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FTR #1119 and FTR #1120 DARPA and the Covid-19 Outbreak, Part 1 and DARPA and the Covid-19 Outbreak, Part 2

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FTR #1119 This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment

FTR #1120 This pro­gram was record­ed in one,60-minute seg­ment. 

Intro­duc­tion: A thought-pro­vok­ing and dis­turb­ing arti­cle about DARPA research into bat-borne dis­eases, includ­ing some caused by coronaviruses–is set forth here. (We are sourc­ing the arti­cle from the orig­i­nal The Last Amer­i­can Vagabond blog, rather than a “far-right” blog accessed in the orig­i­nal audio file for FTR #1119.)

Whit­ney Webb has pro­vid­ed us with trou­bling insight into Pen­ta­gon research–some of which remains clas­si­fied:

  •  Into bat-borne coro­n­avirus­es. ” . . . . 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. . . . 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.’  . . . For instance, one study con­duct­ed in South­ern Chi­na in 2018 result­ed in the dis­cov­ery of 89 new ‘nov­el bat coro­n­avirus’ strains that use the same recep­tor as the coro­n­avirus known as Mid­dle East Res­pi­ra­to­ry Syn­drome (MERS). That study was joint­ly fund­ed by the Chi­nese government’s Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy, USAID — an orga­ni­za­tion long alleged to be a front for U.S. intel­li­gence, and the U.S. Nation­al Insti­tute of Health — which has col­lab­o­rat­ed with both the CIA and the Pen­ta­gon on infec­tious dis­ease and bioweapons research.. . . .”
  • At bio­log­i­cal research facil­i­ties ring­ing both Chi­na and Rus­sia. ” . . . .  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 offi­cialsthe Russ­ian gov­ern­ment and inde­pen­dent, inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Dilyana Gay­tandzhie­va as a covert U.S. bioweapons lab. . . . Anoth­er U.S. gov­ern­ment-fund­ed study that dis­cov­ered still more new strains of ‘nov­el bat coro­n­avirus’ was pub­lished just last year. Titled ‘Dis­cov­ery and Char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Nov­el Bat Coro­n­avirus Lin­eages from Kaza­khstan,’ focused on ‘the bat fau­na of cen­tral Asia, which link Chi­na to east­ern Europe’ and the nov­el bat coro­n­avirus lin­eages dis­cov­ered dur­ing the study were found to be ‘close­ly relat­ed to bat coro­n­avirus­es from Chi­na, France, Spain, and South Africa, sug­gest­ing that co-cir­cu­la­tion of coro­n­avirus­es is com­mon in mul­ti­ple bat species with over­lap­ping geo­graph­i­cal dis­tri­b­u­tions.’ In oth­er words, the coro­n­avirus­es dis­cov­ered in this study were iden­ti­fied in bat pop­u­la­tions that migrate between Chi­na and Kaza­khstan, among oth­er coun­tries, and is close­ly relat­ed to bat coro­n­avirus­es in sev­er­al coun­tries, includ­ing Chi­na. . . .”
  • Net­worked with Chi­nese research facil­i­ties in Wuhan. ” . . . . 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. . . . Duke Uni­ver­si­ty is also joint­ly part­nered with China’s Wuhan Uni­ver­si­ty, which is based in the city where the cur­rent coro­n­avirus out­break began, which result­ed in the open­ing of the Chi­na-based Duke Kun­shan Uni­ver­si­ty (DKU) in 2018. Notably, China’s Wuhan Uni­ver­si­ty — in addi­tion to its part­ner­ship with Duke — also includes a mul­ti-lab Insti­tute of Med­ical Virol­o­gy that has worked close­ly with the US Army Med­ical Research Insti­tute for Infec­tious Dis­eases since the 1980s, accord­ing to its web­site. . . . ”
  • Into the DNA of both Russ­ian and Chi­nese pop­u­la­tions. ” . . . . Since the Pen­ta­gon began ‘redesign­ing’ its poli­cies and research towards a ‘long war’ with Rus­sia and Chi­na, the Russ­ian mil­i­tary has accused the U.S. mil­i­tary of har­vest­ing DNA from Rus­sians as part of a covert bioweapon pro­gram, a charge that the Pen­ta­gon has adamant­ly denied. Major Gen­er­al Igor Kir­illov, the head of the Russ­ian military’s radi­a­tion, chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion unit who made these claims, also assert­ed that the U.S. was devel­op­ing such weapons in close prox­im­i­ty to Russ­ian and Chi­nese bor­ders. Chi­na has also accused the U.S. mil­i­tary of har­vest­ing DNA from Chi­nese cit­i­zens with ill inten­tions, such as when 200,000 Chi­nese farm­ers were used in 12 genet­ic exper­i­ments with­out informed con­sent. Those exper­i­ments had been con­duct­ed by Har­vard researchers as part of a U.S. gov­ern­ment-fund­ed project. . . .”
  • Into “gene-driving”–a biotech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment that can per­ma­nent­ly alter the genet­ic make­up of entire pop­u­la­tion groups and lead to the extinc­tion of oth­er groups. ” . . . . Con­cerns about Pen­ta­gon exper­i­ments with bio­log­i­cal weapons have gar­nered renewed media atten­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly after it was revealed in 2017 that DARPA was the top fun­der of the con­tro­ver­sial ‘gene dri­ve’ tech­nol­o­gy, which has the pow­er to per­ma­nent­ly alter the genet­ics of entire pop­u­la­tions while tar­get­ing oth­ers for extinc­tion. At least two of DARPA’s stud­ies using this con­tro­ver­sial tech­nol­o­gy were clas­si­fied and ‘focused on the poten­tial mil­i­tary appli­ca­tion of gene dri­ve tech­nol­o­gy and use of gene dri­ves in agri­cul­ture,’ accord­ing to media reports. The rev­e­la­tion came after an orga­ni­za­tion called the ETC Group obtained over 1,000 emails on the military’s inter­est in the tech­nol­o­gy as part of a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act (FOIA) request. Co-direc­tor of the ETC Group Jim Thomas said that this tech­nol­o­gy may be used as a bio­log­i­cal weapon: ‘Gene dri­ves are a pow­er­ful and dan­ger­ous new tech­nol­o­gy and poten­tial bio­log­i­cal weapons could have dis­as­trous impacts on peace, food secu­ri­ty and the envi­ron­ment, espe­cial­ly if mis­used, The fact that gene dri­ve devel­op­ment is now being pri­mar­i­ly fund­ed and struc­tured by the US mil­i­tary rais­es alarm­ing ques­tions about this entire field.’ . . . .”
  • Into over­lap­ping tech­nolo­gies man­i­fest­ing philoso­phies of eugen­ics and eth­nic cleans­ing. ” . . . . 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. . . . the U.S. Air Force pub­lished a doc­u­ment enti­tled ‘Biotech­nol­o­gy: Genet­i­cal­ly Engi­neered Pathogens,’ which con­tains the fol­low­ing pas­sage: ‘The JASON group, com­posed of aca­d­e­m­ic sci­en­tists, served as tech­ni­cal advis­ers to the U. S. gov­ern­ment. Their study gen­er­at­ed six broad class­es of genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered pathogens that could pose seri­ous threats to soci­ety. These include but are not lim­it­ed to bina­ry bio­log­i­cal weapons, design­er genes, gene ther­a­py as a weapon, stealth virus­es, host-swap­ping dis­eases, and design­er dis­eases (empha­sis added).’ . . .”
  • Into the use of “Insect Allies” to sup­pos­ed­ly pro­vide crops with pro­tec­tion against pests and disease–a tech­no­log­i­cal pro­gram crit­ics have charged masks an offen­sive bio­log­i­cal war­fare man­i­fes­ta­tion. ” . . . . 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).’ . . .”
  • Osten­si­bly aimed at pre­vent­ing pan­demics but–very possibly–masking prepa­ra­tions for offen­sive bio­log­i­cal war­fare projects. ” . . . . 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. . . . 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. . . .”
  • That is heav­i­ly net­worked with the U.S. health and med­ical infra­struc­tures. ” . . . . The sec­ond phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny that was select­ed by CEPI to devel­op a vac­cine for the new coro­n­avirus is Mod­er­na Inc., which will devel­op a vac­cine for the nov­el coro­n­avirus of con­cern in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the U.S. NIH and which will be fund­ed entire­ly by CEPI. The vac­cine in ques­tion, as opposed to Inovio’s DNA vac­cine, will be a mes­sen­ger RNA (mRNA) vac­cine. Though dif­fer­ent than a DNA vac­cine, mRNA vac­cines still use genet­ic mate­r­i­al ‘to direct the body’s cells to pro­duce intra­cel­lu­lar, mem­brane or secret­ed pro­teins.’ Moderna’s mRNA treat­ments, includ­ing its mRNA vac­cines, were large­ly devel­oped using a $25 mil­lion grant from DARPA and it often touts is strate­gic alliance with DARPA in press releas­es. . . .”
  • That is heav­i­ly net­worked with firms cho­sen to devel­op vac­cines for the Covid-19. ” . . . . the very com­pa­nies recent­ly cho­sen to devel­op a vac­cine to com­bat the coro­n­avirus out­break are them­selves strate­gic allies of DARPA. . . . For instance, the top fun­ders of Inovio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals include both DARPA and the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduc­tion Agency (DTRA) and the com­pa­ny has received mil­lions in dol­lars in grants from DARPA, includ­ing a $45 mil­lion grant to devel­op a vac­cine for Ebo­la. Inovio spe­cial­izes in the cre­ation of DNA immunother­a­pies and DNA vac­cines, which con­tain genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered DNA that caus­es the cells of the recip­i­ent to pro­duce an anti­gen and can per­ma­nent­ly alter a person’s DNA. Inovio pre­vi­ous­ly devel­oped a DNA vac­cine for the Zika virus, but — to date — no DNA vac­cine has been approved for use in humans in the Unit­ed States. Inovio was also recent­ly award­ed over $8 mil­lion from the U.S. mil­i­tary to devel­op a small, portable intra­der­mal device for deliv­er­ing DNA vac­cines joint­ly devel­oped by Inovio and USAMRIID.”
  • Into vac­cines that have not been used on human beings and that use gene-alter­ing manip­u­la­tion that alarms crit­ics. ” . . . . 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. . . . Inovio’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the U.S. mil­i­tary in regards to DNA vac­cines is noth­ing new, as their past efforts to devel­op a DNA vac­cine for both Ebo­la and Mar­burg virus were also part of what Inovio’s CEO Dr. Joseph Kim called its ‘active biode­fense pro­gram’ that has ‘gar­nered mul­ti­ple grants from the Depart­ment of Defense, Defense Threat Reduc­tion Agency (DTRA), Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases (NIAID), and oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies.’ . . . . ”
  • Involv­ing the U.S. Army Med­ical Research Insti­tute of Infec­tious Dis­eases, locat­ed at Fort Det­rick, Mary­land, a facil­i­ty that was closed down in August of 2019 by the CDC for mul­ti­ple safe­ty vio­la­tions. ” . . . . 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. . . .”
  • Into the appli­ca­tion of genet­ic engi­neer­ing in order to cre­ate eth­no-spe­cif­ic bio­log­i­cal war­fare weapons, as dis­cussed by the Project for a New Amer­i­can Cen­tu­ry. ” . . . . In what is arguably the think tank’s most con­tro­ver­sial doc­u­ment, titled ‘Rebuild­ing America’s Defens­es,’ there are a few pas­sages that open­ly dis­cuss the util­i­ty of bioweapons, includ­ing the fol­low­ing sen­tences: ‘…com­bat like­ly will take place in new dimen­sions: in space, ‘cyber-space,’ and per­haps the world of microbes…advanced forms of bio­log­i­cal war­fare that can ‘tar­get’ spe­cif­ic geno­types may trans­form bio­log­i­cal war­fare from the realm of ter­ror to a polit­i­cal­ly use­ful tool.’ . . .”

