Who’s Afraid of Fort Detrick Probe?
An international online petition calling for an investigation into a US military laboratory and the possible origin of Covid-19 was hacked at the weekend. The hackers were reportedly based in the US.
Fort Detrick in Maryland is the center of American biowarfare research. It is just one of the hundreds of such infectious disease laboratories located across the United States. During the Cold War, Fort Detrick was the main site for experimenting with lethal pathogens, including viruses causing deadly influenza.
In 2001, when a disgruntled researcher is believed to have killed five people by mailing deadly anthrax spores it was Fort Detrick that was the origin of the lethal material.
However, the network of secretive US biowarfare laboratories is also infamous for safety violations and accidents. In August 2019, Fort Detrick was shut down abruptly for several months when its wastewater decontamination process failed.
It is not unreasonable to call for an investigation into the practices and records at the Maryland center to ascertain if it had any connection to the Covid-19 pandemic which has so far killed over four million people worldwide and more than 600,000 in the United States alone.
Of course, American politicians and media dismiss the appeal as “disinformation” put out by Russia and China. Americans have accused China of being the origin of the pandemic after the first cases of Covid-19 were detected in the city of Wuhan at the end of 2019. More sinisterly, the Wuhan virology institute has been fingered as the source of the virus even though an international survey by the World Health Organization concluded such a release was “extremely unlikely”.
Scientific consensus contends that the virus evolved naturally and was most likely transmitted to humans from animals.
US President Joe Biden has given credibility to the conspiracy theory unleashed by his predecessor Donald Trump that the Wuhan laboratory was the origin of the Covid-19 virus. Biden has tasked his intelligence agencies to look into the claims. They are due to report back on their findings next month. Washington berates China for not being transparent about its laboratory and is demanding that Beijing open up its facility for inspection. The Americans claim China was not fully open with WHO investigators who cleared the lab as not being the origin of the virus.
But two can play that game. If the Americans accuse China and demand an investigation into secret laboratories then why can’t China level the same at the US?
It is still not known where the Covid-19 pandemic originated. It may take years to determine that. But what is certainly hindering an answer is the politicization of the disease. Washington is using it to smear China while hypocritically suppressing any questions about its own conduct.
The early cases of Covid-19 were detected in Wuhan. But who is to say that cases may have existed elsewhere but were simply not detected and reported in other countries? The US had an unprecedented surge in influenza deaths in 2019 before the Wuhan cases. Were some of these misdiagnosed as flu instead of Covid-19?
Fort Detrick has a notorious history of safety failures. It works on a wide range of biowarfare pathogens with little public oversight. And it was shut down in mid-2019 for reasons that are not clear to the public.
It is therefore reasonable for China to demand a probe into the American facility. This is not just a matter of “counter-propaganda” to turn the tables over American speculation about the Wuhan institute. There are empirical grounds for suspecting Fort Detrick as possibly having a role in the origin of the pandemic.
An online petition was started in China earlier this month demanding the WHO launch an investigation into Fort Detrick. It had gathered over 10 million signatures when the online site was hacked into at the weekend. Apparently, the petition was defended by its cybersecurity system and continues to operate.
According to Chinese reports the hackers were identified as having computer server addresses located in the US. If that is confirmed then the suspicions around the murky practices of Fort Detrick become more acute. It looks like the Americans are afraid to permit a probe into the site, even though they make high-handed accusations and demands on China over tenuous claims about Wuhan.