by Mike Morrissey
September 14, 1989
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Was There an AIDS Contract?
I heard about Jakob Segal's theory that the AIDS virus originated in a US government biological warfare research laboratory in early 1989. After some preliminary research, I was amazed to find that this shocking theory had received no attention whatsoever in the mainstream American press, and almost none in Europe.
The questions this theory raised were a matter of pure science, or so it seemed to me. There were only three possibilities: 1) Segal was wrong; 2) he was right; 3) it could not be determined either way. I resolved to find out which of these was true.
1. Informing the press
My first thought was to notify the press. Perhaps, by some fluke, they had not heard of Segal, just as I hadn't, though he had been publishing his conclusions since 1986. Surely American journalists would be as anxious as I was to find out and expose the truth. If Segal was wrong, it would be one's patriotic duty to say so. If he was right, or even might be right, the same principle would hold. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, one does not shirk from the truth. Remember Watergate! So I wrote the following article and sent it off in September 1989 to a couple of dozen US journals and newspapers:
Is AIDS Man-Made?
The theory that AIDS originated in the laboratory has been circulating in Europe, particularly in West Germany, since late 1986.
The theory hinges on the claim that the AIDS virus (HIV) is virtually identical to two other viruses: Visna, which causes a fatal disease in sheep but does not infect humans, and HTLV-I (Human T-Cell Leukemia Virus), which infects humans but is seldom fatal.
Prof. Jakob Segal, the author of the theory, says that structural analysis using genome mapping proves that HIV is more similar to Visna than to any other retrovirus. The portion (about three percent) of the HIV genome which does not correspond structurally to Visna corresponds exactly to part of the HTLV-I genome.
This similarity, says Segal, cannot be explained by a natural process of evolution and mutation. It can only have resulted from an artificial combination of the two viruses.
He notes that the symptoms of AIDS are consistent with the complementary effects of two different viruses. AIDS patients who do not die of the consequences of immune deficiency show the same damage to the brain, lungs, intestines, and kidneys that occurs in sheep affected with Visna. Combining Visna with HTLV-I would allow the virus to enter not only the macrophages of the inner organs but also the T4 lymphocytes and thus cause immune deficiency, which is exactly what AIDS does.
As further evidence that HIV is a construct of Visna and HTLV- I, Segal cites studies which show that the reverse transcription process in HIV has two discrete points of peak activity which correspond, respectively, to those of Visna and HTLV-I.
AIDS is thus, according to Segal, essentially a variety of Visna. This has important implications for research, since a cure or vaccine might be found sooner by studying Visna in sheep than by concentrating, as at present, on monkeys.
The theory of the African origin of AIDS, that it developed in African monkeys and was transferred to man, has been abandoned by most researchers. All of the known varieties of SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) are structurally so dissimilar to HIV (much less similar than HIV and Visna) that a common origin is out of the question. Furthermore, even if such a development by natural mutation were possible, it would not explain the sudden outbreak of AIDS in the early 1980s, since monkeys and men have been living together in Africa since the beginning of human history.
The "Africa Legend," as it is called in a 1988 West German (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) television documentary, is further debunked by the epidemiological history of AIDS. There is no solid evidence of AIDS in Africa before 1983. The earliest documented cases of AIDS date from 1979 in New York.
In addition to the WDR documentary and occasional mention in magazines like Stern and Spiegel, Segal's work has been published in West Germany (AIDS-Erreger aus dem Gen-Labor? [AIDS-Virus from the Gene Laboratory?], Kuno Kruse, ed., Berlin: Simon & Leutner, 1987) and India (with Lilli Segal, The Origin of AIDS, Trichur, India: Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, 1989). He has also been conducting lecture tours in West Germany.
Scientific journals, Segal says, have refused to publish or discuss his theory. This is difficult to understand. If he is wrong, he should certainly be refuted. The cornerstone of the theory is that HIV is a combination of Visna and HTLV-I. Segal claims that any trained laboratory technician could produce AIDS from these components, today, in less than two weeks. If this is true, it should be demonstrable by experiment.
The next question is, if it is possible to produce HIV from Visna and HTLV-I now, was it also possible in 1977, when Segal claims the AIDS virus was created? He says it was, by use of the less precise "shotgun" method of gene manipulation available then, though it would have taken longer--about six months. If this is true, it should also be demonstrable.
The final question would be: Was it produced in a laboratory? Segal believes he has shown that it was, but he goes further than that. He also believes he knows who produced it and why. Segal quotes from a document presented by a Pentagon official named Donald MacArthur on June 9, 1969, to a Congressional committee, in which $10 million is requested to develop, over the next 5 to 10 years, a new, contagious micro- organism which would destroy the human immune system.
Whether such research is categorized as "offensive" or "defensive" is immaterial: in order to defend oneself against a possible new virus, so the reasoning goes, one must first develop the virus.
