Monday, April 22, 2024

After Four Years and Thirty Million Deaths, by Ron Unz - The Unz Review

 The global Covid epidemic began more than four years ago, and although its visibility has largely faded over the last couple of years, displaced in the headlines by Russia’s Ukraine war and the more recent Israel-Gaza conflict, its lingering impact has been enormous.

Since 2020 The Economist has maintained the most authoritative account of the human toll and by its reckoning, the total number of “excess deaths” worldwide has nearly reached thirty million, while many billions more had their lives greatly disrupted by the lockdowns and economic dislocations. Our own country certainly suffered from these same factors, with well over a million American deaths, and the massive government spending to avert an economic collapse raised our debt by more than $10 trillion, an increase of roughly 50% over just the last few years.

During that same period I’d published a long series of articles focused on the origins of Covid. Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the first of those and over the last few days I’ve reread most of my writings on that topic, which totaled well over 100,000 words.

In many of those pieces, I’d assumed that the long-term social and economic impact of the epidemic and lockdowns would be far greater than was the case. Ordinary life in America seems to have largely returned to normal much more rapidly than I’d expected at the time. Except for a few permanent changes here and there, little sign of those very difficult years seems to remain in our daily lives, and I think the same situation has also been true in most other countries. But aside from those mistaken expectations—probably shared by many others at the time—I’d strongly stand behind almost everything else that I wrote in those two dozen major articles, especially including my extremely controversial analysis of the true roots of the devastating global epidemic.


The origin of Covid had been my primary contribution to the public debate and now that four years have gone by and the dust has partially settled, I think it’s worth revisiting that question. But although my first article appeared in April 2020, the analysis presented can best be understood after carefully considering some earlier events.

In 2016 a massive wave of popular revulsion against the political establishments of both the Democratic and Republican parties unexpectedly propelled Donald Trump into the White House. However, he unfortunately soon proved himself to be a disengaged and rather erratic president, and suffering from the natural problems of someone entirely new to holding elective office, he notoriously allowed his top aides to run circles around him on important issues.

Furthermore, although he’d run for office as a candidate of drastic ideological change, most of his appointments were relatively conventional Republicans. Within fifteen months he’d been persuaded to place his national security policy in the hands of hardline Neocons such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, who both regarded China and Iran with intense hostility and sometimes ignored or circumvented their ignorant superior. Leading journalists even later reported that Trump’s senior aides would sometimes hide his executive orders, thereby preventing him from signing them into law while correctly assuming that he would soon forget about them.

An extremely serious example of Trump’s inability to control his own underlings came in late 2018 during a crucial summit meeting with his Chinese counterpart. Huawei was one of China’s most important corporations, a global technology champion whose CFO Meng Wanzhou was the daughter of the company’s founder and chairman and herself one of her country’s highest-profile executives. But just eight months after he took office, Bolton ordered her arrest as she was changing planes in Canada on charges that she had violated American sanctions on Iran, an action that severely damaged our relations with China. Several years later a 10,000 word article in the Wall Street Journal revealed some of the fascinating details behind that serious international incident.

Mr. Bolton, then-national security adviser in the Trump administration, knew Ms. Meng’s arrest could disrupt the summit’s marquee event that evening, a dinner between President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Yet Mr. Bolton, a longtime China hawk, felt it was worth the risk. The president didn’t yet know about the plan. White House staffers later debated whether Mr. Bolton had told Mr. Trump or if it hadn’t fully registered with the president…

At the police station, Ms. Meng was fingerprinted, and allowed a phone call to the only Chinese-speaking lawyer Huawei could find on short notice, a patent attorney. As the attorney dashed to the station, Ms. Meng began to gasp for air, worrying officers who sped her to a hospital.

Messrs. Trump and Xi were dining on Argentine sirloin, accompanied by a 2014 Malbec. The goal of the dinner was to reach a truce in an escalating U.S.-China trade war. Neither man appeared aware of Ms. Meng’s arrest. Mr. Bolton, seated near Mr. Trump, didn’t mention it.

