China linked ‘Spamouflage’ campaign targeting Trudeau, other Canadian MPs

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several other Canadian MPs have been targeted by a ‘Spamouflage’ campaign connected to China, Canada-based CTV News reported.

Under this campaign, a bot network leaves thousands of comments on their social media accounts, making nefarious claims.

However, despite the situation, the Canadian government is not acting steadfastly enough to take any further action over this ‘Spamouflage’ campaign, as per CTV News.

According to a statement from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the federal government’s ‘Rapid Response Mechanism’ (RRM) detected the campaign, which it says traces back to the People’s Republic of China.

The campaign started in early August and “accelerated in scale” over the long weekend in September. It targeted MPs across the country and across the political spectrum, posting comments in both English and French on their Facebook and ‘X’ accounts, CTV News reported.

The deluge of posts claimed a critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Canada had accused the targeted MPs of criminal and ethical violations, including the “likely use” of deep fake videos, according to the Canadian government’s RRM.

Those targeted also included Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and several cabinet ministers, but none of what GAC observed poses a risk to their safety, the department said.

Liberal MP Omar Alghabra told reporters that he was notified by the government that he was one of the MPs who was targeted.

The former Transport Minister said that he received an email that reassured him there was “no direct threat,” but beyond that, he had little information about how that assessment was reached, CTV News reported.

Alghabra said he did receive repetitive social media messages from different names and different handles directing his followers to see what an individual in Vancouver was saying about him, that he was “corrupt, and involved in a corruption.”

“It was repeatedly posted… It clearly looked like a spam, it looked like a spam to me at the time. And now I know that it was orchestrated,” CTV News quoted Alghabra as saying.

Meanwhile, “Spamouflage is a tactic that uses networks of new or hijacked social media accounts to post and amplify propaganda messages across multiple platforms,” according to the Canadian government.

The team that monitors online spaces for foreign state-sponsored disinformation said the goal of this campaign was likely to discredit and denigrate MPs through what to the average user would appear to be organic posts, alleging impropriety by using a popular Chinese-speaking figure and silence criticism of the CCP by pushing MPs to distance themselves from the critic, while discouraging other communities online from engaging with this individual, CTV News reported.

Speaking to reporters, Canadian Defence Minister Bill Blair said Canada’s cybersecurity experts are working to determine the full extent to which Canadian government officials may have been targeted.

The same bot networks have also been used in the past to spread disinformation, and GAC said after reaching out to Meta and ‘X’ to make the platforms aware of the most recent activity, much of it is in the process of being removed.

In August, the same foreign interference monitoring system revealed it had detected an “information operation” targeting Conservative MP Michael Chong on Chinese instant messaging platform WeChat.

In a statement to CTV News, Chong said the current Liberal government–which created the RRM– has not done enough to protect Canadians on Canadian soil from “threats of authoritarian governments.”

“From foreign police stations illegally operating here to interference in our elections, these foreign interference threats have disproportionately targeted diaspora communities. It’s time the Trudeau government put the safety and security of Canadians first,” CTV News quoted the Conservative foreign affairs critic.

Meanwhile, affected parliamentarians have been offered a briefing with federal officials on their findings, and all MPs have been made aware of the campaign, and provided advice on protecting themselves.

GAC has stated that it will continue to monitor the issue for future cases as these kinds of campaigns can undermine Canada’s democracy and discourage MPs and members of diaspora communities from speaking out.

However, Monday’s release offers no indication the Canadian government plans to take any further action over this ‘Spamouflage’ campaign, noting a public inquiry into foreign interference by China and other state actors, is underway, CTV News reported. 

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