The pro­gram con­cludes with a sum­ma­ry of six pan­demics that struck Chi­na with­in a peri­od of a lit­tle less than two years. Are these con­nect­ed to the many-faceted desta­bi­liza­tion of Chi­na dis­cussed in past pro­grams and/or the research pro­grams high­light­ed in the Whit­ney Webb arti­cle?: 

. . . . In the past two years (dur­ing the trade war) Chi­na has suf­fered sev­er­al pan­demics:

  • Feb­ru­ary 15, 2018: H7N4 bird flu. Sick­ened at least 1,600 peo­ple in Chi­na and killed more than 600. Many chick­ens killed. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US poul­try prod­ucts.
  • June, 2018: H7N9 bird flu. Many chick­ens killed. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US poul­try prod­ucts.
  • August, 2018: out­break of African swine flu. Same strain as Rus­sia, from Geor­gia. Mil­lions of pigs killed. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US pork prod­ucts.
  • May 24, 2019: mas­sive infes­ta­tion of army­worms in 14 province-lev­el regions in Chi­na, which destroy most food crops. Quick­ly spread to more than 8,500 hectares of China’s grain pro­duc­tion. They pro­duce aston­ish­ing num­bers of eggs. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts – corn, soy­beans.
  • Decem­ber, 2019: Coro­n­avirus appear­ance puts China’s econ­o­my on hold.
  • Jan­u­ary, 2020:Chi­na is hit by a “high­ly path­o­gen­ic” strain of bird flu in Hunan province. Many chick­ens died, many oth­ers killed. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US poul­try prod­ucts.

 

1.  “Bats, Gene Edit­ing and Bioweapons: Rec­cent DARPA Exper­i­ments Raise Con­cerns Amid Coro­n­avirus Out­break” by Whit­ney Webb; The Last Amer­i­can Vagabond; 1/30/2020.

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 Timeswould 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 weaponsThat 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.

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.

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 offi­cialsthe 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.

THE PENTAGON IN WUHAN?

Beyond the U.S. military’s recent expen­di­tures on and inter­est in the use of bats of bioweapons, it is also worth exam­in­ing the recent stud­ies the mil­i­tary has fund­ed regard­ing bats and “nov­el coro­n­avirus­es,” such as that behind the recent out­break, that have tak­en place with­in or in close prox­im­i­ty to Chi­na.

For instance, one study con­duct­ed in South­ern Chi­na in 2018 result­ed in the dis­cov­ery of 89 new “nov­el bat coro­n­avirus” strains that use the same recep­tor as the coro­n­avirus known as Mid­dle East Res­pi­ra­to­ry Syn­drome (MERS). That study was joint­ly fund­ed by the Chi­nese government’s Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy, USAID — an orga­ni­za­tion long alleged to be a front for U.S. intel­li­gence, and the U.S. Nation­al Insti­tute of Health — which has col­lab­o­rat­ed with both the CIA and the Pen­ta­gon on infec­tious dis­ease and bioweapons research.

The authors of the study also sequenced the com­plete genomes for two of those strains and also not­ed that exist­ing MERS vac­cines would be inef­fec­tive in tar­get­ing these virus­es, lead­ing them to sug­gest that one should be devel­oped in advance. This did not occur.

Anoth­er U.S. gov­ern­ment-fund­ed study that dis­cov­ered still more new strains of “nov­el bat coro­n­avirus” was pub­lished just last year. Titled “Dis­cov­ery and Char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Nov­el Bat Coro­n­avirus Lin­eages from Kaza­khstan,” focused on “the bat fau­na of cen­tral Asia, which link Chi­na to east­ern Europe” and the nov­el bat coro­n­avirus lin­eages dis­cov­ered dur­ing the study were found to be “close­ly relat­ed to bat coro­n­avirus­es from Chi­na, France, Spain, and South Africa, sug­gest­ing that co-cir­cu­la­tion of coro­n­avirus­es is com­mon in mul­ti­ple bat species with over­lap­ping geo­graph­i­cal dis­tri­b­u­tions.” In oth­er words, the coro­n­avirus­es dis­cov­ered in this study were iden­ti­fied in bat pop­u­la­tions that migrate between Chi­na and Kaza­khstan, among oth­er coun­tries, and is close­ly relat­ed to bat coro­n­avirus­es in sev­er­al coun­tries, includ­ing Chi­na.

The study was entire­ly fund­ed by the U.S. Depart­ment of Defense, specif­i­cal­ly the Defense Threat Reduc­tion Agency (DTRA) as part of a project inves­ti­gat­ing coro­n­avirus­es sim­i­lar to MERS, such as the afore­men­tioned 2018 study. Yet, beyond the fund­ing of this 2019 study, the insti­tu­tions involved in con­duct­ing this study are also worth not­ing giv­en their own close ties to the U.S. mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment.

The study’s authors are affil­i­at­ed with either the Kaza­khstan-based Research Insti­tute for Bio­log­i­cal Safe­ty Prob­lems and/or Duke Uni­ver­si­ty. The Research Insti­tute for Bio­log­i­cal Safe­ty Prob­lems, though offi­cial­ly a part of Kazakhstan’s Nation­al Cen­ter for Biotech­nol­o­gy, has received mil­lions from the U.S. gov­ern­ment, most of it com­ing from the Pentagon’s Coop­er­a­tive Threat Reduc­tion Pro­gram. It is the Kaza­khstan government’s offi­cial depos­i­to­ry of “high­ly dan­ger­ous ani­mal and bird infec­tions, with a col­lec­tion of 278 path­o­gen­ic strains of 46 infec­tious dis­eases.” It is part of a net­work of Pen­ta­gon-fund­ed “bioweapons labs” through­out the Cen­tral Asian coun­try, which bor­ders both of the U.S.’ top rival states — Chi­na and Rus­sia.

