• The Case that U.S. Paid for the Work in Wuhan Which Created COVID

    June 5, 2021 // 7 Comments »


    It reads like science fiction but it is very real. The work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which could create a bioweapon — genetically engineering the highest possible infectivity for human cells — was subcontracted to the Chinese government. And thanks to a series of cover-ups, we are unlikely to ever know the full truth. The people who lost loved ones, lost their jobs, who fell into despair under societal restrictions, deserve better.

    There are two origin stories for COVID-19. One is that it emerged naturally, evolving from a bat virus to infect humans. The other is COVID-19 was genetically created by China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology via gain of function research funded by the U.S. The virus then escaped into the world. That year you spent at home, those loved ones who died, might have been our own fault. The point is more than assigning guilt; understanding the true origin of the pandemic is critical to preventing it from happening again, as well as as a guide to future gain of function research. It is hard to overstate the importance of this; our lives depend on it.

     

    The first bioscientist to take a serious look at the origins of the virus raised the possibility it had been manipulated by humans, not nature. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists went on to ask directly “Did people or nature open Pandora’s Box at Wuhan?” and goes on to make a strong case it was us.

    It starts with EcoHealth Alliance of New York. For 20 years they have routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature. In favor of what common sense would immediately see as a bioweapon capable of destroying the human race, some scientists argue by getting ahead of nature they could predict and prevent “spillovers” of viruses from animal hosts to humans. Like something out of Jurassic Park, this is known as gain of function research, genetic manipulation to “improve” nature. Such work already allowed scientists to recreate the 1918 flu virus, to show how the almost extinct polio virus can be synthesized from its published DNA sequence, and introduce a smallpox gene into a related virus.

    Some of that work was done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, teamed with researchers at the University of North Carolina. Specifically, they focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans. In November 2015 they together created a manufactured virus that was once dangerous only to bats now able to infect the cells of the human airway.

    The key Chinese researcher in this work at Wuhan Institute of Virology, known as the “Bat Lady,” specialized further, engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells. Her research was funded by the Obama administration’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIH initially assigned those grants to an American company, EcoHealth, who subcontracted the work to Wuhan. To be clear: the work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which along with its medical potential could create a bioweapon was subcontracted to the Chinese government by an American company.

    The Wuhan lab was already a nexus of attention pre-pandemic. The Bat Lady had previously traveled to Mozambique in September 2019 to give a controversial presentation on bat coronaviruses. Outcry quickly led Wuhan to pull their virus database offline following the trip. The Chinese government still refuses to provide any of its raw data, safety logs or lab records. Another Wuhan scientist was forced to leave a Canadian university for shipping deadly viruses, including ebola, back to China. The lab also allegedly tried to steal intellectual property regarding remdesivir, a class of antiviral medications used to treat COVID-19 prior to the vaccine. No small connection, the editorial board of the Bat Lady’s virology journal includes members of the Chinese military.

    There is also the question of safety at the Wuhan lab. As early as 2018 Wuhan alarmed U.S. State Department inspectors who visited it. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote. They warned the lab’s work on “bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.” Though they had higher security facilities, the Chinese were working in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus like COVID-19.

     

    The other origin theory, natural emergence, never has had any evidence to support it. The Bulletin states “This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses [related to COVID-19] had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months.”

    Yet some 15 months after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which COVID-19 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to late 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year. In just one example of that lack of evidence, the search in China for the natural origin of the virus included testing more than 80,000 different animals from across dozens of Chinese provinces. Not a single case of COVID-19 in nature was found. Chinese researchers did primordial cases in people from Wuhan with no link to that infamous wet market China claims sold an infected bat eaten by Patient One.

    So why has the natural origin theory persisted in the face of no evidence? One of the strongest shows of support for the natural theory was a letter from dozens of scientists published in early 2020 in the British medical journal Lancet. The letter had actually been organized and written not by the scientists, but by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth the grantee who subcontracted with Wuhan, though his involvement was not disclosed at the time. If the virus had indeed escaped from research they funded, EcoHealth would be potentially liable, as of course would the American government. Ecohealth went on to plant never-challenged stories in the MSM labeling anyone who thought Wuhan was to blame as a conspiracy crank.

