May 8, 2021 / by 

 

NY Times Finds Trump Administration Inserted Wuhan Cables Into The Aluminum Tubes Echo Chamber

In my last two posts, I went into detail on what is known on the scientific front about the origin of SARS CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak and then into what evidence Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) has offered to refute the rumors of the virus escaping from her lab. This post will set aside discussion of the science (other than to eventually provide a few quotes that have been provided by scientists addressing these issues) and will instead focus on what has been increasing evidence that there has been a concerted effort akin to an information operation to create acceptance of the idea that the virus escaped from WIV. Today, the New York Times confirmed these suspicions and indicated clearly who is behind the operation. Here’s a partial screen capture of the story by a team that includes Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman:

Although I was becoming convinced of an information operation, I wasn’t sure who was orchestrating it. This Times article leaves no doubts:

Senior Trump administration officials have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that a government laboratory in Wuhan, China, was the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, according to current and former American officials. The effort comes as President Trump escalates a public campaign to blame China for the pandemic.

Some intelligence analysts are concerned that the pressure from administration officials will distort assessments about the virus and that they could be used as a political weapon in an intensifying battle with China over a disease that has infected more than three million people across the globe.

Most intelligence agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a link to a lab can be found, and scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus say that the overwhelming probability is that it leapt from animal to human in a nonlaboratory setting, as was the case with H.I.V., Ebola and SARS.

The article even goes on to name some of those pushing the link to an escape from the lab, including Mike Pompeo and Anthony Ruggiero. Who is Ruggiero, you might ask? Oh, that answer is full of rich irony:

And Anthony Ruggiero, the head of the National Security Council’s bureau tracking weapons of mass destruction, expressed frustration during one videoconference in January that the C.I.A. was unable to get behind any theory of the outbreak’s origin. C.I.A. analysts responded that they simply did not have the evidence to support any one theory with high confidence at the time, according to people familiar with the conversation.

Here we have officials working for Trump who are actively pushing an unsubstantiated theory that could be used to spark an international conflict. And one of those officials just happens to work on the issue of weapons of mass destruction. Gosh, it’s not like that topic has ever led to problems based on manipulating information from the intelligence community, is it? In fact, the article eventually gets there on how this is looking like a replay of Iraq:

A former intelligence official described senior aides’ repeated emphasis of the lab theory as “conclusion shopping,” a disparaging term among analysts that has echoes of the Bush administration’s 2002 push for assessments saying that Iraq had weapons of mass of destruction and links to Al Qaeda, perhaps the most notorious example of the politicization of intelligence.

The C.I.A. has yet to unearth any data beyond circumstantial evidence to bolster the lab theory, according to current and former government officials, and the agency has told policymakers it lacks enough information to either affirm or refute it. Only getting access to the lab itself and the virus samples it contains could provide definitive proof, if it exists, the officials said.

And the parallels go even deeper:

The Defense Intelligence Agency recently changed its analytic position to formally leave open the possibility of a theory of lab origin, officials said. Senior agency officials have asked analysts to take a closer look at the labs.

The reason for the change is unclear, but some officials attributed it to the intelligence analyzed in recent weeks. Others took a more jaundiced view: that the agency is trying to curry favor with White House officials. A spokesman for the agency, James M. Kudla, disputed that characterization. “It’s not D.I.A.’s role to make policy decisions or value judgments — and we do not,” he said.

So now we even have the remains of Cheney’s “Team B” within DIA, itching to make Trump happy. For those who may have forgotten, we have none other than that neocon himself, Eli Lake, talking glowingly of the Team B folks and DIA pushing back on CIA even before the invasion of Iraq:

THE CURRENT SCHISM has roots going back to the early ‘70s. In 1974 a collection of neoconservative foreign policy intellectuals on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board began attacking the CIA-authored NIEs for the Soviet Union, accusing the Agency of cooking its books to defend Henry Kissinger’s policy of détente by underestimating Soviet military expenditures.

So the group—which included Harvard historian Richard Pipes; former arms control negotiator and ambassador-at-large under President Ronald Reagan, Paul H. Nitze; the retired director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Daniel Graham; and a then-little-known staff member of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Paul Wolfowitz—asked the CIA for access to the Agency’s files to create their own assessment of Soviet intentions and capabilities. In 1976 they received that access from then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush. That fall the group—which came to be known as Team B—produced an intelligence assessment for the president, contending that the Soviet Union’s military expenditures would not be curtailed by concerns over their potential impact on the ussr’s economic health. That conclusion became the cornerstone of Reagan’s policy for outspending the Soviet military in order to hasten the collapse of the Soviet economy.

