Thursday, June 2, 2016

Why did the DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Lab produce a 2015 study suggesting that anthrax was NOT used as a bioweapon in Rhodesia's civil war?

Rhodesia is no more, having been renamed Zimbabwe after it became a majority-ruled black nation in 1980. Rhodesia was a British territory before 1965, when the 5% white minority seized control to preclude Britain granting majority rule.  A civil war ensued, with the two sides divided by race.  By the war's end in 1980, the black "guerrilla" "terrorist" "communist" side had been attacked with chemical and biological weapons including organophosphate "nerve gas," rat poison, cholera, anthrax and arguably other chem-bio agents.

I was first to publicly identify this anthrax epidemic, which killed at least 182 people and affected 10,000, to be an act of biological warfare, in 1992.  Subsequently much literature (scientific, historical and memoir, originating from Zimbabwe, South Africa, the UK and US) has amplified the evidence base and added details, though much remains hidden. Of interest, this confirmatory literature includes a report from the US Naval War College and US Air War College, and a book and related episode of BBC TV's Panorama.  The history of anthrax biowarfare in Rhodesia seemed incontrovertible.

US DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory takes aim at this history, misses widely

I was forwarded a report produced in 2015 by a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), disputing that the Rhodesian anthrax epidemic was due to biological warfare. The study was published by LLNL, rather than in a peer-reviewed journal, yet it required considerable resources to produce. The report ran to 43 pages and 56 footnotes.

To make the case the epidemic occurred naturally, the report's author, Stephan P Velsko, employed a method he termed "opinion calculus," by which he transmuted the actual facts of the epidemic into opinions and (often incorrect) assertions. He then assigned weights to the opinions and assertions (the weights being his opinions) and used a mathematical construct, Dempster-Shafer theory, to impart a scientific veneer to the gobbledygook calculations.

Unable to marshall any evidence to support his conclusion that biological warfare did not occur, Velsko jettisoned all the existing evidence to instead favor the absence of evidence, claiming,  "Many items of evidence that have been proffered over the years are shown to be nearly irrelevant to the final conclusion, while the absence of certain expected types of evidence plays a critical role in the assessment." 

Here are three examples of Velsko/LLNL's arguments:

1.  Although anthrax cases were required to be reported in Rhodesia, Velsko disputes the meaning of the huge size of the epidemic, suggesting it was inflated by poor quality reporting.  While reporting rates for any rare disease always increase as doctors become more familiar with it, Velsko never mentions the fact that the Rhodesian event remains, by far, the largest anthrax epidemic in world history.

2.  Velsko denies that the epidemic jumped from district to district in a geographic and temporal pattern unknown to other anthrax epidemics, twisting the history. He claims instead that the epidemic was localized to one epicenter, with nearby peripheral cases caused by transport of meat.  In order to make this claim, he omits the considerable evidence of when and where cases occurred.

However, I previously recorded the dates and locations of cases using Zimbabwe's public health records and other sources.  Below is a new photo of the map I annotated in 1992 with multicolored stars for reported anthrax case locations, and numbers of cases, where known.  Some of the stars have gone missing, but it should be obvious that cases were identified widely within Zimbabwe's borders (marked in yellow).  Visible, but more difficult to see, are the case numbers which, despite Velsko's claims, were considerable from east of Harare to northwest of Bulawayo. Additionally, the star colors indicate the temporal movement of the epidemic to new areas over a 2 year period, a feature unique to this epidemic.

3.  Velsko challenges the validity of an ex-Rhodesian intelligence officer's report, simply because anthrax spores were referred to as "spoor." Velsko writes, "the mistaken use of the term “spoor” instead of “spore” leads one to suspect that the author of the letter did not have direct experience with B. anthracis, and was at best quoting others."  However, "spoor" is the correct term in the Afrikaans language (spoken by the white Afrikaaners of South Africa) for spore, and in common use to denote anthrax.  While I don't expect Velsko to know Afrikaans, his argument encapsulates the confluence of ignorance and flawed reasoning that characterize the entire report.

