U.S. and U.K. intel agencies are reviewing the private report, but intel analysts examined and couldn’t confirm a similar theory previously.
May 8, 2020, | By Ken Dilanian, Ruaridh Arrow, Courtney Kube, Carol E. Lee, Louise Jones and Lorand Bodo
WASHINGTON — A private analysis of cellphone location data purports to show that a high-security Wuhan laboratory studying coronaviruses shut down in October, three sources briefed on the matter told NBC News. U.S. spy agencies are reviewing the document, but intelligence analysts examined and couldn’t confirm a similar theory previously, two senior officials say.
The report — obtained by the London-based NBC News Verification Unit — says there was no cellphone activity in a high-security portion of the Wuhan Institute of Virology from Oct. 7 through Oct. 24, 2019, and that there may have been a “hazardous event” sometime between Oct. 6 and Oct. 11.
It offers no direct evidence of a shutdown or any proof for the theory that the virus emerged accidentally from the lab.
If there was such a shutdown, which has not been confirmed, it could be seen as evidence of a possibility being examined by U.S. intelligence agencies and alluded to by Trump administration officials, including the president — that the novel coronavirus emerged accidentally from the lab.
But that is one of several scenarios under consideration by U.S. intelligence agencies. Many scientists are sceptical, arguing that the more likely explanation is that the virus was transmitted to humans through animals in a Wuhan live produce market. The World Health Organization said Friday it believed the “wet” market played a role in the spread of the disease.
The first known case of coronavirus in China has been traced back to Nov. 17, but some researchers are beginning to question that timeline, given that a case has been documented in France in December.
The document says its analysis suggests the pandemic began “earlier than initially reported” and “supports the release of COVID-19 at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
The document doesn’t cite direct evidence to support that assertion. The analysis seems to account for only a tiny fraction of the cellphones that would be expected in a facility that employs hundreds of people.
Dr Just Vlak, a Dutch virologist who visited a nearby satellite facility of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in late November and met with WIV’s head of bio-security, told NBC News that the facility he visited had between 200 and 300 staff.
The document obtained by NBC News also says that an annual international conference planned for early November in the same lower-security portion of the WIV that Vlak visited appears to have been “cancelled and never took place.” The conference actually went forward as planned.
A second version of the document viewed by NBC News is annotated to say that the conference did proceed. No other differences between the two versions of the document were observed.
For that and other reasons, some officials are sceptical of the analysis, which is based on commercially available cellphone location data. One U.S. official who has seen the document said the data “looks really weak to me and some of the conclusions don’t make sense.”
Earlier, U.S. intelligence agencies received reports based on publicly available cellphone and satellite data suggesting there was a shutdown at the lab, two U.S. officials familiar with the matter say. But after examining overhead imagery and their own data, the spy agencies were unable to confirm any shutdown, and deemed the reports “inconclusive.”
Another U.S. official said intelligence agencies may give the data another look in the wake of this new report. And still another intelligence official said there may be more private cellphone location data that could shed further light on the matter.
Because the Wuhan lab is a high-security facility in an adversary nation studying dangerous pathogens, it is a collection target for several U.S. intelligence agencies, multiple officials told NBC News. Data gathered would include mobile phone signals, communications intercepts and overhead satellite imagery, the officials said.
Analysts are now examining what was collected in October and November for clues suggesting any anomalies at the lab, officials said.
Congressional intelligence committees have also been given the document, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., appeared to be alluding to it or a similar report in a tweet on Wednesday.
“Would be interesting if someone analyzed commercial telemetry data at & near Wuhan lab from Oct-Dec 2019,” Rubio tweeted. “If it shows a dramatic drop off in activity compared to the previous 18 months it would be a strong indication of an incident at lab & of when it happened.”
A Rubio spokesman declined to comment.
Among the many questions about the document is who wrote it. The cover page says “MACE E-PAI COVID-19 ANALYSIS.” It’s unclear what that means, although E-PAI may stand for “electronic publicly available information.”
President Donald Trump has said he has seen evidence that gives him “a high degree of confidence” that the virus emerged accidentally from a lab, but U.S. intelligence officials say they have not reached that conclusion and lack hard evidence to support it.
China has consistently denied that the virus escaped from a lab, and Chinese media recently called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “evil” for suggesting the possibility.
Those who suspect such a lab release point to a body of circumstantial evidence:
- A Jan. 24 study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that three of the first four cases — including the first known case — didn’t provide a documented link to the Wuhan wet market.
- The bats that carry the family of coronaviruses linked to the new strain aren’t found within 100 miles of Wuhan — but they were studied in both labs.
- Photos and videos have emerged of researchers at both labs collecting samples from bats without wearing protective gear, which experts say poses a risk of human infection.
- U.S. State Department expert who visited the WIV in 2018 wrote in a cable reported by The Washington Post: “During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, [U.S. diplomats] noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”
- According to Senate Intelligence Committee member Tom Cotton, R-Ark., the Chinese military posted its top epidemiologist to the WIV in January.
- The Shanghai laboratory where researchers published the world’s first genome sequence of the coronavirus was shut down Jan. 12, according to The South China Morning Post.
- According to U.S. intelligence assessments, including one published by the Department of Homeland Security and reviewed by NBC News, the Chinese government initially covered up the severity of the outbreak. Government officials threatened doctors who warned their colleagues about the virus, weren’t candid about human-to-human transmission and still haven’t provided virus samples to researchers.
Despite all that, most scientists and researchers believe the natural animal-to-human transmission is the most likely scenario.
Ruaridh Arrow, Louise Jones and Lorand Bodo reported from London.
Sharon Weinberger | 17.10.07
CALMATIVES AND OTHER Fentanyl-based drugs offer – at first glance – an attractive form of nonlethal weapons. But for opponents of their use, such drugs represent a dangerous slippery slope to chemical warfare, as this New Scientist article notes:
ChemToday the only people who are openly working on such drugs are a group of Czech anaesthetists based at the Institute of Experimental Medicine and Charles University Hospital in Prague, and the University of Defence in Hradec Kralove. In research presented at the European symposia on non-lethal weapons held in Ettlingen, Germany, in 2005 and again in May this year, they described some of the agents they have been using.
An important class are fentanyl-derived drugs. Fentanyl is an opioid, one of a large class of compounds that has a range of effects on the body, including knocking you out, relieving pain, and altering mood, as well as reducing breathing and heart rates. Other important classes are the benzodiazepines (such as Valium), which reduce anxiety and induce sleep, and the alpha2-agonists, which also induce sleep. Another option is the anaesthetic (and recreational drug) ketamine.
The Czech anaesthetists have tested combinations of these drugs on monkeys and human volunteers. Their preferred cocktail is the benzodiazepine midazolam (a staple of human anaesthesia), combined with the alpha2-agonist medetomidine and a low dose of ketamine. This, they say, produced something “very close to fully reversible immobilisation” with little or no effect on heart rate or breathing. Other combinations also produced reversible immobilisation but had side effects such as marked changes in blood pressure, heart rate and respiration.
In a statement to New Scientist, the Czechs maintain they are investigating non-lethal chemical weapons in case agents like these are used by terrorists. “Our research has a strictly defensive character,” they say.
Calmatives – except for domestic law enforcement – are banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention. But New Scientist notes that the Czech group’s conference papers cites the possibility of “new pharmacological non-lethal weapons” and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is preparing to release a report expressing concerns about such work.
By Anna Jones | BBC News | 15 May 2020
Despite a long border with China and a population of 97 million people, Vietnam has recorded only just over 300 cases of Covid-19 on its soil and not a single death.
Nearly a month has passed since its last community transmission and the country is already starting to open up.
Experts say that unlike other countries now seeing infections and deaths on a huge scale, Vietnam saw a small window to act early on and used it fully.
But though cost-effective, its intrusive and labour intensive approach has its drawbacks and experts say it may be too late for most other countries to learn from its success.
‘Extreme but sensible’ measures
“When you’re dealing with these kinds of unknown novel potentially dangerous pathogens, it’s better to overreact,” says Dr Todd Pollack of Harvard’s Partnership for Health Advancement in Vietnam in Hanoi.
Recognising that its medical system would soon become overwhelmed by even mild spread of the virus, Vietnam instead chose prevention early, and on a massive scale.
By early January, before it had any confirmed cases, Vietnam’s government was initiating “drastic action” to prepare for this mysterious new pneumonia which had at that point killed two people in Wuhan.
When the first virus case was confirmed on 23 January – a man who had travelled from Wuhan to visit his son in Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam’s emergency plan was in action.
“It very, very quickly acted in ways which seemed to be quite extreme at the time but were subsequently shown to be rather sensible,” says Prof Guy Thwaites, director of Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) in Ho Chi Minh City, which works with the government on its infectious disease programmes.
Vietnam enacted measures other countries would take months to move on, bringing in travel restrictions, closely monitoring and eventually closing the border with China and increasing health checks at borders and other vulnerable places.
Schools were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday at the end of January and remained closed until mid-May. A vast and labour intensive contact tracing operation got underway.
“This is a country that has dealt with a lot of outbreaks in the past,” says Prof Thwaites, from Sars in 2003 to avian influenza in 2010 and large outbreaks of measles and dengue.
“The government and population are very, very used to dealing with infectious diseases and are respectful of them, probably far more so than wealthier countries. They know how to respond to these things.”
By mid-March, Vietnam was sending everyone who entered the country – and anyone within the country who’d had contact with a confirmed case – to quarantine centres for 14 days.
Costs were mostly covered by the government, though the accommodation was not necessarily luxurious. One woman who flew home from Australia – considering Vietnam a safer place to be – told BBC News Vietnamese that on their first night they had “only one mat, no pillows, no blankets” and one fan for the hot room.
Protection against the asymptomatic
Prof Thwaites says quarantine on such a vast scale is key as evidence mounts that as many as half of all infected people are asymptomatic.
Everyone in quarantine was tested, sick or not, and he says it’s clear that 40% of Vietnam’s confirmed cases would have had no idea they had the virus had they not been tested.
“If you have that level[of asymptomatic carriers] the only thing you can do to control it is what Vietnam did,” he says.
“Unless you were locking those people up they would just be wandering around spreading the infection.”
This also helps explain the absence of any deaths.
As most of the returning Vietnamese were students, tourists or business travellers, they tended to be younger and healthier.
They had a better chance of fighting the virus themselves and were never able to put, for example, elderly relatives at risk, which meant the medical system could focus its resources on the few critical cases.
While Vietnam never had a total national lockdown, it swooped in on emerging clusters.
In February after a handful of cases in Son Loi, north of Hanoi, more than 10,000 people living in the surrounding area were sealed off. The same would happen to 11,000 people in the Ha Loi commune near the capital, and to the staff and patients of a hospital.
No-one would be allowed in or out until two weeks had passed with no confirmed cases.
This localised containment – which is likely to be used again if the virus reappears – meant that Vietnam has not done a huge amount of testing in the wider community.
“Initially it felt as though that was quite a high-risk strategy,” says Prof Thwaites.
“But it turned out to be absolutely fine, as they were able to isolate and maintain a complete grip on those cases.”
A clear public message
Even in a one-party state like Vietnam, you need to ensure the public is on board for such a sweeping strategy to work.
Dr Pollack says the government did “a really good job of communicating to the public” why what it was doing was necessary.
Regular SMS messages sent to all phones from the very early stages told people what they could do to protect themselves. Vietnam made use of its ever-present propaganda machine to run a vigorous awareness campaign, drawing on wartime imagery and rhetoric to unite the public in the fight against a common enemy.
It gave the sense of “society working together to defeat the enemy”, says Dr Pollack.
While Vietnam’s authoritarian government is well used to demanding compliance, Dr Pollack says the public largely rallied behind the government because they “saw that they were doing everything they could do and having success, and doing whatever it cost to protect the population”.
Can we really trust Vietnam’s data?
The government’s data is so strikingly low that there are inevitably questions about whether it’s accurate, but the overwhelming consensus from the medical and diplomatic community is that there is no reason to doubt it.
Prof Thwaites’s team is based in the country’s main infectious diseases hospital. He says if there had been unreported, undiagnosed or missed cases “we would have seen them on the ward – and we haven’t”.
His team has also carried out nearly 20,000 tests, and he says their results match the data the government is sharing.
Even if there were some missed cases, he says “what there wasn’t was a systematic cover-up of cases – I am very confident of that”.
Concern over rights violations
Vietnam’s top-down approach to leadership reaches right down to the community level, which brings its own problems.
Enforcing social distancing and quarantine relied on its entrenched system of “loyal neighbourhood party cadres spying on area residents and reporting to superiors”, says Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch,
There were undoubtedly “rights-violating excesses” in the process, he told the BBC.
“But not many people will hear about those episodes because of the government’s total control of the media,” he adds, citing cases of people being fined or prosecuted for criticising the government response.
The huge impact on the economy and the extent to which other social and medical issues were neglected by the single-minded virus mission is also not yet clear
Prof Thwaites says the kind of policies applied in Vietnam “just wouldn’t stand up” in countries now suffering widespread infections, but for the few countries yet to be hit “the lesson is there”.
“Prevention is always better than a cure and always cheaper generally,” he says.
“Had [Vietnam] had very large numbers of cases undoubtedly that system they put in place would have struggled.
“[But] there is no comparison to the health-economic benefit of doing what they did.”
Additional reporting by Giang Nguyen and Bui Thu of BBC News Vietnamese
BBC World Asia
The Coronavirus scourge as an infectious disease is a serious humanitarian issue. It incapacitates lives, and debilitate economies of more than 185 nations. Moreover, many citizens around the world have become fearful, distressed, confused, and the disease affected millions of people’s constitutional rights. Researchers and scientists are still fighting for the understanding of the disease, and many have yet to have definite answers and solutions.
There are calls in the Western Hemisphere that the governments wanted answers from the Chinese government. The calls for inquiries and investigations come after when the US found that a laboratory in Wuhan has serious safety issues. The P4 Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology was co-founded together with the French scientists and entrepreneurs. Later and upon discovering significant safety and security integrity issues, the French decided to abandon the project. The French complained about how an accreditated ‘P4’ laboratory maintained and handled the scientific activities. Health authorities in the West have also noted that the virus can hardly be a virus that’s too convenient and coincidental coming from a wet market in Wuhan. They indicated that the genomes of the virus have been transposed and mutated through different strands and stages from several animals in particular bats from the Southwest West region of China. Hence, they believed that faulty methodologies could have let the virus escaped out of the secured P4 laboratory.
These calls that come in from various governments in the West did not only wanted truths but compensations as well. When the MH370 on its way to Beijing disappeared, and still no answers to its resolved, the Chinese have been adamant wanting answers, truths, and compensations. Now the world community on this virus also wanted facts, answers, and compensations from this negligence arising from Wuhan.
In the US, an NGO founder of the Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, Larry Klayman, has initiated a class-action lawsuit against the Chinese on seeking compensation amounting to US $20tn (20 trillion dollars) and truth. Freedom Watch’s actions are formidable; however, its actions are only self-justification. It’s pointless to bring to sense the Chinese governmental actions in this manner (Quinn, 19/03/2020,
In India, a lawyer in Mumbai, Ashish Sohani, is suing China for US $2.3tn (2.3 trillion dollars). At the International Criminal Court of Justice, he also made his case that the Chinese actions of “downplaying the contagion was treason against humanity.”
(Khandekar, 22/04/2020; https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/why-this-mumbai-lawyer-sued-china-for-2-3tn-over-the-coronavirus-outbreak-11587527832779.html).
The International Council of Jurists (ICJ) and the All India Bar Association (AIBA) have also filed a complaint in the United Nations Human Rights Council in seeking unspecified amounts of reparations over the spread of the Coronavirus. AIBA and ICJ president, Adish C. Aggarwala also filed a petition accusing China of inaction and spreading the virus worldwide and alleging that the country violated International Health Regulations, International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Laws, and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) clauses (Business Today, 04/04/2020;
There are ways to justify this negligence treachery, and only with a total voice of reason and dissatisfaction, perhaps this can bring the Chinese to bear the consequences. That is, their impulsive negligence and a short-cut to power and greed is their downfall. So, what sort of remedy is available in international legal inquiries? (I) Global mass torts actions and reparations; and (II) Sanctions from the international community.
