EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in our ‘Gain-of-Function Hall of Shame’ series profiling key players in gain-of-function research.
Last week, Organic Consumers Association launched its Gain of Function Hall of Shame with a profile of government scientist, Christian Hassell. Hassell chairs a secret committee known as P3CO (Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight), which is tasked with reviewing all gain-of-function experiments, including research that could be used to develop biological weapons from bat coronaviruses.
This week, we bring you Christian Hassell’s boss, Dr. Robert Kadlec.
Kadlec's title is Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR) for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). In that role, Kadlec oversees a multi-billion-dollar stockpile of medical countermeasures to "defend" the American people against any biological threat, whether military, criminal, natural or accidental.
The stockpile overseen by Kadlec used to be housed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. But Kadlec fought to put it under his control.
In a normal year, this would mean Kadlec managing a budget of more than $2 billion. But with COVID-19 this year, Kadlec is spending $11.5 billion just on companies’ efforts to develop, manufacture, store and deliver new vaccines.
Kadlec’s responsibilities don’t end with his role at HHS. He also plays a big role in overseeing all federal biodefense activities and budgets. And he has a long track record of doling out big contracts to his buddies in the vaccine industry.
In charge of ‘preparedness’ . . . for what?
At this point in time, there’s no hard evidence that research approved by this secret committee actually created SARS-CoV-2.
But there’s no denying the fact that the type of research approved by the committee could have created SARS-CoV-2.
With all the secrecy surrounding the P3CO committee’s work, how would we know?
Christian Hassell chairs the P3CO committee. But he serves at the pleasure of Kadlec, who far exceeds Hassell in status and power.
Hassell allegedly sought $100 million in government funding for U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) projects on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats in labs that Hassell admitted were "in trouble for shady dealings, illegal accounting and lack of accountability.”
But Hassell had to ask Kadlec for that money. That’s because, as noted, Kadlec is in charge of a multi-billion-dollar stockpile of medical countermeasures, formerly housed by the CDC, but now under Kadlec’s control.
Kadlec’s role isn’t limited to HHS. Under Trump’s National Biodefense Strategy, Kadlec also leads the day-to-day coordination team of a cabinet-level steering committee overseeing all federal biodefense activities and budgets, from the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas, to the Pentagon biolaboratories in 25 countries.
Are you a young American scientist interested in “research on mosquito-borne diseases such as Japanese encephalitis and Zika as well as on deadly food-borne pathogens including Shiga-toxin-producing Escherichia coli and potential deliberate contaminants such as Bacillus anthracis? Contact Robert Kadlec about his NBSF project “Research & Development for U.S. Bio/Agrodefense: Protecting Agriculture and Preserving Public Health.”
Or maybe you’re an old scientist who used to work for a foreign country’s biodefense program? Kadlec can get you a job at a lab funded by the DOD to employ former biological weapons scientists in collecting bat coronaviruses. (When pressed on this by a journalist investigating mysterious deaths and nearby disease outbreaks at one of these labs, the Lugar Center in the Republic of Georgia, Kadlec insisted “the U.S. does not have a military biological weapons program.”)
Kadlec’s entire career has BEEN leading up to this moment when, due to policies he had shaped and laws he had written, he would control billions of dollars in government spending on a stockpile of medical countermeasures for biological weapons—even though he once admitted that “The commercial or public need for vaccines against biological warfare agents short of an act of terror is virtually zero.”
Now, here Kadlec is, in the middle of the worst global pandemic in 100 years, serving as the “Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response.”
What’s Kadlec doing with the billions of dollars Congress has given him to buy the life-saving drugs and protective equipment Americans need to fight COVID-19?
Crony capitalism pays big dividends in midst of pandemic
We’ll profile several of Kaldec’s cronies in the coming weeks. For now, we give you Fuad El-Hibri.
Fuad El-Hibri’s company, Emergent BioSolutions, has been a top recipient of government spending on biodefense since it monopolized anthrax vaccine research in the 1990s.
Now, thanks to Kadlec, Emergent just scored a $628-million deal to help manufacture the coronavirus vaccine.
