In 2019, after 18 years of war, the Washington Post finally revealed the US military had no idea what it was doing in Afghanistan. By then, tens of thousands had perished as weapons contractors raked in billions. From bombing a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan to sanctioning Venezuela by declaring it a national security threat, US officials typically cite bad intelligence as as the excuse for unnecessary escalation in the aftermath once it’s too late.
The 1999 US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was one of the first escalations with China explained as an intelligence error. But the US military is NOT learning from its mistakes. More recent escalations show that raw intelligence from spy agencies has dangerous consequences. In February, the US shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times cited unnamed officials who claimed it was a spy vessel.
The US State Department launched a global propaganda campaign that claimed the balloon was part of a surveillance network, conducting briefings designed to show the balloons were a threat. In June, US Air Force Brigadier Pat Ryder refuted claims the balloon collected data. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley recently reiterated the balloon was not spying.
Not only did false intelligence prompt US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a trip to China meant to reduce tensions. It also set off a frenzy where the US shot down anything in the sky if it was suspected to have connections to China. An F-22 fighter jet likely shot down a $13 balloon over Canadian airspace launched by civilians. Elected officials tweeted racist rhetoric, and Chinese American groups like the Committee of 100 warned about a nationwide surge in discrimination and violence.
Sadly, propaganda works. A Princeton University study found Americans who perceive China as a threat were more likely to stereotype Chinese people as untrustworthy and immoral. But publications like The New York Times, for its focus on China’s ‘deceptive’ methods, are still spreading harmful propaganda about China's supposed threat to global security.
From 2018 to 2022, the Department of Justice carried out the China Initiative, an effort to prosecute Chinese spies. During the initiative, the China Initiative, the number of Chinese researchers who dropped their affiliation with US institutions rose by 23 percent. The Department of Justice continues to racially profile Chinese in the US. An Asian American Scholar Forum poll found 64% of university faculty members, most of whom had Chinese heritage, felt unsafe as an academic researcher in the US.
From COVID-19 conspiracy theories to provocations over Taiwan, we must resist pro-war propaganda. Our upcoming webinar, Disarming the Discourse on October 12 at 2:00 PM PT/5:00 PM EST will focus on how to spot disinformation and keep the public conversation anchored in peace. Tell the media: enough is enough!
Cale, Jodie and the entire CODEPINK team