I. International Mass Torts Actions
Mass torts are civil legal actions brought against a party or parties that have caused pain, injury, suffering, sickness, grievance, emotional, and distress. In laymen terms, we called it suits, suing another party, or civil legal actions. It is not criminal in context because the parties are mostly private, and the law is not from regulation or policy formulated by the government into law. So mass torts are engaged by numerous stakeholders bringing legal actions against an organization or organizations in seeking or justifying truths and compensations or reparations. The ultimate decision is a heavily compensated amount, or it could be a reparation in kind. Reparations can be trying to ensure that the individual is being treated or at times, a humble apology. Today, society is more satisfied with the justifications of truths, a humble apology, and the correction by the parties that perpetuate the errors, misjudgment, assault, and injuries.
International mass torts have not been much of a prominence other than cases brought against respective parties in issues on torture and human rights abuses in the United States. However, one mass international tort litigation that stands out is the 1984 case, Bhopal disaster arising from the poisonous chemicals that escaped from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. The Union Carbide Bhopal case is about severe negligence on the part of the plant authorities and managers. The executives of Union Carbide tried their best to cover up as well. Still, the resulting of the disaster created the deaths of some 1,700 Indian citizens and injuring some 200,000 Bhopal residents that resided close to the leakage. This lawsuit is one of its kind because foreign nationals can bring legal actions against an American firm and obtain compensation and justifying the truths about their negligence and lackadaisical attributes in operating the factory. Even though the last of the compensations and reparations lasted till 2011, many Indians have acknowledged that the compensations are not the issue for their contentions, but they were insistent because Union Carbide was a large corporation and they kept insisting that their negligence was not their part.
Legal firms with worldwide reach should network with the 180 plus countries to formulate a civil legal action plan against the Chinese government and the Wuhan Institute of Virology for being negligent and releasing the virus that affected people’s health, wealth, and the countries’ economy.
The purpose of this international mass tort for the Coronavirus is not to address the importance bonum fidei, intentio legis, which is good faith intention in law. It is to validate whether the Chinese actions are in good faith under the law. Furthermore, whether their actions erred in misconduct or negligence.
To prove good faith intentions in law, the Chinese are required to adhere to three tests under Bhopal:
(A) The Astute of Strict Liability – The early English case Fletcher v Rylands described that in some instances a person might be held liable for any injury which he has caused, even though he has committed no moral wrongdoing nor departed in any way from a reasonable standard of care. In strict liability, liability is often found for an injury caused by the defendant’s unusual and abnormal activities in the community. The Coronavirus coming from the laboratory is either careless, negligence or could have purposely released because of work conflicts or dissatisfactions at the laboratory.
(B) Domestic Courts as Jurisdictional Authority – The Coronavirus devastated some 185 countries, including China itself. To hold a hearing at the International Court of Justice will be wilful and minding that the World Court holds precedent over such matters, especially when its the legitimate Court to hold such hearings. However, this is not done and deal case. The Coronavirus is not just an issue between a few countries; it affected 185 countries. The world needs to have the voice that prominent, powerful, and influential countries can hold sway to their decisive needs. Hence, the rule should allow a forum non conveniens to hear the arguments and allow the domestic or jurisdictional courts to conduct hearings in their own countries.
(C) Addressing Negligence – In the English case of Blythe v. Birmingham Water Works, the English Court in Birmingham defined negligence as “the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent or reasonable man would not do.” The Chinese have to prove whether the actions of the scientists, researchers, and the censorship from what happened at the laboratory breached a legal duty of reasonable care. This criterion is a standard of conduct to which all members of society are expected to conform. The plaintiff, on the other hand, must prove the existence of a duty, the defendant’s breach of this duty, and the harm resulting from this breach.
(D) Lastly, national and enterprise liability – This criterion asserts that the nation, i.e., China and the parent company (enterprise), Wuhan Institute of Virology, and its subsidiaries can be held liable for tortuous actions. The release and spread of the Coronavirus from the laboratory in itself are in the creation of an infectious disease that spread like wildly and being unable to contain it risks millions in the world to curfews, lockdowns, and restriction orders. Those who caught the infectious disease risk their lives for an unknown fate and future, and those that could have survived via tortuous days of medical treatments.
(Cummings, 1986; https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/gjicl/vol16/iss1/5/)
II. Sanctions and Reparations
A) International Solutions
Historically, financial or trade pressures to achieve political ends is as old as the tradecraft. However, perhaps, it has gained more prominence in the 20th century than before. Countries in Europe have gotten used to trading and exporting crafts, wares, and machinery. Any general displeasure to apprehend the trade between nations was detrimental to the economy of the nation.
International sanctions began as early as the First World War. Those days its called the “blockade”. As the Germans wanted to build tools for war, they require mineral resources found in various parts of the world. They also needed the export market to sell the various materials, equipment, tools, and types of machinery to up the ante for their war ambitions. Despite the strategy to curb trade for warring equipment, Great Britain after the war found that the blockade caused malnutrition and estimated that it also caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.
In 1919, as the world’s leaders met together for the first time to design a postwar global security solution, they observed the “economic weapon” as a resourceful tool to bring down aggressors to their heels.
Under Article 41 the United Nations (UN) Charter, members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) “may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.”
So given to the UNSC, the members have a mandate to apply such a measure, and nations have to comply under Art. 2(2) which states, “…shall fulfil in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.”
Today, there are six kinds of international sanctions:
- Economic sanctions – typically a ban on trade, possibly limited to specific sectors such as armaments, or with certain exceptions (such as food and medicine)
- Diplomatic sanctions – the reduction or removal of diplomatic ties, such as embassies.
- Military sanctions – military intervention
- Sports sanctions – preventing one country’s people and teams from competing in international events, like the Olympics or World Cup football.
- Sanctions on the environment – since the declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, international environmental protection efforts have been increased gradually.
- Targeted sanctions on individuals – lately, many diplomatic and international experts deemed that it is a bad idea to target a nation economically and financially, as it will affect the people more than the rulers of the country. Therefore, the logical thing to do is to target individuals who carried out atrocities, dictatorships, military and corrupted leaders who do away the nation’s wealth by cooperating with rogue nations or terrorists.
For this diary, sanctions will not be divided into detail and elaborated. The purpose is to clarify the objectives on sanctions and how they can serve to be effective against China and Chinese individuals who knowingly know the issues and negligence but chose to be unresponsive and defiant towards the world.
The Coronavirus or Covid-19 is an infectious disease but has now evolved into a biological weapon. Unlike other infectious diseases, which is a natural occurrence, mutations of the Coronavirus might have undergone mutations and transformations at the P4 Laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Its spread can be carelessness or negligence on the part of the laboratory workers.
The Foreign Ministry of China vehemently denied the existence of such evidence. Moreover, they insisted that their laboratory is secured and no organisms escaped from the laboratory. They also stressed that the laboratory does not manufacture any viruses or bacteria. As pressure mounts from Western and WHO experts and scientists to visit the P4 laboratory, they were either denied or silent. As of this writing, the laboratory is not accessible to anyone apart from CCP authorities.
China’s Foreign Minister further compared the Coronavirus to that of the HIV/AIDs virus infections. They noted that when people of the world contracted HIV/AIDs, nobody accused the West of being the exporter of the virus. Firstly HIV/AIDs do not spread like the Coronavirus because only if an individual comes in contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids or sharing the needles with the infected person, or having sex with the person, then a person may risk infections. Secondly, a person with AIDS/HIV is not able to spread to another person even in close contact, as long as no exchanging of fluids. Thirdly, HIV/AIDs did not originate from the West; it originated from non-human primates in Central and West Africa. The first chimp virus crosses into humans in the 1920s in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The discovery of AIDs was possible because of advance medical and scientific knowledge of understanding bacteria and viruses from the 1950s. Therefore in the 1920s, medical experts were not able to have that scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, during the 1980s, it also took the scientists a while to understand the origins of AIDs transmission and infections.
So there is a vast difference between the two viruses. Coronavirus can spread wildly even without coming in contact with another person. Secondly, the Coronavirus cost lives and rake up infections in a matter of days and weeks. More than 3 million were infected, and more than two hundred and eleven thousand have died! Thirdly, the disease creates massive confusion, lockdowns, and shrinks the economy of countries. Fourthly, it has already caused unnecessary chaos, arrests, and household incomes. AIDS/HIV or even SARS pales in comparison. Fifth, the International Council of Jurists filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) accusing China of inactions and violated international human rights, international humanitarian laws, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The sudden daily rise in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is just as bad as the injured civilians in a bomb blast. With the number of death cases rising in the tens of thousands, it sounded as if the explosive blast is so devastating that people are dying from radiating heat from the explosive blast. This scenario is similar to a dirty low yield nuclear bomb. A weapon of mass destruction!
Iraq, Iran, Libya, and North Korea, all have encountered economic sanctions, and yet, they have not done anything destructive worldwide to murder tens of thousands or brought a country to a standstill. They all either have nuclear weapons or the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons. During the last few years of the Obama Administration, Iran even allowed UN inspectors to monitor their nuclear reactors. The Chinese refusal to let the French audit the Wuhan institute is a dreadful mistake.
Imposing trade sanctions against China will be devastating to trading nations under the UN sanctions. Developing and weak nations that have been trading partners for decades will need to find future partners to leverage their trade sufficiencies broken off during the sanctions. If these nations keep their business with China, they will not be able to trade with other nations in terms of financial services, educational and medical services. Moreover, they can only unilaterally trade with nations that have business interests with China. In the end, private citizens of those countries who traded with China will suffer more than private or public organizations.
Situations in China are similar. Big corporations like Alibaba, Huawei, or any large Chinese conglomerates, have Chinese Communist Party Politburo members within their board and influence. Just a couple of months ago when Wuhan was devastated with the Coronavirus, the Chinese Communist Party hoarded all the medical equipment and face masks, for the country’s use instead of exporting them to countries that procured them. North Americans and Europeans understood the Chinese attributes and attitudes, and now they are legislating to ensure that manufacturing returned to their nations, and they utilize their supply chains.
Since the Chinese Communist Party took over the nation, they do not care about their citizens. For the millions that suffered, they used whatever deceptions to appease the citizens. Private citizens in the countries do not have any remedies at all. The courts, judiciary, military, and police are the frontline of the Communist Party organ. Discontent citizens can face severe punishments, disappearances, and extended ‘correctional’ rehabilitation programs that attempt to brainwash an individual into fearing the system. Millions of Chinese fled even before the Communists took over the country. China, for centuries, has been a foothold of greed, power, and expansionist behaviour. Feudal clans were fighting for honour, prestige, pride, and glory. Nevertheless, today, that feudal clan is the Communist Party, a dynasty, a deceptive Draconian institution. Either a citizen behaves or leaves.
C) Targeted Sanctions
The only available arena in this dreadlock is targeted sanctions. Targeted sanctions may lack the impetus, but its painted targets are Chinese individuals responsible for the spread of the virus, and the Chinese organizations that are running manufacturing companies or setting up infrastructure grids in any of the 185 nations with Coronavirus.
Targeted sanctions on corporations do not mean banning the corporation in the nation, but downsizing the number of Chinese expatriates in the company to advisors and consultants roles rather than management roles. Local nationalities will then take up management roles. With that, the company can only become an affiliate rather than the ownership coming from China, meaning the company is a franchise. The franchise should also obtain its sources of funds from the parent corporation.
A targeted individual sanction is similar to the US Magnitsky Act 2012. Formally known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, it is a bipartisan bill passed by the US Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012. The intention here is to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009 and also to grant permanent normal trade relations status to Russia. Since 2016 the bill, which applies globally, authorizes the US government to sanction those whom it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the US.
(Goncharenko, 16/11/2019; https://www.dw.com/en/magnitsky-a-symbol-of-sanctions-and-not-just-in-russia/a-51267181)
In the EU, there is also similar legislation that curtails the abilities of individuals to make money and profit from their investments worldwide. Very similar to the American legislation, it also curtails the movements of the individuals worldwide. The EU targeted sanctions imposed against the individual interrupt normal relations or benefits that would otherwise be granted in response to perceived misconduct by the target. This broad understanding includes economic and financial restrictions as well as diplomatic sanctions. In the EU context, sanctions have traditionally been referred to as ‘restrictive measures’ or mésures negatives in French, even though in recent times the term ‘sanctions’ is gaining currency also in EU parlance.
(EU. Policy Department for External Relations, 2018;
Benefits on targeted sanctions:
- Justice is not devastating to those who are not involved in the acts, especially innocent citizens.
- Assets froze from funds and used towards the economic recovery of a nation.
- Appropriating business interests to local business to heal back, and perhaps gather lost opportunities.
- Nations that caused the horrible acts of negligence or terror can reconstruct their via corrective behaviours or they continue to suffer lost revenue.
In places like China, corporate powers run the lifeline for economic prowess. Without them, the industries cannot achieve further than what is within China. The Chinese need the world.
This article was earlier released on Facebook in two parts. = DCWS
3 May 2020
On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) China office heard the first reports of a previously-unknown virus behind a number of pneumonia cases in Wuhan.
Four months later, as the battle against Covid-19 rages on, the weeks leading up to that date have become the source of fierce scrutiny, with the Chinese government facing accusations of deception surrounding the disease’s early spread.
As we head into the fifth month of a global crisis described as the worst since World War 2, the mystery surrounding how the world only learnt of Covid-19’s severity once its rapid spread had already begun has fuelled a push for a probe into China’s handling of the disease.
The call for answers comes amid recent findings that one Chinese scientist had issued a chilling public warning on the risk of bat-borne virus pandemics some years before the current outbreak.
A censored messaging app, a reprimanded whistleblower and a scientist known as “batwoman” are just some of the puzzle pieces that have slowly trickled out from the origin of the deadly coronavirus – all of which indicate medical knowledge of human-to-human transmission was quashed over crucial days in December.
Here’s what we know:
First coronavirus case and reports
The first case of Covid-19 reportedly traces back to November 17, 2019, more than a month earlier than the alert to the WHO.
While a clear “patient zero” has not been identified, a 55-year-old individual from the Hubei province in China is the first known person to contract the disease, according to unpublished Chinese government data reported by the South Morning China Post.
The report said Chinese authorities had identified at least 266 people who contracted the virus last year and who came under medical surveillance, the earliest being the case detected in mid-November.
Official statements by the Chinese government to the WHO, however, say the first confirmed case had been diagnosed on 8 December, reported the Guardian.
It was nine days later, on January 20, that Chinese President Xi Jinping first publicly addressed the issue of the virus, saying it had to be “resolutely contained”.
Wuhan was locked down on January 23.
The first case outside of China was reported by the WHO in Thailand on January 13. It was a woman who had arrived in the country from Wuhan.
Over the following days, authorities in the US, Nepal, France, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan confirmed cases of their own.
A 44-year-old man in the Philippines, who had travelled to Wuhan, was the first to die outside China on February 2nd.
By this point, China had reported more than 360 deaths.
By early May more than 200,000 people have died, and 3.2 million infections have been confirmed in at least 187 countries and territories, with the United States overtaking
China as the new epicentre of the pandemic in late March.
As of Friday, the death toll in the US stood at over 60,000, with more than 1 million infections. In New York City, hospitals are groaning under the weight of new cases as they continue to double every three days.
‘Batwoman’ and prior knowledge of the virus
This week, reports of a Chinese scientist’s chilling prediction on the risk of future bat-borne virus pandemics came to light.
Dubbed the “Batwoman” of Wuhan by her colleagues after years of virus-hunting expeditions in bat caves, Shi Zhengli has been warning the world for years that the wildlife trade of bats, civets, and other animals was a recipe for disaster.
Five years ago, she was a co-author of a paper that contained a public warning that the SARS virus outbreak “heralded a new era in the cross-species transmission of severe respiratory illness with globalisation leading to rapid spread around the world and massive economic impact.”
“Although public health measures were able to stop the SARS-CoV outbreak, recent metagenomics studies have identified sequences of closely related SARS-like viruses circulating in Chinese bat populations that may pose a future threat,” the paper stated.
Dr Shi is now at the centre of a diplomatic war of words between the US and China over claims the Chinese government “covered up” her Covid-19 discoveries during a critical week in January.
She was among the first scientists in the world to learn Covid-19 was killing people in her hometown of Wuhan after authorities asked her team to analyse blood samples on December 30.
On February 3, her team was the first to publicly report the mystery virus in Wuhan was a bat-derived coronavirus.
However, Dr Shi was ordered not to disclose information on the disease.
