The World Health Organization has declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency
-- although this designation does not mean that there will be any travel bans. This outbreak has claimed some 1700 victims, of which more than 900 have died.
Dr. Brantly and Ann Coulter.
I'm sure that most you already know the tale of 33 year-old Dr. Kent Brantly, a doctor working for a religious organization. He and a co-worker, Nancy Writebol, contracted the disease while working with Ebola patients in Liberia. Although the highly contagious virus is usually fatal, Brantly has responded well to a mysterious new drug called ZMapp. He was flown back to the United States -- a controversial decision, making him the first Ebola carrier to enter this country -- and is now being treated in Atlanta.
Brantly was the focus of a characteristically ugly Ann Coulter rant
, in which she refers to Brantly as "idiotic."
Why did Dr. Brantly have to go to Africa? The very first “risk factor” listed by the Mayo Clinic for Ebola — an incurable disease with a 90 percent fatality rate — is: “Travel to Africa.”
Can’t anyone serve Christ in America anymore?
(You know who else was idiotic? Saint Bernadette.
She became a nurse and probably caught tuberculosis from one of her patients. Jerk!)
A commenter here
offers a perfect description of Ann Coulter: "An oxygen thief who significantly lowers the net worth of the entire human race."
The mystery aircraft.
Nevertheless, there is
something odd about the Brantly episode. I direct your attention to this eye-opening piece of original research
by Lambert Strether, who seems to have taken his Daniel Hopsicker pills.
Lambert tracks the N-number of an airplane that may
have connections to the CIA's rendition program:
So I was watching a video of Brantly’s plane arriving, and I spotted the tail number: N173PA. N173PA, a Grumman Gulfstream III, was originally owned by the Royal Danish Air Force (then numbered F-313) and became N173PA in January 2005 (planespotter). N173PA does not appear on Wikipedia’s list of rendition aircraft — although, when you think of it, evacuating a patient in an isolation hood is, logistically, a lot like rendition — although Shannon Watch, monitors foreign military use of Shannon Airport in Ireland, includes it on its list of suspects...
From 2005 to 2010, N173PA was operated by Phoenix Air (planespotter). N173PA and its sibling, N163PA (planespotter) “are fitted with a large freight door on the starboard side and seem to be used … mainly on cargo and air ambulance work” as in this ebola episode.
Doors like that are also useful to smugglers as well as to those who transport prisoners.
The plane is owned by an "on paper" entity call N173PA LLC, which has an official address in Wilmington, Delaware. Delaware registration is pretty common for CIA front companies.
"So what?" you may be asking. "That doesn't prove
that the plane was used for rendition flights." Well, it turns out that this plane and a sister craft are registered to a firm called Phoenix Air...
These planes are known to have landed at Shannon a number of times and frequently fly to US military air bases.
Lambert then quotes another site which offers this intriguing bit of background on Phoenix Air:
Phoenix Air is well known for providing adversary support and electronic warfare training to the DoD. … These jets appear to have been used as government contract aircraft on and off over the last decade, as their large cargo doors and convertible interiors allows them to carry out-sized cargo, passengers or modular medical components and stretchers.
Although Lambert doesn't mention it, Phoenix Air -- I think
it is the same entity -- heavily figures in the work of Daniel Hopsicker: See here
. As many of you know, Hopsicker focused on Huffman Aviation, an apparently CIA-linked company which plays an important role in the story of the 9/11 hijackers. Huffman operated out of a "spooked up" airport in Florida.
The company or network of companies which has had so much involvement with recent owners of Huffman Aviation is known variously as “Phoenix Air,” “Phoenix Air Services,” and “Phoenix Continental." A mysterious serum.
Brantly is being treated with ZMapp, an experimental new drug grown in (I kid you not!) tobacco plants. Lambert quotes this article
in The Wire:
The serum appears to have evolved from evolved from research conducted by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute in 2012 that showed a mix of various antibodies could stave off the Ebola virus.
So why ZMapp, of all the experimental solutions to Ebola, of which there are many? Perhaps it comes down to Mapp’s recent successes: The NIH included Mapp in its $28 million five-year grant awarded to five companies to research Ebola further in March. A press release dated July 15, 2014 revealed that Defyrus, a private life sciences biodefense company based in Canada, had partnered with Mapp's San Diego-based commercialization partner firm Leaf Biopharmaceutical Inc., to push the ZMapp serum's clinical development. And just last week, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency announced it awarded a contract to Mapp to continue development of the serum.
Lambert refers to the Mapp Biopharmaceutical website as "skeletal." Indeed it is
-- almost as skeletal as Ann Coulter herself. (But I do like the Mapp logo.) From the information sheet:
ZMapp (TM) is the result of a collaboration between Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc. and LeafBio (San Diego, CA), Defyrus Inc. (Toronto, Canada), the U.S. government and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
ZMapp (TM) is composed of three “humanized” monoclonal antibodies manufactured in plants, specifically Nicotiana.
It is an optimized cocktail combining the best components of MB003 (Mapp) and ZMAb (Defyrus/PHAC).
ZMapp (TM) was first identified as a drug candidate in January 2014 and has not yet been evaluated for safety in humans. As such, very little of the drug is currently available.
