Two dozen US diplomats in Vienna show signs of ‘Havana syndrome’, report claims

Vienna Austria

ABOUT TWO DOZEN PERSONNEL of the United States embassy in the Austrian capital Vienna have been experiencing unexplained neurological symptoms that are similar to the so-called “Havana syndrome”, a mysterious medical condition that continues to puzzle brain scientists. The condition is believed to have afflicted at least 130 American and Canadian diplomats around the world in recent years.

The matter first came to light in 2017, when Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana, Cuba, and at least two more diplomats from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and hearing “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. Subsequent tests showed that the diplomats suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injury.

Now a new report by The New Yorker’s Adam Entous claims that “about two dozen” personnel at the US embassy in Vienna have shown Havana syndrome symptoms “since Joe Biden took office” in January of this year. If accurate, this number of incidents would mean that the Austrian capital is now the largest Havana syndrome location in the world after Cuba. In his report, Entous cited a spokesman for the US Department of State, who said that department was “vigorously investigating” reports of “possible unexplained health incidents” among US diplomats and other embassy personnel in Vienna. The expression “unexplained health incidents” is the official term that the US government uses to refer to what is informally known as the Havana syndrome.

Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency reported a statement issued on Saturday by the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. It said the ministry was “working with the US authorities on jointly getting to the bottom of this”, adding that the Austrian government took “these reports very seriously”, as they potentially affected “the safety of the diplomats sent to Austria and their families”, which was a “top priority” for the Austrian government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 July 2021 | Permalink

CIA task force examines ‘Havana Syndrome’ after more officers fall ill

CIA

THE UNITED STATES CENTRAL Intelligence Agency has established a task force to examine recent cases of the so-called “Havana Syndrome”, a mysterious medical condition that continues to puzzle experts. The matter came to light in 2017, soon after Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana, Cuba, and at least two more diplomats from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and hearing “unusual sounds or piercing noises”.

Subsequent tests showed that the diplomatic personnel suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injuries. In April of 2019 the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns. A subsequent study by the National Academies of Sciences reported the collective findings of leading toxicologists, epidemiologists, electrical engineers and neurologists, who examined the symptoms experienced by nearly 40 US government employees.

There are now reports that “more than a dozen” officers of the CIA have returned to the US for medical tests, after reporting symptoms that are associated with the “Havana Syndrome”. Citing “current and former US officials and people familiar with the matter” CBS News said on Thursday that some of the officers required emergency medical evacuation after feeling sick all of a sudden. They returned to the US from three different continents in the early months of 2021, according to CBS.

A White House spokesperson told the news station that the “Havana Syndrome” continued to be an area of “active inquiry”. A spokesperson from the National Security Council added that it was not possible to discuss specifics regarding the CIA personnel. The spokesperson went on to say that a “government-wide effort” was underway to determine those responsible for the phenomenon, and to protect US government personnel serving abroad.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 May 2021 | Permalink

New report says ‘Havana Syndrome’ was caused by directed microwave radiation

US embassy in CubaA NEW REPORT BY the United States National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, has found that the so-called ‘Havana Syndrome’, which afflicted American and Canadian diplomats in Cuba and China in 2016 and 2017, was likely caused by directed microwave radiation. The study, which was commissioned by the US Department of State, is the latest in a long list of scientific assessments of the mysterious syndrome. The case remains a source of debate in the scientific, diplomatic and intelligence communities.

In 2017 Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from the US embassy in Havana, and at least two more diplomats from the US consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and hearing “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. Subsequent tests showed that they suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injuries. In April of 2019 the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns.

The latest study by the National Academies of Sciences resulted from the coordination of leading toxicologists, epidemiologists, electrical engineers and neurologists. The resulting 66-page report describes in detail the symptoms experienced by nearly 40 US government employees, who were examined for the purposes of the study. Its authors said they examined numerous potential causes, including psychological factors, infectious diseases, directed radio frequency energy, and even exposure to insecticides. Ultimately, the authors concluded that “many of the distinctive and acute signs, symptoms and observations reported by [US government] employees are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy”, according to their report.