Mr. Xi learned shortly after, according to Chinese government officials, and it struck him as deceptive and an insult. He had just agreed to buy more U.S. food and energy.

Mr. Trump questioned Mr. Bolton days later at a White House Christmas dinner, according to people familiar with the conversation. “Why did you arrest Meng?” the president said. “Don’t you know she’s the Ivanka Trump of China?”

Thirteen months later, an even more shocking incident unfolded in the Middle East. For many years, Gen. Qasem Soleimani had been regarded as Iran’s most important military commander and given his very widespread popular appeal, he was considered a likely candidate in his country’s 2021 presidential election. But in early 2020 American officials lured him to Baghdad for Middle East peace negotiations with our representatives and then persuaded Trump to order his assassination when he arrived there on January 2nd. That heinous killing brought our two nations to very brink of war as the outraged Iranians bombarded our Middle Eastern bases with a dozen or more ballistic missiles in retaliation. Although Iran provided sufficient advance warning that no American lives were lost, more than one hundred of our servicemen were injured.

Iran had long sought to reestablish amicable relations with the U.S., but the Israelis regarded that country as their most formidable regional rival and for more than a dozen years they and their close Neocon allies had been working to provoke an Iranian war with America, hoping to use our powerful military to destroy their local adversary, much like we had attacked and destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, this assassination was almost certainly part of that long-standing pro-Israel project, and although the exact American government officials responsible were never identified, it seems very likely that Pompeo and Bolton were heavily involved.

The public, peacetime assassination of so high-ranking a foreign leader was an act almost unprecedented across the last three centuries of world politics, while our disingenuous mainstream media carefully avoided the obvious Israeli dimension to the crime. As a result, I decided to explore the broader issue of assassinations, particularly focusing on Israel’s Mossad and its likely hidden role in so many of the highest-profile incidents of the previous seventy years. Near the end of that month, I published a very long and comprehensive review of that important history.


Although my lengthy article attracted considerable readership and more than 1,000 comments, by the time it ran the emerging Covid outbreak was receiving more and more attention, soon sweeping aside all other issues. But those earlier incidents in the Trump Administration remained in the back of my mind as I began considering the sudden emergence of this new and mysterious virus in Wuhan, China.

My first major Covid article appeared in April 2020 and in it I described the sequence of events:

When my morning newspapers first began mentioning the appearance of a mysterious new illness in China during mid-January, I paid little attention, absorbed as I was in the aftermath of our sudden assassination of Iran’s top military leader and the dangerous possibility of a yet another Middle Eastern war. But the reports persisted and grew, with deaths occurring and evidence growing that the viral disease could be transmitted between humans. China’s early conventional efforts seemed unsuccessful in halting the spread of the disease.

Then on Jan. 23rd and after only 17 deaths, the Chinese government took the astonishing step of locking down and quarantining the entire 11 million inhabitants of the city of Wuhan, a story that drew worldwide attention. They soon extended this policy to the 60 million Chinese of Hubei province, and not longer afterward shut down their entire national economy and confined 700 million Chinese to their homes, a public health measure probably a thousand times larger than anything previously undertaken in human history. So either China’s leadership had suddenly gone insane, or they regarded this new virus as an absolutely deadly national threat, one that needed to be controlled at any possible cost.

Those early stories in the New York Times and other mainstream outlets either ignored the origins of the Covid virus or treated it as natural, but from a very early stage many others on the Internet had adopted a radically different perspective.

Back in January, few Americans were paying much attention to the early reports of an unusual disease outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which was hardly a household name. Instead, overwhelming political attention was focused on the battle over Trump’s impeachment and the aftermath of our dangerous military confrontation with Iran. But towards the end of that month, I discovered that the fringes of the Internet were awash with claims that the disease was caused by a Chinese bioweapon accidentally released from that same Wuhan laboratory, with former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and ZeroHedge, a popular right-wing conspiracy-website, playing leading roles in advancing the theory. Indeed, the stories became so widespread in those ideological circles that Sen. Tom Cotton, a leading Republican Neocon, began promoting them on Twitter and FoxNews, thereby provoking an article in the NYT on those “fringe conspiracy theories.”

