Coronavirus, Conspiracy Theories, and China?

BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT

A friend and colleague posted a piece on his social media which cast an interesting degree of skepticism on claims that the CoVID-19 originated from a Wuhan-based virology lab affiliated with the Chinese military.

Here is the National Memo article by Noon Al-Sibai that my friend recently posted:

During the February 21 episode of his radio show War Room: Pandemic, former White House adviser Steve Bannon hosted Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire and fugitive who employs him, without disclosing their business relationship. In the episode, Guo claimed, without evidence, that he has “no doubt” the coronavirus is “man-made” and that it’s “ridiculous” for people to claim otherwise.

As BuzzFeed News and other outlets have noted, Bannon has significant financial ties to Guo, known as “Miles Guo” on War Room: Pandemic and by multiple other names elsewhere.

Axios reported in October that in August 2018, Bannon and Guo inked a $1 million deal for Bannon’s “strategic consulting services” for a year. Axios’ report noted that a second contract, which was set to begin August 2019 and had at the time of publication not been signed, was for another $1 million and listed specific duties that included Bannon serving as a senior editor for Guo’s news outfit, G News.

During the February 21 episode of Bannon’s show Guo said he has “no doubt” that COVID-19, the World Health Organization’s name for the coronavirus at the heart of a global pandemic, is “man-made.” 

As noted in the BuzzFeed report, G News has made false claims about COVID-19, including that China is on the precipice of admitting that the virus “leaked” from the Wuhan Institute of Virology located in the city where the coronavirus outbreak first occurred. In a recent two-part video posted to the G News website, Guo also claimed that the Chinese Communist Party “is spreading the virus around the world.”  

BuzzFeed also noted that the exiled Chinese billionaire is a “critic of the ruling Communist Party” and has a checkered history in both China and the United States, including “accusations of both financial and sexual misconduct, including a rape allegation from a former assistant.” Guo denies the allegations, the report added, and claims they are “politically motivated.”

Noor Al-Sibai raises several good points in his piece over at the National Memo.

First, I did not know about the financial connection between Steve Bannon and Guo Wengui, who is a well-known opponent of the Chinese Communist Party. Second, the claims made by Bannon during his podcast and believed by Guo are not proven. Although, neither Guo nor Bannon are alone in their claims that the coronavirus currently spreading across the globe derived from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, located very near the market where the disease emanated.

In fact, not only have I expressed this concern, but so too has Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AL), Israeli bioweapons experts, and even noted US defense analyst, Bill Gertz. What’s more, Wuhan has for years been the epicenter of China’s biological weapons program.

And as I have exclusively written for the last few years, China’s biotechnology program is a direct and ever-growing danger to the Chinese people, the United States, and humanity itself as China embraces a dangerous leap-without-looking development strategy aimed at “beating” the Americans in technology innovation, all in order to displace the US as the global superpower by (or around) 2049, the one-hundredth year anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

China’s Biotech Threat

In the case of Chinese biotechnology, though, they are literally playing with the building blocks of life with little-to-no regard for the ramifications of such injudicious experimentation.

Biohacking, hybridization programs–once the basis of science fiction stories–are now becoming commonplace among China’s budding biotechnology sector. As time progresses, if Xi and the CCP manage to survive the ongoing crises of protests, disease spread, and trade woes, the Chinese biotechnology threat will only grow.

A coterie of what are admittedly salacious reports have surfaced purporting to be from scientists who worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which specialized in coronavirus research (including extensive research with bats), complained of lax safety standards for months at the lab in question. In fact, the Chinese government has identified the nearby outdoor meat market in Wuhan as the source of the outbreak.

However, as Tom Rogan reported yesterday at The Washington Examiner, the fact that the Chinese Communist mouthpiece, The Global Times, ran this story on February 22 could be an indication that, “China is using this story either because it A) wants to draw attention away from the biofacility in Wuhan, B) believes foreign powers will find out that the Wuhan market story was a deliberate deception, or C) both A and B.”

Here is the Global Times headliner from February 22:

We also know that the CCP has been highly sensitive to certain highly-placed members of the American Right, such as Bannon and investor Kyle Bass, making such claims similar to both mine and Senator Cotton’s regarding China’s perfidy. It could be that they simply want to mitigate a misperception. Then again, their behavior might be due to the fact that those on the Right are making claims that are basically true.

Further, the recent outcry from China’s government about the recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by the great geopolitical thinker, Walter Russell Mead, claiming that China is the “real sick man of Asia” and questioning the efficacy of China’s response to the spreading coronavirus, shows how wrong it is to believe the Chinese.

