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Pottinger Agonistes: Covid-19 Disinformation Meets Weaponized Feminism

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“A lib­er­al’s idea of courage is eat­ing at a restau­rant that has­n’t been reviewed yet.”–Mort Sahl

COMMENT: In Mis­cel­la­neous Archive Show M4, we exam­ined Glo­ria Steinem’s CIA back­ground and peo­ple and insti­tu­tions in her milieu sug­ges­tive of the pos­si­bil­i­ty that her Agency links are not sole­ly in the past. (A tran­script of the broad­cast is avail­able on this web­site as well.) 

Against the back­ground of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s anti-Chi­na cam­paign rhetoric and attempts to pin the blame for Covid-19 on a “lab­o­ra­to­ry” leak and/or delib­er­ate release, we note that the offen­sive is being pushed by The Don­ald’s deputy nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Matthew Pot­tinger.

“. . . . Matthew Pot­tinger, the deputy nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er who report­ed on SARS out­breaks as a jour­nal­ist in Chi­na, pressed intel­li­gence agen­cies in Jan­u­ary to gath­er infor­ma­tion that might sup­port any ori­gin the­o­ry linked to a lab. . . .”

Pot­tinger is the son of for­mer Assis­tant Attor­ney Gen­er­al J. Stan­ley Pot­tinger.

Pot­tinger, Senior was: Assis­tant Attor­ney Gen­er­al for Civ­il Rights under Nixon and Ford; report­ed by Don­ald Freed and Fred Lan­dis (in “Death in Wash­ing­ton”) to have foiled inves­ti­ga­tions into the assas­si­na­tions of Mar­tin Luther King and Orlan­do Lete­lier; the attor­ney for the Hashe­mi broth­ers in the Octo­ber Sur­prise inves­ti­ga­tion; a close per­son­al friend of George H.W. Bush (for whom CIA head­quar­ters was named) and, last but cer­tain­ly not least, Glo­ria Steinem’s lover for nine years.

Despite the fact that Steinem tout­ed her CIA back­ground as good jour­nal­is­tic cre­den­tials in both “The New York Times” and “The Wash­ing­ton Post” (both with long-stand­ing CIA links them­selves), Pot­tinger has defend­ed her against charges that she worked for the CIA!!

Worth not­ing, as well, is the fact that the Lete­lier assas­si­na­tion was one of the mur­ders con­duct­ed under Oper­a­tion Con­dor, assist­ed by the CIA. Lete­lier was killed by a car bomb in Wash­ing­ton D.C., while J.Stanley Pot­tinger’s good friend George H.W. Bush was in charge of the CIA when Lete­lier was hit.

(We have cov­ered Oper­a­tion Con­dor in numer­ous pro­grams, includ­ing AFA #19One of the oper­a­tional cen­ters of Con­dor was the Chilean Nazi enclave Colo­nia Dig­nidad. In FTR #839, we set forth author Peter Lev­en­da’s brave, fright­en­ing vis­it to “The Colony.” This should be digest­ed by any­one inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry of which Pot­tinger, Sr., is a part.)

One won­ders if Matthew may have fol­lowed J. Stan­ley into the CIA, if in fact Dad­dio is Agency, as Mr. Emory sus­pects.

In FTR #s 998, 999, 1000, we set forth what Mr. Emory calls “weaponized fem­i­nism.” Refash­ion­ing the doc­trine of advanc­ing the cause of women into a legal and polit­i­cal weapon for destroy­ing tar­get­ed men, dom­i­nant man­i­fes­ta­tions of the #MeToo move­ment have served the cause of the far right.

Resembling–in its essence–the “libid­i­nal McCarthy­ism” of Arthur Miller’s play “The Cru­cible,”  many high-pro­file man­i­fes­ta­tions of #MeToo have been pro­pelled by evi­den­tiary mate­r­i­al that ranges from dubi­ous to ludi­crous to non-exis­tent.

We find it more than coin­ci­den­tal that Bernie Sanders sup­port­er Tara Read­e’s shape-shift­ing accu­sa­tions against Joe Biden have sur­faced decades after the alleged incident–coinciding with Biden’s chal­leng­ing of Trump and with Pot­tinger, Jr. help­ing to direct the admin­is­tra­tion’s traf­fic. 

Tara Reade brings to mind George H.W. Bush cam­paign man­ag­er Lee Atwa­ter’s gam­bit of using Don­na Rice to destroy the Pres­i­den­tial can­di­da­cy of for­mer Sen­a­tor Gary Hart.