In an email to Dr Shi and key officials in January, Yanyi Wang, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology warned “inappropriate and inaccurate information” was causing “general panic”. Wang added that the National Health Commission “unequivocally requires that any tests, clinical data, test results, conclusions related to the epidemic shall not be posted on social media platforms, nor shall (it) be disclosed to any media outlets including government official media”.
It was at this time that Dr Shi had made key inroads into identifying the disease and the danger of its transmission.
Gao Yu, a Chinese journalist freed last week after 76 days of lockdown in Wuhan, said he spoke to Dr Shi during his incarceration and revealed: “We learned later her institute finished gene-sequencing and related tests as early as January 2 but was muzzled.”
And in an online lecture last month, Shi herself said her team confirmed on January 14 that the virus they had identified could infect people – six days before this fact was revealed by China.
This week, reports of a Chinese scientist’s chilling prediction on the risk of future bat-borne virus pandemics came to light.
Dubbed the “Batwoman” of Wuhan by her colleagues after years of virus-hunting expeditions in bat caves, Shi Zhengli has been warning the world for years that the wildlife trade of bats, civets, and other animals was a recipe for disaster.
The lab theory
Amid reports Western intelligence agencies are examining her work, Dr Shi maintains Covid-19 was not accidentally unleashed as a result of poor safety standards.
But in an interview with a US science magazine, she admits to “sleepless nights” when the outbreak first began.
Given her initial studies suggested the subtropical provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan had the greatest risk of coronaviruses jumping to humans from animals — particularly via bats — she remembers thinking, “could they have come from our lab?”.
“I wondered if (the municipal health authority) got it wrong,” she said. “I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China.”
As Shi and her colleagues raced to uncover the source of the contagion of the mystery illness against a mounting death toll, Shi was also investigating whether there was a link within her own work.
According to Scientific American, “Shi breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back: none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves”.
“That really took a load off my mind,” she said.
“I had not slept a wink for days.”
However, an exclusive investigation by the Daily Telegraph has revealed Five Eyes intelligence agencies of Australia, Canada, NZ, UK and US, are looking closely at the work of Shi and a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Peng Zhou.
It follows a report in the Washington Post that US embassy scientists and diplomats in Beijing visited the laboratory and met with Shi.
They then sent warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety practices and management as it conducted research on coronaviruses from bats.
According to the Post, the cable “warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic”.
On April 30 US intelligence agencies said federal agencies agreed with the “wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”
However, they said the intelligence community would “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.”
US President Donald Trump has also speculated that China unleashed the virus on the world by “mistake”.
On Thursday, he said the US was finding out “whether they made a mistake or whether it started off as a mistake and then they made another one or did somebody do something on purpose.”
‘Whistleblower’ Dr Li Wenliang
Before Yanyi Wang’s email muzzling Dr Shi circulated in January, another group of doctors aware of an impending pandemic were promptly silenced.
A small WeChat group run by Wuhan Red Cross hospital Dr Li Wenliang warned colleagues of confirmed cases of a contagious coronavirus at another hospital on December 30.
He told colleagues that patients were being “quarantined in the emergency department”.
“Wash your hands! Face masks! Gloves!” the 33-year-old medic wrote.
But technology implemented by the Cyberspace Administration of China scoured the social media platform and buried any information raising the alarm within the private conversation, going on to censor any keywords related to illness on the messaging app, the BBC reported.
Dr Li was then jailed and forced to sign a declaration which accused him of making false statements that disturbed the public order.
He died from the very illness he tried to warn the country about on February 7.
China’s first report claims
Despite all this, Dr Zhang Jixian, head of the respiratory department at Hubei Provincial
Hospital has been hailed by China as the first person to report the pathogen to authorities on December 27.
Her account aligns with Dr Li’s, as well as the timeline given by the WHO, which said it was alerted to the outbreak on December 31.
Dr Zhang Jixian’s claims over the earliest days of the outbreak were published by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency in April, as the country began to face mounting accusations of a cover-up and was forced to revise the number of dead in Wuhan up by 50 per cent.
Speaking through a bright blue surgical face mask, Dr Zhang told Xinhua the first two coronavirus patients had been an elderly husband and wife.
“On December 26, the first patient we saw was an elderly lady who had fever, cough and trouble breathing,” she said.
“Her husband and son came along with her. Her husband came to see a doctor for fatigue. He didn’t have a fever … We wondered whether the son was sick as well. Once we did the test, sure enough, the son had the lung problem too.”
Dr Zhang said the family’s symptoms “looked like flu or common pneumonia” but their CT scans showed significant damage to their lungs.
“We’ve had patients with ground-glass opacities in their lungs caused by virus infection.
But his (the son’s) were a lot more and larger than what we had seen before,” she said.
When another patient presented with the same symptoms on December 27, Dr Zhang said she filed a report to the hospital that warned she’d likely “discovered a viral disease, probably infectious”.
Dr Zhang told reporters that CDC workers came to her hospital to carry out research on the same day, calling their reaction “very timely”.
She added that she did not expect the contagion to end up spreading so widely.
With the “batwoman” revelations, in particular, fuelling fresh concerns over China’s alleged cover-up, critics are arguing that Communist Party chiefs thwarted efforts to contain the outbreak before it exploded around the world.
Australia has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Beijing as it calls for an investigation into the origins and spread of the virus.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has attempted to rally member nations of the WHO to support an independent inquiry into the origins and spread of the coronavirus. He has said Australia will push for an international investigation at the WHO assembly on May 17.
But China is seemingly unwilling to co-operate and has issued veiled threats over whether Chinese citizens would continue to travel to Australia and purchase the country’s products.
This week, the state-controlled People’s Daily lashed out at Scott Morrison as deserving “a slap in the face” for trying to blame the Covid-19 pandemic on the communist state, warning any push for an independent inquiry into the virus’ origins will spark a travel and trade boycott.
It comes after reports that China is clamping down on publication of academic research about the origins of coronavirus, in what the Guardian reported is likely part of a wider attempt to control the narrative surrounding the pandemic.
– New Zealand Herald
Sharri Markson on May 4, 2020
China deliberately suppressed or destroyed evidence of the coronavirus outbreak in an “assault on international transparency’’ that cost tens of thousands of lives, according to a dossier prepared by concerned Western governments on the COVID-19 contagion.
The 15-page research document, obtained by The Saturday Telegraph, lays the foundation for the case of negligence being mounted against China.
It states that to the “endangerment of other countries” the Chinese government covered-up news of the virus by silencing or “disappearing” doctors who spoke out, destroying evidence of it in laboratories and refusing to provide live samples to international scientists who were working on a vaccine.
It can also be revealed the Australian government trained and funded a team of Chinese scientists who belong to a laboratory which went on to genetically modify deadly coronaviruses that could be transmitted from bats to humans and had no cure and is now the subject of a probe into the origins of COVID-19.
As intelligence agencies investigate whether the virus inadvertently leaked from a Wuhan laboratory, the team and its research led by scientist Shi Zhengli feature in the dossier prepared by Western governments that points to several studies they conducted as areas of concern.
It cites their work discovering samples of coronavirus from a cave in the Yunnan province with striking genetic similarity to COVID-19, along with their research synthesising a bat-derived coronavirus that could not be treated.
Its major themes include the “deadly denial of human-to-human transmission”, the silencing or “disappearing” of doctors and scientists who spoke out, the destruction of evidence of the virus from genomic studies laboratories, and “bleaching of wildlife market stalls”, along with the refusal to provide live virus samples to international scientists working on a vaccine.
Key figures of the Wuhan Institute of Virology team, who feature in the government dossier, were either trained or employed in the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory where they conducted foundational research on deadly pathogens in live bats, including SARS, as part of an ongoing partnership between the CSIRO and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
This partnership continues to this day, according to the website of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, despite concerns the research is too risky.
Politicians in the Morrison government are speaking out about the national security and biosecurity concerns of this relationship as the controversial research into bat-related viruses now comes into sharp focus amid the investigation by the Five Eyes intelligence agencies of the United States, Australia, NZ, Canada and the UK.
RISKY BAT RESEARCH
In Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, not far from the now infamous Wuhan wet market, Dr Shi and her teamwork in high-protective gear in level-three and level-four bio-containment laboratories studying deadly bat-derived coronaviruses.
At least one of the estimated 50 virus samples Dr Shi has in her laboratory is a 96 per cent genetic match to COVID-19. When Dr Shi heard the news about the outbreak of a new pneumonia-like virus, she spoke about the sleepless nights she suffered worrying whether it was her lab that was responsible for the outbreak.
As she told Scientific American magazine in an article published this week: “Could they have come from our lab?” Since her initial fears, Dr Shi has satisfied herself the genetic sequence of COVID-19 did not match any her lab was studying.
Yet, given the extent of the People’s Republic of China’s lies, obfuscations and angry refusal to allow any investigation into the origin of the outbreak, her laboratory is now being closely looked at by international intelligence agencies.
The Australian government’s position is that the virus most likely originated in the Wuhan wet market but that there is a remote possibility — a 5 per cent chance — it accidentally leaked from a laboratory.
The US’s position, according to reports this week, is that it is more likely the virus leaked from a laboratory but it could also have come from a wet market that trades and slaughters wild animals, where other diseases including the H5N1 avian flu and SARS originated.
CREATING MORE DEADLY VIRUSES
Western governments’ research paper confirms this.
It notes a 2013 study conducted by a team of researchers, including Dr Shi, who collected a sample of horseshoe bat faeces from a cave in Yunnan province, China, which was later found to contain a virus 96.2 per cent identical to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused COVID-19.
The research dossier also references work done by the team to synthesise SARS-like coronaviruses, to analyse whether they could be transmissible from bats to mammals. This means they were altering parts of the virus to test whether it was transmissible to different species.
Their November 2015 study, done in conjunction with the University of North Carolina, concluded that the SARS-like virus could jump directly from bats to humans and there was no treatment that could help.
The study acknowledges the incredible danger of the work they were conducting.
“The potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens,” they wrote.
You have to be a scientist to understand it, but below is the line that the governments’ research paper references from the study.
“To examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs, we built a chimeric virus encoding a novel, zoonotic CoV spike protein — from the RsSHCO14-CoV sequence that was isolated from Chinese horseshoe bats — in the context of the SARS-CoV mouse-adapted backbone,” the study states.
One of Dr Shi’s co-authors on that paper, Professor Ralph Baric from North Carolina University, said in an interview with Science Daily at the time: “This virus is highly pathogenic and treatments developed against the original SARS virus in 2002 and the ZMapp drugs used to fight ebola fail to neutralise and control this particular virus.”
A few years later, in March 2019, Dr Shi and her team, including Peng Zhou, who worked in Australia for five years, published a review titled Bat Coronaviruses in China in the medical journal Viruses, where they wrote that they “aim to predict virus hot spots and their cross-species transmission potential”, describing it as a matter of “urgency to study bat coronaviruses in China to understand their potential of causing another outbreak. Their review stated: “It is highly likely that future SARS or MERS like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China.”
It examined which proteins were “important for interspecies transmission”.
Despite intelligence probes into whether her laboratory may have been responsible for the outbreak, Dr Shi is not hitting pause on her research, which she argues is more important than ever in preventing a pandemic. She plans to head a national project to systemically sample viruses in bat caves, with estimates that there are more than 5000 coronavirus strains “waiting to be discovered in bats globally”.
“Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks,” she told Scientific American. “We must find them before they find us.”
Dr Shi, the director of the Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Wuhan Institute of Virology, spent time in Australia as a visiting scientist for three months from February 22 to May 21, 2006, where she worked at the CSIRO’s top-level Australian Animal Health Laboratory, which has recently been renamed.
The CSIRO would not comment on what work she undertook during her time here, but an archived and translated biography on the Wuhan Institute of Virology website states that she was working with the SARS virus.
“The SARS virus antibodies and genes were tested in the State Key Laboratory of Virology in Wuhan and the Animal Health Research Laboratory in Geelong, Australia,” it states.
The Telegraph has obtained two photographs of her working at the CSIRO laboratories, including in the level-four lab, in 2006.
Dr Shi’s protégé, Peng Zhou — now the head of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunity Project at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — spent three years at the bio-containment facility Australian Animal Health Laboratory between 2011 and 2014. He was sent by China to complete his doctorate at the CSIRO from 2009-2010.
During this time, Dr Zhou arranged for wild-caught bats to be transported alive by air from Queensland to the lab in Victoria where they were euthanised for dissection and studied for deadly viruses.
Dr Linfa Wang, while an Honorary Professor of the Wuhan Institute of Virology between 2005 and 2011, also worked in the CSIRO Office of the Chief Executive Science Leader in Virology between 2008 and 2011.
Federal Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson said it was “very concerning” that Chinese scientists had been conducting research into bat viruses at the CSIRO in Geelong, Victoria, in jointly funded projects between the Australian and Chinese governments.
“We need to exercise extreme care with any research projects involving foreign nationals which may compromise our national security or biosecurity,” she said.
While the US has cut all funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the CSIRO would not respond to questions about whether it is still collaborating with it, saying only that it collaborates with research organisations from around the world to prevent diseases.
“As with all partners, CSIRO undertakes due diligence and takes security very seriously,” a spokesman said. “CSIRO undertakes all research in accordance with strict biosecurity and legislative requirements.”
IS THE RESEARCH WORTH THE RISK?
The US withdrew funding from controversial experiments that make pathogens more potent or likely to spread dangerous viruses in October 2014, concerned it could lead to a global pandemic.
The pause on funding for 21 “gain of function” studies was then lifted in December 2017.
Despite the concerns, the CSIRO continued to partner and fund research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The CSIRO refused to respond to questions from The Saturday Telegraph about how much money went into a joint research collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Science and its Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The Wuhan Institute still lists the CSIRO as a partner while the US has cut ties since the coronavirus outbreak.
The argument is whether it is worth developing these viruses to anticipate and prevent a pandemic when a leak of the virus could also cause one. The debate in the scientific community is heated.
There have also been serious concerns about a lack of adequate safety practices at the Wuhan Institute of Virology when dealing with deadly viruses.
A ‘‘Sensitive but Unclassified’’ cable, dated January 19, 2018, obtained by The Washington Post, revealed that US embassy scientists and diplomats in Beijing visited the laboratory and sent warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety practices and management weaknesses as it conducted research on coronaviruses from bats.
“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the cable stated.
UNLIKELY CLAIMS VIRUS CREATED IN LAB
The scientific consensus is that the virus came from a wet market. But the US’s top spy agency confirmed on the record for the first time yesterday that the US intelligence committee is investigating whether COVID-19 was the result of an accident at a Wuhan laboratory.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence acting director Richard Grenell said the virus was not created in a laboratory.
“The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to US policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China,” he said.
“The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified. As we do in all crises, the Community’s experts respond by surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to US national security. The IC 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.”
Despite Mr Grenell’s statement and scientific consensus that the virus was not created in a laboratory, based on its genome sequence the governments’ research paper obtained by The Telegraph notes a study that claims it was created.
South China University of Technology researchers published a study on February 6 that concluded “the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan. Safety level may need to be reinforced in high-risk biohazards laboratories”.
“The paper is soon withdrawn because it ‘was not supported by direct proofs’, according to author Botao Xiano,” the dossier noted, continuing to point out that: ‘“No scientists have confirmed or refuted the paper’s findings’, scholar Yanzhong Huang wrote on March 5.”
The Saturday Telegraph does not claim that the South China University of Technology study is credible, only that it has been included in this government research paper produced as part of the case against China.
CHINA’S COVER-UP OF EARLY SAMPLES
The paper obtained by The Saturday Telegraph speaks about “the suppression and destruction of evidence” and points to “virus samples ordered destroyed at genomics labs, wildlife market stalls bleached, the genome sequence not shared publicly, the Shanghai lab closure for ‘rectification’, academic articles subjected to prior review by the Ministry of Science and Technology and data on asymptomatic ‘silent carriers’ kept secret”.
It paints a picture of how the Chinese government deliberately covered up the coronavirus by silencing doctors who spoke out, destroying evidence from the Wuhan laboratory and refusing to provide live virus samples to international scientists working on a vaccine.
The US, along with other countries, has repeatedly demanded a live virus sample from the first batch of coronavirus cases. This is understood to have not been forthcoming despite its vital importance in developing a vaccine while potentially providing an indication of where the virus originated.
THE LAB WORKER WHO DISAPPEARED
Out of all the doctors, activists, journalists and scientists who have reportedly disappeared after speaking out about the coronavirus or criticising the response of Chinese authorities, no case is more intriguing and worrying than that of Huang Yan Ling.
A researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the South China Morning Post reported rumours swirling on Chinese social media that she was the first to be diagnosed with the disease and was “patient zero”.
Then came her reported disappearance, with her biography and image deleted from the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s website.
On February 16 the institute denied she was patient zero and said she was alive and well, but there has been no proof of life since then, fanning speculation.
DESTRUCTION OF EVIDENCE
On December 31, Chinese authorities started censoring news of the virus from search engines, deleting terms including “SARS variation, “Wuhan Seafood market” and “Wuhan Unknown Pneumonia.”
On January 1 without any investigation into where the virus originated from, the Wuhan seafood market was closed and disinfected.
It has been reported in the New York Times that individual animals and cages were not swabbed “eliminating evidence of what animal might have been the source of the coronavirus and which people had become infected but survived”. The Hubei health commission ordered genomics companies to stop testing for the new virus and to destroy all samples. A day later, on January 3, China’s leading health authority, the National Health Commission, ordered Wuhan pneumonia samples be moved to designated testing facilities or destroyed while instructing a no-publication order related to the unknown disease.
Doctors who bravely spoke out about the new virus were detained and condemned. Their detentions were splashed across the Chinese-state media with a call from Wuhan Police for “all citizens to not fabricate rumours, not spread rumours, not believe rumours.”
A tweet from the Global Times on January 2 states: “Police in Central China’s Wuhan arrested 8 people spreading rumours about a local outbreak of unidentifiable #pneumonia. Previous online posts said it was SARS.” This had the intended effect of silencing other doctors who may have been inclined to speak out.
So the truth about the outbreak in China has remained shrouded in secrecy, with President Xi Jinping aggressively rejecting global calls for an inquiry.
The dossier is damning of China’s constant denials about the outbreak.
“Despite evidence of human-human transmission from early December, PRC authorities deny it until January 20,” it states.
“The World Health Organisation does the same. Yet officials in Taiwan raised concerns as early as December 31, as did experts in Hong Kong on January 4.”
The paper exposes the hypocrisy of China’s self-imposed travel bans while condemning those of Australia and the United States, declaring: “Millions of people leave Wuhan after the outbreak and before Beijing locks down the city on January 23.” “Thousands fly overseas. Throughout February, Beijing presses the US, Italy, India, Australia, Southeast Asian neighbours and others not to protect themselves via travel restrictions, even as the PRC imposes severe restrictions at home.” In the paper, the Western governments are pushing back at what they call an “assault on international transparency”.
“As EU diplomats prepare a report on the pandemic, PRC successfully presses Brussels to strike language on PRC disinformation,” it states.
“As Australia calls for an independent inquiry into the pandemic, PRC threatens to cut off trade with Australia. PRC has likewise responded furiously to the US calls for transparency.”
Chair of Australia’s Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security Andrew Hastie said after the cover-up and disinformation campaign from China, the world needed transparency and an inquiry.
“So many Australians have been damaged by the mismanagement of COVID-19 by the Chinese government, and if we truly are as close as Beijing suggests we are then we need answers about how this all started,” he said.
KEY DATES IN COVID COVER-UP
NOVEMBER 9, 2015
Wuhan Institute of Virology publishes a study revealing they created a new virus in the lab from SARS-CoV.
DECEMBER 6, 2019
Five days after a man linked to Wuhan’s seafood market presented pneumonia-like symptoms, his wife contracts it, suggesting human to human transmission.
China’s health authorities told a novel disease, then affecting some 180 patients, was caused by a new coronavirus.
Evidence of a new virus emerges from Wuhan patient data.
Chinese internet authorities begin censoring terms from social media such as Wuhan Unknown Pneumonia.
JANUARY 1, 2020
Eight Wuhan doctors who warned about the new virus are detained and condemned.
China’s top health authority issues a gag order.
Wuhan Municipal Health Commission stops releasing daily updates on new cases. Continues until January 18.
PRC official Wang Guangfa says outbreak “under control” and mostly a “mild condition”.
Professor Zhang Yongzhen’s lab in Shanghai is closed by authorities for “rectification”, one day after it shares genomic sequence data with the world for the first time.
PRC National Health Commission chief Ma Xiaowei privately warns colleagues the virus is likely to develop into a major public health event.
Officials in Beijing prevent the Wuhan Institute of Virology from sharing sample isolates with the University of Texas.
China’s internet watchdog tightens controls on social media platforms.
Citizen-journalist and local businessman Fang Bin disappears.
Wuhan belatedly raises its official fatalities by 1290.
– The Daily Telegraph
Wuhan-based virologist Shi Zhengli has identified dozens of deadly SARS-like viruses in bat caves, and she warns there are more out there
By Jane Qiu on April 27, 2020
In 2004 Shi Zhengli found a natural reservoir of coronaviruses in bat caves in southern China.
Genetic analyses show they have leapt to people several times, causing deadly diseases such as COVID-19.
Increasing contact between people and wild animals makes more outbreaks likely.
Editor’s Note (4/24/20): This article was originally published online on March 11. It has been updated for inclusion in the June 2020 issue of Scientific American and to address rumours that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from Shi Zhengli’s lab in China.
The mysterious patient samples arrived at the Wuhan Institute of Virology at 7 P.M. on December 30, 2019. Moments later, Shi Zhengli’s cell phone rang. It was her boss, the institute’s director. The Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention had detected a novel coronavirus in two hospital patients with atypical pneumonia, and it wanted Shi’s renowned laboratory to investigate. If the finding was confirmed, the new pathogen could pose a severe public health threat—because it belonged to the same family of viruses like the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This disease plagued 8,100 people and killed nearly 800 of them between 2002 and 2003. “Drop whatever you are doing and deal with it now,” she recalls the director saying.
Shi, a virologist who is often called China’s “batwoman” by her colleagues because of her virus-hunting expeditions in bat caves over the past 16 years, walked out of the conference she was attending in Shanghai and hopped on the next train back to Wuhan. “I wondered if [the municipal health authority] got it wrong,” she says. “I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China.” Her studies had shown that the southern, subtropical provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan have the greatest risk of coronaviruses jumping to humans from animals—particularly bats, a known reservoir. If coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers thinking, “Could they have come from our lab?”
While Shi’s team at the Wuhan Institute, an affiliate of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, raced to uncover the identity of the contagion—over the following week they connected the illness to the novel coronavirus that becomes known as SARS-CoV-2—the disease spread like wildfire. By April 20, more than 84,000 people in China had been infected. About 80 per cent of them lived in the province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital, and more than 4,600 had died. Outside of China, about 2.4 million people across 210 countries, and territories had caught the virus; more than 169,000 had perished from COVID-19.
Scientists have long warned that the rate of emergence of new infectious diseases is accelerating—especially in developing countries where high densities of people and animals increasingly mingle and move about. “It’s crucial to pinpoint the source of infection and the chain of cross-species transmission,” says disease ecologist Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a New York City-based nonprofit research organization that collaborates with researchers, such as Shi, in 30 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East to discover new viruses in wildlife. An equally important task, he adds, is to hunt down other pathogens to “prevent similar incidents from happening again.”
To Shi, her first virus-discovery expedition felt like a vacation. On a breezy, sunny spring day in 2004, she joined an international team of researchers to collect samples from bat colonies in caves near Nanning, the capital of Guangxi. Her inaugural cave was typical of the region: large, rich in limestone columns and—as a popular tourist destination—easily accessible. “It was spellbinding,” Shi recalls. Milky-white stalactites hung from the ceiling like icicles, glistening with moisture.
But the holiday-like atmosphere soon dissipated. Many bats—including several insect-eating species of horseshoe bats that are abundant in southern Asia—roost in deep, narrow caves on steep terrain. Often guided by tips from local villagers, Shi and her colleagues had to hike for hours to potential sites and inch through tight rock crevasses on their stomachs. And the flying mammals can be elusive. In one frustrating week, the team explored more than 30 caves and saw only a dozen bats.
These expeditions were part of the effort to catch the culprit in the SARS outbreak, the first major epidemic of the 21st century. A Hong Kong team had reported that wildlife traders in Guangdong first caught the SARS coronavirus from civets, mongoose like mammals that are native to tropical and subtropical Asia and Africa.
Before SARS, the world had only an inkling of coronaviruses—so named because their spiky surface resembles a crown when seen under a microscope, says Linfa Wang, who directs the emerging infectious diseases program at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School. Coronaviruses were mostly known for causing common colds. “The SARS outbreak was a game-changer,” Wang says. It was the first emergence of a deadly coronavirus with pandemic potential. The incident helped to jump-start a global search for animal viruses that could find their way into humans. Shi was an early recruit of that effort, and both Daszak and Wang have been her long-term collaborators.
With the SARS virus, just how the civets got, it remained a mystery. Two previous incidents were telling: Australia’s 1994 Hendra virus infections, in which the contagion jumped from horses to humans, and Malaysia’s 1998 Nipah virus outbreak, in which it moved from pigs to people. Wang found that both diseases were caused by pathogens that originated in fruit-eating bats. Horses and pigs were merely the intermediate hosts. Bats in the Guangdong market also contained traces of the SARS virus, but many scientists dismissed this as contamination. Wang, however, thought bats might be the source.
In those first virus-hunting months in 2004, whenever Shi’s team located a bat cave, it would put a net at the opening before dusk and then wait for the nocturnal creatures to venture out to feed for the night. Once the bats were trapped, the researchers took blood and saliva samples, as well as faecal swabs, often working into the small hours. After catching up on some sleep, they would return to the cave in the morning to collect urine and faecal pellets.
But sample after sample turned up no trace of genetic material from coronaviruses. It was a heavy blow. “Eight months of hard work seemed to have gone down the drain,” Shi says. “We thought maybe bats had nothing to do with SARS.” The scientists were about to give up when a research group in a neighbouring lab handed them a diagnostic kit for testing antibodies produced by people with SARS.
There was no guarantee that the test would work for bat antibodies, but Shi gave it a go anyway. “What did we have to lose?” she says. The results exceeded her expectations. Samples from three horseshoe bat species contained antibodies to the SARS virus. “It was a turning point for the project,” Shi says. The researchers learned that the presence of the coronavirus in bats was ephemeral and seasonal—but an antibody reaction could last from weeks to years. The diagnostic kit, therefore, offered a valuable pointer as to how to hunt down viral genomic sequences.
Shi’s team used the antibody test to narrow down the list of locations and bat species to pursue in the quest for genomic clues. After roaming mountainous terrain in most of China’s dozens of provinces, the researchers turned their attention to one spot: Shitou Cave, on the outskirts of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, where they conducted intense sampling during different seasons over five consecutive years.
The efforts paid off. The pathogen hunters discovered hundreds of bat-borne coronaviruses with incredible genetic diversity. “The majority of them are harmless,” Shi says. But dozens belong to the same group as SARS. They can infect human lung cells in a petri dish and cause SARS-like diseases in mice.
In Shitou Cave—where painstaking scrutiny has yielded a natural genetic library of bat-borne viruses—the team discovered a coronavirus strain that came from horseshoe bats with a genomic sequence nearly 97 per cent identical to the one found in civets in Guangdong. The finding concluded a decade-long search for the natural reservoir of the SARS coronavirus.
A DANGEROUS MIX
In many bat dwellings Shi has sampled, including Shitou Cave, “constant mixing of different viruses creates a great opportunity for dangerous new pathogens to emerge,” says Ralph Baric, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the vicinity of such viral melting pots, Shi says, “you don’t need to be a wildlife trader to be infected.”
Near Shitou Cave, for example, many villages sprawl among the lush hillsides in a region known for its roses, oranges, walnuts and hawthorn berries. In October 2015 Shi’s team collected blood samples from more than 200 residents in four of those villages. It found that six people, or nearly 3 per cent, carried antibodies against SARS-like coronaviruses from bats—even though none of them had handled wildlife or reported SARS-like or other pneumonialike symptoms. Only one had travelled outside of Yunnan before the sampling, and all said they had seen bats flying in their village.
Three years earlier Shi’s team had been called in to investigate the virus profile of a mine shaft in Yunnan’s mountainous Mojiang County—famous for its fermented Pu’er tea—where six miners suffered from pneumonialike diseases, and two died. After sampling the cave for a year, the researchers discovered a diverse group of coronaviruses in six bat species. In many cases, multiple viral strains had infected a single animal, turning it into a flying factory for new viruses.
“The mine shaft stunk like hell,” says Shi, who, like her colleagues, went in wearing a protective mask and clothing. “Bat guano, covered in fungus, littered the cave.” Although the fungus turned out to be the pathogen that had sickened the miners, she says it would have been only a matter of time before they caught the coronaviruses if the mine had not been promptly shut.
With growing human populations increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitats, with unprecedented changes in land use, with wildlife and livestock transported across countries and their products around the world, and with sharp increases in both domestic and international travel, pandemics of new diseases are mathematical near certainty. This had been keeping Shi and many other researchers awake at night long before the mysterious samples landed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on that ominous evening last December.
More than a year ago, Shi’s team published two comprehensive reviews about coronaviruses in Viruses and Nature Reviews Microbiology. Drawing evidence from her own studies—many of which were published in top academic journals—and from others, Shi and her co-authors warned of the risk of future outbreaks of bat-borne coronaviruses.
On the train back to Wuhan on December 30 last year, Shi and her colleagues discussed ways to immediately start testing the patients’ samples. In the following weeks—the most intense and the most stressful time of her life—China’s batwoman felt she was fighting a battle in her worst nightmare, even though it was one she had been preparing for over the past 16 years. Using a technique called a polymerase chain reaction, which can detect a virus by amplifying its genetic material, the team found that samples from five of seven patients had genetic sequences present in all coronaviruses.
Shi instructed her group to repeat the tests and, at the same time, sent the samples to another facility to sequence the full viral genomes. Meanwhile, she frantically went through her own lab’s records from the past few years to check for any mishandling of experimental materials, especially during disposal. Shi breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back: none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves. “That really took a load off my mind,” she says. “I had not slept a wink for days.”
By January 7 the Wuhan team had determined that the new virus had indeed caused the disease those patients suffered—a conclusion based on results from analyses using polymerase chain reaction, full genome sequencing, antibody tests of blood samples and the virus’s ability to infect human lung cells in a petri dish. The genomic sequence of the virus, eventually named SARS-CoV-2, was 96 per cent identical to that of a coronavirus the researchers had identified in horseshoe bats in Yunnan. Their results appeared in a paper published online on February 3 in Nature. “It’s crystal clear that bats, once again, are the natural reservoir,” says Daszak, who was not involved in the study.
Since then, researchers have published more than 4,500 genomic sequences of the virus, showing that samples around the world appear to “share a common ancestor,” Baric says. The data also point to a single introduction into humans followed by sustained human-to-human transmission, researchers say.
Given that the virus seems fairly stable initially and that many infected individuals appear to have mild symptoms, scientists suspect that the pathogen might have been around for weeks or even months before severe cases raised the alarm. “There might have been mini outbreaks, but the viruses either burned out or maintained low-level transmission before causing havoc,” Baric says. Most animal-borne viruses reemerge periodically, he adds, so “the Wuhan outbreak is by no means incidental.”
To many, the region’s burgeoning wildlife markets—which sell a wide range of animals such as bats, civets, pangolins, badgers and crocodiles—are perfect viral melting pots. Although humans could have caught the deadly virus from bats directly (according to several studies, including those by Shi and her colleagues), independent teams have suggested that pangolins may have been an intermediate host. These teams have reportedly uncovered SARS-CoV-2-like coronaviruses in pangolins that were seized in antismuggling operations in southern China.
On February 24 China announced a permanent ban on wildlife consumption and trade except for research, medicinal or display purposes—which will stamp out an industry worth $76 billion and put approximately 14 million people out of jobs, according to a 2017 report commissioned by the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Some welcome the initiative, whereas others, such as Daszak, worry that without efforts to change people’s traditional beliefs or to provide alternative livelihoods, a blanket ban may simply push the business underground. This could make disease detection even more challenging. “Eating wildlife has been part of the cultural tradition” in China for thousands of years, Daszak says. “It won’t change overnight.”
