April 7, 2020 Abdul Haqq

Covert19: Weaving a wwweb. of Lies & Misinformation?

There is nothing quite like ample free time to fuel conspiracy theories during a global crisis. While this is understandable, due to the climate of anxiety and fear surrounding the current pandemic, we must consider whether insatiable appetites for such stories are as destructive as the crisis itself:

A vacuum of knowledge about the origins of the new coronavirus ravaging the world has provided fertile ground for all manner of theories – from the fantastic, to the dubious to the believable.

It was a bioweapon manufactured by the Chinese. The US Army brought the virus to Wuhan. It leaked – like a genie out of a bottle – from a lab in an accident. It took root at a wildlife market in Wuhan.[1]

Particular theories continue to gather momentum and are, in some instances, responsible for inciting acts of criminality, such as the recent vandalism of newly erected 5G phone masts.[2] Of particular concern must be the psychological effects on individuals and communities already challenged by mental health issues and/or deaths resulting from Covid19. Unsurprisingly, communal stress levels are higher than usual, so additional contributory factors – many of which are baseless – amount to nothing short of an unwelcome distraction:

The world seems to have gone mad. This is particularly stressful for people for whom it sometimes seems less than inviting anyway. There are currently 450 million people who suffer from mental health conditions worldwide… Psychiatrists, psychotherapists and crisis services are now faced with the task of coping with the increased vulnerability of mentally ill people in what is virtually a parallel mental pandemic.[3]

In the midst of this and at the other end of this socio-psychological barometer, is complacency among another section of society that believes the world is either overreacting or worse still, the entire pandemic is a hoax to distract us from a more malevolent political stratagem of population control.  I recently referred to a mainstream broadsheet journalist’s endorsement of Covid19 as a means of ‘culling’ the elderly.[4] Such unsavoury comments only give validation to these theories. Also, as recently as February, even [p]resident Trump claimed the latest coronavirus a hoax:

Trump has come in for heavy criticism from political opponents for what they say was his failure to take the threat of the virus seriously when the outbreak first emerged.

‘Thirty five thousand people on average die each year from the flu. Did anyone know that?’ Trump told supporters at a rally on February 28. ‘Thirty five thousand. That’s a lot of people. And so far, we have lost nobody to coronavirus in the United States. Now, the Democrats are politicising the coronavirus…this is their new hoax.’[5]

As government officials and medical health experts struggle to reduce infection and death rates, a complacent but significant minority continue to disregard lockdown guidelines, arguably endangering themselves and others.[6] Even emerging videos of patients who have contracted the virus and warned others to adhere to isolation procedures are being ignored despite such footage going – for want of a better word – viral. Their rationale for flouting these rules is borne out of wilful ignorance, conspiracy theories, or both. Regardless of which, the ensuing result is counterproductive and likely to lead to a further curbing of civil liberties.[7]

The Conspiracy is the Conspiracy

Having made the above observations, it would be remiss to ignore that there are parallel and undoubtedly, covert manoeuvrings occurring at political, economic and not to forget, security levels, some of which are surfacing while others will only be revealed once they have been completely integrated into the fabric of society. Countries like China, the origin of Covid19, has been the first to successfully reduce and almost eliminate the virus; however, while lauding its own accomplishment, the country has also embarked on large scale naval exercises in the South China Sea, sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in the process. It has also announced the ramping up of its military industries in Wuhan, the initial epicentre of the virus.[8] Elsewhere, its counterpart – the US – has witnessed Trump deploying the navy in close proximity to Venezuela to escalate the campaign against its beleaguered president, Nicolas Maduro:

President Trump on Wednesday announced U.S. Navy ships are being deployed to waters near Venezuela as one of the largest U.S. military operations in the region since the 1989 attack and invasion of Panama.”[9]

And then we have 5G…

Today, I fear we are in fact waking up to a surveillance society that is already all around us.[10]

Richard Thomas, the then UK Information Commissioner expressed these concerns almost 14 years ago.[11] Fast forward to present day Britain to realise we have more surveillance cameras per person than every other country – except China.[12] Concerns surrounding 5G should not, therefore, be completely discounted. In fact, the US expressed grave concerns about the UK embarking on an agreement to install Huawei’s 5G across Britain. Acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, warned during an engagement at the Oxford Union:

Our governments share a tremendous amount of security information…We are very much concerned that integrity of that information is hardwired into your computer systems, and if you folks go forward with the decision to include Huawei, it will have a direct and dramatic impact on our ability to share information with you. Period, end of story.”[13]

However, this only forms part of the picture. The more immediate concern at societal levels is the potential impact of this new technology on civil liberties in the event of it being implemented akin to how China and other Asian societies currently deploy it on their respective civilians:

China, after initially suppressing news of the outbreak in Wuhan, used its arsenal of surveillance tools to tackle the pandemic. These techniques ranged from deploying hundreds of thousands of neighborhood monitors to log the movements and temperatures of individuals, to the mass surveillance of mobile phone, rail, and flight data to track down people who had traveled to affected regions. But democratic countries in East Asia also used expansive surveillance powers to battle COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. South Korea harnessed closed-circuit television (CCTV) and credit card data to track the movements of individuals, and Taiwan integrated health and other databases so all Taiwanese hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies could access the travel information of their patients.