” . . . . in a pri­vate act of repen­tance that has remained pri­vate for near­ly three decades, he [Atwa­ter] told [Gary Hart’s media con­sul­tant Ray­mond] Ray­mond Strother that he was sor­ry for how he had tor­pe­doed Gary Hart’s chances of becom­ing pres­i­dent. . . . What he want­ed to say, accord­ing to Strother, was that the episode that had trig­gered Hart’s with­draw­al from the race, which became known as the Mon­key Busi­ness affair, had been not bad luck but a trap. The sequence of events was con­fus­ing at the time and is wide­ly mis­re­mem­bered now. . . . . . . . ‘I thought there was some­thing fishy about the whole thing from the very begin­ning,’ Strother recalled. ‘Lee told me that he had set up the whole Mon­key Busi­ness deal. ‘I did it!’ he told me. ‘I fixed Hart.’ After he called me that time, I thought, My God! It’s true!’ . . . .”

1.   “Trump Offi­cials Are Said to Press Spies to Link Virus and Wuhan Labs” by Mark Mazzetti, Julian E. Barnes, Edward Wong and Adam Gold­man; The New York Times; 04/30/2020

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.

Mr. Trump’s aides and Repub­li­cans in Con­gress have sought to blame Chi­na for the pan­dem­ic in part to deflect crit­i­cism of the administration’s mis­man­age­ment of the cri­sis in the Unit­ed States, which now has more coro­n­avirus cas­es than any coun­try. More than one mil­lion Amer­i­cans have been infect­ed, and more than 60,000 have died.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, a for­mer C.I.A. direc­tor and the administration’s most vocal hard-lin­er on Chi­na, has tak­en the lead in push­ing Amer­i­can intel­li­gence agen­cies for more infor­ma­tion, accord­ing to cur­rent and for­mer offi­cials.

Matthew Pot­tinger, the deputy nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er who report­ed on SARS out­breaks as a jour­nal­ist in Chi­na, pressed intel­li­gence agen­cies in Jan­u­ary to gath­er infor­ma­tion that might sup­port any ori­gin the­o­ry linked to a lab.

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.

The C.I.A.’s judg­ment was based in part on the fact that no signs had emerged that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment believed the out­break came from a lab. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has vig­or­ous­ly denied that the virus leaked from a lab while push­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion on its ori­gins, includ­ing sug­gest­ing that the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary cre­at­ed it.

Any Amer­i­can intel­li­gence report blam­ing a Chi­nese insti­tu­tion and offi­cials for the out­break could sig­nif­i­cant­ly harm rela­tions with Chi­na for years to come. And Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials could use it to try to prod oth­er nations to pub­licly hold Chi­na account­able for coro­n­avirus deaths even when the pandemic’s exact ori­gins can­not be deter­mined.

Mr. Trump made clear on Thurs­day evening of his inter­est in intel­li­gence sup­port­ing the the­o­ry the virus emerged acci­den­tal­ly from a Wuhan lab. In response to a ques­tion from a reporter, the pres­i­dent said he had seen intel­li­gence that sup­port­ed the idea but quick­ly back­tracked, adding that he “was not allowed” to share the intel­li­gence and that his admin­is­tra­tion was exam­in­ing mul­ti­ple the­o­ries about the ori­gin of the virus.

“There’s a lot of the­o­ries,” he said, “but we have peo­ple look­ing at it very, very strong­ly. Sci­en­tif­ic peo­ple, intel­li­gence peo­ple and oth­ers.”

In a state­ment released ear­li­er on Thurs­day, the Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence said that the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty “will con­tin­ue to rig­or­ous­ly exam­ine emerg­ing infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence to deter­mine whether the out­break began through con­tact with infect­ed ani­mals or if it was the result of an acci­dent at a lab­o­ra­to­ry in Wuhan.”

Intel­li­gence agen­cies, the state­ment said, con­cur “with the wide sci­en­tif­ic con­sen­sus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied.”

NBC News report­ed ear­li­er that admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials had direct­ed intel­li­gence agen­cies to try to deter­mine whether Chi­na and the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion hid infor­ma­tion ear­ly on about the out­break.

For months, sci­en­tists, spies and gov­ern­ment offi­cials have wres­tled with vary­ing the­o­ries about how the out­break began, and many agree on the impor­tance of deter­min­ing the gen­e­sis of the pan­dem­ic. In gov­ern­ment and acad­e­mia, experts have ruled out the notion that it was con­coct­ed as a bioweapon. And they agree that the new pathogen began as a bat virus that evolved nat­u­ral­ly, prob­a­bly in anoth­er mam­mal, to become adept at infect­ing and killing humans.

A few sci­en­tists and nation­al secu­ri­ty experts have point­ed to a his­to­ry of lab acci­dents infect­ing researchers to sug­gest it might have hap­pened in this case, but many sci­en­tists have dis­missed such the­o­ries.

