May 13-14, 2009 -- SPECIAL REPORT. The history of the synthetic H1N1 flu virus and a not-so-rosy future
The history of the extraction of the genetic material from the corpses of victims of the 1918 Spanish influenza virus who were buried in Arctic permafrost is part "X-Files" and part "Jurassic Park." After an unsuccessful 1951 mission, that involved U.S. biological warfare specialists, to extract 1918 Spanish flu genetic material in 1951 from a cemetery in the Inupiat Eskimo village of Brevig Mission, Alaska, scientists made another attempt, a successful one it turns out, in 1997. Dr. Johan Hultin, from the State University of Iowa, successfully extracted genetic material from the corpse of an obese thirty-something female who died from the Spanish flu in 1918, along with 85 percent of Brevig Mission's (called Teller Mission in 1918) villagers in a single week. The pandemic killed at least 50 million people around the world.
Once the Spanish flu genetic material was obtained from the lungs, spleen, liver, and heart of the Eskimo woman's corpse, scientists, in a scene reminiscent of the fictional movie "Jurassic Park," in which genetic material from extinct dinosaurs is used to bring the creatures back to life, recreated the long-since dead 1918 Spanish flu in a U.S.-government funded laboratory. The woman's organs were cut into one-inch cubes and shipped to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland where the virus's genetic RNA material was identified and the 1918 Spanish flu was successfully brought back to life.
The search for the frozen bodies of 1918 flu victims was not limited to Alaska. Another team of scientists, acting like Dr. Frankenstein's "Igor," set out to dig up the graves of miners who died from the flu in the remote Norwegian mining village of Longyearbyen in Spitsbergen, which lies north of the Arctic Circle.
WMR has learned from a research scientist who has been working on the recreation of the 1918 flu that the genetic material has been re-engineered to synthetically create what is now known as the A/H1N1 virus, or as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) calls it, the "novel flu."
The A/H1N1 influenza, which contains genetic material from two strains of swine flu, two strains of human flu, and a single strain of avian flu, has, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), infected a total of 4880 people in North America: 2,059 in Mexico; 2,535 in the United States, and 286 in Canada. There have been 56 reported deaths from the flu in Mexico, three in the United States, and one in Canada.
WMR has learned from an A/H1N1 researcher that the current "novel" flu strain is mutating rapidly in humans but no animals have contracted the virus. The enzyme in A/H1N1, as with all influenza A viruses, is called a polymerase. Scientists have calculated the molecular clock of A/H1N1 form the virus's polymerase rate. Because of the rapid mutation of the virus and the fact that, unlike 1918, rapid global transportation is now the norm, scientists are predicting that the molecular clock of the A/H1N1 virus, coupled with modern transportation, means that almost all the countries of the world will experience an A/H1N1 outbreak within the next few months.
What is different about A/H1N1 is that, unlike other new strains of viruses that rapidly mutate upon emerging and then slow down mutation and then stop entirely, the "novel" or incorrectly-named "swine flu" is showing no signs yet of slowing down its mutation rate and that, according to scientists who worry about A/H1N1 being synthetically-generated, does not happen in nature.
In 2006, at a summit meeting in Cancun, Mexico, President George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Mexican President Vicente Fox agreed for their nations to coordinate their response to avian flu, which was spreading in Asia. National Public Radio, on April 2, 2006, ran a segment on how bird flu wreaked havoc in 1918 in Brevig Mission. NPR's Weekend Edition ran a report from Brevig Mission by Lori Townsend of Alaska Public Radio:
"The grave has been opened twice by the same pathologist. In 1951, Johann Hultin convinced village elders to allow him to take tissue samples from bodies buried in permafrost. His lab attempts to map the virus were unsuccessful, but he returned in 1997, and when he did, he was once again given permission to re-open the grave."
WMR has learned from a journalist from Anchorage who covered the 1997 grave exhumation that there was CIA personnel with the team of scientists. Inuit elders of Brevig Mission argued against digging up the graves of the flu victims would release evil spirits. However, money allegedly changed hands between the U.S. government research team and some of the elders, so permission to dig up the graves was granted.
NPR and Alaska Public Radio was reporting what was extracted from the 1918 flu victim's corpse was the H5N1 avian flu virus, but that was erroneous. Or was it? If what was extracted from the dead woman's body in Brevig Mission was used to synthetically create the current A/H1N1 virus, there is a strain of avian flu in the virus. But the current A/H1N1 virus also contains swine and human flu strains.
