“Within five to ten years,” he prognosticated, “it would provably be possible to make a new infective microorganism which would differ in certain important aspects from any known disease-causing organisms. Most important of these,” he continued – and this is the ominous part, “is that it might be refractory to the immunological and therapeutic processes upon which we depend to maintain our relative freedom from infectious disease.”
This new germ, the one Dr. MacArthur desired so sincerely to whip up in his lab, would destroy the immune system. The good doc proffered the most hackneyed of Cold War rationales for this odious ambition.
“Should an enemy develop it there is little doubt that this is an important area of potential military technological inferiority in which there is no adequate research program.”
He got his coveted taxpayer funding. In 1977 and 1978, at the tail end of Dr. MacArthur’s time frame, the first cases of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) emerged in Africa.
As smoking funs, or smoking petri dishes, go, the MacArthur transcript leaves something to be desired. But the coincidence is undeniably provocative. Is AIDS the ultimate in biological warfare? This is a case with so many conundrums that the JFK assassination seems like a District Court Drunk-driving rap by comparison.
U.S. representative Theodore Weiss – a New York congressman with a large gay constituency – speculated in 1983 that “as far fetched as it may seem, given the attitudes toward homosexuals and homosexuality by some segments of society, the possible utilization of biological weapons must be seriously considered.”
The demographics of AIDS also encourage the biowarfare notion. Though no one is immune, several groups have been especially hard hit: gays, Africans, drug users. Could those groups have been deliberately targeted in some Pentagon-operated biotech chamber?
Support for this biowarfare thesis is scanty at best. But then the same holds true for the “official” explanation of how AIDS entered the human population – that green monkeys spread it, somehow – which rests on a rather flimsy foundation itself.
The generally accepted cause of AIDS is a virus labeled HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) “discovered” in 1984 by Dr. Robert Gallo and, more or less simultaneously, by a team of French scientists (the French doctors charge, apparently with some justification, that Gallo ripped off their research – but that’s a conspiracy for another book). From what corner of the ecosystem the virus arose remains an open question.
Gallo et al. note the similarity between a simian-borne virus (STLV-III) and HIV. They muse that at some point the Cercopithecus aethiops carrying this virus transmitted it to an African human being. Within a few years thousands of people dropped dead from having sex and from blood transfusions.
It is barely worth scrolling down the litany of assumptions required to support this untested bit of fabulism (not the least of which is the massive and presumable instantaneous mutation of the simian virus). ‘Nuff said that the green monkey scenario is at best an educated guess.
There are some gaping improbabilities in the AIDS-biowarfare mise-en-scene as well. Perhaps AIDS is indeed a biological bomb aimed to eradicate the world’s useless eaters. The military and its politico-industrial cronies have certainly pulled some nasty stunts in their time. But who in their right mind would unleash a highly insidious, unstoppably lethal pathogen into the same population that includes oneself and one’s All-American family?
A brief history of the U.S. biological warfare includes on-the-record instances of military assaults on U.S. cities, unleashing various germs and toxins, though none as deadly as HIV (by a long shot). Nonetheless, there are some noteworthy examples of verifiable ruthlessness. Take the fiendish Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The U.S. Public Health Service ran the study on four hundred syphilitic black men, denying them not only treatment for their ailment but any information that they had the disease at all. This proceeded for forty years.
Then there was the 1931 Puerto Rico cancer experiment; self explanatory. A number of Puerto Ricans were deliberately infected with cancer by the Rockefeller Institute and thirteen died. Chief pathologist Cornelius Rhoades’s justification?
“The Porto [sic] Ricans are the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and theivish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere…. I have done my best to further the process of extermination by killing off eight and transplanting cancer into several more…. All physicians take delight in the abuse and torture of the unfortunate subjects.”
None too politically correct, the Dr. Rhoades. No one prosecuted him, though. They brushed him off as “mentally ill.” The U.S. government must have disagreed. It placed Rhoades in charge of two large chemical warfare projects during the 1940s, granted him a seat on the Atomic Energy Commission, and pinned him with the Legion of Merit.
