Bats, gene editing and bioweapons (1)
…recent DARPA experiments raise concerns amid coronavirus outbreak
DARPA recently spent millions on research involving bats and coronaviruses, as well as gene editing “bioweapons” prior to the recent coronavirus outbreak. Now, “strategic allies” of the agency have been chosen to develop a genetic material-based vaccine to halt the potential epidemic.
In recent weeks, concern over the emergence of a novel coronavirus in China has grown exponentially as media, experts and government officials around the world have openly worried that this new disease has the potential to develop into a global pandemic.
As concerns about the future of the ongoing outbreak have grown, so too have the number of theories speculating about the outbreak’s origin, many of which blame a variety of state actors and/or controversial billionaires. This has inevitably led to efforts to clamp down on “misinformation” related to the coronavirus outbreak from both mainstream media outlets and major social media platforms.
However, while many of these theories are clearly speculative, there is also verifiable evidence regarding the recent interest of one controversial U.S. government agency in novel coronaviruses, specifically those transmitted from bats to humans. That agency, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), began spending millions on such research in 2018 and some of those Pentagon-funded studies were conducted at known U.S. military bioweapons labs bordering China and resulted in the discovery of dozens of new coronavirus strains as recently as last April. Furthermore, the ties of the Pentagon’s main biodefense lab to a virology institute in Wuhan, China — where the current outbreak is believed to have begun — have been unreported in English language media thus far.
While it remains entirely unknown as to what caused the outbreak, the details of DARPA’s and the Pentagon’s recent experimentation are clearly in the public interest, especially considering that the very companies recently chosen to develop a vaccine to combat the coronavirus outbreak are themselves strategic allies of DARPA. Not only that, but these DARPA-backed companies are developing controversial DNA and mRNA vaccines for this particular coronavirus strain, a category of vaccine that has never previously been approved for human use in the United States.
Yet, as fears of the pandemic potential of coronavirus grow, these vaccines are set to be rushed to market for public use, making it important for the public to be aware of DARPA’s recent experiments on coronaviruses, bats and gene editing technologies and their broader implications.
Examining the recent Wuhan-Bioweapon narrative
As the coronavirus outbreak has come to dominate headlines in recent weeks, several media outlets have promoted claims that the reported epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China was also the site of laboratories allegedly linked to a Chinese government biowarfare program.
However, upon further examination of the sourcing for this serious claim, these supposed links between the outbreak and an alleged Chinese bioweapons program have come from two highly dubious sources.
For instance, the first outlet to report on this claim was Radio Free Asia, the U.S.-government funded media outlet targeting Asian audiences that used to be run covertly by the CIA and named by the New York Times as a key part in the agency’s “worldwide propaganda network.” Though it is no longer run directly by the CIA, it is now managed by the government-funded Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which answers directly to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was CIA director immediately prior to his current post at the head of the State Department.
In other words, Radio Free Asia and other BBG-managed media outlets are legal outlets for U.S. government propaganda. Notably, the long-standing ban on the domestic use of U.S. government propaganda on U.S. citizens was lifted in 2013, with the official justification of allowing the government to “effectively communicate in a credible way” and to better combat “al-Qaeda’s and other violent extremists’ influence.”
Returning to the subject at hand, Radio Free Asia’s recent report on the alleged origins of the outbreak being linked to a Chinese state-linked virology center cited only Ren Ruihong, the former head of the medical assistance department at the Chinese Red Cross, for that claim. Ruihong has been cited as an expert in several Radio Free Asia reports on disease outbreaks in China, but has not been cited as an expert by any other English-language media outlet.
Ruihong told Radio Free Asia that:
“It’s a new type of mutant coronavirus. They haven’t made public the genetic sequence, because it is highly contagious… Genetic engineering technology has gotten to such a point now, and Wuhan is home to a viral research center that is under the aegis of the China Academy of Sciences, which is the highest level of research facility in China.”
Though Ruihong did not directly say that the Chinese government was making a bioweapon at the Wuhan facility, she did imply that genetic experiments at the facility may have resulted in the creation of this new “mutant coronavirus” at the center of the outbreak.