Duke University’s involve­ment with this study is also inter­est­ing giv­en that Duke is a key part­ner of DARPA’s Pan­dem­ic Pre­ven­tion Plat­form (P3) pro­gram, which offi­cial­ly aims “to dra­mat­i­cal­ly accel­er­ate dis­cov­ery, inte­gra­tion, pre-clin­i­cal test­ing, and man­u­fac­tur­ing of med­ical coun­ter­mea­sures against infec­tious dis­eases.” The first step of the Duke/DARPA pro­gram involves the dis­cov­ery of poten­tial­ly threat­en­ing virus­es and “develop[ing] meth­ods to sup­port viral prop­a­ga­tion, so that virus can be used for down­stream stud­ies.”

Duke Uni­ver­si­ty is also joint­ly part­nered with China’s Wuhan Uni­ver­si­ty, which is based in the city where the cur­rent coro­n­avirus out­break began, which result­ed in the open­ing of the Chi­na-based Duke Kun­shan Uni­ver­si­ty (DKU) in 2018. Notably, China’s Wuhan Uni­ver­si­ty — in addi­tion to its part­ner­ship with Duke — also includes a mul­ti-lab Insti­tute of Med­ical Virol­o­gy that has worked close­ly with the US Army Med­ical Research Insti­tute for Infec­tious Dis­eases since the 1980s, accord­ing to its web­site. As pre­vi­ous­ly not­ed, the USAMRIID facil­i­ty in the U.S. was shut down last July for fail­ures to abide by biosafe­ty and prop­er waste dis­pos­al pro­ce­dures, but was allowed to par­tial­ly resume some exper­i­ments late last Novem­ber.

THE PENTAGON’S DARK HISTORY OF GERM WARFARE

The U.S. mil­i­tary has a trou­bling past of hav­ing used dis­ease as a weapon dur­ing times of war. One exam­ple involved the U.S.’ use of germ war­fare dur­ing the Kore­an War, when it tar­get­ed both North Korea and Chi­na by drop­ping dis­eased insects and voles car­ry­ing a vari­ety of pathogens — includ­ing bubon­ic plague and hem­or­rhag­ic fever — from planes in the mid­dle of the night. Despite the moun­tain of evi­dence and the tes­ti­mo­ny of U.S. sol­diers involved in that pro­gram, the U.S. gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary denied the claims and ordered the destruc­tion of rel­e­vant doc­u­men­ta­tion.

In the post World War II era, oth­er exam­ples of U.S. research aimed at devel­op­ing bio­log­i­cal weapons have emerged, some of which have recent­ly received media atten­tion. One such exam­ple occurred this past July, when the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives demand­ed infor­ma­tion from the U.S. mil­i­tary on its past efforts to weaponize insects and Lyme dis­ease between 1950 and 1975.

The U.S. has claimed that it has not pur­sued offen­sive bio­log­i­cal weapons since 1969 and this has been fur­ther sup­port­ed by the U.S.’ rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Bio­log­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion (BWC), which went into effect in 1975. How­ev­er, there is exten­sive evi­dence that the U.S. has con­tin­ued to covert­ly research and devel­op such weapons in the years since, much of it con­duct­ed abroad and out­sourced to pri­vate com­pa­nies, yet still fund­ed by the U.S. mil­i­tary. Sev­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors, includ­ing Dilyana Gay­tandzhie­va, have doc­u­ment­ed how the U.S. pro­duces dead­ly virus­es, bac­te­ria and oth­er tox­ins at facil­i­ties out­side of the U.S. — many of them in East­ern Europe, Africa and South Asia — in clear vio­la­tion of the BWC.

Aside from the military’s own research, the con­tro­ver­sial neo­con­ser­v­a­tive think tank, the now defunct Project for a New Amer­i­can Cen­tu­ry (PNAC), open­ly pro­mot­ed the use of a race-spe­cif­ic genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied bioweapon as a “polit­i­cal­ly use­ful tool.” In what is arguably the think tank’s most con­tro­ver­sial doc­u­ment, titled “Rebuild­ing America’s Defens­es,” there are a few pas­sages that open­ly dis­cuss the util­i­ty of bioweapons, includ­ing the fol­low­ing sen­tences:

“…com­bat like­ly will take place in new dimen­sions: in space, “cyber-space,” and per­haps the world of microbes…advanced forms of bio­log­i­cal war­fare that can “tar­get” spe­cif­ic geno­types may trans­form bio­log­i­cal war­fare from the realm of ter­ror to a polit­i­cal­ly use­ful tool.”

Though numer­ous mem­bers of PNAC were promi­nent in the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion, many of its more con­tro­ver­sial mem­bers have again risen to polit­i­cal promi­nence in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

Sev­er­al years after “Rebuild­ing America’s Defens­es” was pub­lished, the U.S. Air Force pub­lished a doc­u­ment enti­tled “Biotech­nol­o­gy: Genet­i­cal­ly Engi­neered Pathogens,” which con­tains the fol­low­ing pas­sage:

“The JASON group, com­posed of aca­d­e­m­ic sci­en­tists, served as tech­ni­cal advis­ers to the U. S. gov­ern­ment. Their study gen­er­at­ed six broad class­es of genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered pathogens that could pose seri­ous threats to soci­ety. These include but are not lim­it­ed to bina­ry bio­log­i­cal weapons, design­er genes, gene ther­a­py as a weapon, stealth virus­es, host-swap­ping dis­eases, and design­er dis­eases (empha­sis added).”

Con­cerns about Pen­ta­gon exper­i­ments with bio­log­i­cal weapons have gar­nered renewed media atten­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly after it was revealed in 2017 that DARPA was the top fun­der of the con­tro­ver­sial “gene dri­ve” tech­nol­o­gy, which has the pow­er to per­ma­nent­ly alter the genet­ics of entire pop­u­la­tions while tar­get­ing oth­ers for extinc­tion. At least two of DARPA’s stud­ies using this con­tro­ver­sial tech­nol­o­gy were clas­si­fied and “focused on the poten­tial mil­i­tary appli­ca­tion of gene dri­ve tech­nol­o­gy and use of gene dri­ves in agri­cul­ture,” accord­ing to media reports.

The rev­e­la­tion came after an orga­ni­za­tion called the ETC Group obtained over 1,000 emails on the military’s inter­est in the tech­nol­o­gy as part of a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act (FOIA) request. Co-direc­tor of the ETC Group Jim Thomas said that this tech­nol­o­gy may be used as a bio­log­i­cal weapon:

“Gene dri­ves are a pow­er­ful and dan­ger­ous new tech­nol­o­gy and poten­tial bio­log­i­cal weapons could have dis­as­trous impacts on peace, food secu­ri­ty and the envi­ron­ment, espe­cial­ly if mis­used, The fact that gene dri­ve devel­op­ment is now being pri­mar­i­ly fund­ed and struc­tured by the US mil­i­tary rais­es alarm­ing ques­tions about this entire field.”

Though the exact moti­va­tion behind the military’s inter­est in such tech­nol­o­gy is unknown, the Pen­ta­gon has been open about the fact that it is devot­ing much of its resources towards the con­tain­ment of what it con­sid­ers the two great­est threats to U.S. mil­i­tary hege­mo­ny: Rus­sia and Chi­na. Chi­na has been cit­ed as the great­est threat of the two by sev­er­al Pen­ta­gon offi­cials, includ­ing John Rood, the Pentagon’s top advis­er for defense pol­i­cy, who described Chi­na as the great­est threat to “our way of life in the Unit­ed States” at the Aspen Secu­ri­ty Forum last July.

Since the Pen­ta­gon began “redesign­ing” its poli­cies and research towards a “long war” with Rus­sia and Chi­na, the Russ­ian mil­i­tary has accused the U.S. mil­i­tary of har­vest­ing DNA from Rus­sians as part of a covert bioweapon pro­gram, a charge that the Pen­ta­gon has adamant­ly denied. Major Gen­er­al Igor Kir­illov, the head of the Russ­ian military’s radi­a­tion, chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion unit who made these claims, also assert­ed that the U.S. was devel­op­ing such weapons in close prox­im­i­ty to Russ­ian and Chi­nese bor­ders. 

Chi­na has also accused the U.S. mil­i­tary of har­vest­ing DNA from Chi­nese cit­i­zens with ill inten­tions, such as when 200,000 Chi­nese farm­ers were used in 12 genet­ic exper­i­ments with­out informed con­sent. Those exper­i­ments had been con­duct­ed by Har­vard researchers as part of a U.S. gov­ern­ment-fund­ed project.

