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From Whence The Ebola Virus?

January 1, 2015

Africa - Railroads____________________________

The allegations by Francis Boyle, legal expert on Biological and Chemical Warfare, that Ebola strain killing thousands of West Africans and infecting tens of thousands more is man-made in U.S. biological warfare laboratories should be the subject of a Congressional investigation. The further question emerges: What is going on in those laboratories? 


Ebola Spreads, U.S. Republicans Could Care Less Now That The Mid-Term Election Season Is Finished.

According to the World Health Organization’s latest statistics (December 30, 2014), the current outbreak of the ebola virus has now infected more than 20,000 people, almost all of them in three West African countries neighboring one another: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone. Of those infected close to 7900 have died. The figures of the infected and resulting deaths continue to rise at an alarming rate. Far from having run its course, the epidemic continues to spread, trapping more victims in its wake. While there have past ebola outbreaks, virtually all in equatorial Africa, this latest one has spread to more people and taken more victims than all of the others combined.

In the run-up of the recent 2014 mid-term elections here in the United States, the Republicans made a great deal of noise critical of the Obama Administration’s handling of the crisis. Most of these criticisms were part of a campaign to whip up fear. It worked, the Republicans did rather well. Other than a la “Shock Doctrine” how might the crisis be used to spread neo-liberal economic policies, Africans suffering and dying does not interest them anymore now that the election season is over. Nor does the international effort to stem its spread.

Our Limited Knowledge of Ebola

The growing knowledge of the origins of the AIDS pandemic might shed light on ebola sources. Recent research in the different strains if AIDS now suggests that the virus was first identified in Kinshasa as far back as the 1920s where it was present for nearly half a century and had already spread throughout the Congo. Then, in the late 1970s “a perfect storm of population growth, sex and railways allowed HIV to spread” globally. Archived samples of HIV’s genetic code were analyzed. The slight changes in the code over time permitted researchers to hypothesize as to the time and place of the virus’ origin. This method of dating evolutionary changes using changes in genetic material is not new; has been employed for forty years, starting already in the 1970s. The results were written up in an article in the October, 2014 of Science magazine. Like ebola it appears that HIV mutated and then “jumped” from primates to humans. Perhaps this methodology of pinpointing AIDS’ history will be useful in understanding ebola’s trajectory from primates and other mammals (bats, it appears) to humans?

That said, currently our general knowledge of the history and evolution of the ebola virus remains limited. From the known incidents of its outbreaks, until this most recent one, it seems to have been limited to rural and lightly populated areas. While it has killed people, the natural isolation of the human communities thus effected was limited by isolation. There is no clear picture of all the other species of animals carrying variations of the virus. This time however, ebola moved from the periphery to the core, the more urbanized areas of West Africa, first small towns and soon followed by its appearance in capital cities. What is known is that from its initial identification and appearance in the northern Congo in the mid 1970s that the strain which has reached epidemic proportions in West Africa repeated reappeared in the equatorial regions of Africa in small outbreaks over the next 35 years before it exploded with new virulence in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone last summer.

Africa - Ebola Outbreaks

Africa – Ebola Outbreaks

Ebola’s precise cause or origin is unclear as is just how the condition spread from the northern Congo/southwestern Sudan region where it was first clearly identified and then “jumped” some 2000 miles or more to West Africa. In Africa, the main carriers appear to be chimps and bats, in the Philippines certain species of monkeys. Could new more lethal varieties have been man-made, genetically modified?  It appears to have at least five genetic codes, four of which are deleterious to humans, the most deadly of which is Zaire Ebola. The virus has, it appears, mutated a number of times as it jumps from one mammalian species to another to humans. It has also been the subject of experiments in many countries, only a few of which are known, including the USA (Fort Detrick, Maryland, Tulane University), Italy, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom, Switzerland to name a few that are known). The most recent strain which is ravaging West Africa appears more virulent to humans that previous ones (although they were deadly too).

Ebola’s precise cause or origin is unclear as is just how the condition spread from the northern Congo/southwestern Sudan region where it was first clearly identified and then “jumped” some 2000 miles or more to West Africa. In Africa, the main carriers appear to be chimps and bats, in the Philippines certain species of monkeys. Could new more lethal varieties have been man-made, genetically modified?

What is definitely known is that the virus broke out as a serious epidemic in 1976 in a region near one of the tributaries to the Congo River, the Ebola River whose sources lie near where the Congo borders southern Chad and southwestern Sudan. According to available data, that outbreak infected some 284 people, more than half of whom died from the infection. Smaller outbreaks continued in northern Congo/southwestern Sudan in Other outbreaks followed in generally the same (or neighboring) areas  throughout the late 1970s. The Sudanese virus is slightly different from the one which was first identified in the Congo, but just as deadly. One of these outbreaks, in the Congo’s Kikwit district resulted in the deaths of 315 people apparently spread by a man worked in the forests near the town. In the mid 1990s ebola made its appearance in Gabon, which borders the Congo and Ivory Coast which is quite a distance away. In all the cases, while there were human casualties, early identification and treatment limited the impact to small geographic zones. The carriers appeared to be infected chimpanzees.

In 1994, in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) , an American ethnologist dissected an infected monkey carcass. She developed ebola, was immediately transported to Switzerland where she was treated. The same year another case appeared in a Gabon gold mine at Mekouka which was first diagnosed as yellow fever but later as ebola a year later. The outbreak killed 52 people. Several more cases appeared in Gabon over the next few years (1996-7) that involved the hunting and eating of wild game, the two cases entailing chimpanzees at Mayibout and Bouee. In the Mayibout case, the 19 people involved in the butchering of the animal all became ill as well as a number of other family members. The next year the Bouee hunter contracted the condition which took the lives of 60 persons. A dead ebola infected chimpanzee was found in the forests nearby. There were other isolated cases during this period but the next major outbreak was in Uganda spread by what was known as “the Sudan virus” – a strain of ebola – which took 600 lives in 2000. From 2001 to 20012 there were more outbreaks, most of them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also in Sudan and Uganda.

Their impact tended to be modest involving a few individuals until the explosion of the condition which started to devastate West Africa starting in June/July 2013 that the region is still experiencing.

Meanwhile,  a related strain of ebola – ebola reston, or the Reston virus as it is also called – originating from monkeys imported from the Philippines broke out in the United States in 1989 and 1990. It does not appear to cause disease in humans although it is possible that in the future it too will mutate in such away to be deleterious and lethal. It has, it appears, already mutated from monkeys, the first carriers to which we are aware, to pigs.  Four Americans working with Reston-diseased monkeys were infected by this condition, developed antibodies and were not adversely affected. The same ebola reston virus reappeared in Siena Italy in a quarantine facility by the same species of Philippine monkeys. There were not human casualties. Sometime before 2008 ebola reston jumped from monkeys to pigs. While the strain in pigs is not identical to that in monkeys, scientists say it is very close. Six workers involved in the slaughter of infected pigs developed antibodies to fight the condition but were not more adversely effected.

From Whence This Ebola Virus?

The unanswered question: from whence did this new ebola virus strain emerge? The theories remain generic and speculative. One version is that it was transmitted by wild animals – the so-called “bushmeat”  that hunters have killed and then smoked, dried, salted and eaten by locals. Two particular groups of ebola carriers have been identified – non-human primates (chimps, monkeys) and a variety of bat species. Most of those infected animals however have been found in North Central Congo and southwestern Sudan, ie – far from the current West African ebola hot spots, although one infected chimp – the one dissected by an American ethnologist in 1994 – was located in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) – closer to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. A second hypothesis is that there was a  human carrier from the infected region who brought the virus to West Africa. Certainly this remains a possibility although it has yet to be proven. A look at the African road map suggests that ground transportation across central to West Africa is not easily accomplished, with few paved roads and a thousand miles of jungle separating the region. Such extensive jungles act as natural barriers cultural, species and infectious movements. The Central American jungles are a case in point, essentially separating North and South America into two distinct cultural and ecological zones. There is much to suggest that the HIV virus which causes AIDS was transmitted on the Congo railway system and on the truck route passing from Kinshasa to Nairobi. But no such extensive highway exists between, let’s say Kisangani in North Central Congo and the West African hump. Likewise, air travel does exist between the countries but it is quite limited. All this does not mean that one of these “vectors” might not have caused the ebola outbreak.

