Steve Bannon’s Useful Idiots – Addendum

The story of the alleged laboratory escape (“lab leak”) from the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been shopped by the Trumpies, mostly Mike Pompeo, since early in the pandemic. Its form has varied, sometimes a bioweapon, sometimes not, but there has been a concerted effort to get the story into the media. Thanks to the useful idiot bros, Pompeo and his minions, using Bannon’s tactics, may have finally succeeded.

On Twitter, John Culver (@JohnCulver689), whose bio says he is a retired intelligence officer, pointed out a Daily Beast article from June 2020, debunking a report by a Pentagon contractor. When I read it, I vaguely recalled the claims of changing car traffic around the Institute indicating that a leak had occurred. The claim was ridiculous enough that I didn’t pay much attention to it.

Peter Jacobs (@past_is_future), whose bio says he is a climate researcher, offered a longer set of analyses. He points out four attempts to shop the story this year.

That whole thread is worth reading. It covers some of the material I’ve covered recently and points out that it’s Murdoch media in the US and Australia that have helped launder the story. He also mentions David Asher, who turns up in Christopher Ford’s open letter (also here) and the Vanity Fair article that depends on him and other unreliable sources.

Ford was the Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation under Donald Trump. He also served in that part of the State Department under George Bush. He actually knows something about the job, which was unusual in the Trump administration. Although I disagree with his policies, I felt some relief when he was appointed in contrast to the know-nothing wreckers Trump appointed in other agencies. But it turns out that was not the whole story.

A Soviet practice that Trump picked up was to put someone in charge of an agency and then put “minders” below them. The Communist Party ideologue was often the second person in an agency. Something like that may have happened to Ford.

His open letter documents his difficulties with Tom DiNanno and David Asher in January 2021. He does not say how they arrived in his agency, although Ford says DiNanno admitted that, although Ford was nominally his boss, he was acting on instructions from another official in State, who took his instructions directly from Pompeo. Ford says he has no way of knowing whether this is true, but it is a heck of a thing for a subordinate to say to his boss.

 A month or so earlier, Ford had tasked them with forming “an ‘expert vetting group or process’ that would involve real scientists and intelligence experts” to evaluate claims “before going public with dramatic steps such as having Secretary Pompeo announce that it was ‘statistically’ impossible for SARS-CoV-2 to be anything other than the product of Chinese government manipulation, sending ‘demarches’ to foreign governments with this theory, or writing up China for having violated the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in connection with COVID-19.” Apparently that was what DiNanno and Asher wanted to do in December, just before Trump was to leave office.

Ford wanted to know from DiNanno and Asher why the claims had not been subjected to peer review and why they were “running around the interagency spreading these allegations.” His argument to them is that of a responsible government official: Before going public with claims, one must make sure they are correct or risk deep embarrassment. DiNanno’s claims went even further – that SARS-CoV-2 was a genetically-directed bioweapon. Ford’s response to that is “uh, wow.”

DiNanno and Asher bypassed experts in Ford’s department and other parts of the Department of State, as well as the Intelligence Community. A panel of experts was convened on January 7. The “statistical” claim seems to have been a Bayesian analysis done by someone who had never done a Bayesian analysis.

Further, “this statistical analysis is crippled by the fact that we have essentially no data to support key model inputs.” The expert panel tore it apart.

Ford’s letter is intended to justify his actions in the light of accusations published in the Vanity Fair article. He claims, with documentary evidence, that DiNanno and Asher were pressing hard to get a sensational story out about SARS-CoV-2 and to follow up with diplomatic actions against China. All this took place in the earlier parts of the timeline provided by Peter Jacobs and in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency. Ford may also be trying to distance himself from Pompeo and the Trump administration.

Does the dishonesty of Pompeo and his minions disqualify the idea that SARS-CoV-2 might have entered the human population through laboratory escape? Of course not, but it is necessary to say this to avoid accusations from the bros. But it seriously calls into question the sources for many an article.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice