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Issue #1539      14 March 2012

Culture & Life

Germs and the global bully

Did you see the reports of the top level meeting last month in Geneva between flu experts and US security officials? It seems researchers in the Netherlands and Wisconsin have been successful (if that is the right word) in genetically modifying the H5N1 virus (the bird flu virus) to make it transmissible through the air to ferrets. Ferrets are considered a good model for how the virus would behave in humans.

The H5N1 strain of flu is one of the most lethal strains of flu ever detected. More than 60 percent of humans who have contracted it have died. Dr Graham Bugess, a microbiologist at James Cook University, says if the virus hit Australia more than a million people would die.

US security advisers have tried to suppress publication of the research, to keep it secret. They have sought, for example, to pressure Dr Bruce Alberts, editor of Science, not to publish extracts from the research work. But he is quoted on Pravda.ru saying “it is important to get the research out quickly to scientists and health officials who need to know and need to protect their populations and to design new treatments and vaccines”.

This seems so glaringly obvious that it raises questions as to why the US would be trying to suppress the information. And not just trying. The website Pravda.ru reports that after the meeting in Geneva “a WHO official said a deal had been reached in principle to keep details of the controversial work secret until deeper risk analyses could be carried out”!

That sounds like just the kind of open-ended caveat that could delay publication for a very long time indeed. And just why are the Yanks so keen on keeping this research under wraps?

Their security people told Dr Alberts it was because of US concerns that it could help terrorists to develop a biological weapon. Terrorists are the bogeyman of choice for imperialism today, being even harder to disprove than the previous favourite, the “rogue state”.

And of course, imperialism’s leaders have absolutely no qualms about lying in their teeth on these matters, as witness former British PM Tony Blair telling the House of Commons all about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to justify invading Iraq. Blair was very eager for Britain to secure a slice of that action. That the “weapons of mass destruction” were imaginary didn’t bother him at all.

If imperialism was going to seize Iraq’s oil, then British Petroleum (BP) was going to get its share.

Setting terrorists aside, the US has actively been interested in developing biological weapons for its own use at least since the end of WW2. That was when the US army sent people into China (before the victory of the Chinese Revolutionary forces) to secure the services of as many of Japan’s military scientists who had been secretly working in Japan’s Chinese bases on gruesome biological warfare experiments. Not to try them as war criminals but to “rescue” them and put them to work for the US.

In the Korean War, a few years later, the US experimented with dropping germ-laden canister bombs over North Korea and across the Yalu River in China. These were not very effective and the Western media dutifully laughed the photographic evidence off as “Communist propaganda”, but it showed where imperialist thinking was going.

In the Vietnam War, the US made extensive use of chemical weapons, from napalm to nerve gas (they were very proud of both of these “refinements”). They were ever on the lookout for a weapon that would kill people but leave property undamaged (every warmonger’s wet dream).

They thought they had it with the neutron bomb: they actually boasted that that was precisely what it would do. They seemed surprised that global world opinion so categorically condemned the super new bomb.

The fact that the Russians were also capable of producing neutron warheads probably helped to give them cause to look elsewhere.

Now, of course, the US is investing heavily – very heavily – in drones. They have thousands of these pilotless planes, many armed with missiles. The early models were used for reconnaissance but the newer armed models are used for assassinations and terror strikes on civilians deemed to be “hostile”. The latter may be no more than neighbours of someone who is opposed to US actions in their country. That is enough for the modern US military state to order their deaths.

And of course, the pilotless drones have another great advantage: no body bags going home to upset the voters. Lately we have seen the resurfacing of the material about the real origins of AIDS, its deliberate development through gene splicing in US defence labs, looking for a way to thwart what notorious racist and anti-Communist J Edgar Hoover called “the coming Black revolution in the United States”.

Exposed originally by scientists in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), who even named the US Army facility at which the research was carried out, the AIDS exposé was derided and vehemently rejected by US propagandists. Rejected so vigorously in fact that people were put in mind of Shakespeare’s line: “Methinks thou dost protest too much!”

Despite the scope of the West’s campaign to bury the GDR material, the actions of the US government and military over the last three decades can only have given extra credibility to that material.

And now we have bird flu. With its unfortunate track record, it is most unlikely that the US would not be extremely interested in a virulent strain of influenza that might make a potent weapon against an economic rival with a large population (like China, say?). And the US would not want other countries to have information about it.

If the US government, military and intelligence services want the world to think of it as innocent in these matters then it needs to radically change its behaviour: you cannot be a global bully and thug and at the same time pose as a mild, peace-loving, law-abiding citizen. Not successfully, anyway.

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