Darker Explanations…

There is another explanation, that has growing popularity in West Africa: that this particular strain of ebola was introduced as some experiment in biological and chemical warfare. Such conspiracy theories abounded to explain the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic three decades ago. From the evidence available, they remain unproven which has done nothing to stop the speculation. And there is evidence elsewhere of the use of biological warfare, especially U.S. biological attacks on Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s. A week after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, there were a series of anthrax “letter bombs” that killed five and infected 17 others. Despite intensive investigations, the perpetrators were never found. That said, the only place where that particular strain of anthrax is known to exist is the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (AMRIID) at Ft. Detrick, Maryland. The same laboratory, which AMRID ran in conjunction with Tulane University’s ran a lab in Sierra Leone which was forced to close as a result of mounting local opposition and suspicions in Kenema Province where the ebola virus struck with considerable ferocity. The lab was involved in “ebola testing.” 

A whole, much more sordid history of the secret experiments done by the United States on its citizens exists. It includes the famous Tuskegee experiments of purposefully infecting Black men with syphilis for forty years from 1932 to 1972, the government-engineered radiation experiments on unsuspecting Americans after World War Two revealed in the carefully researched book “The Plutonium Files” by Eilieen Welsome just to name a few of the more notorious examples. In one of his later novels, Kennedy’s Brain,  Swedish crime-mystery writer Henning Mankell explores a fictionalized version of a major fictitious drug company supported by the Swedish government at the highest levels inducing the HIV virus into Africans seeking healthcare in order to develop a successful vaccine.

Is it possible that the epidemic was somehow a result of a test gone a muck? Or worse? There have also been reports of two islands off the coast of Liberia leased by the U.S. government for AMRID where biological virus and epidemic testing is taking place. In an interview which appeared at the Information Clearing House website, American law professor, Francis Boyle, elaborates upon U.S. biological warfare research in West Africa. The British newspaper The Telegraph quotes Boyle as commenting “This isn’t normal Ebola at all,” he says. “I believe it’s been genetically modified.” Francis Boyle is no fly-by-night. He was a member of the government’s Committee of Military Use of Biotechnology and principal author of the Biological Weapons Anti Terrorism Act of 1989 which was signed into law by George Bush Sr.

The British newspaper The Telegraph quotes Boyle as commenting “This isn’t normal Ebola at all,” he says. “I believe it’s been genetically modified.”

His allegations are certainly worthy of a Congressional investigation to either verify or disprove his allegations. Boyle alleges that such research is anything but defensive:

I have absolute proof from a Pentagon document that the Center of Disease Control was doing bio-warfare work for the Pentagon in Sierra Leone, the heart of the outbreak, as early as 1988. And indeed it was probably before then because they would have had to construct the lab and that would have taken some time. So we know that Fort Detrick and the Center for Disease Control are over there, Tulane University, which is a well-known bio-warfare center here in USA – I would say notorious for it – is there. They all have been over there.

Boyle goes on to note that under U.S. pressure, as well as Sierra Leone, neither Liberia nor Guinea did not sign the Biological Weapons Convention.This has enabled the United States to circumvent the Convention by doing biological weapons research in the three countries. He claims there is the possibility that the “Zaire Ebola” – as the strain at work in these three countries is named – could have been weaponized at one of these labs and released on the unsuspecting populations to study their impact for future use. The stuff of conspiracies? or the real thing?

One would think that such allegations coming from as respected a source as Boyle (and not only Boyle) would be enough to trigger a congressional investigation, at the very least a serious government inquiry into the allegations.

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