Though biowarfare research was legislatively banned in 1972, the Pentagon’s “Department of Loopholes” took immediate action and research pressed on. One of the germs that intrigues military researchers is the canis strain of brucella. Symptoms of this disease include headaches and fevers, malaise, muscle aches, pharyngitis, and lymphadenopathy – the same roster seen in AIDS-Related Complex, the precursor to full-blown AIDS.
The first published charge of an AIDS-biowarfare connection came in the Patriot, a newspaper in New Delhi. The July 4, 1984, report cited articles from an official U.S. Army research publication about “natural and artificial influences on the human immune system.”
The Indian paper reported that scientists from Fort Detrick – home of the National Cancer Institute’s Frederick Cancer Research Facility but until 1969 known as the Army Biological Warfare Laboratory – ventured into darkest Africa in search of “a powerful virus that could not be found in Europe of Asia.” The data from this excursion “was then analyzed at Fort Detrick and the result was the isolation of a virus that causes AIDS.”
The U.S. government immediately labeled the article Soviet disinformation, a case not harmed by the subsequent relentless coverage given the story in Soviet media. A Pravda editorial cartoon showing a doctor standing on a pile of corpses, and handing a general a vial marked AIDS virus did draw a whine of protest from the U.S. embassy. But it wasn’t until a major British newspaper splashed the story all over its tabloid pages that American authorities began to react, their objections echoed slavishly by the ever-enterprising U.S. media.
Next came the 1986 pamphlet AIDS: USA Home-Made Evil by two French-born East German scientists, Jakob and Lilli Segal. The pamphlet, with no listed publisher, floated freely throughout the English-speaking regions of Africa. Not an orthodox means of scientific publication, but the Segals’ arguments formed the basis for much of the subsequent discussion, such as it was, of the AIDS-biowarfare theory.
HIV, the enigmatic Segals enigmatically claimed, is a genetically genetically engineered hybrid of the visan virus (cause of a sheep-borne brain disease) and a virus called HTLV-I (HIV was originally named HTLV-III), which causes white blood cell cancer.
The Segals, too, fingered Fort Detrick as the lab that invented the virus. There has never been any hard evidence that HIV was synthesized at Fort Detrick – or anywhere else – but it can’t hurt to inquire why the National Institutes of Health asked the army researchers at Fort Detrick, not the “civilians” there, to help develop a cure for AIDS.
In February of 1987 army colonel David Huxsoll, taken by a scoffing fit while discussing the AIDS-biowarfare charges, blabbed an intriguing bit of information.
“Studies at army laboratories have shown that the AIDS virus would be an extremely poor biological warfare agent,” quoth the colonel.
What studies? Pentagon PR tells us that the military wants to put an end to AIDS in our lifetimes, not an end to our lifetimes. Huxsoll later denied making the statement. The reporter who wrote it down stands by the story.
The first American AIDS outbreaks – then confined almost exclusively to the gay male population –coincided with the onset of Reaganism and its attendant bitter backlash against gays. The biowarfare theory assumes that gays were singled out for destruction, or at the very least, for scapegoating. But how?
In 1978 more than a thousand nonmonogamous homosexual adult males received experimental vaccination against hepatitis B, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. Within six years 64 percent of those men had AIDS.
Coincidence is of course possible, even likely in this case. Under the conventional view of AIDS-transmission, nonmonogamous homosexual adult males are prone to the disease anyway.
There was another vaccination program, for smallpox this time, in Africa. The World Health Organization ran the show. The regions where W.H.O. administered its program later became the most AIDS-wrecked in Africa. Again, however, the notion that this could be a coincidence is quite plausible, though among adherents of the AIDS-conspiracy theory the smallpox program stirs considerable alarm. But it’s hard to knock the W.H.O.’s largely successful attempt to eradicate smallpox – a far worse killer than AIDS.
There are variations on the AIDS-biowarfare theme: Some rest on the argument that HIV, on its own, does not cause AIDS. Dioxins (used by the military in Vietnam) and dengue virus (used by the CIA in Cuba) have found mention as possible culprits, as has a mutated form of syphilis. Any of these would be simpler than a synthesized virus to administer as a weapon.
There’s only one certainty: The epidemiology of AIDS is one case where neither the official nor the conspiratorial explanations comes off as particularly satisfying.