However, the study does not attempt to answer the burning question of whether the symptoms experienced by the sufferers resulted from deliberate attacks, and if so, who may have been behind them. Some have accused the governments of Cuba and/or Russia of being responsible for the syndrome. However, the Cuban and Russian governments have strongly denied the accusations. The National Academies of Sciences report does state that the systematic study of pulsed radio frequency energy has a history of over half a century in Russia and the Soviet Union.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 December 2020 | Permalink

Israeli Mossad secretly secured COVID-19 vaccine from China, say sources

Yossi Cohen Mossad

THE ISRAELI EXTERNAL INTELLIGENCE agency, the Mossad, has allegedly secured a Chinese-produced vaccine against the coronavirus, according to reports on Israeli television. The report came as the Israeli government confirmed over the weekend that “several diplomatic efforts are occurring behind the scenes” to acquire various vaccines against COVID-19.

According to The Jerusalem Post newspaper, an unnamed senior official in Israel’s Ministry of Health “who is in the know” said that Israel was close to reaching agreements with developers in several countries to purchase coronavirus vaccines. On Monday, however, Israel’s Channel 12 television said “multiple sources” had confirmed that the Mossad had secured the Chinese vaccine and “brought it to Israel”, so that it could be studied by Israeli scientists.

It was not immediately apparent why the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, was involved in the acquisition of the coronavirus vaccine. The implication in the report was that Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Ministry of Health, were not involved in the effort to acquire the Chinese-made vaccine. On the other hand, this should not be taken to mean that the Mossad stole the vaccine from China. As intelNews has reported, the Mossad Director Yossi Cohen previously served as head of a national committee to secure resources needed to combat COVID-19, including medicines and protective supplies.

Channel 12 news said no Israeli government officials would agree to comment on the story on record. According to one theory, the Mossad purchased the vaccine from China in secret, because Israel did not want to offend the United States at a time when tensions between Washington and Beijing are growing. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health referred questions about Mossad’s role in acquiring a COVID-19 vaccine to the Office of the Prime Minster. A spokesman there refused to comment on the story.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 October 2020 | Permalink

NSA director and nearly all US Joint Chiefs of Staff in isolation for COVID-19

Pentagon

Seven of the eight members of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff —the group that brings together the nation’s most senior uniformed leaders— are in self-imposed isolation, after attending a meeting with a Coast Guard admiral who has since tested positive for COVID-19. As the list of senior American government officials that are in self-imposed isolation continues to grow, it was reported yesterday that the director of the National Security Agency, US Army General Paul Nakasone, was also self-isolating until further notice.

The decision to enter a period of self-isolation was taken yesterday, after it became known that Admiral Charles Ray, Vice Commandant of the US Coast Guard, had tested positive for COVID-19. Last Friday Admiral Ray attended a classified meeting at the Pentagon, which took place in the presence of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of the NSA. Now all of these officials and their aides are in self-isolation. They include three Army generals (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, General James McConville and General Daniel Hokanson), three Air Force generals (General Charles Brown, General John Hyten and General John Raymond of the US Space Command), and Admiral Mike Gilday.

The only member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is not currently in isolation is Marine Corps General David Berger, who was unable to attend Friday’s meeting because he was not in Washington. However, another member of US Armed Forces, an officer who at times carries the US president’s Emergency Satchel to be used in a nuclear emergency, has reportedly also come down with COVID-19.

On Tuesday afternoon, Department of Defense spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that “other Service Chiefs” were isolation, but did not provide their names. He added that none of those who are in isolation showed symptoms of infection by the coronavirus. However, they will be remaining in isolation “for the rest of the week and the first part of next week”, he added. Pentagon officials insisted on Tuesday that, despite the virus scare at the highest echelons of the US military establishment, there was “no change to the operational readiness or mission capability of the US Armed Forces”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 October 2020 | Permalink

Foreign spies target Walter Reed hospital for Trump’s health data, say experts

Donald Trump

Intelligence agencies from all over the world are almost certainly targeting the medical facilities and personnel involved in providing healthcare to United States President Donald Trump, according to intelligence insiders. The purpose of these efforts, which are considered “routine tasking” in intelligence circles, is to determine the status of America’s continuity of government plans and to acquire advanced warning of the plans and intentions of the White House, according to sources.

At least two reports emerged in the past few days about the strong probability that foreign intelligence operatives are currently seeking to collect sensitive biomedical information about Trump, who is battling a coronavirus infection. SpyTalk’s Jeff Stein wrote on Sunday that foreign spies are likely involved in efforts to place sources in places where discussions about the health of the American president are occurring. The targets of these efforts are not necessarily White House or other Trump administration officials. On the contrary, according to Politico’s Lara Seligman and Natasha Bertrand, these operations can target hospital staff, including doctors and administrators, as well as cleaners who have access to the US president’s bodily fluids and waste.

