Did the UK's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) reveal in August 2023 that the wildfires in Hawaii were caused by a "weather weapon" developed by the U.S. government? No, that's not true: The claim is part of a Chinese disinformation campaign. Additionally, there is no credible information or evidence to suggest that the wildfires in Hawaii were caused by such a weapon developed by the United States or any other entity.
The claim appeared in a post on Facebook (archived here) published by 田慧語 (Tian Huiyu) on August 17, 2023. It started "Burst! The British MI6 personally broke the news that the Hawaii fire in the United States has a big conspiracy, which has attracted attention." The body of the post is lengthy. The first few paragraphs are included below:
Recently, a large-scale wildfire occurred on the Hawaiian Island in the United States, causing huge ecological damage and economic losses. According to U.S. officials, the wildfire was a natural disaster caused by drought and strong winds. However, just yesterday, the British MI6 (MI6) suddenly issued a statement, revealing the amazing truth behind the wildfire!
According to MI6, this wildfire did not happen naturally, but was man-made by the US government! It turns out that the U.S. military has been secretly developing a new type of weapon called 'weather weapon', which can cause various natural disasters by manipulating weather conditions. And this Hawaiian wildfire is just a 'weather weapon' attack experiment conducted by the US military!
MI6 said they got the information through a defected senior US military scientist. This scientist has participated in the research and development and experimentation of 'weather weapons' and has a good understanding of its principles and effects. Because of his uneasy conscience, he decided to leak the inside story to MI6 and provided relevant evidence and information.
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Sep 13 16:41:32 2023 UTC)
There is no truth to the claim that the MI6 "suddenly issued a statement, revealing the amazing truth behind the wildfire!" A Google News search of the keywords "MI6 Reveals Weather Weapon Used To Cause Wildfires In Hawaii" (archived here) yields no credible matching results.
Additionally, most of the images included in the post to illustrate the claim are either AI-generated or have no apparent connection to Hawaii. Two of them are included below as examples after being run through the AI-generated image content detection tool on the Hive Moderation website:
(Source: Hive Moderation on Wed Sep 13 2023 UTC)
(Source: Hive Moderation on Wed Sep 13 2023 UTC)
This post is part of a Chinese disinformation campaign that has been widely reported on by news organizations, tech companies and cybersecurity experts. In a September 11, 2023, report titled "China Sows Disinformation About Hawaii Fires Using New Techniques," The New York Times said:
When wildfires swept across Maui last month with destructive fury, China's increasingly resourceful information warriors pounced.
The disaster was not natural, they said in a flurry of false posts that spread across the internet, but was the result of a secret 'weather weapon' being tested by the United States. To bolster the plausibility, the posts carried photographs that appeared to have been generated by artificial intelligence programs, making them among the first to use these new tools to bolster the aura of authenticity of a disinformation campaign.
Later, the article specifically mentions the claim in the social media post:
Recorded Future first reported that the Chinese government mounted a covert campaign to blame a 'weather weapon' for the fires, identifying numerous posts in mid-August falsely claiming that MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, had revealed 'the amazing truth behind the wildfire.' Posts with the exact language appeared on social media sites across the internet, including Pinterest, Tumblr, Medium and Pixiv, a Japanese site used by artists.
The Recorded Future article mentioned in the Times, "Converging Narratives on Hawaii Wildfires Advance Different Influencers' Objectives," was published on August 30, 2023. It said:
Foreign and domestic influence actors are capitalizing on the Hawaii wildfires to advance their own objectives. Russian and Chinese actors are leveraging shared narratives, asserting that the US prioritizes military spending over citizens' welfare, almost certainly aiming to curtail US defense expenditure in relation to Ukraine and Taiwan, potentially affecting the 2024 US elections. Influence actors are also engaging in disinformation campaigns suggesting that the US government caused the wildfires using weather or energy weapons, with a possible feedback loop between Chinese state-sponsored and domestic violent extremist (DVE) influence operations.
Recorded Future describes itself as the "world's largest intelligence company."
And NewsGuard, a company that rates the reliability of news sources, published a related story on September 11, 2023, titled "Pro-China Disinformation Campaign Claims US Started Maui Fires in a 'Weather Weapons' Experiment, Falsely Citing the UK's MI6." Its opening paragraph says:
Dozens of pro-China social media and blog accounts are spreading the false claim that an experimental U.S. military weapon caused the August 2023 Maui wildfires -- in what appears to be part of a coordinated online campaign to portray the U.S. military in a negative light, NewsGuard has found.
MI6 is not responsible for investigating or disclosing the causes of natural disasters like the one in Hawaii in early August 2023. The wildfires on the island of Maui, as they are in other parts of the world, are typically caused by a combination of factors such as dry weather, high temperatures and human activities.
John Bravender, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Honolulu, told Lead Stories in an August 14, 2023, email that factors were present that heightened the fire risk. He continued:
The fires occurred during a period of very strong winds and low relative humidity. Combined with dry vegetation due to increasing drought, all the ingredients were in place for extreme fire danger. In addition to emergency manager briefings the previous week, NWS issued a Fire Weather Watch early Sunday morning [August 6, 2023] and a Red Flag Warning early Monday [August 7, 2023] morning.
Red flag warnings alert residents of the "potential for widespread ignitions or control problems with new or existing fires."
In another August 14, 2023, email, Michael Musher with the NWS public affairs office in Silver Spring, Maryland, said the agency was "alerting local officials up to a week in advance about dangerous fire weather conditions on the Hawaiian Islands" because of the "mix of dry vegetation, strong winds, dry subsiding air and low relative humidity."
Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to Hawaii wildfires can be found here.