Darpa and Its Part­ners Cho­sen to Devel­op Coro­n­avirus Vac­cine

Last Thurs­day, the Coali­tion for Epi­dem­ic Pre­pared­ness Inno­va­tions (CEPI) announced that it would fund three sep­a­rate pro­grams in order to pro­mote the devel­op­ment of a vac­cine for the new coro­n­avirus respon­si­ble for the cur­rent out­break.

CEPI — which describes itself as “a part­ner­ship of pub­lic, pri­vate, phil­an­thropic and civ­il orga­ni­za­tions that will finance and co-ordi­nate the devel­op­ment of vac­cines against high pri­or­i­ty pub­lic health threats” — was found­ed in 2017 by the gov­ern­ments of Nor­way and India along with the World Eco­nom­ic Forum and the Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion. Its mas­sive fund­ing and close con­nec­tions to pub­lic, pri­vate and non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions have posi­tioned it to be able to finance the rapid cre­ation of vac­cines and wide­ly dis­trib­ute them.

CEPI’s recent announce­ment revealed that it would fund two phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies — Inovio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and Mod­er­na Inc. — as well as Australia’s Uni­ver­si­ty of Queens­land, which became a part­ner of CEPI ear­ly last year. Notably, the two phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies cho­sen have close ties to and/or strate­gic part­ner­ships with DARPA and are devel­op­ing vac­cines that con­tro­ver­sial­ly involve genet­ic mate­r­i­al and/or gene edit­ing. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Queens­land also has ties to DARPA, but those ties are not relat­ed to the university’s biotech­nol­o­gy research, but instead engi­neer­ing and mis­sile devel­op­ment.

For instance, the top fun­ders of Inovio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals include both DARPA and the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduc­tion Agency (DTRA) and the com­pa­ny has received mil­lions in dol­lars in grants from DARPA, includ­ing a $45 mil­lion grant to devel­op a vac­cine for Ebo­la. Inovio spe­cial­izes in the cre­ation of DNA immunother­a­pies and DNA vac­cines, which con­tain genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered DNA that caus­es the cells of the recip­i­ent to pro­duce an anti­gen and can per­ma­nent­ly alter a person’s DNA. Inovio pre­vi­ous­ly devel­oped a DNA vac­cine for the Zika virus, but — to date — no DNA vac­cine has been approved for use in humans in the Unit­ed States. Inovio was also recent­ly award­ed over $8 mil­lion from the U.S. mil­i­tary to devel­op a small, portable intra­der­mal device for deliv­er­ing DNA vac­cines joint­ly devel­oped by Inovio and USAMRIID.

How­ev­er, the CEPI grant to com­bat coro­n­avirus may change that, as it specif­i­cal­ly funds Inovio’s efforts to con­tin­ue devel­op­ing its DNA vac­cine for the coro­n­avirus that caus­es MERS. Inovio’s MERS vac­cine pro­gram began in 2018 in part­ner­ship with CEPI in a deal worth $56 mil­lion. The vac­cine cur­rent­ly under devel­op­ment uses“Inovio’s DNA Med­i­cines plat­form to deliv­er opti­mized syn­thet­ic anti­genic genes into cells, where they are trans­lat­ed into pro­tein anti­gens that acti­vate an individual’s immune sys­tem” and the pro­gram is part­nered with U.S. Army Med­ical Research Insti­tute of Infec­tious Dis­eases (USAMRIID) and the NIH, among oth­ers. That pro­gram is cur­rent­ly under­go­ing test­ing in the Mid­dle East.

Inovio’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the U.S. mil­i­tary in regards to DNA vac­cines is noth­ing new, as their past efforts to devel­op a DNA vac­cine for both Ebo­la and Mar­burg virus were also part of what Inovio’s CEO Dr. Joseph Kim called its “active biode­fense pro­gram” that has “gar­nered mul­ti­ple grants from the Depart­ment of Defense, Defense Threat Reduc­tion Agency (DTRA), Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases (NIAID), and oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies.”

CEPI’s inter­est in increas­ing its sup­port to this MERS-spe­cif­ic pro­gram seems at odds with its claim that doing so will com­bat the cur­rent coro­n­avirus out­break, since MERS and the nov­el coro­n­avirus in ques­tion are not anal­o­gous and treat­ments for cer­tain coro­n­avirus­es have been shown to be inef­fec­tive against oth­er strains.

It is also worth not­ing that Inovio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals was the only com­pa­ny select­ed by CEPI with direct access to the Chi­nese phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal mar­ket through its part­ner­ship with China’s Apol­lo­Bio Corp., which cur­rent­ly has an exclu­sive license to sell Inovio-made DNA immunother­a­py prod­ucts to Chi­nese cus­tomers.

The sec­ond phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny that was select­ed by CEPI to devel­op a vac­cine for the new coro­n­avirus is Mod­er­na Inc., which will devel­op a vac­cine for the nov­el coro­n­avirus of con­cern in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the U.S. NIH and which will be fund­ed entire­ly by CEPI. The vac­cine in ques­tion, as opposed to Inovio’s DNA vac­cine, will be a mes­sen­ger RNA (mRNA) vac­cine. Though dif­fer­ent than a DNA vac­cine, mRNA vac­cines still use genet­ic mate­r­i­al “to direct the body’s cells to pro­duce intra­cel­lu­lar, mem­brane or secret­ed pro­teins.”

Moderna’s mRNA treat­ments, includ­ing its mRNA vac­cines, were large­ly devel­oped using a $25 mil­lion grant from DARPA and it often touts is strate­gic alliance with DARPA in press releas­es. Moderna’s past and ongo­ing research efforts have includ­ed devel­op­ing mRNA vac­cines tai­lored to an individual’s unique DNA as well as an unsuc­cess­ful effort to cre­ate a mRNA vac­cine for the Zika Virus, which was fund­ed by the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

Both DNA and mRNA vac­cines involve the intro­duc­tion of for­eign and engi­neered genet­ic mate­r­i­al into a person’s cells and past stud­ies have found that such vac­cines “pos­sess sig­nif­i­cant unpre­dictabil­i­ty and a num­ber of inher­ent harm­ful poten­tial haz­ards” and that “there is inad­e­quate knowl­edge to define either the prob­a­bil­i­ty of unin­tend­ed events or the con­se­quences of genet­ic mod­i­fi­ca­tions.” Nonethe­less, the cli­mate of fear sur­round­ing the coro­n­avirus out­break could be enough for the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor to devel­op and dis­trib­ute such con­tro­ver­sial treat­ments due to fear about the epi­dem­ic poten­tial of the cur­rent out­break.

How­ev­er, the ther­a­pies being devel­oped by Inovio, Mod­ern and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Queens­land are in align­ment with DARPA’s objec­tives regard­ing gene edit­ing and vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy. For instance, in 2015, DARPA geneti­cist Col. Daniel Wat­ten­dorf described how the agency was inves­ti­gat­ing a “new method of vac­cine pro­duc­tion [that] would involve giv­ing the body instruc­tions for mak­ing cer­tain anti­bod­ies. Because the body would be its own biore­ac­tor, the vac­cine could be pro­duced much faster than tra­di­tion­al meth­ods and the result would be a high­er lev­el of pro­tec­tion.”

Accord­ing to media reports on Wattendorf’s state­ments at the time, the vac­cine would be devel­oped as fol­lows:

“Sci­en­tists would har­vest viral anti­bod­ies from some­one who has recov­ered from a dis­ease such as flu or Ebo­la. After test­ing the anti­bod­ies’ abil­i­ty to neu­tral­ize virus­es in a petri dish, they would iso­late the most effec­tive one, deter­mine the genes need­ed to make that anti­body, and then encode many copies of those genes into a cir­cu­lar snip­pet of genet­ic mate­r­i­al — either DNA or RNA, that the person’s body would then use as a cook­book to assem­ble the anti­body.”

Though Wat­ten­dorf assert­ed that the effects of those vac­cines wouldn’t be per­ma­nent, DARPA has since been pro­mot­ing per­ma­nent gene mod­i­fi­ca­tions as a means of pro­tect­ing U.S. troops from bio­log­i­cal weapons and infec­tious dis­ease. “Why is DARPA doing this? [To] pro­tect a sol­dier on the bat­tle­field from chem­i­cal weapons and bio­log­i­cal weapons by con­trol­ling their genome — hav­ing the genome pro­duce pro­teins that would auto­mat­i­cal­ly pro­tect the sol­dier from the inside out,” then-DARPA direc­tor Steve Walk­er (now with Lock­heed Mar­tin) said this past Sep­tem­ber of the project, known as “Safe Genes.”