Fast-forward to the current day. Wolfowitz, now deputy secretary of defense, still doesn’t trust the CIA—but this time the bone of contention is Iraq. As during his tenure on Team B, Wolfowitz finds himself amid a loose network of neocons inside and outside government—this time including his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John R. Bolton; Chairman of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle; and Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff and national security adviser I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby—arguing for an aggressive foreign policy posture. So, in a repetition of history, the neocons have devoted themselves to offering an alternative to what they see as the CIA’s timid and inaccurate intelligence assessments—assessments that downplayed the possibility of Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States prior to September 11; failed to predict India’s nuclear tests in 1998; and underestimated the speed with which the North Koreans would be able to test a multistage missile. The difference is that this time the neocons don’t have to ask the CIA’s permission to gain access to classified intelligence, because Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld already control between 85 percent and 90 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget, including the agencies responsible for signal intercepts, satellite surveillance, and the DIA. “This is a case of going in-house because [Rumsfeld] is not happy with the intelligence he’s gotten from the CIA,” says Melvin Goodman, a professor of international security at the National War College and a former CIA analyst.

Of course, as always, the neocons were dead wrong about the Iraq intelligence and were simply gaming it to get the war they longed for.

Another of the key bits of intelligence gaming came with the aluminum tubes story, “broken” by Michael Gordon and Judy Miller. In the retrospective in 2004, we find that there was in fact ample evidence showing the tubes were inadequate for uranium centrifuges and were in fact components for small artillery rockets.

Cheney and Miller have since been inextricably linked to this huge information operation, because Miller’s article was quickly followed up by multiple appearances by Cheney talking up this “intelligence” in the drumbeat for the Iraq war.  Marcy has noted how this history follows both Miller and Cheney.

If August 24 is seen as Aluminum Tube Day, then it seems likely that April 14 will become Wuhan Cable Day. And just as the aluminum tube story was catapulted nearly simultaneously by multiple people for maximum media impact, the same is true on the attacks on WIV.

The timing of April 14 is interesting, as the Times article today notes that on the 7th, a meeting of the intelligence community came to the conclusion that the origin of the outbreak is unknown:

Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, has told his agencies to make a priority of determining the virus’s origin. His office convened a review of intelligence officials on April 7 to see whether the agencies could reach a consensus. The officials determined that at least so far, they could not.

Just one week later, it looks like Team B has its ducks in a row and we suddenly have John Roberts of Fox News noting the 2018 State Department cables and asking an incredibly specific question about supposedly infected WIV personnel while pushing the lab as a source:

And the same day, we have Josh Rogin, who formerly worked with Eli Lake, putting out his column hawking the cables, claiming that they show officials being concerned that lax security at WIV at that time created a huge risk for a release of a dangerous virus. But his only actual quote from the cable he says he saw was one that just talks about a shortage of trained personnel. He then grudgingly admits the cables were sent as a plea for help in getting more training for the lab.

I had missed until yesterday this terrific takedown of Rogin and his April 14 column by Max Blumenthal. Blumenthal notes that virologist Angela Rasmussen also finds the cable excerpt not to be a smoking gun:

Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist and associate research scientist at the Center of Infection and Immunity at the Columbia University School of Public Health, pointed out that the cable “argues that it’s important to continue working on bat CoVs because of their potential as human pathogens, but doesn’t suggest that there were safety issues specifically relating to WIV’s work on bat CoVs capable of using human ACE2 as a receptor.”

Ultimately, Josh Rogin was forced to admit that there was no evidence to support his insinuations, conceding in the penultimate paragraph of the article, “We don’t know whether the novel coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab.”

Of note also is that Blumenthal found Rasmussen calling out Rogin on Twitter. Among several exchanges between the two was Rasmussen asking for Rogin to release the entire cable and Rogin refusing.

And just because the Iraq parallels never end, Blumenthal also found the 2020 version of Curveball, a regime-change agitator posing as someone in possession of important technical information:

Instead of discussing issues surrounding WIV with scientific experts, Rogin attempted to bolster his claims by relying on the speculation of anonymous Trump administration officials and Xiao Qiang, an anti-Chinese government activist with a long history of US government funding.

