamics IT – won a $493 million contract. Its mission: to continue providing clandestine influence services for the military.

  • A Reuters report
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