“We do not believe any type of lab­o­ra­to­ry-based sce­nario is plau­si­ble,” five sci­en­tists wrote in a paper pub­lished in March in Nature Med­i­cine.

Mr. Trump has spo­ken pub­licly about the administration’s “very seri­ous inves­ti­ga­tions” of the virus’s ori­gin and China’s cul­pa­bil­i­ty. Those inquiries took on new urgency in late March, when intel­li­gence offi­cials pre­sent­ed infor­ma­tion to the White House that prompt­ed some career offi­cials to recon­sid­er the lab the­o­ry. The pre­cise nature of the infor­ma­tion, based in part on inter­cept­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions among Chi­nese offi­cials, is unclear.

The cur­rent and for­mer offi­cials did not say whether Mr. Trump him­self, who has shown lit­tle regard for the inde­pen­dent judg­ments of intel­li­gence and law enforce­ment offi­cials, has pres­sured the intel­li­gence agen­cies. But he does want any infor­ma­tion sup­port­ing the lab the­o­ry to set the stage for hold­ing Chi­na respon­si­ble, accord­ing to two peo­ple famil­iar with his think­ing.

He has expressed inter­est in an idea pushed by Michael Pills­bury, an infor­mal Chi­na advis­er to the White House, that Bei­jing could be sued for dam­ages, with the Unit­ed States seek­ing $10 mil­lion for every death. At a news con­fer­ence this week, Mr. Trump said the admin­is­tra­tion was dis­cussing a “very sub­stan­tial” repa­ra­tions claim against Chi­na — an idea that Bei­jing has already denounced.

“Pres­i­dent Trump is demand­ing to know the ori­gins of the virus and what Xi Jin­ping knew when about the cov­er-up,” Mr. Pills­bury said.

Look­ing at the Labs

Major gaps remain in what is known about the new pathogen, includ­ing which kind of ani­mal infect­ed humans with the coro­n­avirus and where the first trans­mis­sion took place.

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.

Intel­li­gence offi­cials have repeat­ed­ly point­ed out to the White House that deter­min­ing the ori­gins of the out­break is fun­da­men­tal­ly a sci­en­tif­ic ques­tion that can­not be solved eas­i­ly by spy­craft.

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.

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.

Some Amer­i­can offi­cials have become con­vinced that Bei­jing is not shar­ing all it knows.

Among Mr. Trump’s top aides, Mr. Pom­peo in par­tic­u­lar has tried to ham­mer Chi­na over the lab. On Wednes­day, he said that the Unit­ed States still had not “gained access” to the main cam­pus of the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy, one of two sites that Amer­i­can offi­cials who favor the lab acci­dent the­o­ry have focused on, along with the Wuhan Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

Labs in Wuhan research bat virus­es and are known to Amer­i­can offi­cials; they are part of a coor­di­nat­ed glob­al effort to mon­i­tor virus­es. The virol­o­gy insti­tute has received fund­ing and train­ing from Amer­i­can agen­cies and sci­en­tists.

Mr. Pom­peo seemed to refer to inter­nal infor­ma­tion about the out­break dur­ing an inter­view on April 17 with Hugh Hewitt, a con­ser­v­a­tive radio host.

“We know that the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty, when it began to eval­u­ate what to do inside of Wuhan, con­sid­ered whether the W.I.V. was, in fact, the place where this came from,” said Mr. Pom­peo, refer­ring to the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy.

The State Depart­ment declined to indi­cate what was behind his asser­tion.

Sci­en­tists Weigh In

Sci­en­tists who study the coro­n­avirus have main­tained that the ini­tial spillover from ani­mal to per­son could have occurred in any num­ber of ways: at a farm where wild ani­mals are raised, through acci­den­tal con­tact with a bat or anoth­er ani­mal that car­ried the virus, or in hunt­ing or trans­port­ing ani­mals.

The sci­en­tists have also scru­ti­nized the new pathogen’s genes, find­ing that they show great sim­i­lar­i­ty to bat coro­n­avirus­es and bear no hints of human tam­per­ing or cura­tion.

The odds were astro­nom­i­cal against a lab release as opposed to an event in nature, said Kris­t­ian G. Ander­sen, the lead author of the paper pub­lished in Nature Med­i­cine and a spe­cial­ist in infec­tious dis­ease at the Scripps Research Trans­la­tion­al Insti­tute in Cal­i­for­nia.