Since the Visna virus was already well known, Segal continues, the problem was to find a human retrovirus that would enable it to infect humans. Scrutiny of the technical literature, Segal says, reveals that Dr. Robert Gallo isolated such a virus, HTLV-I, by 1975, though it was not given this name until later.
1975 was also the year the virus section of Fort Detrick (the US Army's center for biological warfare research in Frederick, Maryland) was renamed the Frederick Cancer Research Facilities and placed under the supervision of the National Cancer Institute, Gallo's employer.
It was there, in the P4 (high-security) laboratory at Fort Detrick, according to Segal, where the AIDS virus was actually created, between the fall of 1977 and spring of 1978. Six months is precisely the time it would have taken, using the techniques available then, to create the AIDS virus from Visna and HTLV-I.
Segal claims that the new virus was then tested on convicts who volunteered for the experiment in return for their release from prison. Failing to show any early symptoms of disease, the prisoners were released after six months. Some were homosexual, and went to New York, where the disease was first attested in 1979.
The researchers had not counted on creating a disease with such a long incubation period. (One year is relatively short for AIDS, but would not be unusual if the infection was induced by high- dosage injections.) If the researchers had kept their human guinea pigs under observation for a longer time, they would have detected the disease and been able to contain it.
In other words, Segal claims that AIDS is the result of a germ warfare research experiment gone awry.
In an interview on April 18, 1987, published in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, Dr. Gallo describes Segal's theory as KGB propaganda.
Segal, who is Russian (Lithuanian Jewish) but has been a professor of biology (now emeritus) at Humboldt University in East Berlin since 1953, is a bit old (78) to be starting a career as a propagandist. Soviet and East German officials, for their part, have maintained a discreet silence on the matter, for reasons of realpolitik, Segal believes.
The question of whether AIDS is man-made or not cannot be answered by dismissing it as propaganda.
Segal believes he has answered the question. We do not have to believe him, but we do have to believe that the following questions are answerable:
1) Can HIV be produced by combining Visna and HTLV-I in the laboratory now?
2) Can it be produced using the techniques available in 1977?
3) What did go on at Ft. Detrick between 1969 and 1978? What were the results of the $10 million Pentagon research project announced on June 9, 1969?
I didn't get a single reply -- not even a form-letter rejection. Later I rewrote the article, concentrating on the MacArthur testimony and the fact that neither it nor Segal had ever been discussed in the press. This much was certain. The MacArthur testimony was authentic, and part of the public record. I had seen and photocopied it myself in the Library of Congress. On June 9, 1969, Dr. D. M. MacArthur, then Deputy Director of Research and Technology for the Dept. of Defense, told the House Subcommittee on Appropriations:
"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 scandal enough. It does not mean that Segal is right, but it does mean the US government wanted, and considered it feasible, to create an AIDS-like virus as early as 1969.
It would not be surprising if the government wanted to keep this quiet, but what about the press? I could find only two references to MacArthur's testimony, in a book by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman ("A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical & Biological Warfare," NY: Hill & Wang, 1982), and in a couple of articles by Robert Lederer and Nathaniel S. Lehrman in "Covert Action Information Bulletin" (28, summer 1987, and 29, winter 1988).
Segal had been similarly ignored. Through the Amerika Haus library in Frankfurt I ran a DIALOGUE search of the indexes of major US newspapers, magazines and journals for the name Jakob Segal, and it came up negative. At least he had been mentioned a couple of times in "Der Spiegel". In America he was apparently completely unknown.
I found this intolerable. I did not agree with Segal; I only wanted to see his arguments discussed by people competent to make a judgement. Then I and the rest of the reading public could decide which arguments were more convincing. I thought that was the way free speech worked. Here was a guy saying the US government created AIDS, and claiming to have proved it scientifically, and he was being ignored.
By contrast, I had read about the storm of controversy that Peter Duesberg's theory had caused. He suggested in 1987 that AIDS is not caused by a virus at all -- certainly at least as speculative a thesis as Segal's. But there is a significant difference. If Duesberg is right and HIV does not cause the disease, the question of whether the virus originated in the laboratory is irrelevant. In that sense, it is the antithesis of Segal's theory. Was that why it received so much attention, while Segal was completely ignored?
I also wanted to call attention to Segal's new book ("AIDS: Die Spur fuehrt ins Pentagon," Essen: Neuer Weg, 1990), which had not (and still has not) appeared in English.