    Meanwhile, a Chinese-affiliated scientific journal at the University of Massachusetts Medical School commissioned commentary to refute that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan lab, the same position held by the Chinese government. Mirroring the American media, the journal called anything to the contrary “speculations, rumors, and conspiracy theories.” Chinese officials also objected elsewhere to any name, such as the Wuhan Flu, linking the virus to China.

    In addition to these cover-up efforts, there were those of Dr. Anthony Fauci. In answer to Senator Rand Paul, Fauci stated “you are entirely and completely incorrect — that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” He appears to have committed perjury, as Fauci now admits “there’s no way of guaranteeing” American taxpayer money routed to Wuhan virology didn’t fund gain-of-function research. Fauci has also reversed himself completely in saying he is not convinced COVID developed naturally. The Senate passed a Rand Paul-sponsored amendment banning funding of gain of function research in China.

     

    The cover-up was aided in every possible way by the media. Though in 2021 The Wall Street Journal reported three researchers the Wuhan Institute of Virology became “sick enough in November 2019 [a month before the first “public” cases] with COVID-19-like symptoms that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report,” they along with their peers showed little curiosity a year earlier.

    One important word in the Journal’s sentence is undisclosed. What they mean is the media did not know about the report, but the U.S. government did. When the president tried to talk to the American people about his now-prescient decision to shut down travel from China in early 2020, he knew about the intel report. As in most cases involving intelligence, the president had to act on the information, and inform the public, without without giving away sources and methods. No thinking person today can claim the move to shut down travel was a mistake.

    The media, however, had other priorities, especially the task of defeating Donald Trump. They immediately slammed the decision as racist, and promoted the Chinese government’s evidence-free explanation the Wuhan lab had no connection with the pandemic.

    A WaPo headline read “Experts debunk fringe theory linking China’s coronavirus to weapons research” and a separate story said believing the Chinese had anything to do with creating COVID was as credible as the Soviet Union in 1985 accusing the CIA of manufacturing AIDS. “Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins,” said the New York Times in February 2020, adding “Scientists have dismissed suggestions that the Chinese government was behind the outbreak.” The Times’ article, however, did not quote or name any of the supposed scientists. Then there was a hagiographic bio piece on the Bat Lady. Later, Time named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2020, claiming her “scientific accomplishments and foresight are exactly what we need if we want to stop more coronaviruses.”

    It is only now, months into the safety of the Biden administration, that the media is willing to take a peek inside Pandora’s Box. Politifact walked back its slam dunk “fact check” China had nothing to do with it, and Facebook announced it would no longer censor posts claiming the virus was man-made. Yet despite the deaths of millions of people, Washington still has little interest into the origin story. The Biden administration shut down a State Department investigation in March of this year, claiming the work was politically motivated. Under pressure Biden later asked for his own investigation from the intelligence community, which will by definition produce a paper of ambiguous findings, concluding happily none of the scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out.

     

    There will be no smoking gun. The people who know the truth, the Chinese government and Ecohealth, have already been caught lying. Gain of function research does not leave a physical marker to prove origin. To date, there is no evidence COVID-19 was of a natural origin. There is much to show it was not. To argue any other way requires an expert understanding of terms like furin site, RBM, RaTG13, and spike protein, not Google.

    We do know Wuhan conducted gain of function research aimed at doing what COVID-19 does, making a virus originally not dangerous to humans into a super-infector designed to spread quickly while resisting then-existing cures and vaccines. We know the Patient One cases of the virus were in Wuhan. We know researchers at the lab were infected in November 2019. We know safety standards at the lab were insufficient to contain the virus. In a murder case this would be enough to show means, motive, and method beyond a reasonable doubt.

    We know the basic gain of function research at the lab was funded by the United States. We know we were lied to about this.

    We also know despite the global importance of the story, investigations never mind curiosity were non-existent in the media. They instead promoted the cover-up stories produced by Ecohealth, the WHO, and the Chinese government. The media shut out dissenting opinions by labeling them as conspiracy fodder, even mocking the co-discoverer of HIV and Nobel Prize winner for suggesting non-natural origins.

    We are unlikely to definitively ever know the origin of COVID-19, and politicians and pundits will make the most of the ambiguity.  But as the wise man said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Propaganda and the Coronavirus

    March 9, 2020 // 30 Comments »


     
    “Um, is it Colonel Vindman in the Russian Tea room with the coronavirus?”