In any case, Shi says, “wildlife trade and consumption are only part of the problem.” In late 2016 pigs across four farms in Qingyuan County in Guangdong—60 miles from the site where the SARS outbreak originated—suffered from acute vomiting and diarrhoea, and nearly 25,000 of the animals died. Local veterinarians could not detect any known pathogen and called Shi for help. The cause of the illness—swine acute diarrhoea syndrome (SADS)—turned out to be a virus whose genomic sequence was 98 per cent identical to that of a coronavirus found in horseshoe bats in a nearby cave.
“This is a serious cause for concern,” says Gregory Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University. Pigs and humans have very similar immune systems, making it easy for viruses to cross between the two species. Moreover, a team at Zhejiang University in the Chinese city of Hangzhou found that the SADS virus could infect cells from many organisms in a petri dish, including rodents, chickens, nonhuman primates and humans. Given the scale of swine farming in many countries, such as China and the U.S., Gray says, looking for novel coronaviruses in pigs should be a top priority.
The current outbreak follows several others during the past three decades that have been caused by six different bat-borne viruses: Hendra, Nipah, Marburg, SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and Ebola. But “the animals [themselves] are not the problem,” Wang says. In fact, bats promote biodiversity and ecosystem health by eating insects and pollinating plants. “The problem arises when we get in contact with them,” he says.
When I spoke to Shi in late February—two months into the epidemic and one month after the government imposed severe movement restrictions in Wuhan, a megacity of 11 million—she said, laughing, that life felt almost normal. “Maybe we are getting used to it. The worst days are certainly over.” The institute staffers had a special pass to travel from home to their lab, but they could not go anywhere else. They had to subsist on instant noodles during their long hours at work because the institute’s canteen was closed.
New revelations about the coronavirus kept coming to light. The researchers discovered, for instance, that the pathogen enters human lung cells by using a receptor called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, and they and other groups have since been screening for drugs that can block it. Scientists are also racing to develop vaccines. In the long run, the Wuhan team plans to develop broad-spectrum vaccines and drugs against coronaviruses deemed risky to humans. “The Wuhan outbreak is a wake-up call,” Shi says.
Many scientists say the world should move beyond merely responding to deadly pathogens when they arise. “The best way forward is prevention,” Daszak says. Because 70 per cent of emerging infectious diseases of animal origins come from wildlife, a top priority should be identifying them and developing better diagnostic tests, he adds. Doing so would essentially mean continuing on a much larger scale what researchers such as Daszak and Shi had been doing before their funding ended this year.
Such efforts should focus on high-risk viral groups in mammals prone to coronavirus infections, such as bats, rodents, badgers, civets, pangolins and nonhuman primates, Daszak says. He adds that developing countries in the tropics, where wildlife diversity is greatest, should be the front line of this battle against viruses.
Daszak and his colleagues have analyzed approximately 500 human infectious diseases from the past century. They found that the emergence of new pathogens tends to happen in places where a dense population has been changing the landscape—by building roads and mines, cutting down forests and intensifying agriculture. “China is not the only hotspot,” he says, noting that other major emerging economies, such as India, Nigeria and Brazil, are also at great risk.
Once potential pathogens are mapped out, scientists and public health officials can regularly check for possible infections by analyzing blood and swab samples from livestock, from wild animals that are farmed and traded, and from high-risk human populations such as farmers, miners, villagers who live near bats, and people who hunt or handle wildlife, Gray says. This approach, known as “One Health,” aims to integrate the health management of wildlife, livestock and people. “Only then can we catch an outbreak before it turns into an epidemic,” he says, adding that the strategy could potentially save the hundreds of billions of dollars such an epidemic can cost.
Back in Wuhan, where the lockdown was finally lifted on April 8, China’s batwoman is not in a celebratory mood. She is distressed because stories from the Internet and major media have repeated a tenuous suggestion that SARS-CoV-2 accidentally leaked from her lab—even though its genetic sequence does not match any her lab had previously studied. Other scientists are quick to dismiss the allegation. “Shi leads a world-class lab of the highest standards,” Daszak says.
Despite the disturbance, Shi is determined to continue her work. “The mission must go on,” she says. “What we have uncovered is just the tip of an iceberg.” She is planning to lead a national project to systematically sample viruses in bat caves, with a much wider scope and intensity than previous attempts. Daszak’s team has estimated that there are more than 5,000 coronavirus strains waiting to be discovered in bats globally.
“Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks,” Shi says with a tone of brooding certainty. “We must find them before they find us.”
– Scientific American
By Blake Stilwell
In 2009, the body of an al-Qaida militant left by a roadside in Algeria was supposedly determined to have died of bubonic plague. His body was found in Tizi Ouzou province, 90 miles from Algiers.
The discovery led authorities to believe he was from an al-Qaida training camp, one that had been working to create a biological weapon using the plague.
Using infectious diseases to attack unsuspecting populations and sow fear is nothing new. In 1985, a religious group in Oregon tried to sway a local election using salmonella. In 1993, the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released anthrax in densely populated Tokyo.
Anthrax was also used in the days following the 9/11 attacks in an attempt to cause further panic in the United States and among its top lawmakers. This time, it was mailed via the U.S. Postal Service. The FBI determined that a researcher at the U.S. Army‘s Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases was responsible for mailing letters laden with anthrax. Those attacks killed at least five people and hospitalized another 17. The bureau concluded that the researcher acted alone, but no one would have been surprised if the culprit was a foreign terrorist group.
Bioweapons can be an easy way to incite mass panic and can spread very far, very quickly.
Unfortunately for terrorists, bioweapons are also notoriously hard to control — as the al-Qaida militants in Algeria allegedly discovered.
The disease that wrecked Europe in the Middle Ages, killing at least 25 million people, was absolutely devastating to the terrorist training camp, according to reports from the Daily Mail. The camp, hidden in Algeria’s Yakouren Forest, was quickly turned into a mass grave for the 40 terrorists who died there. It was subsequently abandoned by the group.
Though the reports were denied by the Algerian government, a state security source told the Telegraph that terrorists linked to the al-Qaida cell, members of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, would not have had the necessary medical resources to combat an outbreak.
This is the same reason the leadership of the Islamic State in Afghanistan recently warned its followers against travel to Europe and to halt attack operations there, lest they become infected with the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb allegedly had the same fears over the outbreak of plague in its Algerian training camp. It was afraid followers would return to their Afghan cells with a disease they could neither fight nor contain.
— Blake Stilwell can be reached at email@example.com.
The Chinese firm was subject of US ban because of cybersecurity concerns
Christy Leung | Published: 27 September 2017
Hong Kong’s elite police squads have been testing thermal drones made by the Chinese company that recently had its equipment banned by the US military over cybersecurity concerns, according to sources.
The drones, made by DJI, the world’s largest manufacturer of unmanned aircraft vehicles, were under consideration for anti-crime and antiterrorism operations, senior police sources told the Post. But they would not be used for surveillance at rallies or protests.
“Besides using it to fight against terrorism, the infrared night vision can help locate culprits, such as illegal immigrants, burglars and abductors, hiding in mountains or dim public areas,” one source said.
DJI was the subject of controversy last month after a US army memo ordered all soldiers to stop using equipment made by the company because of an unspecified security risk.
The ban also prompted Australia’s defence department to suspend using drones of the same brand for two weeks. The drones were back in use after the Australian military revised operating procedures.
Hong Kong police bought the drones before the US ban and elite units have been conducting trial runs in their headquarters in Fanling. The drone model, which is equipped with infrared sensors and cameras that capture high-quality contrasting images that can read body temperatures, is not listed on DJI’s website and is not available to the public.
“The drones also facilitate site survey and rescue missions in bad weather, such as rain and fog, a senior police source said. “The aircraft can reach and search for places that are difficult for officers to access.”
The sources all said the force saw “no need” to deploy the drones to monitor public rallies, such as the July 1 annual pro-democracy marches, adding that police officials were “very conscious” of the public outcry their use would cause.
DJI, which is based in Shenzhen, tightened data security on its drones soon after the American ban, which the US military said was “due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products”.
Without detailing the security concerns, the US military ordered the removal of all DJI applications, batteries and storage media from the devices.
DJI later updated its software to prevent flight data from being shared online.
A DJI spokesman said last month that the company did not collect data for profit and was committed to ensuring cyber-security for all of its customers.
Hong Kong police were aware of the ban and software updates DJI made, the sources said.
The senior police source emphasised that the force was still testing the drones, and there was no decision on whether to use the aircraft as “regular equipment”.
“We have not used it in real operations so far. We have to test the aircraft in many aspects, such as its durability, legal issues, privacy concerns and its impacts on members of the public.”
Another senior source said the use of drones in rescue missions was an “increasing global trend” which had prompted the force to “have a thought about it”.
“But there are many limitations we have to hurdle,” he said. “Intrusive surveillance is not on our table so far because it causes legal issues and privacy concerns. We need a court warrant if we use it.”
A police spokeswoman refused to comment in detail about the drones, saying only that the force regularly reviewed equipment to ensure its suitability.
“Police will source and procure different items of equipment suitable for operational purposes in accordance with the established procurement procedures,” she said.
The Fire Services Department has spent HK$200,000 on three DJI drones, including one with thermal imaging. The devices were used in a successful rescue operation at Sharp Peak less than two weeks ago.
A spokeswoman said fire services would inform the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) about the locations and duration of operations, as well as intended flight altitude limit.
The CAD said drone operators, including those in the police and fire services as well as civilians, should follow safety rules and were governed by Article 48 of the Air Navigation Order.
“A person shall not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property. The requirement applies to government departments operating unmanned aircraft,” a CAD spokeswoman said.
Could cyborg locusts be the bomb-sniffing dogs of the future?
Scientists who received funding from the U.S. Navy revealed last week that they were able to program the bugs to sense various different smells, including from explosives.
The team’s preprint research paper, published in BioRxiv, states that the insects have been used to detect gases released by substances such as ammonium nitrate – often used by terrorist groups for bomb-making – as well as military explosives TNT and RDX.
The robot-bound locusts were exposed to five different explosives, and it only took 500 milliseconds of exposure for a distinct pattern of activity to appear in the locusts’ brains. The scientists chose locusts because their tiny antennae are filled with about 50,000 olfactory neurons.
Researchers chose locusts because they are sturdy and can carry heavy payloads, according to the preprint paper. They implanted electrodes into the insects’ brains to analyze their neural activity when they were around different substances.
The U.S. Office of Naval Research had allocated $750,000 for the project back in 2016.
Although the team has not commented about its new work, lead scientist Baranidharan Raman, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Washington University at St. Louis, expressed optimism when he received the grant.
“We expect this work to develop and demonstrate a proof-of-concept, hybrid locust-based, chemical-sensing approach for explosive detection,” Raman told The Source.
– Fox News
22 Jan 2020 | The Associated Press | By Ben Fox
FORT MEADE, Md. — An architect of the brutal CIA interrogation and detention program developed after the Sept. 11 attacks defended the agency and its practices on Tuesday as those techniques become the focus of an effort to dismiss key evidence against five men charged in the terrorist plot.
James Mitchell spent the first day of what is expected to be at least a week of questioning by defence teams at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, providing details about the CIA’s interrogation program as well as what he said was the “context” necessary to understand it.
The CIA was the “tip of the spear” in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was urgently trying to gather vital intelligence using techniques that had been authorized by the U.S. government, the retired Air Force psychologist told the court.
“We were trying to save American lives,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell is facing questions now because lawyers for the five men accused of planning and providing logistical support for the Sept. 11 attacks are seeking to prevent the government from using statements the defendants gave to the FBI as evidence against them in a war crimes trial scheduled to start next January at the U.S. base in Cuba.
The testimony in Guantanamo is an important milestone in the Sept. 11 war crimes proceedings, which have been bogged down in the pretrial phase since the May 2012 arraignment.
The five defendants, who include the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 hijacking plot, were subjected to waterboarding and other methods now widely regarded as torture. Mitchell, who helped develop the program with another private contractor and others, insisted the CIA feared “another catastrophic attack,” possibly involving nuclear weapons, and was trying to stop it.
“My sole focus was stopping the next attack,” he said.
Mitchell agreed to come to Guantanamo to testify without a subpoena to give his version of events, which he also detailed in a book, called “Enhanced Interrogation,” that he co-wrote with a CIA spokesman.
“I’m happy to talk about my role in the program and what the program did,” he told the court.
At times, however, he appeared to bristle at the questioning. When defence lawyer James Connell thanked him for coming to court, he replied, “I did it for the victims and families not for you.”
Mitchell and another psychologist, Bruce Jessen, were contracted by the CIA to develop the interrogation program, which also included intense sleep deprivation, confinement in a small box, prolonged shackling in “stress positions,” and being doused with cold water.
Defence lawyers for the five men charged in the attacks have called the contractors, who observed and took part in interrogations at clandestine CIA facilities, as witnesses in an effort to disqualify statements the defendants made to the FBI after they were transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006.
It was the first time that the defendants and one of the main architects of their brutal treatment had faced each other in court.
Mitchell and Jessen gave depositions in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three former prisoners, including one who died in custody. The case was settled for undisclosed terms in August 2017 and the two former contractors did not testify in court.
“This testimony marks a critical moment for reckoning with the torture committed in the American people’s name,” said ACLU staff attorney Dror Ladin, “Mitchell and Jessen, along with collaborators in the U.S. government, are responsible for shameful cruelty that the CIA is still trying to cover up.”
Mitchell was expected to be followed on the stand by Jessen. Their testimony will likely take up much of a pretrial hearing scheduled to last two weeks.
The defendants include Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, an al-Qaida operative who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. All five face the death penalty if convicted of charges that include terrorism and nearly 3,000 counts of murder for their alleged roles planning and providing logistical support to the hijacking plot.
Under a 2006 law that set up the military commission, any statements must be voluntary to be admitted into evidence and the government is not seeking to use at the trial anything the men said while in CIA custody.
But the prisoners also gave what prosecutors have called “clean” statements to the FBI after they arrived at Guantanamo.
Lawyers for the five defendants argue that everything the men have said in custody was tainted by the torture they were subjected to while in CIA confinement.
James Connell, a lawyer for defendant Ammar al-Baluchi, said he believes the FBI helped guide some of the questioning of the men and that others in the government were also involved in developing the program starting with the capture of a prisoner known as Abu Zubaydah in 2002.
“Dr. Mitchell plays an important role but ultimately a small one,” in developing and carrying out the interrogations, said Connell, whose client is a nephew of Mohammad.
A Senate investigation in 2014 found that the interrogation program designed by Mitchell and Jessen was used on 39 detainees and produced no useful intelligence. They were paid $81 million for their work, according to the Senate report.
Mitchell and Jessen previously worked at the Air Force survival school at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Washington, where they trained pilots to avoid capture and resist interrogation and torture. The CIA hired them to reverse-engineer that training to break terrorism suspects.
They defended their work when the lawsuit was settled, arguing that neither contractor condoned or conducted any mistreatment of prisoners and that the overall program was authorized by the government.
Jessen said in a statement then that he and Mitchell “served our country at a time when freedom and safety hung in the balance.”
The proceedings at Guantanamo were being transmitted to several government installations in the U.S., including Fort Meade, Maryland, where they were viewed by The Associated Press.
This article was written by BEN FOX from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Arie Egozi and Colin Clark on January 03, 2020
TEL AVIV: Five days ago, an undisclosed intelligence agency intercepted a telephone call made by the head of Iran’s Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in which he was heard ordering his proxies in Iraq to attack the U.S embassy in Baghdad, as well as other Israeli and American targets, with the aim of taking hostages, Israeli sources say.
It’s unclear whether this was a lapse in tradecraft on the part of the usually savvy Soleimani or whether the notorious Iranian military leader’s phone calls were being routinely intercepted. Nor is it clear whether it was the US or another foe of Iran that made the intercept. Regardless, the intelligence seems to have led directly to Soleimani’s killing yesterday, which has thrown the Mideast into an uproar.
Sources here say that Soleimi flew in the Airbus A-320 plane operated by Cham Wing, Flight 6Q501, which took off from Damascus at 10:30 pm and landed in Baghdad minutes before midnight. Minutes later, what are presumed to have been Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator struck and killed everyone in two cars that had picked up Suleimani and other passengers from the flight.
A large ring the Iranian military leader wore helped “forces on the ground” to immediately and positively identify Suleimani’s body. The strike also killed Abu Mahdi Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iranian-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF. Iran has confirmed both men were killed. During the US attack, sources here say US fighter aircraft were airborne to handle any immediate Iranian reaction.