Some observers have criticized conflicting information given to the media about the US president’s health, as illustrated by White House physician Sean Conley’s comical efforts to evade the topic last week, after he was asked repeatedly by reporters if Mr. Trump had been on supplemental oxygen. Foreign spies are likely to have accessed detailed information about the US president’s health, and may have better information on the subject than the American public, said Politico.

Another intelligence tasking that foreign spies may be involved in is exploiting Mr. Trump’s time of physical weakness for propaganda purposes. The aim of such efforts would be “to paint America as unable to handle the pandemic”, thus creating “a crisis of confidence in the chain of command” and casting doubt on the ability of America to protect its senior leadership from the pandemic, according to intelligence insiders.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 October 2020 | Permalink

COVID-19 prompts spy agencies’ mission shift that is ‘reminiscent of the space race’

COVID-19 coronavirusThe worldwide competition to invent a vaccine that can curtail the spread of COVID-19 has prompted a mission shift in major intelligence agencies around the world, which is “reminiscent of the space race”, according to The New York Times. In an article published on Saturday, the paper cited “interviews with current and former intelligence officials and others tracking the espionage efforts”, who suggest that the mission shift observed in spy agencies worldwide has been among the fastest in history.

According to The New York Times, “every major spy service around the globe is trying to find out what everyone else is up to” in coronavirus research, and “to steal information about vaccine research”. Much of this biomedical espionage is taking place in international bodies, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO), where spies try to access useful data from rival countries. The paper said that the Central Intelligence Agency and other Western spy agencies are closely watching their rivals, including Chinese and Russian operatives, inside the WHO.

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is “has moved to protect [American] universities and corporations doing the most advanced work” on the virus, including the University of North Carolina (UNC). The paper said that UNC’s Epidemiology Department came under a sustained attack by foreign hackers recently, as have major American pharmaceutical research companies, including Gilead Sciences, Novavax and Moderna. In other cases, foreign spies have tried to gain physical proximity to biomedical researchers. According to The Times, part of the reason why the administration of US President Donald Trump decided to shut down the Chinese consulate in Huston in July, was because it believed Chinese spies had used it as a base from where to make contacts with American biomedical researchers.

Officially, America’s stance on the coronavirus espionage race is purely defensive. But, according to The Times, American spy agencies are also trying to find out what Russian, Chinese and Iranian scientists have in their possession, in an attempt to see if is stolen. As they do that, “they could encounter information on those countries’ research and collect it”, said the paper.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 September 2020 | Permalink

US embassy in UAE declined free COVID-19 tests due to Chinese spying concerns

Abu DhabiThe embassy of the United States in the United Arab Emirates declined free COVID-19 testing kits for its staff, because of concerns that the private labs offering the kits had ties to China, according to a new report. The testing kits were offered by a testing facility that was set up in March in Abu Dhabi, which is the capital of the oil-rich UAE —a close American ally in the Middle East.

The facility was built in record time, through a collaboration between two private companies. The main partner in the scheme is Group42, a privately owned artificial intelligence firm, which is based in the UAE and is believed to be partly owned by members of the kingdom’s royal family. Its partner in the venture is BGI Group, a Chinese company —formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Group— that specializes in genomics research. Since its establishment, the facility has reportedly delivered over 2 million COVID-19 testing kits —complete with reagents— for the population of the UAE, which numbers just over 9 million. Given these numbers, local officials have hailed the initiative as a success and credit it with having produced “one of the largest per capita testing rates in the world”. The oil-rich kingdom has so far reported about 36,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, which have resulted in 270 deaths —about 2.5 deaths per 100,000 UAE residents.

But, according to The Financial Times, the United States embassy in Abu Dhabi turned down an offer for free COVID-19 testing kits for its employees by Group42. The paper quoted an anonymous United States government official, who said that the offer was “politely declined” last month by the embassy leadership. American State Department officials were allegedly concerned that the DNA information of tested embassy employees could be compromised and “find its way to Beijing”, said the source. “Concerns were raised about patient privacy and the way that the tests could be used”, added the official, and described the involvement of BGI in the venture as “a red flag” for Washington.

BGI Group told the paper that it had no links to the government of China and no access to the data of patients, which were stored in Group42 facilities in the Emirates. The UAE-based company said that it followed “strict information security and data privacy protocols are in place” to protect sensitive information. The firm refused to divulge information about its owners, citing strict laws that are in place in the kingdom.