    “Very funny. Now everyone settle down. Welcome back to Propaganda and the Death of Media 101 in case you’re in the wrong class, and its, um, March 15, 2024. Now we were discussing the role of propaganda and the media in trying to influence the re-election of Donald Trump by tying his leadership to a global pandemic. Propaganda in these cases seeks to diminish people’s view of a leader’s competence. The ultimate goal is to get you to vote him out.

     

    For those of you in the back holding up those tattered Bernie signs, God rest his soul, let’s start with the question of whether the media engaged in propaganda at all. Contrast the sense of panic in 2020 whipped into place with how things played out in 2009 under Obama. The first cases of the swine flu, H1N1, appeared in April 2009. By the time Obama finally declared a national emergency that fall, the CDC reported 50 million Americans, one in six people, had been infected and 10,000 Americans had died. In the early months of the disease, Obama had no Secretary of Health and Human Services or appointees in any of the Department’s 19 key posts. No Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, no Surgeon General, no CDC Director. The gap at CDC was particularly important, as in the early days of the crisis only they could test for the virus; states weren’t enabled until later. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, not a medical doctor, lead the federal effort.

    The first real H1N1 cases appeared in Mexico. The border was not sealed, Mexicans were not forbidden to enter the U.S. Though CDC recommended against travel there, the primary danger cited was kidnapping for ransom. Yet 66 percent of Americans, supported by the media, thought the president was protecting them. Some 4,000 Americans were dead before a vaccine was first distributed.

    The emergency proclamation it took Obama seven months to declare was issued by Trump within 30 days of the current virus being found abroad. He announced a temporary suspension of entry into the U.S. of foreign nationals who pose a risk for the transmission of the coronavirus (CNN criticized “the travel ban could stigmatize countries and ethnicities.”) And yes, Trump encouraged everyone to wash their hands.

    Anybody here remember the media freaking out over Obama’s initial response, which was hand washing was pretty much what was needed? Anyone who did the reading find evidence of national panic throughout the crisis? No. Why did the media cover essentially the identical story so very differently for two presidents? The question is the answer.

     

    Look at the timing in 2020; the crisis came when the media decided it was time for a crisis. Though the virus dominated headlines in Asia since mid-January, American media first relegated the story to the business news. In late February the main “Trump” story was Russiagate II, the revelation (which quickly fell apart) the Russians were meddling again in the election. The Democratic debate at the end of February invoked Putin many times. The virus barely came up.

    Then the NYT sent up the Bat Signal for the new crisis on February 26, the day after the Democratic debate, with an article titled “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus” (subtlety is not required for propaganda.) An effort was born overnight to blame Trump personally for the virus, and essentially declare his chances of reelection done. The critical change was not anything to do with the virus itself, simply with the decision by the media to elevate the story from the business section to the front page. Even a week after that, with American sanity in a tailspin, only two Americans had died, and about half the known U.S. cases arrived with the evacuees from Japan. Of course the numbers quickly went up (that’s why we use the expression “going viral” for your Instagram blowups, kids) but imagine what a graph of actual cases would look like versus a graph measuring panic.

     

    You’ll see in your textbooks another example which shows how propaganda works, the reporting of initial problems with the CDC coronavirus test kits. One typical headline claimed “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as the stories were written; 15,000 testing kits were released within 48 hours of that story with plans to send out an additional 50,000. Each kit can test 700-800 patient samples.

    The follow-on stories screamed about Trump funding cuts to the CDC, most of which were actually only proposed. Then the stories were merged — Trump cut CDC funding and thus not enough kits were available. Not only were both pieces largely untrue individually (few cuts were made, kits were available), the merging of the two was grossly false. Instead of examining these things for lessons learned in the midst of an unfolding crisis, the media treated them as new bits to mock Trump with, like late night comedians trolling the news for material for their monologue.

    No room was left for people making errors in novel decisions under time pressure, just the jump to “Trump incompetence” instead of doing the real work of looking into the questions. The problem with the testing kits was a highly technical one involving chemical reagents and factory contamination. CDC is a massive institution. Who if anyone there made any “bungled” decisions? Would they have likely made a better decision with different funding? If so, then Congress can act and drop some money on that office. If not, move on, there is work to do. It is how the media acts when they seek to fix the blame, not the problem.

