By Barry Ellsworth
TRENTON, Canada (AA) - Russia, China and Iran are behind dangerous misinformation campaigns about coronavirus, the intelligence agency responsible for keeping Canadians safe said in a report made public Thursday.
As well, Russia and China spies have traded “trench coats” for “lab coats” as they attempt to infiltrate Canadian research companies to steal secrets on virus vaccine developments, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reported in late November.
The trio of countries have different motives for conducting social media COVID-19 misinformation campaigns, according to the report entitled, COVID-19: Global Effects and Canadian National Security Interests.
Russia is “actively spreading disinformation blaming the West for the virus” as it attempts to undermine the West, foster increased Russian influence and bring an end to sanctions against the country.
China “is focused on a propaganda campaign that protects its own reputation and domestic legitimacy while touting its pandemic aid abroad.” The report also questioned the reliability of China’s statistics on infections and deaths.
Iran is attempting to blame other countries, particularly US sanctions, for its own failure to control the virus within its borders.
“Threat actors have used the pandemic as an opportunity to spread disinformation online,” CSIS spokesman John Townsend said Wednesday.
“It is important to note that disinformation, originating from anywhere in the world, can have serious consequences including threats to the safety and security of Canadians, erosion of trust in our democratic institutions, and confusion about government policies and notices including information on the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Through its Canadian Embassy, China denied the charges. Iran, which does not have an embassy in Canada, has remained silent, while Russia said it wanted to review the report before commenting.
Meanwhile, in another report from November, CSIS said Chinese and Russian spies are trying to infiltrate Canadian research facilities working on a vaccine to use stolen data to develop their own vaccine and claim credit for the discovery.
“Spies are no longer wearing trench coats, they’re wearing lab coats,” said CSIS Director General Rene Ouellette.
China and Russia are also camouflaging companies to invest in Canadian research and gain access to the data on vaccines.
CSIS warned Canadian pharmaceutical companies of the danger through its Cyber Centre.
“The Cyber Centre assesses that the COVID-19 pandemic presents an elevated level of risk to the cyber security of Canadian health organizations involved in the national response to the pandemic. The Cyber Centre therefore recommends that these organizations remain vigilant and take the time to ensure that they are engaged in cyber defense best practices, including increased monitoring of network logs, reminding employees to practice phishing awareness and ensuring that servers and critical systems are patched for all known security vulnerabilities,” it said.
Details of the COVID-19 report were obtained by a Freedom of Information request by Global News.