Soon afterward, I discovered that many of the Covid theories promoted by these right-wing, anti-China activists apparently had their roots in American government propaganda efforts. As early as January 9th, before even a single Covid death had been officially reported, our CIA-affiliated Radio Free Asia outlet had begun running stories that Covid might be a Chinese bioweapon that had leaked from the Wuhan lab, and a couple of weeks later the right-wing Washington Times picked up on the same story, quoting unnamed U.S. government officials who seemed to lend it credence.

These strange developments began raising early doubts in my mind. Furthermore, whether the virus was natural or the result of a lab-leak, the timing of its appearance seemed very suspicious to me, as I explained in my article:

Regardless of the origins of the idea, does it seem plausible that the coronavirus outbreak might have originated as an accidental leak from that Chinese laboratory?…

During January, the journalists reporting on China’s mushrooming health crisis regularly emphasized that the mysterious new viral outbreak had occurred at the worst possible place and time, appearing in the major transport hub of Wuhan just prior to the Lunar New Year holiday, when hundreds of millions of Chinese would normally travel to their distant family homes for the celebration, thereby potentially spreading the disease to all parts of the country and producing a permanent, uncontrollable epidemic. The Chinese government avoided that grim fate by the unprecedented decision to shut down its entire national economy and confine 700 million Chinese to their own homes for many weeks. But the outcome seems to have been a very near thing, and if Wuhan had remained open for just a few days longer, China might easily have suffered long-term economic and social devastation.

The timing of an accidental laboratory release would obviously be entirely random. Yet the outbreak seems to have begun during the precise period of time most likely to damage China, the worst possible ten-day or perhaps thirty-day window. As I noted in January, I saw no solid evidence that the coronavirus was a bioweapon, but if it were, the timing of the release seemed very unlikely to have been accidental.

America and China had spent the previous several years locked in bitter international confrontation and then a sudden, mysterious virus had appeared in the latter country, potentially devastating its society and economy. That hardly constituted any sort of proof, but it certainly raised my reasonable suspicions:

If the virus had been released intentionally, the context and motive for such a biowarfare attack against China could not be more obvious. Although our disingenuous media continues to pretend otherwise, the size of China’s economy surpassed that of our own several years ago, and has continued to grow much more rapidly. Chinese companies have also taken the lead in several crucial technologies, with Huawei becoming the world’s leading telecommunications equipment manufacturer and dominating the important 5G market. China’s sweeping Belt and Road Initiative has threatened to reorient global trade around an interconnected Eurasian landmass, greatly diminishing the leverage of America’s own control over the seas. I have closely followed China for over forty years, and the trend-lines have never been more apparent. Back in 2012, I published an article bearing the provocative title “China’s Rise, America’s Fall?” and since then I have seen no reason to reassess my verdict.

  • China’s Rise, America’s Fall
    Which superpower is more threatened by its “extractive elites”?
    Ron Unz • The American Conservative • April 17, 2012 • 7,000 Words

For three generations following the end of World War II, America had stood as the world’s supreme economic and technological power, while the collapse of the Soviet Union thirty years ago left us as the sole remaining superpower, facing no conceivable military rival. A growing sense that we were rapidly losing that unchallenged position had certainly inspired the anti-China rhetoric of many senior figures in the Trump Administration, who launched a major trade war soon after coming into office. The increasing misery and impoverishment of large sections of the American population naturally left these voters searching for a convenient scapegoat, and the prosperous, rising Chinese made a perfect target.

