There are spies in your science, President Biden!
Radhika Desai
Concept photo of scientists looking at screen with U.S. outbreaks in laboratory. /Getty

Concept photo of scientists looking at screen with U.S. outbreaks in laboratory. /Getty

Editor's note: Radhika Desai is a professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba in Canada. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN. 

U.S. President Joe Biden campaigned as the "anti-Trump," promising, among other things, to bring science back into COVID-19. Previously, the former President Donald Trump had spread outrageous lies about coronavirus, stoked racism by repeatedly calling it the "Chinese virus" in his speeches and tweets, undermined the fight against it by encouraging ill-motivated protests and only invested in vaccines as an opportunity to give bonanzas to Big Pharma corporations. President Biden, by contrast, was supposed to be led by science.

Unfortunately, to make electoral, Congressional and political gains, the Biden administration very early on started merging with its predecessor into a single "Trumpiden" presidency. Besides the pandemic, this continuity is also glaring in the case of the new cold war with China and sanctions on Cuba.

Now Biden's May 26 commission of a 90-day U.S. intelligence community study on the origins of SARS-CoV-2 has delivered its report, which reveals a scary continuity with Trump's approach hidden under the veneer of science. While avoiding referring to the "Wuhan" or "Chinese" virus, Biden weaponized the search for the virus' origins more insidiously than Trump ever did. 

The fact is that science and spies just don't mix. Wikipedia defines a spy or "intelligence" agency as "a government agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and exploitation of information," and disinformation "in support of law enforcement, national security, military, and foreign policy objectives," including through misinformation and disinformation. Spies exploit and abuse information in order to defend their "national" interests, which are actually those of the ruling capitalist class, as opposed to the people.

Understanding SARS-CoV-2's origins is important to prevent future pandemics and to deal with this one. Such understanding relies on freeing flows of knowledge and permitting scientists to share findings across borders.

However, by involving the sprawling apparatus of U.S. spy agencies, Biden has constrained such flows and sharing. Where science demands openness, spies operate in secret; where science must demonstrate its findings openly, spies hide theirs; where science demands information is exchanged, spies hoard, hide and hazard it; where science generates trust, spies undermine it.

Western media coverage of the report tends not to focus on such uncomfortable truths. Instead, the prestigious magazine, Nature, even praised the scientific credentials of some of those involved. However, while the U.S. "intelligence community" undoubtedly includes many highly qualified people, capacity and motivation are entirely different matters. The estimable magazine does not dwell on what motivates these capable spies. 

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warned at the outset that the 90-day investigation into COVID-19's origins might be inconclusive, April 29, 2021. /Getty

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warned at the outset that the 90-day investigation into COVID-19's origins might be inconclusive, April 29, 2021. /Getty

The few "conclusions" released in a 500-word "unclassified summary" can hardly be treated as scientific. They entirely ignore many relevant hypotheses, including prima facie evidence of the virus in European countries and the U.S. itself many months before the outbreak in Wuhan.

As for its "conclusions," some interpreted the first – that the virus was "not developed as a biological weapon" – as an attempt to draw attention away from the U.S.' own funding of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The report leaves open the possibility that the virus was genetically engineered and assesses "with low confidence" that humans were originally infected through their natural exposure to an infected animal, and that Chinese officialdom did not have "foreknowledge." Finally, at least one agency believes "with moderate confidence" that the virus escaped from an experimental situation.

This leaves two plausible hypotheses, as we are told, including "natural exposure to an infected animal" and "a laboratory-related incident." The report could not choose between them without "clinical samples or a complete understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest COVID-19 cases." This requires "China's cooperation" whereas "Beijing … continues to hinder the global investigation," as the summary claims. The U.S. "intelligence community" spoke with one voice only on this.

Compared to this corruption of science with spies to weaponize the origins of SARS-CoV-2 against China, Trump's entire approach to confront China appears like an innocent child's game.

The report, essentially a set of unfounded accusations, is already increasing international tensions. By pointing to China as the main obstacle to advancing the search for the origins, it ignores the recent WHO report, produced with China's cooperation.

In a world still dominated by capitalism, private (intellectual) property rights and state interests already obstruct the flow of knowledge. Only international cooperation can overcome it but President Biden's "intelligence community" report has just made that goal many times harder to achieve. One wonders why.

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