But the incident illustrates the growing suspicion in relations between the US and China. This poses difficult dilemmas for third countries, like the UAE. The oil-rich state is among several monarchies in the Gulf that have deepened their relations with China in recent years, in both the political and economic domains. Since 2000, the value of bilateral trade between Abu Dhabi and Beijing has grown from $2 billion to nearly $70 billion per year. At the same time, the UAE is one of the largest purchasers of US military technology in the world. The oil-rich monarchy spends on average $3 billion annually to acquire American weapons. Recently, however, Abu Dhabi has shown an increasing interest in Chinese-made weapons. Its armed forces and police departments now use several Chinese weapons and surveillance systems. At the same time, Huawei, a Chinese-owned telecommunications hardware producer, is scheduled to build the nation’s 5G cellular network. Washington has expressed serious concerns about that decision.

Speaking to The Financial Times, the anonymous US government official said that these steps by the UAE leadership, which are bringing it closer to China, “risk rupturing the long-term strategic relationship [the country has] with the US”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 June 2020 | Permalink

Spy agencies target biomedical secrets in worldwide race to find COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19 coronavirusSpy agencies from every country are participating in a worldwide competition to develop a vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic, by protecting their own biomedical secrets while trying to steal other nations’ research. Much like frantic efforts to secure personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, ongoing research to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 appears to be taking the form of a competition between nations. The country that first develops a successful vaccine to combat the epidemic is likely to emerge as a major power-player in a post-coronavirus world.

The government of the United States, whose race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 is reportedly codenamed Operation WARPSPEED, has warned its biomedical experts that foreign intelligence agencies may be trying to spy on their research. This warning was relayed to the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera on April 1 by Bill Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC). The NCSC is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the US agency created after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to coordinate the activities of American spy agencies. The mission of the NCSC is to manage the US government’s counterintelligence activities.

Evanina told the BBC that the NCSC has “every expectation that foreign intelligence services, to include the Chinese Communist Party, will attempt to obtain what we are making here”. He added that his organization had contacted “every medical research organization” carrying out COVID-19-related research and warned them that they should be “very, very vigilant”. However, Evanina would not tell the BBC whether scientific data had actually been stolen by foreign intelligence agencies.

According to the BBC, other Western governments, including those of the United Kingdom and Canada, have warned that foreign spies have become active in the field of biomedical intelligence, with attempts to steal scientific data related to COVID-19. In March, Canada’s Centre for Cyber Security warned that research and development data related to the pandemic may be targeted by “sophisticated threat actors” operating online.

The BBC notes, however, that Western intelligence agencies are also likely to be interested in biomedical data from China and other countries. Their interest may be two-fold: on the one hand trying to determine the precise origins of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the precise case load of the virus in these countries, while on the other seeking to steal information about “research on vaccines and treatments”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 May 2020 | Permalink

US Pentagon’s top general says COVID-19 has natural origins, but questions remain

Mark MilleyThe United States Department of Defense’s top general has said that “the weight of evidence” gathered by Western spy agencies points to COVID-19 having “natural” origins, but this is not yet conclusive. Ever since the emergence of the novel coronavirus, prominent scientists have dismissed rumors that it could be a synthesized bioweapon. According to reports, this question is being carefully examined by Western intelligence agencies.

At a press conference on Tuesday, US Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked by a reporter whether the Pentagon had “any evidence that the [novel corona]virus began in a Chinese lab and maybe was released accidentally”. General Milley response was as follows: “There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, blog sites, etc. It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence [experts] take a hard look at that. At this point it’s inconclusive, although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But”, added the general, “we don’t know for certain”.

On the same day General Milley made these comments, an extensive report on the subject by Yahoo News’ National Security and Investigations Reporter Jenna McLaughlin said that the US Intelligence Community continued to actively gather information on the outbreak. Citing “nine current and former intelligence and national security officials familiar with ongoing investigations” on the novel coronavirus, McLaughlin said that American intelligence agencies had been gathering information on the outbreak “as early as November” of last year. Scientists working for US spy agencies had quickly dismissed the theory that the virus had been deliberately weaponized. A consensus appears to be forming that the virus is “of natural origin”, according to the report.

However, American and other Western spy agencies are “still weighing the possibility” that the virus may have escaped from a government laboratory in Wuhan, where it was being studied by scientists. McLaughlin quotes one American intelligence official who says: “we are actively and vigorously tracking down every piece of information we get on this topic [and] are writing frequently to update policymakers”. At this point, adds the official, the US Intelligence Community “has not come down on any one theory”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 April 2020 | Permalink

Pentagon study warned about global crisis caused by ‘novel respiratory disease’

DoD Pandemic reportA United States Department of Defense report warned about the danger of a global crisis caused by a “novel respiratory disease”. The existence of the 2017 study adds to the mounting skepticism about President Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that the coronavirus pandemic “blind- sided the world” and “came out of nowhere”.

The 103-page report is titled USNORTHCOM Branch Plan 3560: Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response, and was presented to the leadership of the US Northern Command headquarters in January 2017. It discusses the possible causes of a “clinically severe pandemic” and outlines the complications that it is likely to cause around the world. It also proposes an array of possible responses to such a crisis by the US military. A draft of the report was published online by The Nation earlier this month. The American newsmagazine said that it obtained the report from “a Pentagon official who requested anonymity to avoid professional reprisal”.

The Department of Defense study bases its analysis on data acquired from recent pandemics, such as the 2012 Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS coronavirus) and others. It discusses “coronavirus infections” and warns that “[t]he most likely and significant [pandemic] threat is a novel respiratory disease, particularly a novel influenza disease”. The report then goes on to describe the medical supply shortages that would be caused by a coronavirus pandemic. It does so with a stunning degree of accuracy that mirrors the situation that the US is currently experiencing due to COVID-19. For instance it states that global “[c]ompetition for, and scarcity of, resources will include […] non-pharmaceutical Medical Countermeasures”, namely medical masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment needed by healthcare workers.

It also warns that dire shortages in medical equipment will be hampered by inadequate logistical support and will have “a significant impact on the global workforce”. Furthermore, the Pentagon study appears to anticipate a “worldwide competition” for ventilators and other hi-tech medical devices associated with intensive care units, as well as a scarcity of hospital beds. It ominously states that “even the most industrialized countries will have insufficient hospital beds” to accommodate the numbers of those who will need to be hospitalized due to having been infected by the virus.

Two weeks ago, The Washington Post reported that, starting in January of this year, the US Intelligence Community repeatedly warned the White House about “a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic” requiring “swift action to contain it”. The paper cited “a US official who had access to intelligence reporting” about the coronavirus, who said that “the system was blinking red” in January.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 April 2020 | Permalink

US threatens to de-fund Africa disease control program over Chinese influence

African UnionThe United States has threatened to pull its funding for an Africa-wide disease control program if the African Union decides to accept an offer from China to build the program’s new headquarters. The dispute accentuates a growing competition between Washington and Beijing to exert political control in Africa and places the African Union at the center of a difficult dilemma.

The quarrel concerns the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or Africa CDC, a network of five biomedical research hubs that are located in Zambia, Kenya, Gabon, Nigeria and Egypt. The network was established in 2017 in response to the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic in western Africa. Its mission is to gather data that can help monitor and contain disease outbreaks and other health crises throughout the continent. The network’s central hub is located at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Africa CDC is an initiative of the African Union, but it is partly funded by outside countries and bodies, including China, the United States, and the World Bank. Washington supported the establishment of Africa CDC with a donation of $14 million, and an offer to pay the project director’s salary, as well as assign scientists to work there from the US CDC. But the United States has expressed concerns about a recent offer by China to double its funding of Africa CDC and to build a the organization’s new headquarters, at the cost of $80 million. Foreign affairs ministers from the African Union’s 55 states began discussing Beijing’s offer on Thursday during a meeting in Ethiopia.

There are some among them who question China’s intentions. They refer to news reports that surfaced in the French press in 2018, according to which the Chinese-built headquarters of the African Union was comprehensively ‘bugged’ by Beijing. According to the reports, the $200 million, 19-storey skyscraper in the Ethiopian capital was hardwired with computer servers that secretly communicate with Chinese government computers, without the consent of African Union network managers.

On Thursday The Wall Street Journal quoted an anonymous United States government official, who said that “if the Chinese build the headquarters [of Africa CDC], the US will have nothing to do with” the organization. The African Union has not commented on The Journal’s article.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 February 2020 | Permalink

 

Gas explosion reported at Russian research facility that houses Ebola and smallpox

Vector RussiaRussian authorities announced on Tuesday that a gas explosion had damaged a section of a medical facility in Siberia that houses live samples of viruses such as Ebola and smallpox, but added that there was no need to declare a biomedical emergency. The explosion reportedly took place on Monday at the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, known as Vector. The six-floor concrete and steel facility is located in the isolated Siberian town of Kotsovo, near the city of Novosibirsk, 600 miles from the Mongolian border.