Con­clu­sion

Research con­duct­ed by the Pen­ta­gon, and DARPA specif­i­cal­ly, has con­tin­u­al­ly raised con­cerns, not just in the field of bioweapons and biotech­nol­o­gy, but also in the fields of nan­otech­nol­o­gy, robot­ics and sev­er­al oth­ers. DARPA, for instance, has been devel­op­ing a series of unset­tling research projects that ranges from microchips that can cre­ate and delete mem­o­ries from the human brain to vot­ing machine soft­ware that is rife with prob­lems.

Now, as fear regard­ing the cur­rent coro­n­avirus out­break begins to peak, com­pa­nies with direct ties to DARPA have been tasked with devel­op­ing its vac­cine, the long-term human and envi­ron­men­tal impacts of which are unknown and will remain unknown by the time the vac­cine is expect­ed to go to mar­ket in a few weeks time.

Fur­ther­more, DARPA and the Pentagon’s past his­to­ry with bioweapons and their more recent exper­i­ments on genet­ic alter­ation and extinc­tion tech­nolo­gies as well as bats and coro­n­avirus­es in prox­im­i­ty to Chi­na have been large­ly left out of the nar­ra­tive, despite the infor­ma­tion being pub­licly avail­able. Also left out of the media nar­ra­tive have been the direct ties of both the USAMRIID and DARPA-part­nered Duke Uni­ver­si­ty to the city of Wuhan, includ­ing its Insti­tute of Med­ical Virol­o­gy.

Though much about the ori­gins of the coro­n­avirus out­break remains unknown, the U.S. military’s ties to the afore­men­tioned research stud­ies and research insti­tu­tions are worth detail­ing as such research — while jus­ti­fied in the name of “nation­al secu­ri­ty” — has the fright­en­ing poten­tial to result in unin­tend­ed, yet world-alter­ing con­se­quences. The lack of trans­paren­cy about this research, such as DARPA’s deci­sion to clas­si­fy its con­tro­ver­sial genet­ic extinc­tion research and the technology’s use as a weapon of war, com­pounds these con­cerns. While it is impor­tant to avoid reck­less spec­u­la­tion as much as pos­si­ble, it is the opin­ion of this author that the infor­ma­tion in this report is in the pub­lic inter­est and that read­ers should use this infor­ma­tion to reach their own con­clu­sions about the top­ics dis­cussed here­in.

2. The pro­gram con­cludes with a sum­ma­ry of six pan­demics that struck Chi­na with­in a peri­od of a lit­tle less than two years. Are these con­nect­ed to the many-faceted desta­bi­liza­tion of Chi­na dis­cussed in past pro­grams and/or the research pro­grams high­light­ed in the Whit­ney Webb arti­cle?: 

“Chi­na’s Coro­n­avirus: A Shock­ing Update. Did the Virus Orig­i­nate in the U.S.?” by Lar­ry Romanoff; Glob­al Research; 3/04/2020.

. . . . In the past two years (dur­ing the trade war) Chi­na has suf­fered sev­er­al pan­demics:

  • Feb­ru­ary 15, 2018: H7N4 bird flu. Sick­ened at least 1,600 peo­ple in Chi­na and killed more than 600. Many chick­ens killed. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US poul­try prod­ucts.
  • June, 2018: H7N9 bird flu. Many chick­ens killed. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US poul­try prod­ucts.
  • August, 2018: out­break of African swine flu. Same strain as Rus­sia, from Geor­gia. Mil­lions of pigs killed. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US pork prod­ucts.
  • May 24, 2019: mas­sive infes­ta­tion of army­worms in 14 province-lev­el regions in Chi­na, which destroy most food crops. Quick­ly spread to more than 8,500 hectares of China’s grain pro­duc­tion. They pro­duce aston­ish­ing num­bers of eggs. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts – corn, soy­beans.
  • Decem­ber, 2019: Coro­n­avirus appear­ance puts China’s econ­o­my on hold.
  • Jan­u­ary, 2020:Chi­na is hit by a “high­ly path­o­gen­ic” strain of bird flu in Hunan province. Many chick­ens died, many oth­ers killed. Chi­na needs to pur­chase US poul­try prod­ucts.

Discussion

One comment for “FTR #1119 and FTR #1120 DARPA and the Covid-19 Outbreak, Part 1 and DARPA and the Covid-19 Outbreak, Part 2”

  1. Here’s a a New York Times arti­cle from 2015 that touch­es upon the top­ics of DNA-based vac­cines ref­er­enced in Whit­ney Web­b’s arti­cle about DARPA exper­i­ments and bioweapons. The arti­cle describes the emerg­ing new approach for vac­ci­na­tions called immuno­pro­phy­lax­is by gene trans­fer, or I.G.T., that are being devel­oped in part­ner­ship with the US’s Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health (NIH). The tech­nique involves basi­cal­ly cre­at­ing a retro­virus that encodes for anti­bod­ies, inject­ing that virus into the mus­cles of indi­vid­u­als, and allow­ing the virus to incor­po­rate its DNA into the genome of those mus­cle cells. The incor­po­rat­ed DNA results in those select­ed anti­bod­ies being cre­at­ed by the mus­cles. Per­ma­nent­ly. Or at least as long as those mus­cle cells live (skele­tal mus­cles cells live 10–16 years). It’s a poten­tial­ly pow­er­ful approach to vac­cines but it’s also obvi­ous­ly going to cause alarm since it involves inject­ing new DNA into the genomes of some­one’s cells. The hope is that this tech­nol­o­gy could avoid some of the com­pli­ca­tions found with devel­op­ing vac­cines for virus­es that come in a wide vari­ety of strains and have defied tra­di­tion­al vac­cine approach­es, like HIV. Instead of expos­ing the body’s immune sys­tem to a virus and hop­ing that prompts the body to cre­ate the required anti­bod­ies and con­fer immu­ni­ty for the indi­vid­ual as is the case with tra­di­tion­al vac­cines, thie I.G.T. approach allows the intro­duc­tion of pow­er­ful anti­bod­ies that are known to act against a broad array of viral strains. The idea for I.G.T. was report­ed­ly devel­oped by researchers work­ing on an HIV vac­cine who dis­cov­ered these pow­er­ful anti­bod­ies that could work against a vari­ety of HIV strains. So the hope is that sim­i­lar tech­niques can be applied to oth­er viral dis­eases.

    Now, it’s impor­tant to note that we’re not talk­ing about alter­ing the DNA of every sin­gle cell in some­one’s body using this I.G.T. tech­nique. It should just be the mus­cle cells that the virus is inject­ed into (or what­ev­er tis­sue). So these mod­i­fi­ca­tions should­n’t, in the­o­ry, be passed along to chil­dren and per­ma­nent­ly alter the DNA of the pop­u­la­tion. That would required alter­ing the DNA of men’s testis and/or the eggs in wom­en’s ovaries. Still, those mod­i­fied mus­cle cells are going to be gen­er­at­ing the new pro­teins that can get dis­trib­uted in the blood­stream through­out the body so it’s not like this isn’t a tech­nol­o­gy with plen­ty of scary sci-fi dystopia poten­tial if abused. That’s the key fac­tor here, as with all tech­nol­o­gy: it’s poten­tial­ly pow­er­ful and wondrous...but it also obvi­ous­ly could be abused and be extreme­ly pow­er­ful of abused. Imag­ine releas­ing an infec­tious retro­virus with a design­er DNA pay­load.

    And since we’re talk­ing about a tech­nol­o­gy that would pre­sum­ably be on vir­tu­al­ly every­one, poten­tial­ly at a very young age, it’s also the kind of tech­nol­o­gy where mis­takes could be poten­tial­ly dis­as­trous, as is already the case with tra­di­tion­al vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy. Now, in the­o­ry, if we dis­cov­ered that the gene insert­ed by the I.G.T ther­a­py has unknown side-effects and we want to remove that insert­ed gene that should be even­tu­al­ly pos­si­ble, espe­cial­ly with the emer­gence of CRISPR tech­nol­o­gy. And as we’ll see in the arti­cle below, the researchers work­ing on this I.G.T. tech­nol­o­gy are also inves­ti­ga­tion how to uti­lize the reg­u­la­to­ry mech­a­nisms of mus­cles cells to either mod­i­fy the dosage lev­el of the expressed anti­body or even shut it off entire­ly.
    It’s also impor­tant to note that while Web­b’s arti­cle talks about DARPA pro­grams done with com­pa­nies like Inovio to devel­op vac­cines that can per­ma­nent­ly alter a per­son­’s DNA, the par­tic­u­lar vac­cine Inovio is report­ed­ly devel­op­ing for use against the COVID-19 virus — the INO-4800 vac­cine — is indeed a DNA vac­cine but it does­n’t appear to be the type of DNA vac­cine that per­ma­nent­ly alters some­one’s DNA. Instead, it relies on cre­at­ing plas­mids — enclosed rings of DNA — with the desired anti­body genes and inject­ing them into cells. Like with the I.G.T. method, the genes encod­ed in those plas­mids will, in the­o­ry, get expressed by the cells and pro­duce the desired anti­body (or the desired pro­tein that con­tains pieces of a virus that spark an immune response). But the nov­el genes aren’t actu­al­ly incor­po­rat­ed into the genomes of those cells. Even­tu­al­ly the plas­mid will be degrad­ed by the cell and that will be the end of the nov­el gene pro­duc­tion for that cell. So plas­mid-based DNA vac­cines are like a tem­po­rary addi­tion of a new set of genes to cells.

