By Sam Husseini / Substack
[Note: On Thursday, the Pentagon released its first ever formal “Biodefense Posture Review” (seeming to echo the regular Nuclear Posture Review) which I hope to be closely examining. Interesting timing, I had just written a piece drawing parallels between bioweapons and nuclear postures after seeing Oppenheimer.]
A bill being introduced in Wisconsin would prohibit institutions of higher education from conducting “gain of function” research on potentially pandemic pathogens. This is particularly concerned with stopping biolab work that might create viruses “capable of wide and uncontrollable spread in human populations.” [PDF]
Francis Boyle, professor of law at the University of Illinois, who wrote the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, the US implementing legislation of the Biological Weapons Convention, remarked: “That’s great. They should shut down the ‘gain of function’ work being done by Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin — a criminal enterprise along the lines of Doctor Mengele at Auschwitz,” referring to the Nazi physician who conducted inhumane experiments on prisoners.
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Yoshihiro Kawaoka is a virologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW) who in 2012 made the avian flu — which is very deadly but rarely transmissible — airborne. Ron Fouchier in the Netherlands conducted similar experiments, prompting even the New York Times to warn of “An Engineered Doomsday”. Kawaoka and Fouchier are thus perhaps the most notorious virologists on the planet, creating viruses far more deadly than Covid.
Such dangerous lab work is often euphemistically called “gain of function” work of concern. That is, it enhances the “functionality” — the lethality or transmissibility — of a pathogen.
Andrew Kimbrell, of the Center for Food Safety, has estimated that “with a 60 percent mortality rate” if that virus H5N1 bird flu which Kawaoka worked on got into the human population, “you have a potential 1.6 billion casualties.”
In 2014, Kawaoka also announced he reconstituted a version of the deadly Spanish flu, leading Lord May, the former president of the British Royal Society, to comment: “The work they are doing is absolutely crazy.” Boyle has called Kawaoka a “sociopath” who “has to be stopped. The sooner the better. Before he gives us the next pandemic.”
The late Donald A. Henderson, who helped end smallpox, commented: “The potential implications of an infected lab worker — and spread beyond the lab — are terrifying.” Marc Lipsitch at Harvard and Alison P. Galvani at Yale charged in 2014 that Kawaoka and Fouchier were violating the Nuremberg Code.
Kawaoka, who has received various scientific awards including the Robert Koch Prize and the Japan Academy Prize justified this work: “This is important information for those making decisions about surveillance and pandemic preparedness.”
In 2015, Kawaoka said at a lab tour: “The risk can’t be zero, but we try to make it as low as possible.”
Lynn C. Klotz, senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, in early 2019 attempted to estimate the probability of a lab accident in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, writing of the potential of “16 percent probability of a laboratory release into the community over five years of research.” Klotz warned of Kawaoka’s work in 2021.
The UW claims that enhanced potential pandemic pathogen research “is needed and highly regulated” and that regulation will limit the “ability of authorities to prepare and respond to threats.”
Professor Richard Ebright at Rutgers University, who recently helped start the group Biosafety Now!, retorted: “Enhanced potential pandemics pathogens research does not contribute to — and is not needed for — preventing preparing for or responding to public health threats.” Indeed, Ebright argues that it has no civilian applications.
Boyle, who wrote the book Biowarfare and Terrorism, argues that the lab work does have a purpose however — it’s effectively creating biowarfare agents.
After his work was halted for several years, Kawaoka resumed in 2019. Shortly thereafter there was a lab incident which set off alarms at the NIH. This was reported in USA Today in April by Alison Young, author of the recently released book Pandora’s Gamble: Lab Leaks, Pandemics, and a World at Risk.
