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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 #19 . One 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!’ . . . .”
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.
. . . . 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!” . . . .