    Sim­i­lar­ly, the mRNA vac­cines being devel­oped, like the COVID-19 vac­cine Mod­er­na is plan­ning on test­ing on humans, should only cause cells to tem­porar­i­ly gen­er­ate the genes encod­ed by the mRNA vac­cine. And those genes encod­ed by the mRNA vac­cine are typ­i­cal­ly going to be genes for the pro­tein that con­tains the tar­get viral anti­gen (the piece of the virus that gets rec­og­nized by the immune sys­tem and trig­gers an immune response), so mRNA vac­cines are much more like tra­di­tion­al vac­cines. The mRNA vac­cines are by far the least con­tro­ver­sial tech­nol­o­gy in this emerg­ing area sim­ply because they are going to be even more tran­sient than the plas­mids. Of course, some­one could in the­o­ry cre­ate an mRNA vac­cine or DNA plas­mid that encodes the genes that do actu­al­ly incor­po­rate the insert­ed genet­ic infor­ma­tion into a cel­l’s genome, effec­tive­ly turn­ing them into I.G.T. treat­ments. So these tech­nolo­gies aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly only going to func­tion tem­porar­i­ly inside a cell. If some­one want­ed to make them per­ma­nent they pre­sum­ably could do so, but it would at least be detectable since the mRNA or plas­mid would have to con­tain the genes for incor­po­rat­ing the pay­load into a cel­l’s genome. It could­n’t real­ly done in secret (although that secret might only be dis­cov­ered after the fact).

    Thus far, there don’t appear to be calls for using I.G.T. tech­nol­o­gy on COVID-19. That’s not a sur­prise. It’s still very new tech­nol­o­gy and inevitably far more con­tro­ver­sial than the plas­mid-based DNA or mRNA vac­cines. But it’s only a mat­ter of time before I.G.T. tech­nol­o­gy becomes a read­i­ly avail­able option for future pan­demics. And don’t for­get that key fea­ture of this tech­nol­o­gy that’s going to make it par­tic­u­lar­ly appeal­ing for deal­ing with nov­el viral out­breaks: the abil­i­ty to intro­duce anti­bod­ies known to be broad­ly effec­tive against a wide range of virus­es. That is pre­cise­ly what is required to deal with nov­el virus­es and some­thing tra­di­tion­al vac­cines can’t do. So this kind of tech­nol­o­gy that intro­duces nov­el genes is kind of tai­lor made for deal­ing with not just this cur­rent COVID-19 out­break but future out­breaks. Imag­ine if COVID-19 starts aggres­sive­ly mutat­ing and dif­fer­ent new strains show up year after year. That’s the kind of sit­u­a­tion where a broad­ly tar­get­ing anti­body would be ide­al. So we real­ly should expect this tech­nol­o­gy to be deployed at some point, espe­cial­ly now that the globe is going to have PTSD from the COVID-19 civ­i­liza­tion­al lock­down. Peo­ple are going to be A LOT more amenable to I.G.T. approach­es to address­ing inevitable future pan­demics once this is over. So we had bet­ter start col­lec­tive­ly think­ing about the poten­tial costs and ben­e­fits of this tech­nol­o­gy now because oth­er­wise it’s prob­a­bly going to get rolled out to the mass­es dur­ing some future pan­dem­ic pan­ic:

    The New York Times

    Pro­tec­tion With­out a Vac­cine

    By Carl Zim­mer
    March 9, 2015

    Last month, a team of sci­en­tists announced what could prove to be an enor­mous step for­ward in the fight against H.I.V.

    Sci­en­tists at Scripps Research Insti­tute said they had devel­oped an arti­fi­cial anti­body that, once in the blood, grabbed hold of the virus and inac­ti­vat­ed it. The mol­e­cule can elim­i­nate H.I.V. from infect­ed mon­keys and pro­tect them from future infec­tions.

    But this treat­ment is not a vac­cine, not in any ordi­nary sense. By deliv­er­ing syn­thet­ic genes into the mus­cles of the mon­keys, the sci­en­tists are essen­tial­ly re-engi­neer­ing the ani­mals to resist dis­ease. Researchers are test­ing this nov­el approach not just against H.I.V., but also Ebo­la, malar­ia, influen­za and hepati­tis.

    “The sky’s the lim­it,” said Michael Farzan, an immu­nol­o­gist at Scripps and lead author of the new study.

    Dr. Farzan and oth­er sci­en­tists are increas­ing­ly hope­ful that this tech­nique may be able to pro­vide long-term pro­tec­tion against dis­eases for which vac­cines have failed. The first human tri­al based on this strat­e­gy — called immuno­pro­phy­lax­is by gene trans­fer, or I.G.T. — is under­way, and sev­er­al new ones are planned.

    “It could rev­o­lu­tion­ize the way we immu­nize against pub­lic health threats in the future,” said Dr. Gary J. Nabel, the chief sci­en­tif­ic offi­cer of Sanofi, a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny that pro­duces a wide range of vac­cines.

    Whether I.G.T. will suc­ceed is still an open ques­tion. Researchers still need to gauge its safe­ty and effec­tive­ness in humans. And the prospect of genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer­ing peo­ple to resist infec­tious dis­eases may raise con­cerns among patients.

    “The real­i­ty is we are touch­ing third rails, and so it’s going to take some expla­na­tion,” said Dr. David Bal­ti­more, a Nobel Prize recip­i­ent and virol­o­gist at Cal­tech who is test­ing I.G.T. against a num­ber of dis­eases.

    Con­ven­tion­al vac­cines prompt the immune sys­tem to learn how to make anti­bod­ies by intro­duc­ing it to weak­ened or dead pathogens, or even just their mol­e­c­u­lar frag­ments. Our immune cells pro­duce a range of anti­bod­ies, some of which can fight these infec­tions.

    ...

    But against oth­er dis­eases, con­ven­tion­al vac­cines often fail to pro­duce effec­tive anti­bod­ies. H.I.V., for exam­ple, comes in so many dif­fer­ent strains that a vac­cine that can pro­tect against one will not work against oth­ers.

    I.G.T. is alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent from tra­di­tion­al vac­ci­na­tion. It is instead a form of gene ther­a­py. Sci­en­tists iso­late the genes that pro­duce pow­er­ful anti­bod­ies against cer­tain dis­eases and then syn­the­size arti­fi­cial ver­sions. The genes are placed into virus­es and inject­ed into human tis­sue, usu­al­ly mus­cle.

    The virus­es invade human cells with their DNA pay­loads, and the syn­thet­ic gene is incor­po­rat­ed into the recipient’s own DNA. If all goes well, the new genes instruct the cells to begin man­u­fac­tur­ing pow­er­ful anti­bod­ies.

    The idea for I.G.T. emerged dur­ing the fight against H.I.V. In a few peo­ple, it turned out, some anti­bod­ies against H.I.V. turn out to be extreme­ly potent. So-called broad­ly neu­tral­iz­ing anti­bod­ies can latch onto many dif­fer­ent strains of the virus and keep them from infect­ing new cells.

    Dr. Philip R. John­son, chief sci­en­tif­ic offi­cer of The Children’s Hos­pi­tal of Philadel­phia and a virol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, had an idea: Why not try to give broad­ly neu­tral­iz­ing anti­bod­ies to every­body?

    At the time, Dr. John­son and oth­er researchers were exper­i­ment­ing with gene ther­a­py for dis­or­ders like hemo­phil­ia. Researchers had fig­ured out how to load genes into virus­es and per­suade them to invade cells, and it occurred to Dr. John­son that he might be able to use this strat­e­gy to intro­duce the gene for a pow­er­ful anti­body into a patient’s cells.

    After the cells began pro­duc­ing anti­bod­ies, the patient in effect would be “vac­ci­nat­ed” against a dis­ease.

    The idea rep­re­sent­ed a rad­i­cal new direc­tion for gene ther­a­py. Until then, researchers had focused on cur­ing genet­ic dis­or­ders by pro­vid­ing work­ing ver­sions of defec­tive genes. I.G.T., on the oth­er hand, would pro­tect healthy peo­ple from infec­tious dis­eases.