The Washington Post investigative report, “Before the Pandemic, Top Contractor Received Billions from Government to Help Prepare the Nation for Biowarfare,” tells the fascinating story of how Emergent’s annual revenues rose from $235 million in 2009, to $1.1 billion a decade later.
From the article:
• As the sole supplier of anthrax vaccine for the federal government, Emergent was able to charge $30 per dose for BioThrax in 2017, “about five times what the company was paid under its original contract two decades earlier, accounting for inflation.”
• Emergent got a contract for the smallpox vaccine in 2017 “worth up to $2.8 billion that more than doubled the government’s cost per dose.”
How was Emergent able to command such high prices from the government?
Monopoly power. No-bid contracts, facilitated by friends in government. Buyouts of competitors. Unparalleled spending on armies of former-military-turned-lobbyists like the admiral who helped El-Hibri corner the market on the anthrax vaccine back in the 1990s.
It didn't hurt that Kadlec was a former Emergent consultant and founding partner with El-Hibri of the biodefense company East West Protection.
Kaldec has lavished money on El-Hibri’s Emergent BioSolutions, and other companies who paid him as a consultant, including Bavarian Nordic whose investment in its relationship to Kaldec earned it a smallpox vaccine stockpiling contract worth $539 million.
As the Washington Post reported:
“Kadlec committed additional spending to biodefense countermeasures such as smallpox and anthrax vaccines while cutting planned spending on emerging infectious diseases, despite warnings from scientists that a natural contagion could also be devastating. Citing limited resources, his office halted an Obama-era initiative to spend $35 million to build a machine that could produce 1.5 million N95 masks per day.”
After weaponized anthrax from U.S. military labs was used to attack Congress in 2001, an appropriate response would have been to 1) limit the number of individuals and institutions with access to pathogens with pandemic potential; and 2) subject those few individuals to greatly enhanced security, transparency and oversight.
Or, one could argue that the most reasoned response would have been to just shut this research down altogether.
Instead, billions have been pumped into the biodefense industry.
As the documentary, “Anthrax War,” shows, the U.S. military has spent decades preparing for a biological war where the weapon is anthrax. Yet so far, the only anthrax Americans have been exposed to came from our own military’s labs.
And the only harm our troops have had to defend themselves against is the vaccine injuries from squalene-laced BioThrax.
Who came up with BioThrax? None other than a company formerly known as BioPort—since renamed Emergent BioSolutions.
BioPort was formed in 1998 by El-Hibri and partner Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. Ambassador to Britain for President Clinton.
El-Hibri and Crowe formed the company to purchase the only plant in the country making anthrax vaccines after Clinton’s Defense Secretary William S. Cohen announced that all American troops and reservists would be required to get anthrax shots in preparation for a possible invasion of Iraq. The Pentagon invested $15 million in the venture to double the plant's vaccine output.
El-Hibri had previously made anthrax vaccine for the U.K. in an arrangement going back to the privatization of parts of the British biodefense lab Porton Down during the first Gulf War.
In its day, El-Hibri's BioPort was part of the largest private biotechnology firm in the world, Porton International. It got the rights to sell vaccines and other products developed by the U.K. government-run laboratory, the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR), on commercial markets.
In addition to the anthrax vaccine, another well-known CAMR/Porton International product is the anti-wrinkle product botox, made from botulinum toxin. In 1997, Porton International was spun off in a partnership with the defense contractor, DynCorps, which created the DynPort Vaccine Company. A former employee said of El-Hibri’s business:
“You have to realize: BioPort and now DynPort, these are arms dealers. They are part absolutely of the military industrial complex. This is their business. They are selling to a captive audience: the Defense Department. That's all-American. All these defense contracts—they are boondoggles—and that's the American way, to make as much money as possible.”
It was Kadlec’s evil genius to expand this captive audience across the federal government into agencies including HHS and and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His coup de grace was to manage it all through a cabinet-level steering committee overseeing all federal biodefense activities and budgets.
Kadlec created the biodefense industrial complex as we know it. And he rules it like a czar.
Alexis Baden-Mayer is OCA’s political director. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.