Over the weekend the Kazakh Ministry of Health issued an announcement denying social media and Russian reports about the seizure of a U.S.-funded “military biological lab near Almaty by unidentified people.” According to the Tass News Agency, there had been reports that individuals in chemical protective suits had been seen near the facility and that a leak of dangerous pathogens had occurred. Per the Kazakh Ministry of Health, “This is not true. The facility is being protected.”
Which raises the question I suppose – why in God’s name would the U.S. be funding a lab in Central Asia working with dangerous pathogens?
Apparently, the American government has been funding such work in Kazakhstan since at least 2003. Projects at the current lab center on anthrax, plague, tularemia, highly pathogenic avian influenza, brucellosis, etc. Researchers at the lab work with these diseases – all dangerous to humans – and are “mentored” by American scientists.
The U.S. funding for the lab comes from the Pentagon, via the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The military gets the benefit of the research. The actual work gets done, not here, but thousands of miles away in Central Asia.
A lab dedicated to working on these diseases has existed in Kazakhstan since at least 2013. The initial American investment in the lab was reportedly $102 million. The purposes of the investment were specifically to fund research into diseases that could be used in bioterrorism attacks.
U.S.-funded work in Kazakhstan on dangerous pathogens has not slowed down in recent years. In fact, the current lab, called the Central Reference Laboratory was opened in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to hit the United States. Funded by American taxpayers under something called the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program it contains BSL-2 and BSL-3 labs.
From the beginning, there has, of course, been some serious question about the wisdom of creating a lab designed explicitly to study diseases that kill people in a place like Kazakhstan. The Central Reference Laboratory is situated in an active seismic zone and is just outside the city of Almaty. Nearby is a heavily populated suburban neighborhood. A number of different terrorist groups are active in the surrounding area.
One of the diseases that has been a focus of work in Kazakhstan since the beginning of U.S. involvement there has been bubonic plague. It comes in a variety of forms and can be spread through the air in its pneumonic form. The plague killed roughly one-third of the population of Europe in the 1300’s.
On at least one occasion yersinia pestis, the bacteria which causes the plague was transported from Kazakhstan to the United States on a U.S. Air Force aircraft.
“Earlier this month a team of American scientists working under the Nunn-Lugar Program quietly entered Kazakhstan in sub-zero temperatures to begin the careful packaging of bubonic and pneumonic plague samples. The samples have been safely transported on a US Air Force C-17 cargo plane to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Fort Collins, Colorado”.US. Senator Richard Lugar, speaking in January 2008.
Almost unbelievably, the Pentagon has also funded work in Kazakhstan mirroring that done in Wuhan, China with coronaviruses. Between 2015 and 2018 a total of 200 bat guano samples were collected from three caves in Kazakhstan. A little over ten percent of those samples were positive for coronaviruses. This study was funded by the U.S. DoD’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency Cooperative Biological Research project.
As we have seen in the case of the Wuhan lab supported by Dr. Fauci, much of the actual work of supporting work in Kazakhstan has been outsourced to private contractors. The construction of BSL-3 labs between 2009 and 2016 was carried out by AECOM Government Services. Another American company called CH2M Hill received other contracts worth in excess of $50 million collectively. Altogether, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has pumped almost $300 million into lab work in Kazakhstan to date.
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the emerging consensus is that the disease came out of a Chinese lab in Wuhan working with coronaviruses. It also appears certain that the virus that came out of that lab was being studied and manipulated because of its capacity to infect human beings. This is what is known as ‘gain of function research.’
The most charitable version of the events posits that sloppy lab practices allowed COVID-19 to “jump the fence” and begin to burn its way through the world’s population. Less charitable versions suggest we should at least consider the possibility that the Chinese deliberately unleashed this virus on the world.
Either way, it would seem that by this point we should have realized that having labs all over the world playing with organisms that can infect and kill human beings in large numbers is a very bad idea. Sooner or later, one way or the other, those organisms are going to get out, and we are all going to pay the price.
Yet, somehow, two years into this pandemic we are continuing to fund and support exactly this kind of work in a Central Asian country wracked by instability, corruption, and violence. Whether or not the Central Reference Laboratory in Almaty has actually been breached is as of this writing unclear. What is clear is that sooner or later it will be in some fashion, and we will witness yet another biological disaster.