    And there was no guar­an­tee that it would suc­ceed. For one thing, the best virus Dr. John­son had for deliv­er­ing genes worked only to invade mus­cle cells — which nor­mal­ly would nev­er make anti­bod­ies.

    In 2009, Dr. John­son and his col­leagues announced that the approach worked after all. In their exper­i­ment, they sought to pro­tect mon­keys from S.I.V., a pri­mate ver­sion of H.I.V. To do so, they used virus­es to deliv­er pow­er­ful genes to the mon­keys’ mus­cles.

    The mus­cle cells pro­duced S.I.V. anti­bod­ies, as Dr. John­son and his col­leagues had hoped. Then they infect­ed the mon­keys with S.I.V. The mon­keys pro­duced enough anti­bod­ies in their mus­cles to pro­tect them from S.I.V. infec­tions, the sci­en­tists found. With­out the I.G.T. pro­ce­dure, mon­keys dosed with the virus died.

    Dr. Johnson’s study per­suad­ed Dr. Farzan that I.G.T. has great promise. “I start­ed drink­ing the Kool-Aid,” he said. Dr. Farzan and his col­leagues have been mod­i­fy­ing H.I.V. anti­bod­ies to devel­op more potent defens­es against the virus.

    Mean­while, in 2011, Dr. Bal­ti­more and his col­leagues showed that anti­bod­ies deliv­ered into cells with virus­es could pro­tect mice against injec­tions of H.I.V., sug­gest­ing that I.G.T. could pro­tect peo­ple against H.I.V. in con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed nee­dles.

    But most H.I.V. infec­tions occur through sex. So Dr. Bal­ti­more and his col­leagues also infect­ed female mice with H.I.V. through their vagi­nal mem­branes. Last year, they report­ed that the tech­nique also pro­tect­ed mice from infec­tion in this way.

    “We’re going around the immune sys­tem, rather than try­ing to stim­u­late the immune sys­tem,” Dr. Bal­ti­more said. “So what we’re doing is pret­ty fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent from vac­ci­na­tion, although the end result is pret­ty sim­i­lar.”

    Gary W. Ket­ner, a micro­bi­ol­o­gist at the Johns Hop­kins Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health, was intrigued by Dr. Baltimore’s results and won­dered if I.G.T. could be mar­shaled against anoth­er major dis­ease that has elud­ed vac­cines: malar­ia.

    Dr. Ket­ner, Dr. Bal­ti­more and their col­leagues found a potent anti­body against malar­ia and used a virus to deliv­er the gene for mak­ing it into mice. Last August, they report­ed that when malar­ia-laden mos­qui­toes bit the mice, up to 80 per­cent of the treat­ed ani­mals were pro­tect­ed.

    “It is encour­ag­ing,” Dr. Ket­ner said. “It’s good for a first shot of an unproven method, but it should be bet­ter.” Now Dr. Ket­ner is search­ing for bet­ter anti­bod­ies that pro­vide more pro­tec­tion in a small­er dose.

    These exper­i­ments sug­gest that anti­bod­ies cre­at­ed by I.G.T. could help against dis­eases that have resist­ed vac­cines for decades. Oth­er stud­ies sug­gest that I.G.T. might also help against sud­den out­breaks in the future.

    Dr. James M. Wil­son, a pathol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, and his col­leagues have inves­ti­gat­ed using gene ther­a­py to treat cys­tic fibro­sis by deliv­er­ing genes into the cells lin­ing patients’ air­ways. It occurred to him that many fast-spread­ing virus­es, such as influen­za and SARS, also attack the same cells.

    In 2013, Dr. Wil­son and his col­leagues report­ed that virus­es car­ry­ing anti­body genes into air­way cells can enable mice and fer­rets to fight off a wide range of flu strains. Since then, he and his col­leagues have test­ed I.G.T. against oth­er virus­es caus­ing dead­ly out­breaks — includ­ing Ebo­la.

    Dr. Wil­son and his col­leagues teamed with Mapp Bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, a com­pa­ny that has devel­oped an anti­body against Ebo­la called ZMapp. The sci­en­tists have syn­the­sized a gene for the ZMapp anti­body and have deliv­ered the gene into mouse mus­cles. The exper­i­ments are only in their ear­ly stages, but “we have encour­ag­ing data,” Dr. Wil­son said.

    For Dr. John­son, the grow­ing inter­est­ing in I.G.T. is grat­i­fy­ing. “It’s catch­ing on, but it’s cer­tain­ly not main­stream,” he said. That seems like­ly to change, and soon.

    Last Feb­ru­ary, Dr. John­son began the first clin­i­cal tri­al of I.G.T. in humans. His team has placed H.I.V. anti­body genes into the mus­cles of vol­un­teers to see if the treat­ment is safe. The researchers expect to fin­ish gath­er­ing the results this spring. “We’re opti­mistic. We’re hope­ful,” Dr. John­son said.

    Dr. Bal­ti­more is col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health to start a sim­i­lar tri­al of an I.G.T.-engineered virus against H.I.V. Dr. Wil­son is prepar­ing to test I.G.T. against the flu lat­er this year.

    There is no guar­an­tee that the suc­cess­es in the ani­mal tri­als can be repli­cat­ed in humans. “Humans are not just big mice,” said Dr. Ronald G. Crys­tal, chair­man of genet­ic med­i­cine at Weill Cor­nell Med­ical Col­lege.

    Human immune sys­tems may attack the arti­fi­cial anti­bod­ies or the virus­es deliv­er­ing them, destroy­ing their pro­tec­tion. Or mus­cle cells might make too many anti­bod­ies, because they do not have the built-in reg­u­la­tion that immune cells do.

    Dr. Farzan and oth­er researchers are inves­ti­gat­ing mol­e­c­u­lar switch­es that can turn off the pro­duc­tion of anti­bod­ies, or just adjust their dose. “If we real­ly want to see this blos­som, we need reg­u­la­to­ry ‘off’ switch­es,” he said.

    Despite the lin­ger­ing con­cerns about I.G.T., Dr. Nabel says he remains opti­mistic. “There are safe­ty con­cerns that have to be addressed, but there are log­i­cal ways to approach them,” he said.

    Bioethi­cists do not fore­see major eth­i­cal hur­dles to I.G.T., because it is based on gene ther­a­py, which has been devel­oped for more than 30 years. “It doesn’t strike me as a rad­i­cal depar­ture,” said Jonathan Kim­mel­man, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at McGill Uni­ver­si­ty.

    Still, Dr. Bal­ti­more says that he envi­sions that some peo­ple might be leery of a vac­ci­na­tion strat­e­gy that means alter­ing their own DNA, even if it pre­vents a poten­tial­ly fatal dis­ease.

    “But my feel­ing, as a basic sci­en­tist, is that it’s our respon­si­bil­i­ty to take things into the clin­ic that we feel will make a dif­fer­ence,” he said.

    ———–

    “Pro­tec­tion With­out a Vac­cine” by Carl Zim­mer; The New York Times; 03/09/2015

    But this treat­ment is not a vac­cine, not in any ordi­nary sense. By deliv­er­ing syn­thet­ic genes into the mus­cles of the mon­keys, the sci­en­tists are essen­tial­ly re-engi­neer­ing the ani­mals to resist dis­ease. Researchers are test­ing this nov­el approach not just against H.I.V., but also Ebo­la, malar­ia, influen­za and hepati­tis.”

    It’s not a vac­cine. And kind of the oppo­site of a vac­cine. Instead of intro­duc­ing a virus or viral frag­ments into the body and let­ting the immune sys­tem do its nor­mal work, this approach actu­al­ly inserts a whole new anti­body into the genomes of tar­get cells:

    ...
    Dr. Farzan and oth­er sci­en­tists are increas­ing­ly hope­ful that this tech­nique may be able to pro­vide long-term pro­tec­tion against dis­eases for which vac­cines have failed. The first human tri­al based on this strat­e­gy — called immuno­pro­phy­lax­is by gene trans­fer, or I.G.T. — is under­way, and sev­er­al new ones are planned.

    ...

    Con­ven­tion­al vac­cines prompt the immune sys­tem to learn how to make anti­bod­ies by intro­duc­ing it to weak­ened or dead pathogens, or even just their mol­e­c­u­lar frag­ments. Our immune cells pro­duce a range of anti­bod­ies, some of which can fight these infec­tions.

    ...

    But against oth­er dis­eases, con­ven­tion­al vac­cines often fail to pro­duce effec­tive anti­bod­ies. H.I.V., for exam­ple, comes in so many dif­fer­ent strains that a vac­cine that can pro­tect against one will not work against oth­ers.