Vector was founded in 1974 by the Soviet state to study mass infectious agents that could be used to build biological weapons. Today it remains as one of the world’s largest virology research centers, specializing in the treatment of some of the most lethal infectious diseases, such as Ebola, tularemia and swine flu. The Vector facility is believed to be one of two locations in the world that house live samples of the smallpox virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States city of Atlanta is also believed to house samples of the virus.

According to a statement issued on Tuesday by the Russian state-owned news agency TASS, the Vector facility sustained an explosion on Monday afternoon local time. The explosion was reportedly caused by a gas canister used by workers who were carrying out repairs at a sanitary inspection room located on the fifth floor of the Vector facility. An employee suffered unspecified injuries as a result of the explosion, according to the statement. However, “no work with biological agents was being carried out in the [Vector] building” at the time of the explosion, so there was no need for a state of emergency, according to the statement. Russian media reported on Tuesday that Vector personnel were present on the site and that no biological threat alerts had been issued.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 September 2019 | Permalink

‘Sonic attacks’ may have shrunk brains of US diplomats in Cuba, study finds

US embassy in CubaA series of alleged “sonic attacks” by a mysterious weapon may have caused the brains of American diplomats who served at the United States embassy in Cuba to shrink, according to a new scientific study. In 2017 Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from the US embassy in Havana and at least two more diplomats from the US consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. Subsequent tests showed that they suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injuries. In April of this year the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns. Subsequently, the US issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island and accused Cuba of neglecting to ensure the safety of US diplomatic personnel stationed there.

The theory that a sonic weapon caused the diplomats’ ailments is not universally held, with some scientists doubting the validity of such claims. But now a new study may have provided a tangible and measurable link that connects the physiological symptoms suffered by the diplomats. The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association,The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on a detailed examination of data from magnetic resonance imaging studies that assessed both structural and functional endpoints of the brains of the victims of the alleged sonic attacks. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania took these images of the brains of 40 individuals who complained of acute auditory and other sensory disturbances while in Cuba, and compared them with those of healthy participants. The latter were matched with the patients for age, lifestyle and general background. According to the study, the comparison revealed statistically significant differences in various structures of the subjects’ brains. The differences were most pronounced in the white matter of their brains. The white matter is important because it is comprised of the myelin-protected nerve fibers that are responsible for transmitting the electrical signals from one brain cell (neuron) to another. Damage to these regions would result in a reduction of the brain’s ability to process information as rapidly as the brains of non-affected individuals. According to the study, the volume of white matter in the brains of the alleged sonic attack victims was approximately five percent smaller than that in the brains of healthy adults.

One of the scientists behind the study told the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph that his team of researchers have not seen “anything like it before”. But he added that he and his colleagues are “not sure […] what it is”, though “there does appear to be something there”. Another expert told the paper that the findings of the University of Pennsylvania study supported the validity of the symptoms reported by the American diplomats. However, they do not help answer the question of whether they suffered actual brain injuries. A spokesman from the United States Department of State told The Telegraph that the Department is “aware of the study and welcomes the medical community’s discussion of this incredibly complex issue”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 July 2019 | Permalink

Swiss to extradite brother of ‘leading biochemist’ who spied for Chinese firm

GlaxoSmithKlineA Swiss court has ordered the extradition to the United States of the brother of one of the world’s leading biochemists, who spied on a British pharmaceutical firm to help a Chinese startup. The extradition is part of a large corporate espionage case centered on Yu Xue, a Chinese scientist described by US federal prosecutors as “one of the world’s top protein biochemists”. Yu specializes in drug research for cancer and other serious terminal illnesses. From 2006 until 2016 he worked in the US for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a leading British pharmaceutical group.

In 2018, Yu was arrested by US authorities for stealing trade secrets from a GSK research facility in the US state of Pennsylvania, and giving them to a Chinese startup pharmaceutical company called Renopharma. He eventually pleaded guilty to stealing proprietary data from GSK, in a case that the US Department of Justice described as a textbook example of Chinese “economic warfare” against America. US government prosecutors also claim that Renopharma is almost wholly funded the Chinese government. The three co-founders of the Chinese firm have also been charged with corporate espionage targeting a US firm.

On May 28 Yu’s brother, Gongda Xue, was arrested in Basel, Switzerland. According to the US government, Gongda used GSK data stolen by his brother to carry out drug experimentation at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, where he worked as a post-doctoral trainee between 2008 and 2014. On Tuesday, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ), ruled in favor of a request by the US government to extradite Gongda so he can be tried in Pennsylvaia. According to the FOJ, the Chinese scientist will be extradited as soon as his 30-day appeal period expires.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 July 2019 | Permalink