More significantly:

As they struggle to contain the spread of the virus, Western liberal democracies are looking to China’s tools for limiting the outbreak and wondering whether they should adopt some of those authoritarian methods. Over the past decade, China has been building a digital authoritarian surveillance state at home while vying with the United States on the international stage to determine global standards and shape key network infrastructure, exporting 5G technology and Orwellian systems of facial recognition abroad.[14]

Profiteers of Doom

To reiterate an earlier observation, concerns regarding 5G technology are to some extent legitimate, but this article aims to focus on what appears to be more tangible evidence from a securitised as opposed to bio-scientific/medical perspective. That said, it is important to refer to insidious profiteering strategies applied by shock and disaster capitalist advocates, some of whom went on to assume among the highest positions of power in government. Donald Rumsfeld twice served as Secretary of Defense, his first tenure being during Gerald Ford’s presidency in the mid-1970s and his second, under president George W. Bush from January 2001 to December 2006.[15] Between his political career, he accepted the position as chairman of the biotech firm, Gilead Sciences. In this position, he firmly established himself as a proto disaster capitalist.[16] It is important to note – as highlighted in my previous article, that Rumsfeld was a disciple of Milton Friedman, the guru of the shock or crisis strategy designed to take advantage of major crises in order to advance capitalist policies aimed at enriching the elite while further exploiting the already disadvantaged masses.[17] The parallels between today’s current crisis and the example being cited should become increasingly clear. Rumsfeld was involved in registering the patent for Tamiflu: “…a treatment for many kinds of influenza and the preferred drug for avian flu…[18] The revelatory factor follows:

If there was ever an outbreak of the highly contagious virus (or threat of one), governments would be forced to buy billions of dollars worth of the treatment from Gilead Sciences…

The patenting of drugs and vaccines to treat public health emergencies remains a controversial subject. Gilead, for its part, sees epidemics as a growth market, and it has an aggressive marketing campaign to encourage businesses and individuals to stockpile Tamiflu, just in case…

These companies are banking on an apocalyptic future of rampant disease, one which governments are forced to buy at top dollar, whatever lifesaving products the private sector has under patent.” [19]

The relevance of this example may still not be immediately obvious to some; however, its significance today cannot be ignored. Mike Pence, the current vice president of the US, is the connecting dots between disaster capitalist strategies of yesteryear and today. Naomi Klein’s article is unequivocal in establishing this:

And then there’s vice-president Mike Pence, seen by many as the grownup in Trump’s messy room. Yet it is Pence, the former governor of Indiana, who actually has the most disturbing track record when it comes to bloody-minded exploitation of human suffering.”[20]

Klein goes on to describe the Pence:

He was at the heart of one of the most shocking stories I’ve ever covered: the disaster capitalism free-for-all that followed Katrina and the drowning of New Orleans. Mike Pence’s doings as a profiteer from human suffering are so appalling that they are worth exploring in a little more depth, since they tell us a great deal about what we can expect from this administration during times of heightened crisis.[21]

She concludes, observing:

It is worth pausing to tease out the implications of all of this…now Mike Pence is in a position to bring his vision to the entire United States.[22]

With him now leading the task force to combat the pandemic,[23] we should be alarmed at the prospects awaiting Louisiana as it braces itself for the worst as potential epicentre for the next coronavirus outbreak.[24] Pence’s previous neglect of this state in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – at the expense of undoubted profiteering policies – is likely to have left an indelible scar. We can only wait to see how he leads once the pandemic descends on its citizens.

Conclusion

These are unprecedented times where more than a third of the world’s population is on lockdown as a result of this pandemic.[25] The magnanimous efforts and indeed, sacrifices being witnessed from front-line medics, social carers and a host of others involved in the effort to tackle this life-changing crisis are never to be forgotten. Everyone has been adversely affected by current events. However, it is important to ensure we are not among those who are – unintentionally for the most part – exacerbating the situation for others, by either flouting existing curfews or unrelentingly touting conspiracy theories upon already highly stressed audiences struggling to make sense of our presently curtailed freedoms. The religiously inclined among us are most likely to find solace by the assurance that while ‘they’ plan (whoever one perceives ‘they’ to be), “…Allah plans. Surely, Allah is the best of planners[26] and while this may not provide comfort for others, perhaps a reminder that when consuming news and the plethora of theories that currently abound, we should err on the side of caution when utilising the net, instead of becoming entangled in it.