     

    The propaganda surrounding how the government initially handled the coronavirus was also obvious in the false “who is in charge” question the media asked. The vice president was given the role heading up the task force. This is the kind of thing VPs do, bring gravitas, make sure a whole of government approach has the bureaucratic firepower it needs, and so on. The propaganda instead hyper-focused on Mike Pence’s “disbelief in science,” itself more of a chanted mantra than anything established by fact. For “proof” the stories settled on Pence supposedly creating an HIV epidemic while governor of Indiana. The reality is much different. Pence took office opposed to needle exchanges. When dirty needles shared among opioid users in rural Scott County, Indiana were linked to 71 cases of HIV transmission, Pence responded to the new information (sad to see people die, but 71 deaths is all it was and many would have died from their drugs soon enough) by changing his policy and authorizing needle exchange in Scott and four other counties. The reality seems much closer to seeing an ideological stance changed by science than the opposite.


    Pence said at the time “I’m going to put the lives of the people of Indiana first. It’s a commitment to law and order, but it’s a commitment to compassion.”

    Meanwhile, the media largely ignored those Pence chose for the taskforce. One was Dr. Deborah Birx, a career medical professional nominated by Obama in 2014 as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator. She also served as head of the global HIV/AIDS division at CDC, was an immunology researcher at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and an Army colonel. You want to inspire confidence you profile Dr. Brix; you want to sow discord you misrepresent Mike Pence’s decisions years ago.

     

    There’s so many more examples, but our class time is short. Here are a few.

     

    You can report on the elimination of Obama’s pandemic czar but leave out that the position was just a coordination job on the National Security Council with no real power. It sounds scary (one outlet called it sabotage) to see that job go, but in fact the coordination duties within NSC were reassigned to others.

    You can focus on every coronavirus case as proof efforts are failing while ignoring providing perspective by reminding 12,000 people died, with over 13 million infected, from the regular influenza (the one with the vaccine) between October 2019 and February 2020.

    You can focus on time will take to develop a full-on vaccine and ignore the treatments already now in human testing trials.

    You can purposefully confuse accelerating public health measures already underway with America’s lack of universal individual health care. We have plenty of the former, not enough of the latter. But the pandemic is not a solid argument for the latter as it is a problem of public health policy. That’s why even countries with good, free care systems are suffering the virus. Medicare for All would not have changed anything in 2020.

    You can cover the virus as you did Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Everyone was gonna die there until they didn’t. You can follow the now-standard Trump propaganda template: say he won’t do enough, then say what he does isn’t being done fast enough, predict everything will collapse (with Katrina references) and then move on to a new crisis as the reality of the response takes hold.

    You can report on panic selling on Wall Street, or explain how global supply chain problems are not caused by the virus, but by traders’ reaction to the unknowns of the virus. China’s factories closed because the government enforced social isolation, not because the workers were dead. Soon enough Apple products flowed back into our greedy hands, and the stock market found its way back to a new normal.

    You can report store closings, but not their reopenings. By March 1 Starbucks had reopened 85 percent of its stores in China. Apple, over 50 percent. You can emphasize how many Chinese factories were closed in February, or report on their reopenings in March.

    You can misrepresent the use of words like hoax to make the president appear weak.

    You can ignore the drop off in cases inside China. Only a few days after the first cases appeared in the U.S., new ones inside China dropped to 200.

    You can avoid reporting how viruses follow a bell curve. Case counts first rise quickly, the virus claims the “easy” deaths among the elderly, and then environmental factors (viruses must live inside a host; they have limited life outside on surfaces`, typically less and less as temperatures climb. This is why you can’t catch HIV from a toilet seat) and public health measures kick in. Treatment emerges and the virus fades. You can explain to calm people where they are in what looks like a 10-12 week cycle to or you can ignore it to stoke fear of the unknown.

    The bell curve template is clearly illustrated by a look-back to how HIV/AIDS went from a massive public health crisis in America to a manageable problem. As the virus became known, panic took hold. False reporting outran reality. But the bell curve took over; the virus’ transmission became well understood, better testing protocols developed, excellent preventive medicines became available, and treatment regimes now exist which ensure long lives in remission. Knowns displace unknowns. None of this is to minimize the suffering enroute to the current state, but to show there is an established path even for a virus far more deadly than corona.

    Class concluded.

    “Hey professor, is all this gonna be on the test?”

    “No, but it may influence an election. And don’t forget to wash your hands before lunch, something is going around.”
      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump