1990 Burying the Public Record: Was There an "AIDS Contract"?

This was written in September 1990 (unpublished).

There is a brief but potentially explosive piece of testimony buried in the Congressional Record of 1969 that has never made the papers; it will not be hard to see why:

Molecular biology is a field that is advancing very rapidly, and eminent biologists believe that within a period of 5 to 10 years it would be possible to produce a synthetic biological agent, an agent that does not naturally exist and for which no natural immunity could have been acquired...a new infective microorganism which could differ in certain important aspects from any known disease-causing organisms. Most important of these is that it might be refractory [resistant] to the immunological and therapeutic processes upon which we depend to maintain our relative freedom from infectious disease.

A research program to explore the feasibility of this could be completed in approximately 5 years at a total cost of $10 million.

This was part of the testimony of Dr. D. M. MacArthur, then Deputy Director of Research and Technology for the Dept. of Defense, before the House Subcommittee on Appropriations on June 9, 1969. Let us be clear about what it means. It does NOT mean that the U.S. government created AIDS. It DOES mean that the U.S. government wanted, and considered it feasible, to create an AIDS-like virus as early as 1969.

It would hardly be surprising if the government wanted to keep this quiet, but what about the press? The significance of MacArthur's testimony has not been overlooked by everyone--only by the mass media. Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman mention it in their 1982 book A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical & Biological Warfare(NY: Hill & Wang); cf. also Robert Lederer, "The Origin and Spread of AIDS," in CovertAction Information Bulletin (Summer 1987). On Feb. 10, 1988, Jeremy Rifkin petitioned the Secretary of Defense (Carlucci) on behalf of the Foundation on Economic Trends, demanding information as to the further disposition of the 1969 MacArthur/DOD proposal. Needless to say, there was no substantive reply.

If this is the tip of the iceberg, Jakob Segal has outlined the rest, but we do not find his name in the NYT Index, nor his articles in the scientific journals, nor his books (very likely) in the library. He has been saying since 1986 that AIDS is an accidental product of U.S. biological warfare research (a.k.a. "defense research"--on which 90.6 million tax dollars were spent in fiscal 1985-86, for example). Segal is a biologist (professor emeritus at Humboldt University in East Berlin), but as far as the "scientific community" is concerned, he is a non-entity. This would not normally bar him from the popular press as well, but in this case, larger forces seem to be at work.

Why is Segal taboo? If he is right, the U.S. government is responsible for AIDS, which makes the answer obvious enough. If he is wrong, one would expect to hear more from the experts than dismissive snorts and echoes of arguments that have long been repudiated (such as the claims of African origin in green monkeys or "isolated villages"). There is no middle ground. If it cannot be shown that he is either right or wrong, i.e. if he may be right, or even partially right, the cat is out of the bag. As a matter of fact, the whole question of the origin of AIDS seems to have become taboo. The African monkey business has stuck in the public's mind, and it is convenient to leave it at that.

Consider the Peter Duesberg theory, by way of contrast. Duesberg suggested in 1987 that AIDS is not caused by a virus at all, a highly speculative, but convenient, thesis. If the virus (HIV-I) does not cause the disease, the question of the virus being a laboratory product is defused. Perhaps this explains why the Duesberg thesis was hotly debated in both the scientific and the popular press, while Segal has been completely ignored.

This is not the place to go into detail (see Jakob Segal, AIDS: Die Spur fuehrt ins Pentagon [Kaninenberghoehe 2, 4300 Essen 1: Verlag Neuer Weg, 1990]). The arguments are technical, and the place for the debate is the technical journals. My point is that this debate has not taken place. Segal is not only ignored by the journals; he cannot find an English or American publisher for his book, and no one has been willing to debate with him publicly for three years.