Although I could go on about the misleading claims and suppositions in this "study," the real question of interest is why did the DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a storied federal center for studies of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, including anthrax, choose to dispute that anthrax biowarfare took place in Rhodesia?  Why now, 37 years after the event, and 23 years after my paper was first published?

Velsko is a math and microbial forensic guy who has written on techniques for establishing the forensic origin of disease.  He has also written on the anthrax letters, and on scientific validation in microbial forensics.  I don't think he is a fool.  Is he a knave?

Did Velsko/LLNL simply choose to experiment with a new technique, and picked the Rhodesian anthrax epidemic to study, randomly?  If so, why choose a technique that heaps guesswork on guesswork, while ignoring the available data?  That ain't science and I'd wager Velsko knows it.

Why was this report written?

The report's conclusion, that Rhodesia's anthrax epidemic was probably a natural occurrence, may be the first volley of an effort intended to alter history.  Why would a US government lab want to do this, unless the US government had some involvement in that history?

Here's another scary possibility:  the US government finds itself stymied by the existence of a method that can distinguish whether an epidemic is deliberately caused, or a natural occurrence.  A major reason to use a biological weapon is that the resulting epidemic will be assumed to be natural, and go undetected as an offensive act.  A further reason to use a biological weapon is that it is almost impossible to detect who did it.  [Consider the anthrax letters attack and that we still lack proof of their perpetrator.] Velsko and LLNL know this:  this is their field, after all.

Might Velsko and his employer LLNL/DOE/USG be trying to weaken the scientific underpinning of biowarfare epidemic analysis, an analysis that could be used outside US Government-approved channels, to make the investigative techniques appear much softer and less reliable than they really are? Might this be an effort to prevent their future use to detect a biological weapon attack?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

CDC: Inept. Stupid. Deadly.

Want to learn the newest on screening and managing Ebola?  Screening for Ebola is not an easy task, since many other diseases can look very much like Ebola. But CDC is here to help doctors and other medical professionals with this very challenging, subtle differentiation.
CDC has offered up a video featuring Dr. Knust to give us this important information.  But wait--Dr. Knust is a veterinarian. Huh?  Ebola is not an animal disease.  And Dr. Knust has never (legally) treated a human. Is this the best CDC can do?  Is this a joke or what?  
If you listen to the video, you will find that it acknowledges, but remarkably minimizes, the problem of persisting Ebola virus in patients after recovery.  Dr. Knust mentions there were only "two" documented patients in whom recrudescence of Ebola occurred.  She fails to mention that these "two" were among only a handful of Ebola patients treated in the West: a British nurse (whose recurrence presented as meningitis) and a US-Zimbabwean doctor (whose recurrence presented as an eye infection).  Many African survivors had persisting infections, as evidenced by Ebola virus in semen up to nine months after apparent recovery. We have no reliable data on recrudescence in Africa.  It could have affected hundreds or thousands there.  

Infections have been sexually transmitted following Ebola recovery in Africa.  Minimizing persistent and recurring infections, and failing to screen for them, are shortsighted and make the appearance of a repeat African Ebola epidemic more likely.  
CDC is either criminally misleading or criminally incompetent, giving dangerous, incorrect guidance that doctors are intended to rely on to assess and treat possible Ebola cases.  And, consistent with its horrible record on safety and general incompetence, CDC issues its Ebola guidance through a veterinarian, a profession that cannot legally provide medical advice to humans.
The best thing that could happen to public health in the US would be to shut CDC down and tell its band of merry pranksters to go get a real job.

UPDATE: From USAToday on May 11, after years of CDC keeping it hidden, we learn that CDC has one of the worst regulatory histories in the US, receiving secret sanctions 6 times for safety violations:
"The CDC's own labs also have been referred for additional secret federal enforcement actions six times because of serious or repeated violations in how they've handled certain viruses, bacteria and toxins that are heavily regulated because of their potential use as bioweapons, the CDC admitted for the first time on Tuesday. Before USA TODAY won access to records of the lab suspension, the CDC had repeatedly refused to answer questions about its own labs' enforcement histories.
The revelations show the CDC's facilities are among a small group of biolab operators that have the worst regulatory histories in the country, receiving repeated sanctions under federal regulations..."

Barbara Knust, DVM, MPH
Hello. I am Dr Barbara Knust from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Viral Special Pathogens Branch. I am here today to talk to US clinicians about screening patients with possible Ebola virus disease (EVD) and clinical care for patients who have recovered from EVD (also known as EVD survivors)...

Then she fails to tell us anything about how to do this.  What a sick joke. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What do the Panama Papers tell us about the need for austerity?

 After the dizzying disclosures of the Panama Papers, Madeline Ashby writing in the Ottawa Citizen asks:

But what does all this mean? It means that the austerity measures proposed in Britain and elsewhere are complete nonsense. If the people “hiding their piggy banks” in the islands would simply pay their fair share, their countries could afford better health care, infrastructure and education for everyone. This, in turn, would create stronger workers and better economies. The cutbacks to the National Health Service and other services are the direct consequences of this greed, and similar cuts are happening all over the world. Meanwhile, the wealth gap is killing innovation...

Friday, April 1, 2016

CDC "probing" how lab worker acquired salmonella infection/ Reuters

Today, CDC admits a lab worker got ill from a salmonella strain being studied. But I cannot tell what the disease was.  Salmonella gastroenteritis?  Typhoid fever?  A complicated bloodborne infection that may affect the heart, joints, etc.? How long was the worker ill? Was this person spreading the infection via the oral-fecal route,  as did Typhoid Mary and many other patients? Why did CDC only become aware of the problem after its employee was diagnosed elsewhere, and informed CDC then?

Thee was probably something special (particular virulence?) about this CDC-studied salmonella.  CDC says there are a million cases of salmonella infection in the US yearly. Why then was this infection notable enough for nationwide publicity?  Why was CDC even studying it?

However, despite making this incident public, CDC continues to withhold information on other lab mishaps, including how many lab workers were exposed or sickened by microorganisms being studied at CDC during 2013 and 2014.

Last June, USAT wrote the following after years of CDC stonewalling and claims it would take months to several years to provide documents:
For nearly three years, USA TODAY has been unable to obtain other records about safety and security issues at CDC labs in Atlanta. In June 2012 — after receiving leaked internal agency records — USA TODAY reported that CDC's labs in Atlanta had experienced significant failures of laboratory airflow systems used to contain pathogens, as well as repeated security lapses in areas where dangerous viruses and bacteria are kept. 
From reporting by KHOU in Houston today:
Sean Kaufman, a biosafety consultant who has testified before Congress, said it's good news that mechanisms were in place to identify when a lab worker got sick. But Kaufman said he remains concerned that CDC has not addressed systemic issues with lab safety.
"Even though CDC has taken steps in the right direction, there continues to be a stream of incidents and accidents," Kaufman said. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Obama Supports Drug Decriminalization: He just commuted the sentences of 61 convicted drug dealers/ WaPo

I wonder how these 61 people were selected to have the President commute their sentences?

I'd have expected him to start with jailed drug users, not dealers.  Some of these people were jailed for selling kilos of cocaine, for example.  Today's WaPo lists the names and charges of every one of these 61 lucky people.

White House Makes a Big Deal of New Heroin Efforts--But Says Nothing about Stemming the Flow or Why We're Still at War in Narco-State Afghanistan

On March 29, 2016 the White House issued a press release on its new heroin initiative.  The Washington Post described how much Obama proposed to do.  The long list of fixes and new public-private partnerships address addiction treatment almost exclusively, with a sop to law enforcement.  The 1 billion dollars spent, Obama said, will treat "tens of thousands" of addicts.  

Additional treatment is desperately needed, but the money won't go far.  The White House and RAND said in 2014 that the US had 800,000--2.4 million heroin addicts. Treatment requires many months or years, and costs tens of thousands of dollars per person. The new funding will support less than 10% of those needing treatment.