He acknowl­edged that it was the­o­ret­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble that a researcher had found the new virus, ful­ly evolved, in a bat or oth­er ani­mal and tak­en it into the lab. But, he said, based on the evi­dence his team gath­ered and the numer­ous oppor­tu­ni­ties for infec­tion in the inter­ac­tions that many farm­ers, hunters and oth­ers have with wild ani­mals, “there just isn’t a rea­son to con­sid­er the lab as a poten­tial expla­na­tion.”

No evi­dence sup­ports the the­o­ry that the coro­n­avirus orig­i­nat­ed “in a lab­o­ra­to­ry either inten­tion­al­ly or by acci­dent,” Daniel R. Lucey, an expert on pan­demics at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty who has close­ly tracked what is known about the ori­gins, wrote this week.

He has called on Chi­na to share infor­ma­tion about ani­mals sold at a mar­ket in Wuhan that was linked to some of the ear­li­est known cas­es of peo­ple infect­ed with the virus, though not the first one. Dr. Lucey has raised ques­tions about whether the mar­ket was, in fact, where the virus spilled over from ani­mals to peo­ple. The lim­it­ed infor­ma­tion released about envi­ron­men­tal sam­ples tak­en from the mar­ket that were pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus do not resolve whether the source was ani­mals sold there or peo­ple work­ing or vis­it­ing the mar­ket, or both, he wrote.

But Richard Ebright, a micro­bi­ol­o­gist and biosafe­ty expert at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty, has argued that the prob­a­bil­i­ty of a lab acci­dent was “sub­stan­tial,” point­ing to a his­to­ry of such occur­rences that have infect­ed researchers. The Wuhan labs and oth­er cen­ters world­wide that exam­ine nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring virus­es have ques­tion­able safe­ty rules, he said, adding, “The stan­dards are lax and need to be tight­ened.”

Amer­i­can offi­cials said they close­ly watched China’s gov­ern­ment this win­ter for signs of a lab acci­dent but found noth­ing con­clu­sive. In Feb­ru­ary, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping stressed the need for a plan to ensure the “biosafe­ty and biose­cu­ri­ty of the coun­try.” And the Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy announced new guide­lines for lab­o­ra­to­ries, espe­cial­ly ones han­dling virus­es.

Glob­al Times, a pop­u­lar state-run news­pa­per, then pub­lished an arti­cle on “chron­ic inad­e­quate man­age­ment issues” at lab­o­ra­to­ries, includ­ing prob­lems with bio­log­i­cal dis­pos­al.

2. “Was Gary Hart Set Up?” by James Fal­lows; The Atlantic; Novem­ber 18.

. . . . in a pri­vate act of repen­tance that has remained pri­vate for near­ly three decades, he [Atwa­ter] told Ray­mond Strother that he was sor­ry for how he had tor­pe­doed Gary Hart’s chances of becom­ing pres­i­dent.

. . . . What he want­ed to say, accord­ing to [Gary Hart media con­sul­tant Ray­mond] Strother, was that the episode that had trig­gered Hart’s with­draw­al from the race, which became known as the Mon­key Busi­ness affair, had been not bad luck but a trap. The sequence of events was con­fus­ing at the time and is wide­ly mis­re­mem­bered now. But in brief:

In late March 1987, Hart spent a week­end on a Mia­mi-based yacht called Mon­key Busi­ness. Two young women joined the boat when it sailed to Bimi­ni. While the boat was docked there, one of the women took a pic­ture of Hart sit­ting on the pier, with the oth­er, Don­na Rice, in his lap. A month after this trip, in ear­ly May, the man who had orig­i­nal­ly invit­ed Hart onto the boat brought the same two women to Wash­ing­ton. The Mia­mi Her­ald had received a tip about the upcom­ing vis­it and was stak­ing out the front of Hart’s house. (A famous pro­file of Hart by E. J. Dionne in The New York Times Mag­a­zine, in which Hart invit­ed the press to “fol­low me around,” came out after this stakeout—not before, con­trary to com­mon belief.) A Her­ald reporter saw Rice and Hart going into the house through the front door and, not real­iz­ing that there was a back door, assumed—when he didn’t see her again—that she had spent the night.

Amid the result­ing flap about Hart’s “char­ac­ter” and hon­esty, he quick­ly sus­pend­ed his cam­paign (with­in a week), which effec­tive­ly end­ed it. Sev­er­al weeks lat­er came the part of the episode now best remem­bered: the pho­to of Hart and Rice togeth­er in Bimi­ni, on the cov­er of the Nation­al Enquir­er. . . .

. . . . “I thought there was some­thing fishy about the whole thing from the very begin­ning,” Strother recalled. “Lee told me that he had set up the whole Mon­key Busi­ness deal. ‘I did it!’ he told me. ‘I fixed Hart.’ After he called me that time, I thought, My God! It’s true!” . . . .


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