Federal funding for such lab work was halted in 2014, though there were exceptions made. This shutoff is often attributed to disclosures about lab incidents in the US, many reported on by Young, but it may be connected to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. One of the findings of a recent investigation that virologist Jonathan Latham and myself conducted on the 2014 outbreak and its possible lab origin noted that Ron Klain became Ebola czar the very day a federal pause on funding of such dangerous lab work was put into place, Oct. 17, 2014. This and other moves suggest that the Obama White House strongly suspected the Ebola outbreak had lab origin.
In 2007, the Sunshine Project, a nonprofit dedicated to upholding prohibitions against biowarfare, documented lab rule violations by Kawaoka in working with Ebola virus genetic material. The violation came to light only after Kawaoka asked permission to do the work in a BSL-2, which is similar to a dentist’s office. The NIH ruled that such work should only be done in a BSL-4 lab, the highest level lab, which UW-Madison does not have.
Edward Hammond, Sunshine Project director, said that the NIH’s response amounts to disapproving its own project. “It is dismaying but not surprising that NIH’s biodefense program was funding work that violates NIH’s safety rules.” The Sunshine Project went under due to lack of funding in 2008.
Alexis Baden-Meyer of the Organic Consumers Association, who has written a series of articles on the “Gain of Function Hall of Shame,” has noted that Anthony Fauci has been a champion of Kawaoka, and has funded his work since he was at St. Jude’s. She also notes that in 2014 Gates hired Scott Dowell as a virus hunter. Dowell’s prior position was with the CDC and during his time there, worked closely with the Pentagon and he found the avian flu in nature and his work dovetailed with the work by Kawaoka and Fouchier.
There’s a lack of transparency of much of the work being done and this at times has led to charges which are completely unprovable. Yoichi Shimatsu has accused Kawaoka of being behind the creation of Covid, leading Billy Bostickson (an alias) of the online based DRASTIC group to dismiss such charges, though Bostickson has charged Kawaoka with theft of viruses. Part of the solution here, as others have noted, is the imperative for transparency.
In “We All Operate in the Same Way”: The Use of Animals at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2017), Rick Bogle scrutinizes claims by UW, charging they minimize the dangers of their lab work. He also writes that local media have failed in their responsibility: “Madison is essentially a company town; news that might be damaging to the university’s reputation is reported with something less than investigative vigor.”
Indeed, the recent report on the proposed legislation by the Wisconsin State Journal takes the stated goals of the research at face value in its headline: “Bill would ban high-risk research in Wisconsin aimed at preparing for new pathogens.”
Bogle tallies NIH funding to Kawaoka from 2006 to 2016 at over $6 million. Funding from the Pentagon, which also often funds this dangerous lab work, could not be determined.
UW recently defended continuing Kawaoka‘s work because not doing so would mean losing “millions of dollars of federal grant funding.”
The Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium which was “launched by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome and MasterCard initiative” lists Yoshihiro Kawaoka as one of its partners. The head of the Wellcome Trust at the time was Jeremy Farrar, who played a critical role in dismissing the real possibility of Covid having lab origin. He is now chief scientist of the WHO.
San Carlos, California, recently voted to ban such lab work. As did Florida. Texas is considering such a measure, which is significant because of labs at Galveston. Ebright notes that a ban in North Carolina would be especially consequential since that is where cutting-edge scientist Ralph Baric, who worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, operates from. But there are perversely more and more labs in dire need to being restricted.
Recent hearings in Congress regarding Covid origins have been surreal affairs, with many Democrats acting as though there’s no real problem while many Republicans largely trying to target China and Fauci while overlooking the larger issues. For example, Farrar and Fouchier’s names would come up, but no one would explain to the public listening their critical background.
State and local legal action may be an effective way to come to grips with the threat of dangerous lab work. But petty partisan dynamics may be a hindrance here as well. The Wisconsin bill is initially largely backed by Republicans, some associated with the “far right”. Thus, meaningful progress will require people from the left and right working together, a transpartisan alliance, to face an incredible menace with which the establishment is threatening humanity.
Sam Husseini is an independent journalist. He writes at husseini.substack.com.