If anyone should be interested in such a debate, it is Robert Gallo. Richard Crewdson's articles in the Chicago Herald Tribune last November have put Gallo's claim as the co-discoverer (with Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in Paris) of the AIDS virus in a very suspicious light, but Segal says Gallo actually made the damn thing (in 1978). (Why he would want to, or have to, "re-discover" in 1984 something he himself created in 1978 is not clear.) Gallo is generally credited with being the first to isolate a human retrovirus, HTLV-I, as early as 1978/79 (the publications appearing somewhat later), but Segal maintains that two of Gallo's publications indicate that he had already accomplished this in 1975. By early 1978, according to the Segal scenario, Gallo succeeded in splicing HTLV-I into Visna (a virus causing AIDS-like symptoms in sheep), thereby making the deadly sheep virus infectious to humans. This was HIV-I, the "synthetic biological agent," the "new infective microorganism," which the DOD had proposed developing in 1969.

Gallo, as head of the National Cancer Institute, also had authority over the Frederick Cancer Research Facilities, formerly (before 1975) the virus section of USAMARID, the Army biological warfare research center at Fort Detrick, Maryland, which would have given him access to the P-4 (top security) laboratory that went into operation at Fort Detrick in the fall of 1977. When the virus was ready in early 1978, Segal says, prisoners who had volunteered as guinea pigs in exchange for their freedom were injected with it and, when no symptoms of disease appeared after 6 months or so, released. Some of them entered the homosexual scene in New York, where the disease broke out in the spring of 1979. (An incubation period of one year, though short for AIDS, is conceivable if the infection was by injection of large doses of the virus.)

In short, according to Segal, the 1969 DOD project was carried out successfully, thanks to the genius of Robert Gallo, and AIDS is the result of a biological warfare experiment gone awry. These are horrendous accusations, but Segal says he is willing to go to court, any time, anywhere, to prove them. Incredibly, there has not been a peep out of anyone.

The only newspaper with any readership at all that will print Segal is a (West) German Marxist weekly called Rote Fahne. This, needless to say, does not enhance his credibilty for 99% of the population, but he has no choice. His latest article (8/25/90) challenges the findings of Corbitt et al. published earlier this year in The Lancet, a respected English medical journal. Corbitt et al. claim to show that a British sailor died indisputably of AIDS in 1959. Segal argues that this, like all of the other evidence adduced to prove the existence of AIDS before 1979, is inconclusive. Again, the argument is technical, so there is no point going into detail, but Segal's conclusion is that Corbitt et al. proved only that the sailor was infected with a retrovirus, not necessarily one that causes AIDS. (It is now known that many people, perhaps half the population, are carriers of non-pathogenic retroviruses which have nothing to do with AIDS.)

One must note that this is Segal responding to the "scientific community," but where is the response to Segal? One virologist I wrote to (who has been a consultant to the Frederick Cancer Research Facilities) deigned to say that "Visna plus HTLV-I in any arrangement does not make HIV-I, now or in 1978." This is less than enlightening if you have read Segal's painstaking description of gene-mapping and other procedures which, he says, prove the opposite. Segal says that any trained lab technician could make HIV-I in two weeks today, and that in 1978 it would have taken about 6 months. My correspondent's response to this was: "If Segal is so convinced, why doesn't he make the construct and see what kind of virus it makes." Fine. And who will provide him with the P-4 laboratory and component viruses to conduct the experiment? The question is more interesting turned around: Why doesn't somebody with access to the requisite facilities (e.g. the U.S. government) do the experiment and prove Segal wrong? Segal could be invited to participate and, if the experiment failed, forced to retract his monstrous allegations.

There will be no such experiment, of that we can be sure. Segal will be dead in a few years (he is 79), and it is unlikely that anyone equally competent will take up the cudgels, but his theory will smolder on, leaving all the seemingly answerable questions unanswered, year after year.

Wait a minute ... we've been here before. This is not the Wonderful World of Science--it's Dallas. We're caught between a "lone nut" (Segal is wrong) and a coverup of the usual mammoth proportions (Segal is right).