With Radio Free Asia and its single source having speculated about Chinese government links to the creation of the new coronavirus, the Washington Times soon took it much farther in a report titled “Virus-hit Wuhan has two laboratories linked to Chinese bio-warfare program.” That article, much like Radio Free Asia’s earlier report, cites a single source for that claim, former Israeli military intelligence biowarfare specialist Dany Shoham.
Yet, upon reading the article, Shoham does not even directly make the claim cited in the article’s headline, as he only told the Washington Times that: “Certain laboratories in the [Wuhan] institute have probably been engaged, in terms of research and development, in Chinese [biological weapons], at least collaterally, yet not as a principal facility of the Chinese BW alignment (emphasis added).”
While Shoham’s claims are clearly speculative, it is telling that the Washington Times would bother to cite him at all, especially given the key role he played in promoting false claims that the 2001 Anthrax attacks was the work of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Shoham’s assertions about Iraq’s government and weaponized Anthrax, which were used to bolster the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, have since been proven completely false, as Iraq was found to have neither the chemical or biological “weapons of mass destruction” that “experts” like Shoham had claimed.
Beyond Shoham’s own history of making suspect claims, it is also worth noting that Shoham’s previous employer, Israeli military intelligence, has a troubling past with bioweapons. For instance, in the late 1990s, it was reported by several outlets that Israel was in the process of developing a genetic bioweapon that would target Arabs, specifically Iraqis, but leave Israeli Jews unaffected.
Given the dubious past of Shoham and the clearly speculative nature of both his claims and those made in the Radio Free Asia report, one passage in the Washington Times article is particularly telling about why these claims have recently surfaced:
“One ominous sign, said a U.S. official, is that the false rumors since the outbreak began several weeks ago have begun circulating on the Chinese Internet claiming the virus is part of a U.S. conspiracy to spread germ weapons. That could indicate China is preparing propaganda outlets to counter future charges the new virus escaped from one of Wuhan’s civilian or defense research laboratories(emphasis added).”
However, as seen in that very article, accusations that the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese-state-linked laboratory is hardly a future charge as both the Washington Times and Radio Free Asia have already been making that claim. Instead, what this passage suggests is that the reports in both Radio Free Asia and the Washington Times were responses to the claims circulating within China that the outbreak is linked to a “U.S. conspiracy to spread germ weapons.”
Though most English-language media outlets to date have not examined such a possibility, there is considerable supporting evidence that deserves to be examined. For instance, not only was the U.S. military, including its controversial research arm — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), recently funding studies in and near China that discovered new, mutant coronaviruses originating from bats, but the Pentagon also became recently concerned about the potential use of bats as bioweapons.
Bats as bioweapons
As the ongoing coronavirus outbreak centered in China has spread to other countries and been blamed for a growing number of deaths, a consensus has emerged that this particular virus, currently classified as a “novel [i.e. new] coronavirus,” is believed to have originated in bats and was transmitted to humans in Wuhan, China via a seafood market that also traded exotic animals. So-called “wet” markets, like the one in Wuhan, were previously blamed for past deadly coronavirus outbreaks in China, such as the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
In addition, one preliminary study on the coronavirus responsible for the current outbreak found that the receptor, Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), is not only the same as that used by the SARS coronavirus, but that East Asians present a much higher ratio of lung cells that express that receptor than the other ethnicities (Caucasian and African-American) included in the study. However, such findings are preliminary and the sample size is too small to draw any definitive conclusions from that preliminary data.
Two years ago, media reports began discussing the Pentagon’s sudden concern that bats could be used as biological weapons, particularly in spreading coronaviruses and other deadly diseases. The Washington Post asserted that the Pentagon’s interest in investigating the potential use of bats to spread weaponized and deadly diseases was because of alleged Russian efforts to do the same. However, those claims regarding this Russian interest in using bats as bioweapons date back to the 1980s when the Soviet Union engaged in covert research involving the Marburg virus, research that did not even involve bats and which ended with the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Like much of the Pentagon’s controversial research programs, the bats as bioweapons research has been framed as defensive, despite the fact that no imminent threat involving bat-propagated bioweapons has been acknowledged. However, independent scientists have recently accused the Pentagon, particularly its research arm DARPA, of claiming to be engaged in research it says is “defensive” but is actually “offensive.”