Rogin referred to Xiao merely as a “research scientist,” dishonestly attempting to furnish academic credibility for the professional political dissident. In fact, Xiao has no expertise in any science and teaches classes on “digital activism,” “internet freedom,” and “blogging China.” Revealingly, Rogin completely omitted the real record of Xiao Qiang as an anti-Chinese government activist.

For over 20 years, Xiao has worked with and been funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the main arm of US government regime-change efforts in countries targeted by Washington. The NED has funded and trained right-wing opposition movements from Venezuela to Nicaragua to Hong Kong, where violent separatist elements spent much of 2019 agitating for an end to Chinese rule.

Xiao served as the executive director of the New York-based NGO Human Rights in China from 1991 to 2002. As a long-time grantee of the NED, he served as vice-chairman of the steering committee of the World Movement for Democracy, an international “network of networks” founded by the NED and “for which the NED serves as the secretariat.” Xiao is also the editor-in-chief of China Digital Times, a publication that he founded in 2003 and that is also funded by the NED.

It’s truly remarkable how these folks have been using the same playbook for nearly 50 years. But because tossing out bogus information and then firing up the echo chamber to repeat it endlessly has worked for them so many times, they’ll just keep doing it until we stop them or at least impose some real consequences once the truth comes out. I suppose we can take some solace in the fact that this time these actions are being called out in real time, but I still don’t hold out a lot of hope for Team B being prevented from inciting more violence before this is all over.


Shi Zhengli Provides Proof SARS CoV-2 Was Not An Accidental Release From Wuhan Institute of Virology

On Saturday, I took a deep dive into the origin of SARS CoV-2, the virus that is the cause of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. That post was the result of several long days of deep reading and thinking. Somehow, I missed that Scientific American had put out an update on Friday of their profile of Dr. Shi Zhengli, the scientist responsible for much of what the world knows about bat coronaviruses, including isolating the bat coronavirus from Yunnan Province that is the closest relative to SARS CoV-2 that has been seen in a laboratory. Even worse, commenter Zinsky linked to the Scientific American article in one of the earliest comments on my post.

I finally got around to reading the article today. As you might imagine, this editor’s note at the top really got my attention:

Editor’s Note (4/24/20): This article was originally published online on March 11. It has been updated for inclusion in the June 2020 issue of Scientific American and to address rumors that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from Shi Zhengli’s lab in China.

I strongly urge you to read the entire article. It provides an effective look into work that Shi had been doing prior to the outbreak and then takes us along with her as she gets the news on December 30 that a novel coronavirus had been detected in two patients in Wuhan with atypical pneumonia. On instruction from the lab director, Shi left the conference she was attending in Shanghai and rushed back to Wuhan to concentrate all of her attention on the new virus.

It is important to keep in mind that Shi’s career up to the SARS CoV-2 outbreak was aimed at just such an event. In fact, she and her team had warned us. From the Scientific American article:

With growing human populations increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitats, with unprecedented changes in land use, with wildlife and livestock transported across countries and their products around the world, and with sharp increases in both domestic and international travel, pandemics of new diseases are a mathematical near certainty. This had been keeping Shi and many other researchers awake at night long before the mysterious samples landed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on that ominous evening last December.

More than a year ago Shi’s team published two comprehensive reviews about coronaviruses in Viruses and Nature Reviews Microbiology. Drawing evidence from her own studies—many of which were published in top academic journals—and from others, Shi and her co-authors warned of the risk of future outbreaks of bat-borne coronaviruses.

With that as background, her actions in digging into the new virus make perfect sense for how a respected scientist engaged in work with dangerous viruses would seek the source of the outbreak.

She and her team jumped into work on the train trip back to Wuhan from the conference in Shanghai:

On the train back to Wuhan on December 30 last year, Shi and her colleagues discussed ways to immediately start testing the patients’ samples. In the following weeks—the most intense and the most stressful time of her life—China’s bat woman felt she was fighting a battle in her worst nightmare, even though it was one she had been preparing for over the past 16 years. Using a technique called polymerase chain reaction, which can detect a virus by amplifying its genetic material, the team found that samples from five of seven patients had genetic sequences present in all coronaviruses.

But here’s where the character of a person who has been dedicated to science her entire career comes out:

Shi instructed her group to repeat the tests and, at the same time, sent the samples to another facility to sequence the full viral genomes. Meanwhile she frantically went through her own lab’s records from the past few years to check for any mishandling of experimental materials, especially during disposal. Shi breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back: none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves. “That really took a load off my mind,” she says. “I had not slept a wink for days.”