The US announced this morning it was deploying 3,500 additional troops of the 82nd Airborne to the Mideast, joining 750 Airborne soldiers flown earlier this week to Kuwait. That brings the 82nd’s presence in the region to a full infantry brigade. The rapidly deployable paratroop unit keeps a “ready brigade” on alert at all times for just such crises.
Meanwhile, undisclosed numbers of US Special Operations Forces arrived in Jordan. The first elements arrived in Jordan aboard CV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that had been refuelled by C-130J. They landed before the strike in the Baghdad airport. The first explanation was that the Americans want to be ready for a hostage situation following the attack by pro-Iranian militias on their embassy in Baghdad.
All this is in addition to 100 heavily armed and specially trained Marines airlifted to the US Embassy in Baghdad. The Marines traditionally provide security for US embassies.
Israel also reacted promptly to the news. Its military is on high alert. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Greece after receiving online briefings while in Athens. The Mount Hermon ski resort near the Syrian border was closed on Jan 3.
The assessments in Israel are that Iran will not retaliate immediately, but will weigh its course, and may well continue the current strategy, awaiting the results of the US election in November and, in the meantime, try to minimize the economic damage and threat to the regime’s survival. If Donald Trump remains in the White House, Iran is believed likely to negotiate changes in its nuclear agreement with the powers.
An analysis by Roman Schweizer of the Cowen Washington Research Group, who follows defence stocks, offers a grim prognosis of the successful strike: “President Trump’s decision to kill a key Iranian military official could set off a chain of retaliatory strikes on U.S. personnel and assets across the Middle East and globally. To be clear, this is the equivalent of Iran killing the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and then taking credit for it.”
The first glimmers of an active response to the strike ordered by President Trump have come from the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, who threatened to respond “promptly and swiftly.” A strike from such a quarter would be a classic Iranian move, using proxy forces to deflect blame and ensure its efforts to drive change in the region remain paramount.
A response is also likely from Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq, which have in the past fought both against the US and the Iraqi government and alongside them against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. Many Iraqis are deeply conflicted about Iran’s outsized influence in their country, even among the Shia majority. But most factions are even more sensitive to US intrusions on Iraqi sovereignty and united to condemn the unilateral US strike just outside of Baghdad International Airport, which also killed a prominent Iraqi Shia militia leader. In addition to the expected outcry from Iranian proxies, the attack was denounced by Shia leaders who’ve sought some degree of independence from Tehran, including Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the country’s moderate Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, who called for restraint on all sides.
The airline carrying the Iranians, Cham Wings, is a private Syrian company with its head office in Damascus. It was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department three years ago because “Cham Wings has cooperated with Government of Syria officials to transport militants to Syria to fight on behalf of the Syrian regime and assisted the previously-designated Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) in moving weapons and equipment for the Syrian regime, including by utilizing a relationship with another Syria-based airline, FlyDamas (FDK, Damascus).” On top of that, Treasury said, “Cham Wings’s Damascus-Dubai Int’l flight was one of the main routes SMI used to launder money throughout the region, with SMI paying all parties involved to ensure they would continue to do business with the Assad regime.”
Meanwhile, Washington political leaders reactions were muted and mixed, with most Democrats expressing varying forms of worry and concern about Iran’s reaction and most Republicans expressing resolve and support for President Trump’s action. One strain was persistent and worth noting — both parties said clearly and repeatedly the US does not seek war with Iran.
The chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, did not condemn the killing but said he remains “troubled about the impact this action will have on the safety and security of United States’ personnel and assets in the region. Rather than calming the strained tensions in the region, this action will only accelerate the cycle of violent escalation.”
He called on the Trump administration to “clearly articulate how this action, and potential future actions, will protect U.S. global interests while ensuring the safety and security of our personnel in the region and worldwide. The American people deserve to know why President Trump has brought us to the brink of another war and under what authorization.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking soon after the strike was announced, made clear congressional leaders had not been briefed on the strike beforehand — not even the so-called Gang of 8– and called for an immediate briefing for “the full Congress.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tim Kaine introduced a war powers resolution to force a debate and vote in Congress to prevent further escalation into a full-blown conflict with Iran. The resolution requires that any hostilities with Iran must be explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force, but does not prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack.
“The Senate must not let this President march into another war in the Middle East without authorization from Congress,” Durbin said in a statement this evening.
War powers resolutions are privileged, meaning that the Senate will be forced to vote on the legislation.
Smith’s Senate counterpart, James Inhofe, said in a statement that “America does not and should not seek war, but it will respond in kind to those who threaten our citizens, soldiers and friends — as the President has long promised. De-escalation is preferable and possible — but only if our adversaries choose it.”
Colin Clark and Sydney Freedberg contributed from Washington.
Arya Dipa, The Jakarta Post
Bandung / Tue, December 31, 2019
Indonesia can now be included on the list of countries producing long-range military drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
While various companies in Indonesia have been producing drones for both civilian and military purposes, this would be the first medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV to be produced by the country. Vehicles in this category are designed to fly at altitudes of between 3,000 and 9,000 meters for extended lengths of time.
The UAV’s airframe, with wings that span 16 meters, was revealed in the hangar of state-owned aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI) in Bandung, West Java on Monday.
The drones would be designed according to the requirements and objectives provided by the Indonesian Air Force, PTDI president director Elfien Goentoro has said. He added that the Air Force had requested the UAV to have a maximum flight time of 30 hours and a maximum cruising speed of 235 kilometres per hour.
The drone, which is designed to carry 450 litres of fuel, can carry a maximum payload of 30 kilograms. It is to use an aircraft engine made by the Rotax company of Austria.
Development of the vehicle was initiated in 2015 by a consortium consisting of the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), the Defense Ministry, the Indonesian Air Force, the Bandung Institute of Technology, PTDI and PT Len Industri.
The consortium has also been supported by the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan), which is experienced in producing smaller UAVs such as the LSU-02.
Aside from the airframe, the consortium would also produce the necessary systems for the MALE drone, BPPT head Hammam Riza said.
“We should master some key technologies, not only the production of UAV’s airframe. If we purchase [UAVs] from other countries, they won’t give [key technologies] to us for free. Therefore, we need to master and make use of our own technology,” Hammam told journalists on Monday.
He added that the project would support the state in developing its own weapons and defense systems.
The UAV, Hammam said, could be used not only in military combat missions but also in aerial surveillance missions pertaining to illegal fishing and logging, border and outer island patrols and to detect terrorist activities.
The UAV project involves the development of a flight control system produced in Spain. The system is to be integrated into the vehicle by engineers from BPPT and PT Dirgantara Indonesia.
Other necessary systems for the vehicle, such as a synthetic aperture radar and a guidance system, would also be developed by Indonesian engineers. The systems are expected to support the drone in intelligence, target acquisition and reconnaissance missions.
Lapan’s deputy for aviation and space technology, Rika Andiarti, said the institute was assigned to develop the vehicle’s mission control, which would include its flight control system, long-range communications and recording.
“We’re also assigned to develop the synthetic aperture radar so we can look beyond the clouds and produce better images,” Rika said. She added that Lapan had allocated Rp 23 billion (US$1.6 million) for the project in 2020.
Separately, the head of Lapan’s aeronautics technology centre, Gunawan Setyo Wibowo, said the drone’s operations would be supported by the BRI Satellite, which is owned by state-owned Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI). The world’s first bank-owned satellite was launched from French Guiana in June 2016.
Lapan has been using the service of United Arab Emirates-based private satellite operator Thuraya to operate its drones. However, Thuraya provided a small bandwidth that can only be used to send telemetrics or still images because of its high cost.
“If we use the BRISat, we can look at real-time images captured by the drone thanks to its larger Ku-band bandwidth. After all, there are some transponders designated for the state business in the satellite,” Gunawan said.
There are to be four UAV prototypes built for various purposes by 2024: development manufacturing, flight and structural tests at the BPPT for certification, static tests and combat and weapons certification.
PTDI’s Elfien added that he was optimistic the consortium would meet the requirement of 50 percent locally made components. (kuk)
The Air Force Research Laboratory believes it’s on to something when it comes to long-endurance drone flight.
By Theresa Hitchens on December 13, 2019, at 5:13 PM
WASHINGTON: While other commercial and military drones have flown longer, the two and a half-day flight of the Air Force’s latest unmanned aircraft prototype this week does represent a kind of breakthrough for the US military: proving that commercial technology can be adapted to build affordable long-endurance and highly capable surveillance drones.
And the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Dayton, Ohio is convinced that the new, autonomous Ultra-Long Endurance Aircraft Platform (Ultra LEAP) will be able to stay in the sky for longer in future flight tests.
“Developing a UAS with this level of endurance is an incredible achievement for future warfighting and battlefield success,” said Paul Litke, the AFRL project engineer for Ultra LEAP. In an Air Force announcement yesterday, Litke explains that since the system employs many commercial off-the-shelf components, Ultra LEAP will dramatically reduce the costs for high-performance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) drones.
The “2.5-day Ultra LEAP mission is a significant milestone in solving the tyranny of distance problem for ISR systems,” said Dr Alok Das, director of AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation (CRI). “It will provide immediate benefit to our warfighters while at the same time paving the path for future low-cost, multi-day endurance ISR systems.”
Ultra LEAP is based on a commercially available “sport-class” commercial airframe — sport aircraft cost anywhere between $20,000 and $140,000. An AFRL spokesman told Breaking D today that the service could not release the name of the company providing the chassis “for security reasons.”
The basic airframe was souped up by AFRL to carry a “customizable suite of ISR tools” that feature “secure, easy to use navigation employing anti-jam GPS and full global operational access via a satellite-based command and control and high-rate ISR data relay link.” The aircraft body was further “converted to a fully automated system with autonomous takeoff and landing capabilities,” the press release said.
The high level of automation it provides will enable greatly reduced operator training requirements for the Air Force. Smaller support crews will also lead to lower operating costs, according to AFRL.
“As the Air Force balances current readiness with long-term modernization, Ultra LEAP represents an affordable approach that supports both existing and future force needs,” said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL commander, adding that the “enhanced UAS capabilities along with the cost savings offer the military a winning solution.”
The Ultra LEAP effort evolved from an earlier AFRL experiment, just called LEAP but with the A standing for aircraft started in 2016.
Then AFRL Commander Robert McMurry testified to Congress in September 2016 that the program, managed by CRI, was designed to provide “a revolutionary, low-cost, low acoustic signature, persistent aerial ISR capability to address Combatant Command and U.S. Special Forces ISR gaps by converting a proven, fuel-efficient Light-Sport Aircraft into an UAS.” Four of the original LEAP aircraft were deployed in early 2016 in conjunction with Special Operations Command, he said.
McMurry added that “LEAP significantly bends today’s ISR cost-performance curve and enables needed counter-insurgency capability and ISR capacity at a fraction of the cost of comparably performing systems.”
The original LEAP was capable of missions up to 40 hours and has completed more than 18,000 combat flight hours.
Using the same commercial customization strategy as the original LEAP, CRI developed Ultra LEAP from concept to first flight in less than 10 months, the AFRL release explained, and the system could be ready for operational fielding as soon as 2020.
The Air Force is interested in developing a range of long-endurance ISR drones, and in August 2018 issued its Next Generation Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Dominance Flight Plan. The plan sets out the service strategy for “a shift from a manpower-intensive permissive environment to a human-machine teaming approach in a peer threat environment.”
For example, the Air Force issued a $48 million contract to Boeing’s Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary for its Orion drone in January 2018. Orion has an endurance of 80 hours.
In May of this year, AFRL worked jointly with Lockheed Martin to enhance its Condor eXtended Endurance and Payload (XEP) — improving its endurance from two hours to four. The team also improved the small drone’s fuselage to accommodate multiple payload types, according to a May 22 Lockheed Martin press release.
The current record for the longest flight time by an unmanned aerial vehicle is held by the pseudo-satellite (an airframe that flies very, very high in the stratosphere) called Zephyr, developed by Airbus Defense and Space. It flew for more than 25 days in the fall of 2018.
The US military’s most famous drone, the armed MQ-1 Predator made by General Atomics, has an endurance of 40 hours.
– Breaking Defense.com
DoD is finalizing contracts for three competing demonstrators, aiming for a 300-kilowatt weapon by 2022 and 500 kW by 2024, laser R&D director Thomas Karr told us.
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on December 02, 2019, at 1:16 PM
PENTAGON: The Army, Air Force, and Navy maybe only three years away from a 300-kilowatt laser weapon, one powerful enough to shoot down cruise missiles — using the same basic technology as the checkout counter at your local supermarket.
“We are in the process of negotiating contracts with three different performers for three different electrically powered laser concepts,” Thomas Karr, who works for Pentagon R&D chief Mike Griffin as assistant director for directed energy, said. (DE includes both lasers and high-powered microwaves). These will be demonstration models for testing, not prototypes of operational weapons, he emphasized in an interview with Breaking Defense.
The industry has proposed several designs that “have all been demonstrated at lower power levels, 50 to 150 kilowatts,” Karr said. Those power levels are enough to burn through drones and rockets, but not larger, faster and tougher targets like cruise missiles.
“We want to have a 300-kilowatt laser by 2022. We’d like to get up to 500 kilowatts by 2024,” he said, “and then, if we still haven’t hit the limit of anything, it’s on to the megawatt class.
From Tanks of Chemicals to Commercial & Competitive
“Those are aggressive objectives,” Karr acknowledged, “[but] we have high confidence that one or more of these different fibres or slab approaches will scale up to 300 or beyond. I don’t think we’ve seen the limit yet.”
The Pentagon actually flew and test-fired a one-megawatt Airborne Laser in 2009-2011, but that system required a 747 full of toxic chemicals, hardly practical in a war zone, not to mention a very easy target,. By contrast, today’s designs build on widely available and rapidly advancing commercial technologies.
“The electrically-driven lasers we’re scaling up exploit a lot of commercial technology,” Karr told me. “They’re all pumped by semi-conductor diodes, which is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s not just off-the-shelf. It’s not the semiconductor laser that’s in your supermarket scanner, but we’re building off that huge investment in the commercial industry.”
Two of the three demonstrators Karr plans to build use bundles of fibre-optic cables – like the ones probably connecting your computer to the internet as you read this – to channel beams of coherent light, which are then combined into a single powerful blast. “There’s a large commercial industry in these fibre lasers for cutting, welding, material processing,” Karr said, “and they’re up to kilowatts and very good in quality.”
The third demonstrator will use small lasers to “pump” energy into slabs of specially formulated material that amplify their power. “Again, that’s been scaled up to the point where we think we’re ready to go,” Karr said. “We believe we can add additional amplifier stages and each amplifier adds more power [and can] still maintain the beam quality.”
Karr made clear he doesn’t need all three designs to work. In fact, the project might survive all three failings, because he’s put out another request for proposals for designs in the 300-500 kW range. “We have three good proposals to start with,” he said, “[but] we think we will add additional contractors in the future.
“We have enough money to fund multiple competing technical concepts, as well as multiple performers,” Karr said. (The effort’s 2019 budget was $70 million; the 2020 budget remains in limbo). “The POM [five-year Program Objective Memorandum] number is adequate to carry multiple contractors over the finish line to 300 [kW] level.”
“When we do reviews, every performer will see, on the key performance metrics, where they rank compared to their competitors,” Karr said, although no competitor will get to see details of its rivals’ performance. “You’re in the green zone or you’re in the red zone…. It will stimulate competition.
“Most of my career has been in the private industry, more in private industry than in government. I love competition,” he said. “I like the fact that we have lots of competition in this program.”
While Karr is encouraging industry to compete, he’s also getting the armed services to cooperate. “In the past, every service that wanted to scale up a laser, it picked the laser and it invested to try to scale that up,” he said. “Now… we have for the first time a unified laser scaling program that’s led by OSD [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] with the concurrence and participation of all the services.
“I think it’s much more efficient,” he said. “Maybe it’s not one size fits all. Maybe there are two or three sizes, but there’s a limited number of government-controlled interfaces… common standards that all of the services could agree to,” governing such things as how to couple the laser to its external power source and cooling.
“One of the things that OSD wants the whole community to move towards is a more open architecture for all these systems so that there are interchangeable or at least similar major subsystems, instead of everything being custom-designed,” Karr told me.
There are definitely opportunities for the services to share, he said. “They face a lot of similar challenges,” he said, “so there’s a lot of exchange of information between Army, Navy, Air Force, and DARPA or SOCOM [Special Operations Command].”