    I.G.T. is alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent from tra­di­tion­al vac­ci­na­tion. It is instead a form of gene ther­a­py. Sci­en­tists iso­late the genes that pro­duce pow­er­ful anti­bod­ies against cer­tain dis­eases and then syn­the­size arti­fi­cial ver­sions. The genes are placed into virus­es and inject­ed into human tis­sue, usu­al­ly mus­cle.

    The virus­es invade human cells with their DNA pay­loads, and the syn­thet­ic gene is incor­po­rat­ed into the recipient’s own DNA. If all goes well, the new genes instruct the cells to begin man­u­fac­tur­ing pow­er­ful anti­bod­ies.
    ...

    But it’s not sim­ply the intro­duc­tion of an anti­body gene that makes this approach so pow­er­ful. It’s that these are genes for “broad­ly neu­tral­iz­ing “anti­bod­ies that are known to act against a wide vari­ety of viral strains. That’s the game-chang­er in terms of address­ing infec­tious dis­eases like HIV that have defied tra­di­tion­al vac­cines so far. And that makes this tech­nol­o­gy it’s par­tic­u­lar­ly well-suit­ed for address both nov­el virus­es and virus­es that have yet to emerge:

    ...
    The idea for I.G.T. emerged dur­ing the fight against H.I.V. In a few peo­ple, it turned out, some anti­bod­ies against H.I.V. turn out to be extreme­ly potent. So-called broad­ly neu­tral­iz­ing anti­bod­ies can latch onto many dif­fer­ent strains of the virus and keep them from infect­ing new cells.

    Dr. Philip R. John­son, chief sci­en­tif­ic offi­cer of The Children’s Hos­pi­tal of Philadel­phia and a virol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, had an idea: Why not try to give broad­ly neu­tral­iz­ing anti­bod­ies to every­body?

    ...

    These exper­i­ments sug­gest that anti­bod­ies cre­at­ed by I.G.T. could help against dis­eases that have resist­ed vac­cines for decades. Oth­er stud­ies sug­gest that I.G.T. might also help against sud­den out­breaks in the future.
    ...

    And note how some of the exper­i­ments with I.G.T. involved using virus­es that tar­get the cells in your lungs and air­ways to deliv­er genes that might pro­tect against virus­es that attack the lungs like SARS (which is close­ly relat­ed to COVID-19). It’s an exam­ple of how this tech­nol­o­gy could be used on dif­fer­ent parts of our body. Per­haps air­way cells will get one set of new anti­bod­ies intro­duced, mus­cle cells get a dif­fer­ent set, and who knows what oth­er tis­sues might get anoth­er set. These are the kinds of pos­si­bil­i­ties with this tech­nol­o­gy:

    ...
    Dr. James M. Wil­son, a pathol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, and his col­leagues have inves­ti­gat­ed using gene ther­a­py to treat cys­tic fibro­sis by deliv­er­ing genes into the cells lin­ing patients’ air­ways. It occurred to him that many fast-spread­ing virus­es, such as influen­za and SARS, also attack the same cells.

    In 2013, Dr. Wil­son and his col­leagues report­ed that virus­es car­ry­ing anti­body genes into air­way cells can enable mice and fer­rets to fight off a wide range of flu strains. Since then, he and his col­leagues have test­ed I.G.T. against oth­er virus­es caus­ing dead­ly out­breaks — includ­ing Ebo­la.
    ...

    It might even be pos­si­ble to mod­u­late the expres­sion of these anti­bod­ies fol­low­ing I.G.T. and even shut the anti­body expres­sion off entire­ly. It’s a pret­ty neat pos­si­bil­i­ty, although if it’s pos­si­ble to induce these mod­i­fi­ca­tions with, for exam­ple, a dif­fer­ent virus, you could imag­ine a sce­nario where some­one first releas­es a virus that shuts down the pro­duc­tion of these anti­bod­ies in a pop­u­la­tion and only then releas­es their killer virus. Isn’t tech­nol­o­gy fun?

    ...
    There is no guar­an­tee that the suc­cess­es in the ani­mal tri­als can be repli­cat­ed in humans. “Humans are not just big mice,” said Dr. Ronald G. Crys­tal, chair­man of genet­ic med­i­cine at Weill Cor­nell Med­ical Col­lege.

    Human immune sys­tems may attack the arti­fi­cial anti­bod­ies or the virus­es deliv­er­ing them, destroy­ing their pro­tec­tion. Or mus­cle cells might make too many anti­bod­ies, because they do not have the built-in reg­u­la­tion that immune cells do.

    Dr. Farzan and oth­er researchers are inves­ti­gat­ing mol­e­c­u­lar switch­es that can turn off the pro­duc­tion of anti­bod­ies, or just adjust their dose. “If we real­ly want to see this blos­som, we need reg­u­la­to­ry ‘off’ switch­es,” he said.
    ...

    Final­ly, note that the researchers inves­ti­gat­ing this tech­nol­o­gy have been col­lab­o­rat­ing with the NIH. That sig­nals that once this tech­nol­o­gy is actu­al­ly devel­oped there’s prob­a­bly not going to be a huge resis­tance to its usage at the fed­er­al lev­el:

    ...
    Last Feb­ru­ary, Dr. John­son began the first clin­i­cal tri­al of I.G.T. in humans. His team has placed H.I.V. anti­body genes into the mus­cles of vol­un­teers to see if the treat­ment is safe. The researchers expect to fin­ish gath­er­ing the results this spring. “We’re opti­mistic. We’re hope­ful,” Dr. John­son said.

    Dr. Bal­ti­more is col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health to start a sim­i­lar tri­al of an I.G.T.-engineered virus against H.I.V. Dr. Wil­son is prepar­ing to test I.G.T. against the flu lat­er this year.
    ...

    Might we see I.G.T. tech­nol­o­gy deployed in response to the COVID-19 out­break? Prob­a­bly not. At least not for this out­break. After all, both mRNA and plas­mid DNA vac­cines, which are also unfa­mil­iar scary sound­ing new tech­nolo­gies, are already being intro­duced to the pub­lic for the first time in response to this. Throw­ing I.G.T. into the mix is prob­a­bly a bridge too far.

    But if it turns out the vac­cines in devel­op fail and civ­i­liza­tion remains in a state of fear and pan­ic there’s inevitably going to be a much clos­er look at whether or not we can duse an I.G.T. solu­tion. Per­haps some time in 2021. Of course, we would have to have a known broad­ly neu­tral­iz­ing anti­body that works against COVID-19 for an I.G.T. approach to even work and it’s unclear if that’s been iden­ti­fied yet.

    Still, it’s unde­ni­able that this tech­nol­o­gy is going to all sorts of uses beyond fight­ing nov­el coro­n­avirus­es going for­ward. And while that’s prob­a­bly going to gen­er­ate a vig­or­ous debate about whether or not we should be insert­ing genes into our cells, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that the era of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy might effec­tive require that tech­nol­o­gy like this gets wide­ly used soon­er or lat­er. Because we real­ly are head­ing into a future where it’s going to become so easy to cre­ate and dis­trib­ute design­er virus­es that, even­tu­al­ly, every­one from ter­ror­ists to sullen teenagers who just hate the world might be able to cre­ate theri own dooms­day virus­es. Don’t for­get the capa­bil­i­ties we saw from Ralph Bar­ic’s lab: they took the DNA sequence of the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus — the virus that caus­es COVID-19 — and cre­at­ed a live work­ing virus that was capa­ble of infect­ing human cells. They did­n’t need a live work­ing copy. The DNA sequence alone was enough. At some point the tech­nol­o­gy to do that is inevitably going to be much more wide­ly avail­able and sim­pler to use. Imag­ine if the Incels had their hands on this. Incels would be cre­at­ing and releas­ing new dooms­day virus­es every month, espe­cial­ly virus­es that specif­i­cal­ly tar­get women. Or virus­es that tar­get par­tic­u­lar eth­nic pop­u­la­tions. Just wait for the Nazis to get their hands on that. So we real­ly could be look­ing at a future where our bod­ies are just get­ting rou­tine­ly bom­bard­ed with all sorts of design­er virus­es and hav­ing an arse­nal of broad­ly neu­tral­iz­ing anti­bod­ies already avail­able in our cells might be the only real­is­tic defense. That’s the oth­er side of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy tech­nol­o­gy when it comes to virus­es: much of the good it pro­vides is in the form of coun­ter­act­ing the evil it enables. It’s anoth­er big reminder that the fun­da­men­tal dis­ease we have to address if we’re going to sur­vive a future where the pow­er to wage mass destruc­tion becomes wide­ly acces­si­ble is that dis­ease of the soul that caus­es indi­vid­u­als to want to destroy whole pop­u­la­tions or the world.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 19, 2020, 2:51 pm

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