Speaking at the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Obama ... called addiction a “heartbreaking” issue that’s costing lives and devastating communities across the country.
But he said: “I’m very optimistic that we can solve it.”
Yeah right.  Till you get it off the street, bro, you ain't done shit.

And can you be as glib, Mr. President, at explaining why you completely left out efforts to reduce the heroin supply

From Wired, we learn that Obama ended (yes, ended) Afghan opium eradication soon after taking office:

In 2009, in one of his first major war policy decisions since becoming president, Barack Obama oversaw an end to U.S. poppy eradication... Without American support, Afghan government counternarcotic operations withered to a merely symbolic scale. Kabul’s agents would raze one acre of a 10-acre plot and call it “eradicated.”

And that's when the US heroin epidemic really took off, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

National Overdose Deaths—Number of Deaths from Heroin.
Aerial poppy eradication is off the table, according to the State Department, and the US no longer supports Afghan national counter-narcotics efforts. Hello?

Mr. President:  Please explain why you pulled the wool over the eyes of the American people by claiming the Taliban are the profiteers of Afghan opium?  Why didn't you tell the truth: that they tax the acreage used to grow the crop?  (As do anti-Taliban militias in areas they control.) This is akin to property taxes.

Somebody else actually buys the opium, converts it to heroin, and brings it to the US, where it sells for over 1,000 times what the Taliban received in taxes.

Who, Mr. President, collects the big money?  Who buys the opium harvest, protects the movement of opium, its conversion to heroin, and ships it over here, undetected? Last I heard, the US installed much of the Afghan government and patrolled a lot of poppy fields.  Afghanistan is where between 75% and 93% of the world's illicit opium is grown each year, on 500,000 (undisturbed) acres.  

Funny how after spending 100 billion dollars on Afghan reconstruction, over $8 billion on opium eradicationand several trillion dollars on our 15 year Afghan war, the acreage under poppies has only expanded.  Funny about that. 

Funny, too, is that big question mark... why are we still in Afghanistan?  I thought we went to get Bin Laden.  Well, he's history.  

Can someone explain our military objective for Afghanistan?  How do we justify this longest war in the 240 year history of our nation? 

Writing about the Afghanistan war in National Defense magazine in 2009, Lawrence P. Farrell noted, 

"Seldom do we hear or read a discussion of what the “political objective” should be or even whether anyone has articulated the political aims for the use of military force in that country."
"our military's operational objective [was] nation-building, euphemistically called counterinsurgency..." 
Nation-building?  Back during the Vietnam war, we used a different expression to say the same thing:  We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”  During the Vietnam war, most US heroin came from poppies grown in Southeast Asia.

Some of this heroin arrived in the US on military planes, inside the body bags of fallen soldiers. It was loaded onto aircraft at US military bases in Vietnam, and unloaded at military bases in the US. Somebody in the government knew what was going on.

At fourteen years into the Afghan war, in October 2015, USA Today reported
"The president said he does not believe in "endless war," but there remains an opportunity to forge a stable country that can prevent the emergence of future threats, an effort in which more than 2,200 Americans have given their lives."
Let's face it.  The explanations for our continuing adventure in Afghanistan are smoke and mirrors, nothing more.

Vietnam was an earlier war in which the number of US soldiers who had lost their lives was oft-repeated as justification to keep the war going. Vietnam was another war with fuzzy objectives, supposedly fought for a discredited "Domino Theory." But perhaps there are good reasons why the lessons of Vietnam seem to have been ignored. 

Few people know that Afghanistan hides immense underground wealth. But first it must be wrested from the Afghans. Heroin aside, two financial blockbusters are just waiting to be tapped.