“One of the nice things about sitting in OSD is I can look down the stovepipes to all the services and see there’s a lot in common,” Karr said, “particularly in beam control” – the difficult science of getting the laser beam from the weapon to the target without losing power or focus. “There’s room for a joint beam control experiment [that] everybody can spin-off.”
At the same time, there are definite differences between putting a laser on an aeroplane – as the Air Force and SOCOM plan to do – versus a ship or a vehicle.
“The airflow over these systems introduces some special challenges that the Air Force Research Lab is moving on,” he said. “The absorption of the beam in the maritime environment” – with lots of humidity and salt – “is different than you would have in a land environment.
“Size, weight, and power efficiency requirements are most stressing for the airborne cases,” he summed up. “It’s somewhat easier on land vehicles and on ships, but it still is not a trivial issue.
But the military’s existing aircraft, ships, and vehicles were never designed to carry weapons that suck up hundreds of kilowatts of power in seconds and emit much of that as heat. “We’ll learn how to manage that,” he said, but it will require a customized solution for each ship, plane, and ground vehicle.
Military lasers have made major advances since the Navy field-tested its Laser Weapon System (LaWS) aboard a ship in the Persian Gulf five years ago. The 30-kilowatt LaWS was basically six commercial lasers bolted together, their six separate beams converging on one spot. Today’s lasers are still built of multiple modules, but they combine the beams from those modules into a single coherent laser, and their overall power is much higher.
“We have laser technology getting onto platforms in the 50-60 kilowatt class,” Karr said, such as the Navy’s HELIOS, the first laser fully integrated into a warship’s combat systems. “Those are adequate for engaging small boats, small UAVs [drones], bringing those down or blinding the sensors.”
Then, in cutting edge experiments, he went on, “we have electrically powered lasers in the 150-kilowatt class. One has just been lifted onto a ship in San Diego harbour [:] the Laser Weapon System Demonstrator.
“The next level of targets is harder, faster things like cruise missiles,” Karr continued. “They move a lot faster, you have to engage farther away. So you need, we believe, a 300kw class [laser] – that’s sort of a consensus across the services… to start doing those harder, longer-range missions.”
“That’s why everybody agreed, let’s try for 300 kW in 22,” he said.
“There will be some challenges to cleverly handle all of this additional power,” Karr acknowledged. “You’ve got more heat, you’ve got more thermal loading, [and] typically the way people deal with that is that they’ll make stuff bigger. We don’t want to grow the size and mass of things arbitrarily. We want to keep things small and compact as possible.”
As OSD and the services strive to scale up electrical lasers, will they hit a point of diminishing returns, beyond which further power increases are unaffordable or impractical? At some point. But Karr thinks he gets to viable missile defense lasers first.
“If I look back over multiple decades, [across] many different concepts – starting with CO2 Laser, CO lasers, chemical lasers, free-electron lasers, chemical oxygen-iodine,” Karr said, “every one of those… at some point, we hit a level where problems were very, very challenging.”
“I don’t know where that will be with electrical lasers,” Karr said. “We haven’t hit that yet.”
CSBA says the US is investing in the wrong jammers to counter Russia and China’s powerful EW forces. There’s another approach that would exploit our adversaries’ weaknesses.
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on November 21, 2019
Despite rising budgets and high-level attention to electronic warfare, the Pentagon’s “efforts have been unfocused and are likely to fail,” warns a congressionally mandated study out today. What the US needs, the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments report says, is a radically new approach that can outfox Russia and China.
In the much-delayed 2020 budget, the Pentagon requests $10.1 billion (in the unclassified budget) for electronic warfare – but the lion’s share goes to traditional platforms like the Next Generation Jammer for the Navy’s EA-18G Growler and the SEWIP system for surface warships. (The Army and Air Force have largely disbanded their EW corps and left the mission to the Navy since 1991, and they’re only now trying to rebuild). These platforms are big, they’re expensive, they have humans aboard, so they’re not expendable – yet their radars, radios, and jammers give away their presence to the enemy by emitting powerful signals.
On top of that, China and Russia have invested heavily in traditional platforms – planes, ships, and heavy trucks laden with high-power antennas – and the US just can’t match them on their own terms, CSBA warns. Instead, the US should leapfrog ahead of its adversaries by deploying a new generation of both technology and tactics. Imagine a network of manned and unmanned systems, with relatively expendable drones actively emitting signals while the rest of the force stays silent, stealthy, and survivable. Imagine a multi-domain command and control network that can pull together forces from air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace, reorganizing as needed on the fly. The goal: create a dispersed, flexible force our authoritarian adversaries’ centralized systems can’t keep up with.
Uber For EW
How would that work? “It is essentially like Uber,” lead author Bryan Clark told me. “A commander inputs the task he or she wants the force to do identifies the units to be made available for tasking enters some constraints like geographic bounds, timing, etc., and the system comes back with some proposed courses of action. To develop the courses of action, the system runs an auction across all the units available to determine which can best accomplish the tasking” – much the way Uber’s algorithm match passenger’s desired pickup points and destinations with available drivers, in seconds, millions of times a day.
Of course, the artificial intelligence driving this kind of Joint All-Domain Command & Control system would have to be much more sophisticated than Uber’s. Instead of just distinguishing between regular rides, group rides, and luxury cars, it would need to know the capabilities of different types of drones, planes, ships, ground vehicles, satellites, and more, then calculate which was best able to do a mission based on both its inherent capabilities and its current location. Instead of just knowing where to drop off a passenger, it would need to figure out the best kind of bomb to drop, or jamming to conduct, or malware to deploy, against a wide variety of targets.
Part of CSBA’s inspiration is the DARPA concept called Mosaic Warfare, Clark told me. In very simplified terms, DARPA argues a traditional military organization is like a jigsaw puzzle, where every piece can fit in one and only one place in the larger picture; the future organization needs to be like a mosaic, where a set of tiny building blocks can be combined in all sorts of ways to make an infinite variety of images.
Much like the Internet, this kind of networked force could survive the enemy attack – physical destruction, hacking, or jamming – by reorganizing itself to pass data around the damaged nodes, Clark & co. argue. That would make it much harder for Russian and Chinese forces to cripple it by jamming a few key links or physically destroying major headquarters, bases, ships, and satellites.
“The growth in DoD EW spending…. is not guided by a coherent vision of how U.S. forces would operate and fight in the EMS and is unlikely to yield significant improvements against China and Russia,” CSBA says. That’s in large part because “it is concentrated in a few platform-centric EW programs such as the ALQ-249 Next Generation Jammer [which goes on Navy EA-18G Grower jets] and SLQ-32 Shipboard EW Improvement Program [aka SEWIP, which goes on surface warships]. These systems update existing programs, but do not fundamentally change the way US forces operate.”
What To Buy
And a fundamental change is what’s required, CSBA argues. In stark contrast to Russia and China, the US military puts a high value on initiative and improvisation by junior leaders – but it doesn’t actually give those leaders the sophisticated planning tools to understand a complex, changing battlespace and execute a sophisticated response.
“The tools available to field commanders are insufficient to enable them to develop and plan creative operations. As a result, commanders, particularly junior ones who lack large planning staffs, will tend to fall back on doctrine, habits, and traditions that the enemy can predict,” CSBA argues. “The essential element of this new C3 [Command, Control, & Communications] approach is the development of new planning tools” – like some DARPA has been working on – “that enable leaders up and down the chain of command to creatively plan, adapt, and recompose their forces and operations.”
These new tools would help commanders rapidly retask and reorganize a new kind of force. Instead of relying on large, powerful aircraft that can do all aspects of an electronic warfare mission alone by themselves – which simplifies both US planning and the enemy’s countermeasures – the future force would disaggregate capabilities across multiple manned and unmanned platforms. Expendable drones might emit radar signals, while other drones and manned systems would passively receive the radar returns, then compare notes over hard-to-detect datalinks to figure out where the enemy forces were. Other expendable drones – possibly launched from a manned mothership — could transmit the powerful signals required for jamming, but every unit in the network would have the capacity to passively listen for enemy transmissions.
Now, CSBA doesn’t call for canning the Pentagon’s big-ticket programs – just trimming them to free up funds for more smaller and more innovative items. “Replacing a small portion of today’s multi-mission ships, aircraft, or troop formations with smaller, cheaper and less multifunctional units would be enough to enable significantly more adaptability in US forces packages while imposing considerable complexity on adversaries,” the report argues.
China in particular – which has much greater resources than Russia, but much less actual combat experience – relies heavily on detailed advance planning and centralized control, CSBA says. “The relatively static and inflexible nature of PLA military systems and [its] continued reliance on centralized, consensual decision-making may create opportunities that US forces could exploit,” the report argues – if the US can build military technology and organizations that truly empower its people.
– Breaking Defense.com
The Asia-Pacific region is awash in crystal meth. A multinational task force is on the trail of a China-born Canadian national who, police told Reuters, is the suspected kingpin of a vast drug network that is raking in up to $17 billion a year.
By Tom Allard; Illustrations by Ben Bauchau
Oct. 14, 2019
He is Asia’s, most-wanted man. He is protected by a guard of Thai kickboxers. He flies by private jet. And, police say, he once lost $66 million in a single night at a Macau casino.
Tse Chi Lop, a Canadian national born in China, is suspected of leading a vast multinational drug trafficking syndicate formed out of an alliance of five of Asia’s triad groups, according to law enforcement officials. Its members call it simply “The Company.” Police, in a nod to one of Tse’s nicknames, have dubbed it Sam Gor, Cantonese for “Brother Number Three.”
The syndicate, law enforcers believe, is funnelling tonnes of methamphetamine, heroin and ketamine to at least a dozen countries from Japan in North Asia to New Zealand in the South Pacific. But meth – a highly addictive drug with devastating physical and mental effects on long-term users – is its main business, they say.
In what it calls a conservative estimate, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) puts the Sam Gor syndicate’s meth revenue in 2018 at $8 billion a year but says it could be as high as $17.7 billion. The UN agency estimates that the cartel, which often conceals its drugs in packets of tea, has a 40% to 70% share of the wholesale regional meth market that has expanded at least fourfold in the past five years.
This unprecedented boom in meth production has triggered an unprecedented response, Reuters has learned. Tse, 55, is the prime target of Operation Kungur, a sprawling, previously unreported counter-narcotics investigation. Led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Operation Kungur involves about 20 agencies from Asia, North America and Europe. It is by far the biggest ever international effort to combat Asian drug trafficking syndicates, say law enforcement agents involved in the investigation. It encompasses authorities from Myanmar, China, Thailand, Japan, the United States and Canada. Taiwan, while not formally part of the operation, is assisting in the investigation.
A document containing AFP profiles of the operation’s top 19 syndicate targets, reviewed by Reuters, identifies Tse as the leader of the syndicate. According to the document, the organization has “been connected with or directly involved in at least 13 cases” of drug trafficking since January 2015. The document does not provide specific details of the cases.
A Taiwanese law enforcement flow chart identifies Tse as the “Multinational CEO” of the syndicate. A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence document shared with regional government agencies says Tse is “believed to be” the leader of the Sam Gor syndicate.
Police have not publicly identified Tse as the suspected boss of the trafficking group.
Some investigators say that the scope of the syndicate’s operation puts Tse, as the suspected leader, on par with Latin America’s most legendary narco-traffickers. “Tse Chi Lop is in the league of El Chapo or maybe Pablo Escobar,” said Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for UNODC. “The word kingpin often gets thrown around, but there is no doubt it applies here.”
Reuters was unable to contact Tse Chi Lop. In response to questions from Reuters, the AFP, the DEA and Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau said they would not comment on investigations.
During the past year, Reuters crisscrossed the Asia-Pacific to uncover the story of Tse and his Sam Gor network. This included interviews with more than two dozen law enforcement officials from eight countries, and reviews of intelligence reports from police and anti-narcotics agencies, court filings and other documents. Reuters spoke to militia leaders in Myanmar’s Shan State, the heart of Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle, where the syndicate is suspected of mass-producing drugs in so-called super-labs. Reuters reporters also visited the Thai compound of one of the syndicate’s alleged drug lords.
What emerges is a portrait of an organization that is truly transnational. Four of the 19 Sam Gor syndicate leaders on the AFP list are Canadian citizens, including Tse, whom police often refer to as “T1” – the top target. Others hail from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam and mainland China.
The syndicate is enormously wealthy, disciplined and sophisticated – in many ways more sophisticated than any Latin American cartel, say anti-narcotics officials. Sam Gor supplies a bigger, more dispersed drug market and collaborates with a more diverse range of local crime groups than the Latin cartels do, including Japan’s Yakuza, Australia’s biker gangs and ethnic Chinese gangs across Southeast Asia.
The crime network is also less prone to uncontrolled outbreaks of internecine violence than the Latin cartels, police say. The money is so big that long-standing, blood-soaked rivalries among Asian crime groups have been set aside in a united pursuit of gargantuan profits.
“The crime groups in Southeast Asia and the Far East operate with seamless efficiency,” says one veteran Western anti-drugs official. “They function as a global corporation.”
Like most of the law enforcement agents Reuters interviewed, the investigator spoke on condition of anonymity.
In addition to the contrasts between their drug operations, there’s another, more personal, difference between Tse Chi Lop and Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman or Pablo Escobar. The jailed Mexican cartel boss and the deceased Colombian cocaine trafficker have been feted in song and on-screen for their extravagant lifestyles and extreme violence. Precious little has been revealed about Tse’s life and career. Unlike the Latin drug lords, Tse is relatively discreet – and still free.
A TRIP, A TRAP
Tse Chi Lop was born in Guangdong Province, in southern China, and grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution. Amid the bloody purges, forced labour camps and mass starvation, a group of imprisoned members of Mao’s Red Guard in the southern city of Guangzhou formed a triad-like criminal enterprise called the Big Circle Gang. Tse later became a member of the group, say police, and like many of his Big Circle Gang brethren moved to Hong Kong, then further afield as they sought sanctuaries for their criminal activities. He arrived in Canada in 1988.
In the 1990s, Tse shuttled between North America, Hong Kong, Macau and Southeast Asia, said a senior AFP investigator based in Asia. He rose to become a mid-ranking member of a smuggling ring that sourced heroin from the Golden Triangle, the lawless opium-producing region where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, China and Laos meet.
In 1998, according to court records, Tse was arraigned on drug-trafficking charges in the Eastern District Court of New York. He was found guilty of conspiracy to import heroin into America, the records show. A potential life sentence hung over his head.
Through a petition filed by his lawyer in 2000, Tse begged for leniency.
His ailing parents needed constant care, he explained. His 12-year-old son had a lung disorder. His wife was overwhelmed. If freed, vowed Tse, he would open a restaurant. He expressed “great sorrow” for his crime, court records show.
The entreaties appear to have worked: Tse was sentenced to nine years in prison, spent mostly at the federal correctional institution in Elkton, Ohio. But his remorse may have waned.
After he was freed in 2006, police say he returned to Canada, where he was supposed to be under supervised release for the next four years. It’s unclear when Tse returned to his old haunts in Asia. But corporate records show that Tse and his wife registered business, the China Peace Investment Group Company Ltd, in Hong Kong in 2011.
Police suspect Tse quickly returned to the drug game. He “picked up where he left off,” said the senior AFP investigator. Tse tapped connections in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and the Golden Triangle, and adopted a business model that proved irresistible to his customers, say law enforcers. If one of his drug deliveries was intercepted by police, it was replaced at no extra cost, or deposits were returned to the buyers.
His policy of guaranteeing his drug deliveries was good for business, but it also put him on the radar of police. In 2011, AFP officers cracked a group in Melbourne importing heroin and meth. The amounts were not huge – dozens of kilos. So, rather than arrest the Australian drug dealers, police put them under surveillance, tapping their phones and observing them closely for more than a year. To the frustration of the Australian drug cell, their illicit product kept getting intercepted. They wanted the seized drugs replaced by the syndicate.
The syndicate bosses in Hong Kong were irate – their other drug rings in Australia were collecting their narcotics and selling them without incident. In 2013, as the patience of the syndicate leaders wore thin, they summoned the leader of the Melbourne cell to Hong Kong for talks. There, the Hong Kong police watched the Australian meet two men.
One of the men was Tse Chi Lop. He had the centre-parted hair and casual fashion sense of a typical middle-aged Chinese family man, said one AFP agent. However, further surveillance showed Tse was a big spender with a keen regard for his personal security. At home and abroad, he was protected by a guard of Thai kickboxers, said three AFP investigators. Up to eight worked for him at a time, and they were regularly rotated as part of his security protocol.
