There will be “severe” consequences for any foreign governments that may be trying to undermine America’s coronavirus response, Bill Barr told the Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.
The attorney general’s warning came amid a cyberattack targeting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as an alleged foreign disinformation campaign to stir panic in the United States, the AP reported. Barr did not say which government was involved, but the Trump administration has notably been involved in a war of words with China over the pandemic.
“The ramifications will be severe”
While the coronavirus pandemic is scary in its own right, the confusion produced by COVID-19 has presented new opportunities for scam artists, quacks, and, potentially, foreign enemies of the United States. But the Justice Department will crack down on anyone seeking to take advantage of the crisis, Barr told the Associated Press, including foreign entities seeking to undermine America.
“Our primary role right now is to investigate,” Barr said, according to the Washington Examiner. “The FBI is very active, trying to determine who is responsible for these things.”
Barr was referring to an alleged disinformation campaign to stir panic with a rumor that the federal government was planning a nationwide quarantine, as well as a recent “cyber incident” targeting the HHS website. The alleged denial of service attack was unsuccessful, the department said.
Federal officials also believe that a foreign entity may have been behind the disinformation effort. Barr speculated that the so-called cyber incident may have come from a foreign government, but did not say which. He did vow consequences for any foreign nation that may be responsible.
“When you’re dealing with something like a denial of service attack on HHS during a pandemic, that’s a very grave action for another country to take,” Barr told the AP. “So, if it is another country doing this, I’m sure the ramifications will be severe.”
Cracking down on scammers
Coronavirus fears have also led to a rise in common opportunists taking advantage of frightened consumers. The case of a Tennessee man who stockpiled hand sanitizer has gained media attention, as Fox News reports.
In a memo to the Justice Department earlier this week, Barr noted that there have been instances of people selling phony cures and posing as federal health officials to steal digital information from people, and called on prosecutors to pursue any “criminal conduct related to the current pandemic.”
“Our primary role is really to police the market and make sure people are not taking advantage,” he said, according to the AP.
America spars with China
COVID-19 has certainly had geopolitical implications, particularly concerning America’s relationship with China. Barr’s warnings come amid a war of words between the United States and its rival, as the two powers trade blame for the pandemic. President Donald Trump has taken flak for calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” but the president has pushed back, insisting the label is appropriate given the Chinese regime’s actions in handling the epidemic, which originated within its borders.
Members of the Trump administration have meanwhile accused China of blindsiding the world by covering up the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Axios, and China has also wasted no time threatening to cut off its medical supplies to the United States, The New York Times reported. The government’s foreign ministry even falsely accused the U.S. of manufacturing COVID-19 as a bioweapon and spreading it to China, according to Fox.
Incidentally, Attorney General Barr is something of a China hawk. He issued a dire warning in February about China’s aspirations for global dominance and called on Western governments to invest in 5G companies to counter China’s telecommunications power, the AP reported at the time. As Americans face a frightening new epidemic, his warnings look rather prescient: many have been alarmed by America’s dependence on China for medical supplies, including antibiotics, which China supplies 90% of, The New York Times notes.
There’s no question that COVID-19 is making nations vulnerable, and any country that would seek to take advantage of that situation to harm America must be considered an enemy. Thankfully, Bill Barr is on the case.