What has been relayed by the researcher is that the original 1918 virus was the H1N1 virus. In Bio-safety level 3 (BSL-s) laboratory work that was largely classified, the virus was artifically combined with common H3N2 and a minor gene splice from the H5N1 Eurasian avian flu strain.
The avian flu or H5N1 virus that struck Asia in 2006 contained some genetic mutations of the 1918 virus. And scientists researching pandemic flu strains have, since the recreation of the 1918 flu, been playing fast and loose with flu samples. On April, 17, 2005, The Washington Post reported that Meridian Bioscience, which was under contract to the College of American Pathologists, accidentally distributed the pandemic H2N2/Japan flu strain, as part of a flu testing kit, to influenza laboratories around the world. WHO ordered the labs to immediately destroy the flu sample because it was worried about an accidental release of the pandemic virus, resulting in a global health crisis. In 1957, H2N2 killed a million people around the world.
The Post'sarticle, by Wendy Orent, states that scientists were working to create an artificial strain of the 1918 virus: "[Scientists] can combine some 1918 genes either with laboratory strains that have been adapted to grow in mice, which don't normally catch human flu, or with ordinary human flu strains to yield new artificial strains. Then the researcher infects mice with his new strain. Strains using three of the 1918 genes are already known to kill mice."
The same Postarticle quotes Peter B. Jahrling, the chief scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the danger of the virus recreation research. Jahrling stated the research was like "looking for a gas leak with a lighted match." The article continues: "What concerns Jahrling and Brown, among others, is that experiments involving 1918 genes are not being carried out under the highest biosafety level, BSL-4. While most of the scientists use what is known as BSL-3 plus, or enhanced, conditions, they do not use space suits, chemical showers or gas-tight cabinets in their work."
Lastly, the article has a stark warning regarding the 1918 flu reconstruction at the military laboratory in Rockville, research led by Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger. The article states: "Even more disturbing is what may happen when Taubenberger publishes the remaining three gene sequences. Then the entire 1918 flu could be built from scratch by anyone, anywhere, who has sufficient resources and skill. It is quite conceivable that resurrected 1918 flu could someday be used as a bioterrorist agent."
In a January 29, 2006, New York Times article by Jamie Shreeve, titled "Why Revive a Deadly Flu Virus?," it is reported that the 1918 flu had been successfully revived. The article states: "In October, a team of scientists, [CDC's Terrence] Tumpey among them, announced that they had recreated the extinct organism from its genetic code -- essentially the scenario played out in the movie ''Jurassic Park,'' albeit on a microbial scale. In the movie, the scientists' self-serving revivification of dinosaurs leads to mayhem and death . . . . How dangerous is the 1918 virus to today's population? Its genetic code is now in public databases, where other researchers can download it to conduct experiments. Scientists from the University of Wisconsin and the National Microbiology Laboratory in Canada have already collaborated to reconstruct the virus from the publicly available sequence. How easy would it be for a bioterrorist to exploit the same information for malevolent ends?"
The article details how the 1918 genetic material was extracted and who worked on the project: "The resurrection of the 1918 influenzavirus was a team effort engaging the resources of the C.D.C. in Atlanta, an obscure military pathology lab outside Washington, D.C., an esteemed group of influenza experts at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and one elderly Swede. Though the story has been told before, it is impossible not to begin with the Swede. In 1950, Johan Hultin, then a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Iowa, was searching for a Ph.D. topic when he heard a visiting virologist say that the only way to solve the mystery of the 1918 pandemic would be to recover the virus from a victim who had been buried in permafrost."
There has been yet another secretive U.S. government group involved in researching bio-warfare agents like influenza. Known simply as JASON, the group consists of civilian scientists, the top experts in their fields and a number of Nobel laureates, who meet periodically and issue reports, many of which are classified. JASON has been in existence for 40 years and is thought to be a follow-on to the Manhattan Project, the top secret scientific group that created the atomic bomb during World War II. In fact, some of JASON's earliest members helped to design both the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Its first three members were scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the home of the Manhattan Project.