The most recent example of this involved DARPA’s “Insect Allies” program, which officially “aims to protect the U.S. agricultural food supply by delivering protective genes to plants via insects, which are responsible for the transmission of most plant viruses” and to ensure “food security in the event of a major threat,” according to both DARPA and media reports.
However, a group of well-respected, independent scientists revealed in a scathing analysis of the program that, far from a “defensive” research project, the Insect Allies program was aimed at creating and delivering “new class of biological weapon.” The scientists, writing in the journal Science and led by Richard Guy Reeves, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany, warned that DARPA’s program — which uses insects as the vehicle for as horizontal environmental genetic alteration agents (HEGAAS) — revealed “an intention to develop a means of delivery of HEGAAs for offensive purposes (emphasis added).”
Whatever the real motivation behind the Pentagon’s sudden and recent concern about bats being used as a vehicle for bioweapons, the U.S. military has spent millions of dollars over the past several years funding research on bats, the deadly viruses they can harbor — including coronaviruses — and how those viruses are transmitted from bats to humans.
For instance, DARPA spent $10 million on one project in 2018 “to unravel the complex causes of bat-borne viruses that have recently made the jump to humans, causing concern among global health officials.” Another research project backed by both DARPA and NIH saw researchers at Colorado State University examine the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in bats and camels “to understand the role of these hosts in transmitting disease to humans.” Other U.S. military-funded studies, discussed in detail later in this report, discovered several new strains of novel coronaviruses carried by bats, both within China and in countries bordering China.
Many of these recent research projects are related to DARPA’s Preventing Emerging Pathogenic Threats, or PREEMPT program, which was officially announced in April 2018. PREEMPT focuses specifically on animal reservoirs of disease, specifically bats, and DARPA even noted in its press release in the program that it “is aware of biosafety and biosecurity sensitivities that could arise” due to the nature of the research.
DARPA’s announcement for PREEMPT came just a few months after the U.S. government decided to controversially end a moratorium on so-called “gain-of-function” studies involving dangerous pathogens. VICE News explained “gain-of-function” studies as follows:
“Known as ‘gain-of-function’ studies, this type of research is ostensibly about trying to stay one step ahead of nature. By making super-viruses that are more pathogenic and easily transmissible, scientists are able to study the way these viruses may evolve and how genetic changes affect the way a virus interacts with its host. Using this information, the scientists can try to pre-empt the natural emergence of these traits by developing antiviral medications that are capable of staving off a pandemic (emphasis added).”
In addition, while both DARPA’s PREEMPT program and the Pentagon’s open interest in bats as bioweapons were announced in 2018, the U.S. military — specifically the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program — began funding research involving bats and deadly pathogens, including the coronaviruses MERS and SARS, a year prior in 2017. One of those studies focused on “Bat-Borne Zoonotic Disease Emergence in Western Asia” and involved the Lugar Center in Georgia, identified by former Georgian government officials, the Russian government and independent, investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva as a covert U.S. bioweapons lab.
It is also important to point out the fact that the U.S. military’s key laboratories involving the study of deadly pathogens, including coronaviruses, Ebola and others, was suddenly shut down last July after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified major “biosafety lapses” at the facility.
The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland — the U.S. military’s lead laboratory for “biological defense” research since the late 1960s — was forced to halt all research it was conducting with a series of deadly pathogens after the CDC found that it lacked “sufficient systems in place to decontaminate wastewater” from its highest-security labs and failure of staff to follow safety procedures, among other lapses. The facility contains both level 3 and level 4 biosafety labs. While it is unknown if experiments involving coronaviruses were ongoing at the time, USAMRIID has recently been involved in research borne out of the Pentagon’s recent concern about the use of bats as bioweapons.
The decision to shut down USAMRIID garnered surprisingly little media coverage, as did the CDC’s surprising decision to allow the troubled facility to “partially resume” research late last November even though the facility was and is still not at “full operational capability.” The USAMRIID’s problematic record of safety at such facilities is of particular concern in light of the recent coronavirus outbreak in China. As this report will soon reveal, this is because USAMRIID has a decades-old and close partnership with the University of Wuhan’s Institute of Medical Virology, which is located in the epicenter of the current outbreak.
Read the second part of the article
April 3, 2020
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