I sent the revised version of my article out to a number of journals, but the only reply I received was from a "radical" leftist editor, who wrote:
"We have real problems with the Segal material....There was a logical fallacy in Lehrman's reliance [on Segal's theory], too, because he used Segal's theories to bolster his notion that the release of AIDS was deliberate, even though Segal believes that it was accidentally released....The issue is further complicated by the recent retraction of the current Soviet government of the allegations of CBW connections they had made, undoubtedly another of Bush's little quid pro quos. A further difficulty is that the most credible critic in this country of the standard medical establishment line is Dr. Peter Duesberg, who argues (and Lehrman agrees) that AIDS is caused toxically, not simply virally. The synthesis of all this might be that if AIDS is toxically triggered, even if it requires some viral precondition, the trigger could be caused either environmentally or deliberately or both.
"In any event, although we believe that the issue of the cause of AIDS is an incredibly significant one (and certainly do not think you or any other the other critics of the Establishment) are lone nuts, we don't think that the issue is anything near so clear-cut that the failure to give significant coverage to Segal is "the biggest coverup since JFK.
"We would be interested in a general piece on the failure of the media (U.S. and Western Europe) to cover alternative theories in general, which would not have to accept any particular theory, but would show how conferences which take the establishment line get considerable coverage whereas those which do not are barely, if at all, covered. Ditto for the personalities involved.
"Anyway, these are some of the reasons why we do not feel like running with the ball right now."
"I wanted to focus on the 1969 MacArthur testimony -- a scandal in itself -- and what Segal makes of that. You probably have Segal's English monograph of 1986, which he wrote before he knew about the MacArthur testimony. (He got it from Rifkin). Since then he has been much more specific about tracing what he considers to be the exact course of development of the virus, i.e. Gallo's execution of that 1969 contract.
"This -- Gallo's role -- may not be provable, but the heart of Segal's thesis, namely that VISNA + HTLV-I = HIV-I, is testable, as I pointed out. There is no scientific explanation for why it has not been tested, which leaves the political one. The theory is very clear and precise. If Segal is wrong, he could easily be proved wrong.
"This is not the case with Duesberg or any of the other theories. The effect of the Duesberg theory, as I pointed out in the article, is to remove the entire question of the origin of the virus from the debate, which then becomes dissipated in the probably unresolvable question of environmental triggers, susceptibility, etc.
"The question we should ask is this: Why has Duesberg's theory, which is not testable, been given so much attention, while Segal's theory, which is testable, has been completely ignored? I did a national (US) magazine and newspaper database search (DIALOGUE), and if it is accurate, the name Jakob Segal has never appeared in a major US newspaper or any scientific journal.
"If Duesberg is the most credible critic in the US of the medical establishment, as you say, he serves (willy nilly) the coverup admirably, for the reason I have described. As we well know, mind control involves control of the offense as well as the defense (Gallo, Essex). The parallel here with the JFK case is the Blakey Mafia theory. That, as Garrison says, is a red herring. It doesn't matter who pulled the triggers, and it doesn't matter what 'triggers' AIDS, if we are trying to find out the whole truth. Blakey will have us tracking down Mafiosi for the next hundred years, and Duesberg will have us searching for non-viral AIDS 'triggers' for another hundred.
"It's hard to say what the biggest coverup up will turn out to be (if anyone ever finds out). AIDS can never be as 'clear-cut' as JFK, in terms of evidence ignored, suppressed, and distorted, because there are not enough microbiologists around who are capable or willing to do the private research. In terms of lives lost and money spent, though, AIDS will be near the top. In another sense, too, this is as big as JFK, because if Segal is right it means that 'science' is just as corrupt and manipulable as the press and the government. This will come as a great shock to many who believe that questions of 'pure science' are immune to political manipulation.
"You are probably right about a deal with the Russians. In fact, Segal says they talked about AIDS at Reykjavik. Maybe that's what Reagan was really upset about, rather than SDI. I wouldn't be surprised if he heard the truth about AIDS at that conference for the first time. In any case, Segal was told subsequently by East German and Soviet authorities that he could continue to publish and speak on the subject (mainly in West Germany -- the East Germans gave him no opportunities), as long as he did not explicitly associate himself with the East German or Soviet governments. Now there is the question. They could have stopped him whenever they wanted to, but they didn't. Do you think they would have allowed him to continue to publish and give lectures in the West if they thought he was wrong? If he was a KGB agent, as some people have said, would they have been stupid enough to let him make such monstrous allegations if there was nothing to them, and if they could easily be proved false?
"I will think about your suggestion for a more general approach, but are you sure that another consideration of alternative theories would be productive? CAIB did a good job on that. To make the analogy with JFK again, what good is rehash of the 'alternative' assassination theories? It just perpetuates the confusion and plays right into the hands of those who want to avoid, most of all, clear questions and clear answers. I tried to word my article so as not to imply acceptance of Segal's theory. I do not accept it. I think it should be discussed. My point was that Segal has posed a clear, testable hypothesis which, despite the importance of its implications, has been completely ignored. That point would be considerably diluted if Segal's theory were treated as just another crazy (and untestable) theory, like Duesberg's.
There was no response. I was getting nowhere.