Operating under the aegis of the MITRE Corporation, a federally-funded contracting entity, JASON scientists primarily met in the highly-secured Building 29 at 3550 General Atomics Court in San Diego. The location is the address of the Torrey Pines Institute. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), JASON also has links, according to distribution lists on JASON reports, to the CIA. The CIA maintains an element called the IC [Intelligence Community] JASON Program under the Chief Technical Officer. Traditionally, JASON self-selects its members from a number of academic disciplines. However, JASON almost lost its funding a few years ago, when, after issuing a report critical of the Bush administration's ballistic missile defense program, DARPA attempted to force three new members, obviously political overseers, on to the JASON membership rolls. DARPA's chief Tony Tether pulled funding for JASON, forcing the group for the first time since its inception in 1959 to look for another Pentagon sponsor. The ballistic missile defense program, also called Star Wars II, was a personal pet project of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
JASON survived when DARPA's parent orgzniation, the Pentagon's Directorate for Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), provided JASON with direct funding, an indication of the power enjoyed by the secretive JASON organization. JASON also has other federal government sponsors, including the Department of Energy.
JASON is also very much involved in issues of biological warfare. JASON produced a report on Civilian Biodefense in January 2000, which was highly-redacted when released. Even the names of the report's authors and the information on four bio-warfare scenarios is completely blacked out, except for a discussion of a 1947 smallpox incident in Scenario Two. The report also states that the CIA's Clandestine Measurement and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT) Operations Center and Counter-Proliferation Center were interested in biological weapons intelligence collection and signatures. A section of the report on "Managing Civilian Response" to a bio-war attack is also completely redacted, as is a section on domestic intelligence. A page on the anthrax threat references "psychological BW [biological weapons] warfare." The JASON report was completed almost two years before anthrax attacks all but suspended the work of Congress after 9/11 and saw the quick passage of the US Patriot Act.
The JASON report also discusses the mining of medical data, including patient billing records, to find out if a disease outbreak has occurred and how far and what direction it is spreading by examining "spatiotemporal patterns," including "averaging statistics for humans traveling globally."
In fact, the JASON Civilian Biodefense report mirrors, in many respects, the analysis being currently conducted by medical intelligence (MEDINT) agencies around the world on the outbreak and spread of A/H1N1. And that begs the question: is A/H1N1, artificially-developed by U.S. government scientists, the real thing or a test run for something much worse?
The Jason report on bio-war discusses "managing civilian response." That also appears be a major concern of the CDC on A/H1N1 at the present time judging from the following internal CDC memo obtained by WMR (note that "swine flu" is being referred to as the "novel H1N1 flu"):
Sent: Monday, May 11, 2009 10:31 AM
To: CDC All - [REDACTED]
The CDC National Contact Center, CDC-INFO, is available to assist CDC programs in responding to calls and emails related to the novel H1N1 flu. CDC-INFO maintains current content for phone and email responses; maintains records of calls/emails; collects and analyzes quality assurance and customer satisfaction data; and provides on-demand reports for program partners.
If the general public is contacting you with questions related to the novel H1N1 outbreak, we encourage you to direct those inquires you receive to CDC-INFO. CDC-INFO representatives are available to respond to inquiries 24 hours, 7 days a week via email and phone, in English and Spanish. Emails should be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone inquiries may be routed to 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).
If you have any questions regarding this email, or for assistance in routing public inquiries, please contact email@example.com.
CDC-INFO’s Novel H1N1 Flu Response
Since April 22, 2009, CDC-INFO has answered more than 29,000 phone and email inquiries from the general public and health care professionals in support of CDC’s novel H1N1 flu response. As of Friday, May 8, 2009, the average hold time for phone calls related to novel H1N1 flu was less than 5 seconds. To date, the states with the highest number of phone inquiries are: California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Georgia.
On Thursday, April 30, 2009, CDC-INFO answered the highest number of inquiries on a single topic in its 4-year history, with 3,127 calls and emails answered related to the novel H1N1 outbreak.
As of May 5, 2009, 75 percent of survey respondents gave CDC-INFO their highest satisfaction rating for the novel H1N1 flu-related services they received.
Supporting CDC’s Mission
The CDC-INFO National Contact Center (1800-CDC-INFO or firstname.lastname@example.org) supports CDC’s mission by providing a single trusted source of accurate, timely, consistent, and science-based information for the general public, healthcare providers and public health partners. Information is available on more than 400 CDC health and safety topics, disease prevention, and health promotion information through phone, TTY, and email. CDC-INFO provides critical health information to vulnerable populations, including those without access to CDC’s internet resources or those with low health literacy.