Despite America’s growing economic conflict with China over the last couple of years, I had never considered the possibility that matters might take a military turn. The Chinese had long ago deployed advanced intermediate range missiles that many believed could easily sink our carriers in the region, and they had also generally improved their conventional military deterrent. Moreover, China was on quite good terms with Russia, which itself had been the target of intense American hostility for several years; and Russia’s new suite of revolutionary hypersonic missiles had drastically reduced any American strategic advantage. Thus, a conventional war against China seemed an absolutely hopeless undertaking, while China’s outstanding businessmen and engineers were steadily gaining ground against America’s decaying and heavily-financialized economic system.

Under these difficult circumstances, an American biowarfare attack against China might have seemed the only remaining card to play in hopes of maintaining American supremacy. Plausible deniability would minimize the risk of any direct Chinese retaliation, and if successful, the terrible blow inflicted to China’s economy would set it back for many years, perhaps even destabilizing its social and political system. Using alternative media to immediately promote theories that the coronavirus outbreak was the result of a leak from a Chinese biowarfare lab was a natural means of preempting any later Chinese accusations along similar lines, thereby allowing America to win the international propaganda war before China had even begun to fight.

These were the thoughts that entered my mind during the last week of January once I discovered the widely circulating theories suggesting that China’s massive disease epidemic had been the self-inflicted consequence of its own biowarfare research. I saw no solid evidence that the coronavirus was a bioweapon, but if it were, China was surely the innocent victim of the attack, presumably carried out by elements of the American national security establishment.

Soon afterward, someone brought to my attention a very long article by an American ex-pat living in China who called himself “Metallicman” and held a wide range of eccentric and implausible beliefs. I have long recognized that flawed individuals can often serve as the vessels of important information otherwise unavailable, and this case constituted a perfect example. His piece denounced the outbreak as a likely American biowarfare attack, and provided a great wealth of factual material I had not previously considered. Since he authorized republication elsewhere I did so, and his 15,000 word analysis, although somewhat raw and unpolished, began attracting an enormous amount of readership on our website, probably being one of the very first English-language pieces to suggest that the mysterious new disease was an American bioweapon. Many of his arguments appeared doubtful to me or have been obviated by later developments, but several seemed quite telling.

He pointed out that during the previous two years, the Chinese economy had already suffered serious blows from other mysterious new diseases, although these had targeted farm animals rather than people. During 2018 a new Avian Flu virus had swept the country, eliminating large portions of China’s poultry industry, and during 2019 the Swine Flu viral epidemic had devastated China’s pig farms, destroying 40% of the nation’s primary domestic source of meat, with widespread claims that the latter disease was being spread by mysterious small drones. My morning newspapers had hardly ignored these important business stories, noting that the sudden collapse of much of China’s domestic food production might prove a huge boon to American farm exports at the height of our trade conflict, but I had never considered the obvious implications. So for three years in a row, China had been severely impacted by strange new viral diseases, though only the most recent had been deadly to humans. This evidence was merely circumstantial, but the pattern seemed highly suspicious.

The writer also noted that shortly before the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, that city had hosted 300 visiting American military officers, who came to participate in the 2019 Military World Games, an absolutely remarkable coincidence of timing. As I pointed out at the time, how would Americans react if 300 Chinese military officers had paid an extended visit to Chicago, and soon afterward a mysterious and deadly epidemic had suddenly broken out in that city? Once again, the evidence was merely circumstantial but certainly raised dark suspicions.

Scientific investigation of the coronavirus had already pointed to its origins in a bat virus, leading to widespread media speculation that bats sold as food in the Wuhan open markets had been the original disease vector. Meanwhile, the orchestrated waves of anti-China accusations had emphasized Chinese laboratory research on that same viral source. But we soon published a lengthy article by investigative journalist Whitney Webb providing copious evidence of America’s own enormous biowarfare research efforts, which had similarly focused for years on bat viruses. Webb was then associated with MintPress News, but that publication had strangely declined to publish her important piece, perhaps skittish about the grave suspicions it directed towards the US government on so momentous an issue. So without the benefit of our platform, her major contribution to the public debate might have attracted relatively little readership.