Any decision to use an experimental drug in a patient would be a decision made by the treating physician under the regulatory guidelines.
The president of Mapp is one Dr. Larry Zeitlin. Lambert directs our attention to this interview
There has been no treatment or cure that has been effective against the Ebola virus, and with the potential ability to turn Ebola into a bio-weapon, it is labeled as Risk Group 4 Pathogen.
[Dr. Zeitlin] started studying Ebola virus when he was offered funding from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2002.
1. How did the idea to test MB-003’s effectiveness post infection come about?
[ZEITLIN] This was driven by funding agencies. They wanted post-exposure efficacy rather than prophylactic protection.
Zeitlin's reply is, in my view, very thought-provoking. His governmental funders wanted a cure
, not a preventative, for a virus that was studied for use as a weapon. At this point, it may be pertinent to note that, both before and after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian scientists studied the weaponization of Ebola
. You can be quite certain that the United States and the U.K. did so as well.
Before the Brantly/Writebol episode, we really had no published evidence of ZMapp's effectiveness. The serum was first identified in January of this year. Mapp, though a tiny company, has received some $40 million
from the U.S. government since 2005 -- and much of the money came from the United States Army
We should learn more about Defyrus. Although listed as Toronto-based, this firm seems to be fairly well tied in with the British defense (or "defence") establishment.
Was ZMapp made available to Samaritan's Purse, the Christian organization that employs Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol? This story
is infuriatingly unclear on that key point:
The cases of Brantly and Writebol, who were flown home for treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, mark the first time the United States has had to deal directly with Ebola, Frieden noted.
Both workers are the only Ebola patients to receive ZMapp, a treatment never tested before on people. When asked by reporters if the Obama administration played a role in allowing ZMapp to be used, Frieden said merely that a CDC official put Samaritan’s Purse in touch with the NIH, which connected them with the experimental drug’s manufacturer.
“Beyond that, I cannot comment,” Frieden said after testifying.
I get the feeling that something is being hidden here. It seems possible that an untested drug was being used on unwitting human subjects in Africa.
Lambert notes that Samaritan's Purse is a well-connected religious group headed by Franklin Graham (the son of Billy Graham); they were part of the Iraq reconstruction effort.
(At this point, I should note that some conspiracy-minded writers have tried to link Franklin to the CIA/the Illuminati/S.P.E.C.T.R.E./Dr. Evil/You-choose-the-bogeyman. Alas, those writers operate under the disadvantage of being unable to write two consecutive sentences without sounding nuts.)
So what's going on? The evidence indicates that the governments of the United States and Canada felt an urgent need to develop this serum as a cure for weaponized Ebola
(Incidentally, the origin of the current Ebola outbreak remains quite mysterious. I'm not saying that this mystery has any relationship to the possibility of a weaponized virus. But...
I also suspect -- and this really is no more than a hunch -- that the "miracle serum" was being tested in Africa. All of the news stories I've consulted are surprisingly unclear as to precisely what
Brantly was doing in Africa, although none of them suggest that he possessed ZMapp. This story
in The Wire states that the first vials of ZMapp in Liberia arrived there on July 31, for the purposes of treating Brantly after he had been stricken with the virus. Perhaps that claim is true; perhaps something else was going on.
If it had been up to me, I would have suggested a much more sensible way to test ZMapp: Transport Ann Coulter to the Emory University hospital in Atlanta, expose her to Ebola, then see if the serum works on her
. Of course, the results might not tell us what kind of effect this drug would have on actual human beings.
Is Ebola airborne?
Disturbingly enough, no-one quite knows how Brantly and Writebol were infected. While working with patients in Africa, Brantly wore a full-body protective uniform and goggles, just as he did when he was transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Writebol helped him get in and out of this gear.
Some days ago, I posted a video made by a fellow who goes by the name StormCloudsGathering. Below, I have embedded his take on the Ebola controversy. Please understand that I do not
endorse the claims made here -- in fact, I think that the last half of this presentation is sensationalized and rather silly. What makes this video worth watching is the evidence that Ebola may, in fact, be airborne -- mainstream media protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.
This video has engendered much discussion regarding the proper medical definition of the term "airborne." We need not recapitulate that debate here. I would, however, note that Tara C. Smith's book Ebola
speaks (on page 69) of "airborne" Ebola possibly being used by a terrorist group.
The 2012 BBC article cited in this video quotes a Canadian researcher named Dr. Gary Kobinger, of the National Microbiology Laboratory, part of the Public Health Agency of Canada. He is the one who claims to have proven airborne transmission via animal studies.
As noted above, the Public Health Agency of Canada is one of the developers of ZMapp. According to this recent story
in the Vancouver Sun...
The Canadian research on an experimental Ebola treatment was done under the leadership of Dr. Gary Kobinger, who heads the special pathogens research program at the national laboratory in Winnipeg.
So Kobinger, having demonstrated airborne transmission to be possible, straightway went to work on a cure. You know what? I'm rather glad about that. My home is not very far from Fort Detrick, the original center of Ebola research in this country. If an outbreak ever hits a major U.S. city, don't be surprised if that city is Baltimore.