Tse would host lavish birthday parties each year at resorts and five-star hotels, flying in his family and entourage in private jets. On one occasion, he stayed at a resort in Thailand for a month, hosting visitors poolside in shorts and a T-shirt, according to a member of the task force investigating the syndicate.
Tse was a frequent visitor to Asia’s casinos and fond of betting on horses, especially on English races. “We believe he lost 60 million euros (about $66 million) in one night on the tables in Macau,” said the senior Asia-based AFP investigator.
As the investigation into Tse deepened, police suspected that the Canadian was the major trafficker supplying Australia with meth and heroin, with a lucrative sideline in MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy. But the true scale and breadth of the Sam Gor syndicate only became apparent in late 2016, police say, when a young Taiwanese man entered Yangon airport with a bag of white powder strapped to each of his thighs.
ALADDIN’S CAVE OF INTEL’
Cai Jeng Ze was heading home to Taiwan, walking through the airport with a Jimmy Choo leather bag and two mobile phones. It was the morning of November 15, 2016, and Cai seemed nervous, picking at his blistered hands. This tic aroused suspicion said a former Myanmar police commander who oversaw the investigation. “His hands were bad because he had been handling the drugs,” the commander told Reuters. “Methamphetamine is very toxic.”
Cai was stopped and searched. Taped to each of his thighs was a small bag containing 80 grams of ketamine, a powerful tranquillizer that doubles as a party drug. “We were very fortunate to arrest him. Actually, it was an accident,” the commander said. Myanmar police, tipped off by the DEA, had been monitoring Cai. But they had lost track of him. Airport police had no idea who he was.
Cai told airport police the bag on his thigh contained a “pesticide or vitamin for flowers and plants,” according to Myanmar court records from his trial for ketamine trafficking. A friend, said Cai, had given it to him to pass on to his father. Cai’s flight was about to leave and there was no drug test for ketamine at the airport, the commander said.
Unimpressed with the explanation, police held him overnight. The next day, anti-narcotic officers turned up at the airport. One recognized him from surveillance work he’d been conducting.
Still, Cai refused to talk. Police say that videos they later found on one of his phones might have explained his silence. The videos showed a crying and bound man, and at least three assailants taking turns burning his feet with a blowtorch and electrocuting him with a cattle prod. In the videos, said one investigator, a sign can be seen with Chinese calligraphy saying “Loyalty to the Heavens.” The banner was a “triad-related sign,” he added.
The tortured man, according to two AFP officers who viewed the video, claimed to have thrown 300 kg of meth from a boat because he mistakenly believed a fast-approaching vessel was a law enforcement boat. The torturers were testing the veracity of the victim’s claims. By filming and sharing the videos, triad members were sending a message about the price of disloyalty, the officers said. Reuters has not seen the video.
The torture videos were just one of the items allegedly found in Cai’s two iPhones. The alleged Taiwanese trafficker was a diligent chronicler of the drug syndicate’s activities, but sloppy when it came to information security. Inside the phones, police say, was a huge photo and video gallery, social media conversations, and logs of thousands of calls and text messages.
They were “an Aladdin’s Cave of intel,” said one AFP commander based in North Asia.
For at least two months before his arrest, Cai allegedly travelled around Myanmar cobbling together a huge meth deal for the syndicate, according to a PowerPoint presentation by the Drug Enforcement Division of the Myanmar police outlining its investigation. One telling discovery: a screenshot of a slip from an international courier company recording the delivery of two consignments of packaging, manufactured to hold loose-leaf Chinese tea, to a Yangon address. Since at least 2012, tea packets, often containing one kilo of crystal meth each, had been cropping up in drug busts across the Asia-Pacific region.
Two days after Cai’s arrest, Myanmar police raided a Yangon address, where they seized 622 kilograms of ketamine. That evening, they captured 1.1 tonnes of crystal meth at a Yangon jetty. The interception of the drugs was a coup. Even so, Myanmar police were frustrated. Nine people were arrested, but other than Cai they were lower-level members of the syndicate, including couriers and a driver. And Cai still wasn’t talking.
Then came a major breakthrough. Swiping through the gallery of photos and videos on Cai’s phones, an AFP investigator based in Yangon noticed a familiar face from an intelligence briefing he had attended on Asian drug traffickers about a year earlier. “This one stuck out because it was Canadian,” he recalled. “I said: ‘Fuck, I know who you are!’”
It was Tse Chi Lop.
The Myanmar police invited the AFP to send a team of intelligence analysts to Yangon in early 2017. They went to work on Cai’s phones.
Australia had been a profitable drug market for Asian crime gangs since the end of the Vietnam War. For at least a decade, the AFP had fed all its historic files on drug cases, large and small, into a database. A senior Chinese counter-narcotics agent described the database, which includes a trove of names, chemical signatures of seized drugs, phone metadata and surveillance intel, as the most impressive cache of intelligence on Asian drug trafficking groups in the region.
The AFP analysts cross-referenced the contents of Cai’s phones with the database. They discovered photos related to three big consignments of crystal meth that were intercepted in China, Japan and New Zealand in 2016, according to investigators and Myanmar police documents. Later, a team of Chinese anti-narcotics officials connected photos, telephone numbers and addresses in Cai’s phones to other meth busts in China.
For regional counter-narcotics police, the revelations upended their assumption that the drugs were being trafficked by different crime groups. It became clear the shipments were the work of just one organization. A senior Chinese anti-narcotics agent said they believed Cai was “one of the members of a mega-syndicate,” which had been involved in multiple “drugs cases, smuggling and manufacturing, within this region.”
Cai was found not guilty in the ketamine case but is still in jail in Yangon, where he is on trial for drug trafficking charges related to the meth seizures. Reuters was unable to contact Cai’s lawyer.
During his time in Myanmar, Cai is suspected of traversing the country, testing drug samples, organizing couriers and obtaining a fishing boat to transport the illicit cargo to a bigger vessel in international waters, according to police and the Myanmar PowerPoint document. His phones contained pictures of the vehicles to be used to transport the meth, the spot where the meth was to be dropped off, and the fishing boat.
The police reconstruction of Cai’s dealings in Myanmar led to another major revelation: The epicentre of meth production had shifted from China’s southern provinces to Shan State in Myanmar’s northeastern borderlands. Operating in China had provided the Sam Gor syndicate with easy access to precursor ingredients, such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, that were smuggled out of pharmaceutical, chemical and paint factories in the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone. Shan gave Sam Gor the freedom to operate largely unimpeded by law enforcement.
Armed rebel groups in semi-autonomous regions like Shan State have long controlled large tracts of territory and used drug revenues to finance their frequent battles with the military. A series of detentions brokered by the Myanmar government with rebel groups over the years has brought relative calm to the region – and allowed illicit drug activities to flourish.
“Production facilities can be hidden from law enforcement and other prying eyes but insulated from disruptive violence,” analyst Richard Horsey wrote in a paper this year for the International Crisis Group. “Drug production and profits are now so vast that they dwarf the formal sector of Shan state.”
The Myanmar government and police did not respond to questions from Reuters.
Along the road to the village of Loikan in Shan State, there is evidence of drug-fueled prosperity. The two-lane road skirts a deep ravine known as the “Valley of Death,” where ethnic Kachin rebels from the Kaung Kha paramilitary group clashed for decades with Myanmar’s army. Now, high-end SUVs thunder past trucks carrying building materials and workers.
The Kaung Kha militia’s immaculate and expansive new headquarters sits on a plateau nestled between the steep green hills of the jagged Loi Sam Sip range. About six kilometres away, near Loikan village, was a sprawling drug facility carved out of thick forest. Police and locals say the complex churned out vast quantities of crystal meth, heroin, ketamine and yaba tablets – a cheaper form of meth that is mixed with caffeine. When it was raided in early 2018, security forces seized more than 200,000 litres of precursor chemicals, as well as 10,000 kg of caffeine and 73,550 kg of sodium hydroxide – all substances used in drug production.
The Loikan facility was “very likely” to have been the source of much of the Sam Gor syndicate’s meth, said the Yangon-based AFP officer.
“Some militia was involved in the lab,” said Oi Khun, a communications officer for the 3,000-strong Kaung Kha militia, in an interview. He paused, then added: “But not with the knowledge of senior members” of the militia.
One person in Loikan described how workers from the lab would come down from the hills. The men, like most of the villagers, were ethnic Chinese. But they dressed better than the locals, had foreign accents, and had a foul smell about them.
“I asked them once. ‘Why don’t you bathe?’” the person said. “They said they did, but there was nothing they could do about the smell.”
The rank chemicals used to cook the meth had seeped into the skin of the men, who seemed unperturbed that the signature stench might reveal their illicit activities. “We all knew,” the person said. “We just didn’t talk about it. That just brings you danger.”
Meth lab managers and chemists are mostly Taiwan nationals, say Thai police. So, too, are many of the crime network’s couriers and boat crews who transport the drugs across the Asia-Pacific.
Shan’s super-labs produce the purest crystal meth in the world, the senior Chinese counter-narcotics official told Reuters. “They can take it slow and spread (the meth) out on the ground and let it dry.”
The UNODC estimates the Asia-Pacific retail market for meth is worth between $30.3 and $61.4 billion annually. The business model for meth is “very different” to heroin, said the UNODC’s Douglas. “Inputs are relatively cheap, a large workforce is not needed, the price per kilo is higher, and profits are therefore far, far higher.”
The wholesale price of a kilo of crystal meth produced in northeastern Myanmar is as little as $1,800, according to a UNODC report citing the China National Narcotics Control Commission. Average retail prices for crystal meth, according to the UN agency, are equivalent to $70,500 per kilo in Thailand, $298,000 per kilo in Australia and $588,000 in Japan. For the Japanese market, that’s more than a three-hundred-fold mark-up.
The money the syndicate is making “means that if they lose ten tonnes and one goes through, they still make a big profit,” said the Chinese counter-narcotics official. “They can afford failure. It doesn’t matter.”
The analysis of Cai’s phones was continuing to provide leads. On them, police say they found the GPS coordinates of the pick-up point in the Andaman Sea where fishing boats laden with Myanmar meth were meeting drug motherships capable of being at sea for weeks.
One of the motherships was a Taiwanese trawler called the Shun de Man 66, according to the Taiwanese law enforcement document reviewed by Reuters. The vessel was already at sea when, in early July 2017, Joshua Joseph Smith walked into a marine broker in the Western Australian capital of Perth and paid $A350,000 (about $265,000 at the time) for the MV Valkoista, a fishing charter boat. Smith, who was in his mid-40s and hailed from the east coast of Australia, inquired about seasickness tablets. According to local media, he didn’t have a fishing license at the time.
After buying the boat on July 7, Smith set the Valkoista on a course straight from the marina to meet the Shun De Man 66 in the Indian Ocean, an AFP police commander said. After the rendezvous, the Valkoista then sailed to the remote Western Australian port city of Geraldton on July 11, where its crew was seen “unloading a lot of packages” into a van, the commander said.
“We knew we had an importation. We know the methodology of organized crime networks. We know if a ship leaves empty and comes back with some gear on it, that it hasn’t just dropped from the sky in the middle of the ocean.”
Investigators checked CCTV footage and hotel, plane and car hire records. The phones of some of the Australian drug traffickers were tapped. It soon became apparent, police say, that some of Smith’s alleged co-conspirators were members of an ethnic Lebanese underworld gang, as well as the Hells Angels and Comanchero motorcycle gangs, known as “bikies” in Australia.
As they put together their deal to import 1.2 tonnes of crystal meth into Australia, Smith’s associates met with Sam Gor syndicate members in Bangkok in August 2017, according to a copy of an AFP document reviewed by Reuters. The Australians reconvened in Perth a month later.
Bikers may have a reputation for wild clubhouse parties and a self-styled mythology as outsiders, but these Australians had refined tastes. They flew business class, stayed in five-star hotels and dined at the finest restaurants, according to police investigators and local media reports. One of those restaurants, said the AFP commander, was the Rockpool Bar & Grill in Perth. The restaurant offered a 104-page wine list and a menu that included caviar with a toast at about $185 per serving.
On November 27, 2017, the Shun De Man 66 set sail again, this time from Singapore. The vessel headed north into the Andaman Sea to rendezvous with a smaller boat bringing the meth from Myanmar. The Shun De Man then sailed along the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and dropped down to the Indian Ocean.
The Indonesian navy watched and the AFP listened.
When the Shun De Man finally met again with the Valkoista in international waters off the West Australian coast on December 19, an Asian voice could be heard shouting “money, money,” according to the commander and local media reports. The Shun De Man’s crew had one half of a torn Hong Kong dollar bill. Smith and his crew had the other half. The Australian buyers proved their identity by matching their portion to the fragment held by the crew of the Shun De Man, who then handed over the meth.
The Valkoista arrived in the Australian port city of Geraldton following a two-day return journey in rough seas. The men unloaded the drugs in the pre-dawn dark. Masked members of the AFP and Western Australian police moved in with assault weapons and seized the drugs and the men. Smith pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of an illegal drug. Some of his alleged associates are still on trial.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau said it had “worked together with our counterparts on the investigation” of the Shun De Man 66 and that this had led to the “substantial seizure of illicit narcotics” by the Australian authorities in December 2017. The bureau said it was “aware that Taiwanese syndicates have participated in maritime drug trafficking in (the) Asia-Pacific region,” and was working “collaboratively and closely with our counterparts to disrupt these syndicates and cross-border drug trafficking.”
NIMBLE, ELUSIVE, UNFAZED
As the investigation into the syndicate deepened, police concluded that crime groups from across the region had undergone a kind of mega-merger to form Sam Gor. The members include the three biggest Hong Kong and Macau triads, who spent much of the 1990s in open warfare: 14K, Wo Shing Wo and Sun Yee On. The other two are the Big Circle Gang, Tse’s original triad, and the Bamboo Union, based in Taiwan. In the words of one investigator, the syndicate’s supply chain is so complex and expertly run that it “must rival Apple’s.”
“The syndicate has a lot of money and there is a vast market to tap,” said Jay Li Chien-chih, a Taiwanese police senior colonel who has been stationed in Southeast Asia for a decade. “The power this network possesses is unimaginable.”
Investigators have had wins. In February last year, police busted the Loikan super-lab in Myanmar, where they found enough tea-branded packaging for 10 tonnes of meth. The Shun De Man 66 was intercepted that month by the Indonesian navy with more than one tonne of meth aboard. In March 2018, a key Sam Gor lieutenant was arrested in Cambodia and extradited to Myanmar. In December, the compound of Sue Songkittikul, a suspected syndicate operations chief, was raided in Thailand.
Located near the border with Myanmar, the moat-ringed compound had a small meth lab, which police suspected was used to experiment with new recipes; a powerful radio tower with a 100-km range; and an underground tunnel from the main house to the back of the property.
Sue wasn’t there, but property and money from 38 bank accounts linked to him and totalling some $9 million were seized during the investigation. Sue is still at large.
But the flow of drugs leaving the Golden Triangle for the wider Asia-Pacific seems to have increased. Seizures of crystal meth and yaba rose about 50% last year to 126 tonnes in East and Southeast Asia. At the same time, prices for the drugs fell in most countries. This pattern of falling prices and rising seizures, the UNODC said in a report released in March 2019, “suggested the supply of the drug had expanded.”
In the Sam Gor syndicate, police face a nimble and elusive adversary. When authorities had success stopping the drug motherships, police said, Sam Gor switched to hiding its product in shipping containers. When Thailand stopped much of the meth coming directly across the border from Myanmar by truck, the syndicate re-routed deliveries through Laos and Vietnam. This included deploying hordes of Laotians with backpacks, each containing about 30 kilos of meth, to carry it into Thailand on narrow jungle paths.
Over the years, police have had little success in taking down Asia’s drug lords. Some of the suspected syndicate leaders have been involved in drug trafficking for decades, according to the AFP target list. The last time a top-level Asian narcotics kingpin was successfully prosecuted and imprisoned for more than a short period was in the mid-1970s. That’s when Ng Sik-ho, a wily Hong Kong drug trafficker known as Limpy Ho, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for smuggling more than 20 tonnes of opium and morphine, according to court records.
So far, Tse has avoided Limpy Ho’s fate. He is being tracked, and all the signs are he knows it, say counter-narcotics agents. Despite the heat, some police say they believe he is continuing his drug operations, unfazed.