Around the same time, I noted another extremely strange coincidence that failed to attract any interest from our somnolent national media. Although his name had meant nothing to me, in late January my morning newspapers carried major stories on the sudden arrest of Prof. Charles Lieber, one of Harvard University’s top scientists and Chairman of its Chemistry Department, sometimes characterized as a potential future Nobel Laureate.

The circumstances of that case seemed utterly bizarre to me. Like numerous other prominent American academics, Lieber had had decades of close research ties with China, holding joint appointments and receiving substantial funding for his work. But now he was accused of financial reporting violations in the disclosure portions of his government grant applications—the most obscure sort of offense—and on the basis of those accusations, he was seized by the FBI in an early-morning raid on his suburban Lexington home and dragged off in shackles, potentially facing years of federal imprisonment.

Such government action against an academic seemed almost without precedent. During the height of the Cold War, numerous American scientists and technicians were rightfully accused of having stolen our nuclear weapons secrets for delivery to Stalin, yet I had never heard of any of them treated in so harsh a manner, let alone a scholar of Prof. Lieber’s stature, who was merely charged with technical disclosure violations. Indeed, this incident recalled accounts of NKVD raids during the Soviet purges of the 1930s.

Although Lieber was described as a chemistry professor, a few seconds of Googling revealed that some of his most important work had been in virology, including technology for the detection of viruses. So a massive and deadly new viral epidemic had broken out in China and almost simultaneously, a top American scholar with close Chinese ties and expertise in viruses was suddenly arrested by the federal government, yet no one in the media expressed any curiosity at a possible connection between these two events.

I think we can safely assume that Lieber’s arrest by the FBI had been prompted by the concurrent coronavirus epidemic, but anything more is mere speculation. Those now accusing China of having created the coronavirus might surely suggest that our intelligence agencies discovered that the Harvard professor had been personally involved with that deadly research. But I think a far more likely possibility is that Lieber began to wonder whether the epidemic in China might not be the result of an American biowarfare attack, and was perhaps a little too free in voicing his suspicions, thereby drawing the wrath of our national security establishment. Inflicting such extremely harsh treatment upon a top Harvard scientist would greatly intimidate all of his lesser colleagues elsewhere, who would surely now think twice before broaching certain controversial theories to any journalist.

By the end of January, our webzine had published a dozen articles and posts on the coronavirus outbreak, then added many more by the middle of February. These pieces totaled tens of thousands of words and attracted a half million words of comments, probably representing the primary English-language source for a particular perspective on the deadly epidemic, with this material eventually drawing many hundreds of thousands of pageviews. A few weeks later, the Chinese government began gingerly raising the possibility that the coronavirus may have been brought to Wuhan by the 300 American military officers visiting that city, and was fiercely attacked by the Trump Administration for spreading anti-American propaganda. But I strongly suspect that the Chinese had gotten that idea from our own publication.

As the coronavirus gradually began to spread beyond China’s own borders, another development occurred that greatly multiplied my suspicions. Most of these early cases had occurred exactly where one might expect, among the East Asian countries bordering China. But by late February Iran had become the second epicenter of the global outbreak. Even more surprisingly, its political elites had been especially hard-hit, with a full 10% of the entire Iranian parliament soon infected and at least a dozen of its officials and politicians dying of the disease, including some who were quite senior. Indeed, Neocon activists on Twitter began gleefully noting that their hated Iranian enemies were now dropping like flies.

Let us consider the implications of these facts. Across the entire world the only political elites that have yet suffered any significant human losses have been those of Iran, and they died at a very early stage, before significant outbreaks had even occurred almost anywhere else in the world outside China. Thus, we have America assassinating Iran’s top military commander on Jan. 2nd and then just a few weeks later large portions of the Iranian ruling elites became infected by a mysterious and deadly new virus, with many of them soon dying as a consequence. Could any rational individual possibly regard this as a mere coincidence?