Either they really are hiding something or their efforts to contain the spreading disease have been so haphazard that the CCP leadership recognizes any substantial questioning of it would be akin to revealing the Emperor had no clothes–thereby risking further backlash from the already agitated Chinese people.

The regime in China can stand to lose people to this disease. They can also stand to watch the disease spread everywhere. What they will not abide is anything that weakens their grip on power. This explains why the CCP has only engaged in strategic releases of data regarding the disease. It also explains why Western scientists and leaders should be inherently skeptical of the reliability of the Chinese data–are they getting the full story? Or, are they getting a partial snapshot of data cherrypicked by Chinese Communist minders who are all-too-aware of their political weakness at present?

So, whether the National Memo is correct in their claims that there is no voracity to the claims of the coronavirus having originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology or if the CCP has just been playing catch-up with the disease–to no avail–is ultimately irrelevant.

As I have reported, we know for a fact that the CCP lied about when they knew of the disease, having delayed their announcement to the world by more than a month (this is thanks to the reportage of the now-deceased Wuhan-based ophthalmologist, Dr. Li Wenliang (who should be given the Time Person of the Year award); and frontline Chinese medical staff has leaked to Western press that the number of those infected with the disease has dwarfed the official numbers the CCP has released to the world.

Further, we know for a fact that people infected with the CoVID-19 strain managed to flee Wuhan before China could impost “wartime controls” and quarantine the area–with one Chinese woman infected with CoVID-19 having made it to Lyon, France, where she enjoyed a meal at a Michelin restaurant.

And as the CoVID-19 strain pops up all over the globe, clearly, the Chinese efforts to contain the outbreak have been unsuccessful. So, even if everything the Chinese were telling the world was above-board (which I am not convinced of), there does appear to be an inability to stop the disease from spreading–despite the CCP’s claims (or whatever the World Health Organization is spewing about how great China’s efforts have been).

The Chinese and the US government, as well as the WHO, have insisted that the onset of warmer weather in the next month will slow the spread of the disease. Perhaps. We won’t know until April or May. By that time, though, many more people in many more places will have been infected with the disease.

This explains why the US Centers for Disease Control has finally broken with the WHO and their Chinese handlers in discussing the coming breakdown in normalcy in the United States as the disease spreads here. It is believed, in fact, that:

The Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch is exacting in his diction, even for an epidemiologist. Twice in our conversation he started to say something, then paused and said, “Actually, let me start again.” So it’s striking when one of the points he wanted to get exactly right was this: “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable.”

Containment is the first step in responding to any outbreak. In the case of COVID-19, the possibility (however implausible) of preventing a pandemic seemed to play out in a matter of days. Starting in January, China began cordoning off progressively larger areas, radiating outward from the city of Wuhan and eventually encapsulating some 100 million people. People were barred from leaving home, and lectured by drones if they were caught outside. Nonetheless, the virus has now been found in 24 countries.

Despite the apparent ineffectiveness of such measures—relative to their inordinate social and economic cost, at least—the crackdown continues to escalate. Under political pressure to “stop” the virus, last Thursday the Chinese government announcedthat officials in Hubei province would be going door-to-door, testing people for fevers and looking for signs of illness, then sending all potential cases to quarantine camps. But even with the ideal containment, the virus’s spread may have been inevitable. Testing people who are already extremely sick is an imperfect strategy if people can spread the virus without even feeling bad enough to stay home from work.

Lipsitch predicts that within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said. As with influenza, which is often life-threatening to people with chronic health conditions and of older age, most cases pass without medical care. (Overall, about 14 percent of people with influenza have no symptoms.)

Lipsitch is far from alone in his belief that this virus will continue to spread widely. The emerging consensus among epidemiologists is that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease—a fifth “endemic” coronavirus. With the other four, people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity. If this one follows suit, and if the disease continues to be as severe as it is now, “cold and flu season” could become “cold and flu and COVID-19 season.”

At this point, it is not even known how many people are infected. As of Sunday, there have been 35 confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization. But Lipsitch’s “very, very rough” estimate when we spoke a week ago (banking on “multiple assumptions piled on top of each other,” he said) was that 100 or 200 people in the U.S. were infected. That’s all it would take to seed the disease widely. The rate of spread would depend on how contagious the disease is in milder cases. On Friday, Chinese scientists reported in the medical journal JAMA an apparent case of asymptomatic spread of the virus, from a patient with a normal chest CT scan. The researchers concluded with stolid understatement that if this finding is not a bizarre abnormality, “the prevention of COVID-19 infection would prove challenging.”