Yes, months before the rumors of an accidental release from her lab started circulating, one of Shi’s very first steps was to make sure that the sequence of the virus found in patients from the wet market did not align with the sequences of any of the viruses isolated from bats that she had in her lab. She had already warned the world of the danger posed by some coronaviruses jumping from bats to humans. [Note: even though we talk about SARS CoV-2 and the bat virus RaTG13 being “closely related”, they still differ by enough that it is clear that SARS CoV-2 came from a different source than either the virus circulating in that bat population at the time it was isolated or the virus as it exists now in the lab.]

Even more importantly, she checked lab safety records and did not sleep until she could eliminate the nightmare of her lab being responsible for the outbreak.

The article goes on to detail the steps taken to confirm SARS CoV-2 as the agent for the outbreak and the use of sequencing of multiple isolates from different patients over time to indicate that it’s very likely that there was only a single introduction of the virus into humans.

Clearly, the rumors of a leak from her lab have bothered Shi, but she will not allow them to stop her:

Despite the disturbance, Shi is determined to continue her work. “The mission must go on,” she says. “What we have uncovered is just the tip of an iceberg.” She is planning to lead a national project to systematically sample viruses in bat caves, with much wider scope and intensity than previous attempts.

/snip/

“Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks,” Shi says with a tone of brooding certainty. “We must find them before they find us.”

Epilogue

In my post on Saturday, I posited that if we are to believe that the outbreak was the product of an accidental release from Wuhan Institute of Virology, we would have to claim that China has removed from the record any evidence of workers from the lab, or the family or other close contacts, being infected or dying.

Now, after the details that Shi has provided, we would have to believe that a scientist with a long history of top-notch peer reviewed research would be involved in such a lie and would further fabricate the story that none of the previous isolates in her lab match the outbreak.

A scientist of this caliber would know that such a lie would eventually be uncovered. That Shi intends to continue her work unabated is very strong evidence that she is being truthful and can rightfully proceed with a clear conscience.

Those considerations prompted me to return to the “evidence” that was presented to suggest an accidental release. Recall that in my post Saturday, I was perplexed by what looked like the outlines of an information operation. First, the specificity, out of the blue, of the question from John Roberts of Fox about an intern at the lab being infected. I still haven’t heard any others make this same suggestion, so that still stands out as suspicious.

But then I went back and looked at the Josh Rogin column from the same day, where Rogin concentrated on two State Department cables from 2018 about Wuhan Institute of Virology. Here’s the setting Rogin provided for the cables:

In January 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing took the unusual step of repeatedly sending U.S. science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which had in 2015 become China’s first laboratory to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety (known as BSL-4). WIV issued a news release in English about the last of these visits, which occurred on March 27, 2018. The U.S. delegation was led by Jamison Fouss, the consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health. Last week, WIV erased that statement from its website, though it remains archived on the Internet.

What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.

And yet, even though Rogin says he got a copy of the first cable, this is the only money quote he chose to put into his column:

“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” states the Jan. 19, 2018, cable, which was drafted by two officials from the embassy’s environment, science and health sections who met with the WIV scientists. (The State Department declined to comment on this and other details of the story.)

Rogin then adds what I think is the most important part:

The Chinese researchers at WIV were receiving assistance from the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch and other U.S. organizations, but the Chinese requested additional help. The cables argued that the United States should give the Wuhan lab further support, mainly because its research on bat coronaviruses was important but also dangerous.

Really? The scariest language that Rogin could lift from the cable warned of a “shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate”, but then he grudgingly had to note that this was in fact tied to a request from the lab for more outside assistance in getting that training. When we couple that thought with the failure, so far, of Rogin or anyone else to have actually published the full cables, I am more convinced than ever that the whole cable story is part of a coordinated information operation where Roberts asked the specific question and then Rogin took information that had been twisted inside-out from a cable asking for help with training at the lab to try to turn it into a potential whistle-blowing event.

One more bit. I did some digging. Rick Switzer, the “embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health” is not a scientist:

Rogin says the cable he saw was written by “two officials  from the embassy’s environment, science and health sections who met with the WIV scientists”. One would hope that there was at least one actual scientist among those two officials.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/sars-cov-2/