Biological warfare is a highly technical subject, and those possessing such expertise are unlikely to candidly report their classified research activities in the pages of our major newspapers, perhaps even less so after Prof. Lieber was dragged off to prison in chains. My own knowledge is nil. But in mid-March I came across several extremely long and detailed comments on the coronavirus outbreak that had been posted on a small website by an individual calling himself “OldMicrobiologist” and who claimed to be a retired forty-year veteran of American biodefense. The style and details of his material struck me as quite credible, and after a little further investigation I concluded that there was a high likelihood his background was exactly as he had described. I made arrangements to republish his comments in the form of a 3,400 word article, which soon attracted a great deal of traffic and 80,000 words of further comments.

Although the writer emphasized the lack of any hard evidence, he said that his experience led him to strongly suspect that the coronavirus outbreak was indeed an American biowarfare attack against China, probably carried out by agents brought into that country under cover of the Military Games held at Wuhan in late October, the sort of sabotage operation our intelligence agencies had sometimes undertaken elsewhere. One important point he made was that high lethality was often counter-productive in a bioweapon since debilitating or hospitalizing large numbers of individuals may impose far greater economic costs on a country than a biological agent which simply inflicts an equal number of deaths. In his words “a high communicability, low lethality disease is perfect for ruining an economy,” suggesting that the apparent characteristics of the coronavirus were close to optimal in this regard. Those so interested should read his analysis and assess for themselves his credibility and persuasiveness…

One intriguing aspect of the situation was that almost from the first moment that reports of the strange new epidemic in China reached the international media, a large and orchestrated campaign had been launched on numerous websites and Social Media platforms to identify the cause as a Chinese bioweapon carelessly released in its own country. Meanwhile, the far more plausible hypothesis that China was the victim rather than the perpetrator had received virtually no organized support anywhere, and only began to take shape as I gradually located and republished relevant material, usually drawn from very obscure quarters and often anonymously authored. So it seemed that only the side hostile to China was waging an active information war. The outbreak of the disease and the nearly simultaneous launch of such a major propaganda campaign may not necessarily prove that an actual biowarfare attack had occurred, but I do think it tends to support such a theory.

By early March, I had become increasingly convinced of what had happened. After all, China and Iran were the two countries in the world that were the leading targets of American hostility, and those were the two countries first hit by the mysterious Covid virus, an extremely strange coincidence under either the natural virus or lab-leak scenarios.

But the accusation I was considering was a monumental one, namely that an ill-fated biowarfare attack launched by elements of our own government had disastrously backfired, with many hundreds of thousands of Americans facing illness and death as a consequence. So although all of this circumstantial evidence seemed quite persuasive to me, I still didn’t feel I had sufficient proof to warrant publication,

However, that all changed in early April as the disastrous failure of our own public health authorities to control the burgeoning epidemic prompted a series of angry leaks from within our intelligence service. I quickly recognized the explosive implications of those revelations, which otherwise seem to have almost entirely escaped any notice.

But with the horrific consequences of our own later governmental inaction being obvious, elements within our intelligence agencies have sought to demonstrate that they were not the ones asleep at the switch. Earlier this month, an ABC News story cited four separate government sources to reveal that as far back as late November, a special medical intelligence unit within our Defense Intelligence Agency had produced a report warning that an out-of-control disease epidemic was occurring in the Wuhan area of China, and widely distributed that document throughout the top ranks of our government, warning that steps should be taken to protect US forces based in Asia. After the story aired, a Pentagon spokesman officially denied the existence of that November report, while various other top level government and intelligence officials refused to comment. But a few days later, Israeli television mentioned that in November American intelligence had indeed shared such a report on the Wuhan disease outbreak with its NATO and Israeli allies, thus seeming to independently confirm the complete accuracy of the original ABC News story and its several government sources.

It therefore appears that elements of the Defense Intelligence Agency were aware of the deadly viral outbreak in Wuhan more than a month before any officials in the Chinese government itself. Unless our intelligence agencies have pioneered the technology of precognition, I think this may have happened for the same reason that arsonists have the earliest knowledge of future fires.

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