 

 

 

[1] Kuznia, R & Griffin, D: ‘How did coronavirus break out? Theories abound as researchers race to solve genetic detective story,’ CNN, 6th April 2020: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/06/us/coronavirus-scientists-debate-origin-theories-invs/index.html

[2] Waterson, J & Hern, A: ‘At least 20 UK phone masts vandalised over false 5G coronavirus claims,’ The Guardian, 6th April 2020: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/06/at-least-20-uk-phone-masts-vandalised-over-false-5g-coronavirus-claims

[3] Carthaus, A: ‘Coronavirus and mental health: ‘We are not made for social isolation’, DW, 1st April 2020: https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-and-mental-health-we-are-not-made-for-social-isolation/a-52971173

[4] Roberts, J: ‘Telegraph journalist says coronavirus ‘cull’ of elderly could benefit economy’, 11th March 2020: https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/11/telegraph-journalist-says-coronavirus-cull-elderly-benefit-economy-12383907/

[5] Ball, S: ‘From ‘hoax’ to pandemic: Trump’s shifting rhetoric on coronavirus,’ France24, 20th March 2020: https://www.france24.com/en/20200320-from-hoax-to-pandemic-trump-s-shifting-rhetoric-on-coronavirus

[6] Bowman, V & Diver, T: ‘NHS chief warns public not to be complacent as coronavirus death toll passes 1,000 in the UK,’ The Telegraph,  29th March 2020: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/coronavirus-news-latest-uk-deaths-cases-boris-johnson-tests/

[7] Bakare, L & Walker, P: UK sunbathers may trigger stricter coronavirus lockdowns,’ The Guardian, 5th April 2020: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/05/uk-sunbathers-stricter-coronavirus-lockdowns

[8] Lendon, B: Coronavirus may be giving Beijing an opening in the South China Sea,’ CNN, 7th April 2020: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/07/asia/coronavirus-china-us-military-south-china-sea-intl-hnk/index.html

[9] Democracy Now! ‘Trump Deploys Navy in Waters Near Venezuela, Escalating Campaign Against Nicolas Maduro,’ 3rd April 2020: https://www.democracynow.org/2020/4/3/headlines/trump_deploys_navy_in_waters_near_venezuela_escalating_campaign_against_nicolas_maduro

[10] Reuters: ‘Britain’s Ranking on Surveillance worries Privacy Advocate,’ New York Times, 3rd November 2006.

[11] Ibid

[12] Carlo, S: ‘Britain Has More Surveillance Cameras Per Person Than Any Country Except China. That’s a Massive Risk to Our Free Society,’ Yahoo News, 17th May 2019: https://news.yahoo.com/britain-more-surveillance-cameras-per-151641361.html

[13] Sabbagh, D & Walters, M: ‘ US ‘very concerned’ over Huawei’s role in UK 5G network,’ The Guardian, 19th February 2020: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/feb/19/us-very-concerned-over-huaweis-role-in-uk-5g-network

[14] Wright, N: ‘Coronavirus and the Future of Surveillance,’ Foreign Affairs, 6th April 2020: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2020-04-06/coronavirus-and-future-surveillance

[15] Wikipedia: Donald Rumsfeld: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Rumsfeld

[16] Klein, N: The Shock Doctrine: The rise of Disaster Capitalism,’ Penguin, 2007, p.290

[17] Baker, A H: ‘Get Rich or Black Trying: The Fallacy of ‘Social Immunization’,’ abdulhaqqbaker.com: https://www.abdulhaqqbaker.com/get-rich-or-black-trying-the-fallacy-of-social-immunization/

[18] Klein, N: The Shock Doctrine: The rise of Disaster Capitalism,’ Penguin, 2007, p.290

[19] Ibid, pp.290-1

[20] Klein, N: ‘How power profits from disaster,’ The Guardian, 6th July 2017: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/06/naomi-klein-how-power-profits-from-disaster?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] Shear, MD & Haberman, M: ‘Pence Will Control All Coronavirus Messaging From Health Officials,’ The New York Times, 27th February 2020: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/27/us/politics/us-coronavirus-pence.html

[24] Calvert, S: ‘The Next Coronavirus Hotspot: Louisiana Races to Prepare for the Worst,’ Wall Street Journal, 26th March 2020: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-next-coronavirus-hotspot-louisiana-races-to-prepare-for-the-worst-11585228563

[25] Kaplan, J; Frias, L & McFall-Johnsen, M: ‘A third of global population is on coronavirus lockdown – here’s our constantly updated list of countries and restrictions,’ Business Insider, 7th April 2020: https://www.businessinsider.com/countries-on-lockdown-coronavirus-italy-2020-3

[26] The Quran [English rendition], Chapter 8, verse 30

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