1.  The value of Afghanistan's mineral wealth was estimated at one trillion dollars by NPR, and at 1-3 trillion dollars by Bloomberg.  This almost certainly influenced Russia's decade-long, failed invasion of Afghanistan throughout the 1980s.
"Afghanistan, with certainty I can say, in 20 years is going to be a mining country," Paul Brinkley, head of a Pentagon group called the Task Force for Business Stability Operations, tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "That is going to happen."
And from LiveScience in 2014:
Over the past four years, the US Geological Survey and Department of Defense's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations have embarked on dozens of excursions in the [Afghan] war zone to collect and analyze mineral samples...
The researchers' work has helped develop what are essentially treasure maps that let mining companies know what minerals are there, how much is there, and where they are, all to attract bids on the rights to the deposits...

2.   Pipeline construction, which has been on the table for the last 20 plus years, would move oil and gas from the Caspian basin to the Arabian Sea.  The region's proven gas and oil reserves (mainly in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, with some gas reserves in Afghanistan) are huge, and equal to those in the US.  To feasibly reach the ocean for transport via tankers, oil and gas pipelines must cross through Afghanistan, or else through Iran. 

 Proposed Central Asian Gas Pipelines
Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2010.

From The Diplomat comes a telling quote:
"It is, therefore, little surprise that some experts contend that the country is not transitioning from “war to peace,” but rather from “military conflict to resource conflict.'” 
Here's the thing.  Obama needs to "forge a stable country" to prevent pipelines from being tapped or blown up, and protect future mining operations.  No wonder retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, predicted we will be in Afghanistan for another 50 years, in a stunning interview.

3.  Don't forget that Afghanistan's half million acres of poppy fields generate heroin worth roughly $200 billion dollars on the street, year after year. Unlike minerals and gas, this is a truly renewable resource.

Is the Afghan war--the longest American war--just about opium, minerals and pipelines? I could be missing some of the picture. Maybe I have oversimplified things. But phenomenal resources, still untapped, have to count as the lurking, almost-never-discussed elephant in the Afghan war room.

If the US government had reasonable political and military objectives, wouldn't the government have provided a coherent account of its objectives by now?  In the absence of any meaningful explanation for this war, the only reason we remain there, with no prospect of getting out, is to secure control of Afghanistan's resources for the US.  Or, more correctly, for the oligarchs who control US policy and who will reap the benefits--while the people of the US (and Afghanistan, much more so) pay the costs.

FACT:  The land under poppy cultivation (and opium production) has tripled since the US entered Afghanistan in 2001, helped by US spending for wells, roads and "reconstruction."

FACT:  Ground was broken for Afghanistan's first gas pipeline, TAPI, in December 2015, though it still needs investors. It is in part a joint venture between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, thus the name TAPI. Presumably similar projects will remain on hold while waiting to see if this pipeline can succeed, despite the huge security problems.

Connect the dots.  As pipeline projects expand, as the number of mines increases, as Afghanistan retains its role as the world's #1 heroin-producing nation, so will our military presence remain, and grow.

But there is one small bright spot.  It is a Presidential election year, and the candidates do have to answer questions.  Can
 the Presidential candidates explain what we are doing in Afghanistan. Who owns Afghan mineral rights?  Who is invested in Afghan pipelines?

Will the next President change course, and get seriously behind drug interdiction and eradication in Afghanistan?  How will the US government get Afghan (and all) heroin off our streets? How many soldiers must continue to die to protect the right to loot Afghanistan? 

The huge tide of addiction blows right back from our rapacious Afghan policy. Over 10,000 Americans were lost to heroin in 2014. Deaths continue to climb.  In my state, Maine, deaths from heroin surpassed deaths from prescription drugs, for the first time, in 2015. 

Even children of the rich and powerful are being fed to the demon heroin. Like the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors" the more people this epidemic consumes, the bigger it gets. Will the costs of our Afghan policy ever become too high for our policymakers to bear?


The 2 earlier pieces I wrote regarding the heroin epidemic are here and here and they add to these ideas and documentation.  My mentors in this effort are Peter Dale Scott, Alfred McCoy, Michel Chossudovsky and Sibel Edmonds. Thanks also to William Edstrom for reminding me we can fight back.

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