Even if Lipsitch’s estimates were off by orders of magnitude, they wouldn’t likely change the overall prognosis. “Two hundred cases of a flu-like illness during flu season—when you’re not testing for it—is very hard to detect,” Lipsitch said. “But it would be really good to know sooner rather than later whether that’s correct, or whether we’ve miscalculated something. The only way to do that is by testing.”

So, at this point, it doesn’t really matter if the CoVID-19 strain emanated from a bioweapons lab in Wuhan or not. The real issue is that the Chinese government has been sitting atop the information flow to the rest of the world and they have not been entirely forthcoming. Ordinarily we might chalk this up to typical government incompetence.

Yet, given how fawning the Western institutions charged with handling the outbreak have been of the Chinese government, it begs the question: how, if the CCP is so effective in containing the disease, are cases popping up everywhere?

And if they are so forthcoming, how is it that the CCP has been caught up in several major lies about the disease since last year?

Also, why are our institutions so quick to take China’s word on this matter, when we are usually so skeptical about data sets coming out of China? What makes this different? Perhaps it’s not so different.

A New Form of Intelligence Collection

What’s more, there have been some who have questioned me by saying that this amounts of conspiracy theory rather than intelligence reporting.

Yes, this is far punchier than any intel analysis you’d hear or read. It certainly has my own bias involved–and I am very upfront about that fact: I don’t trust Communist regimes. Period. History backs up my skepticism about communist regimes telling the truth, by the way.

Then again, Defense One recently ran an excellent piece entitled, “The US Intelligence Community is Caught In A Collectors’ Trap.” It’s an insightful piece about the danger the United States finds itself in with an over reliance on technical intelligence, in which every bit of data is soaked up by the US government (for a cost of around $80 billion per year), but that little insight is actually given on the most fundamental aspect of intelligence needs: to determine a target’s capabilities and intentions.

Here is the writer of the piece, Zachary Tyson Brown, on the problem today:

The nation’s intelligence services should conform to the nation’s needs. In the past, when useful information was scarcer, the need was to find pieces of it wherever they hid and use them to build a coherent picture. What today’s America needs most, in contrast, is help making sense of a shapeless, increasingly discordant world where information is abundant but truth is in short supply.

Today, intelligence can no longer be synonymous with information, or even with secrecy—the very notion of which is dying. Soon, there will be no more hiding in an increasingly transparent world that is always monitoring, always tracking, and always listening. When information is cheap and easily accessible, what is valuable is discernment and curation

Let’s get back to Clausewitz. He said critical analysis is “tracing effects to their causes,” that is, illuminating the connections between things to determine “…which among the countless concatenations of events are the essential ones.” This is a solid value proposition for intelligence in the information age. He further warned against treating separately what is more accurately viewed as a gestalt, and reminded us that individual actions, “however small their cause, must influence all subsequent military operations and modify their outcome to some degree, however slight.” In other words: It’s all connected, man.

Therefore, we can–and should–treat all unverified claims with a certain skepticism. But, if the goal of intelligence analysis today should be, as Brown asserts, “tracing effects to their causes,” without certain verification that the CoVID-19 was not a byproduct of China’s ongoing, expansive biotechnology and bioweapons experimentation, then we cannot discount its origins as being from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Even still, without that knowledge, the Chinese government’s slipshod behavior in responding to the disease outbreak has not been as great as the World Health Organization has claimed.

Far from being proof of the superiority of China’s centrally-planned authoritarian model, their response has been sloppy and has not prevented the spread of the disease (though it may have slowed it down).

What’s more, Western governments, for political and economic reasons, have been far too trusting of the Chinese regime, which has never once done anything to earn our trust, about the spread of this disease.

Even as cases pop up everywhere in the world, the US government has not fully closed down travel to and from affected countries–despite official proclamations to the contrary. And under present conditions, direct flights provided by Air China from China to the United States are set to resume on February 28 (and Air China’s subsidiaries have continued flying from China to the United States).

To totally discount the origins of the disease as “conspiratorial” or to proclaim China’s handling of the outbreak as anything other than a sloppy, ineffective bandaid for what will likely be an insuperable wound the world will suffer through, is irresponsible at this point.

Our goal as analysts should be to report all data that we have–even those points that are contrary to the official line–while engaging in a Zen Master approach of “We’ll see” until at least the warmer weather sets in and we can see if it does, in fact, slow the progression of the disease.

Regardless, most experts of the pathology of the disease appear to be preparing Americans for a new paradigm: normal life + CoVID-19. Until a vaccine is developed, this will be our reality and many people will suffer from this new ailment. We should always be skeptical and avoid #FakeNews from either the Left or Right. But, when it comes to China and telling the truth, we should also be skeptical of the official line.

©2020, The Weichert Report. All Rights Reserved.

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