FBI Tactical Report Describes Chinese Biologist Carrying Viable SARS, MERS Viruses at Detroit Airport in 2018
China’s also waging a disinformation campaign as the revelations show that the nation’s official COVID-19 death toll figures don’t add up.
An FBI tactical intelligence report obtained by Yahoo News describes an incident in November 2018, which shows that the agency had significant concerns about the bio-security threat posed by China.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at Detroit Metro Airport stopped a Chinese scientist carrying vials believed to contain the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) viruses.
“Inspection of the writing on the vials and the stated recipient led inspection personnel to believe the materials contained within the vials may be viable Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) materials,” says an unclassified FBI tactical intelligence report obtained by Yahoo News.
The report, written by the Chemical and Biological Intelligence Unit of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMDD), does not give the name of the Chinese scientist carrying the suspected SARS and MERS samples, or the intended recipient in the U.S. But the FBI concluded that the incident, and two other cases cited in the report, were part of an alarming pattern.
“The Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assesses foreign scientific researchers who transport undeclared and undocumented biological materials into the United States in their personal carry-on and/or checked luggage almost certainly present a US biosecurity risk,” reads the report. “The WMDD makes this assessment with high confidence based on liaison reporting with direct access.”
The discovery should have sent up a wide array of big red flags. The International Air Transport Association does not permit passengers or crew to carry infectious samples as baggage. Then, there are numerous import permits for biological materials that were neglected.
The Yahoo News article also describes two other cases from May 2018 and September 2019, in which different Chinese nationals tried to enter the U.S. with undeclared flu strains and suspected E. coli. The thrust of the piece was the FBI’s concern about the degree of biosecurity risk posted in general, while the incidents presented focused on China.
The FBI does not state precisely what sort of biosecurity risk these cases could present, but Raina MacIntyre, a professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said the FBI appears to be concerned with dual-use research that would be used for bioterrorism. And if the illicit samples cited in the report were being brought into the U.S., she says, the traffic is likely to be both ways.
“How do you know what they’re bringing in and out unless you have a comprehensive surveillance point?” she asked. “If it’s going one way, it’s going the other way. You’d be very naive to assume otherwise.”
This revelation is disturbing, especially when paired with China’s disinformation campaigns that seek to sow discord about the United States’ handling of the crisis and deflect attention from its involvement with the pandemic. Russia, too, is participating in the campaign.
Kremlin-aligned websites aimed at Western audiences have trafficked in conspiracy theories to spread fear in Europe and political division in the United States, the officials said, noting that Russia’s diplomats and state-run news media have arguably been more restrained.
China has been more overtly aggressive. It has used a network of government-linked social media accounts to spread discredited, and sometimes contradictory, theories. And China has adopted Russia’s playbook for more covert operations, mimicking Kremlin disinformation campaigns and even using and amplifying some of the same conspiracy sites.
The propaganda campaigns show how both countries turned to a typical authoritarian tactic of spreading propaganda to undermine their shared adversary, the United States, rather than addressing public criticism of their own problems.
New numbers indicate the Chinese government is working hard to deflect the magnitude of its mismanagement.
Radio Free Asia reported that funeral homes told families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 that they will try to “complete cremations before the traditional grave-tending festival of Qing Ming on April 5, which would indicate a 12-day process beginning on Mach 23. Such an estimate would mean that 42,000 urns would be given out during that time.”
Another online estimate is based on the cremation capacity of funeral homes in Wuhan, which runs 84 furnaces with a capacity over a 24-hour period of 1,560 urns. That estimate puts the number of estimated deaths in Wuhan at 46,800.
Another resident of the Hubei province – where Wuhan is the capital – told RFA that the majority of people there believe more than 40,000 people died before and during the lockdown. That’s tens of thousands more than the government has claimed.
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