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Meet Scott Dowell: Bill Gates’ Virus Hunter

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth article in our ‘Gain-of-Function Hall of Shame’ series profiling key players in gain-of-function research.

In our recent profile of Bill Gates, we posed the following questions:

• Were his eerily accurate predictions of COVID-19 a form of wish fulfillment?

• Was he simply prescient, or did he have a hand in shaping the conditions that made the pandemic inevitable? 

Most importantly, since SARS-CoV-2 may have escaped from a Chinese lab where gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses were funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Pentagon, has Gates been involved in the collection and manipulation of deadly viruses? 

As this report will show, the answer is yes.

Virus hunting is one of Gates’ passions. 

When a health minister from Indonesia unexpectedly rallied most of the Global South to assert sovereignty over the viruses found within their borders and refused to share samples with the World Health Organization without promises from the pharmaceutical companies to share the vaccines and antivirals they’d create from them in return, Gates personally crushed her movement by leading her to believe that his foundation would fund Indonesia’s access to these medicines and then failing to follow through once the virus-sharing had resumed.

SIGN THE PETITION: Demand an Immediate Global Ban on Gain-of-Function ‘Biomedical’ and ‘Biodefense’ Research!

Gain-of-function research is one of Gates’ funding priorities.

When Anthony Fauci decided to fund research on the H5N1 bird flu virus that was akin to weaponization, Gates directed grants from his foundation to support Fauci’s hand-picked scientists and their gain-of-function experiments. Gates has even funded experiments at the Pentagon’s military labs in foreign countries.

Gates now employs the U.S.’s top virus hunter.

This report focuses on Dr. Scott F. Dowell, the Gates Foundation’s deputy director for “surveillance and epidemiology.”

Dr. Dowell knows all about the U.S. government’s investments in the collection and manipulation of deadly viruses, because he’s a virus hunter himself, having led global infectious disease surveillance at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 21 years (1993-2014).

In 2003, Dowell was part of the international team that isolated and identified the novel coronavirus associated with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the first SARS-CoV virus. 

But, it is his 2005 discovery, “Probable person-to-person transmission of avian influenza A (H5N1),” that connects him to the controversy over so-called “gain-of-function” experiments, also known as “dual-use research of concern.”

Dowell’s work closely mirrors that of the virus hunters who are likely responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. In his virus hunting, he took a special interest in novel zoonotic viruses that showed promise for human-to-human transmission.

2. He hunted viruses with the intention of getting them back to the lab to be manipulated with genetic engineering and synthetic biology to increase their pandemic threat.

3. These experiments are known as “gain-of-function” or “dual-use research of concern” because of their similarity to biological weapons research.

4. He partnered with the Pentagon on his CDC work, creating a vast global network of laboratories for virus hunting and dual-use research. Dowell’s work has helped position the U.S. military as the world’s largest pharmaceutical company.

The only significant difference between Dowell and his fellow virus hunters, Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is that a pandemic of the virus he personally hunted, the H5N1 bird flu virus, has yet to come to pass.

In February 2005, Dowell told the story of his H5N1 discovery to Michael Specter at the New Yorker. It was published in a report titled, “Nature’s Bioterrorist: Is there any way to prevent a deadly avian-flu pandemic?”

An eleven-year-old girl who lived with her aunt in Kamphaeng Phet, a remote village in Thailand, contracted avian influenza from her family’s chickens. Her aunt took her to the hospital, but the fever kept rising. The girl’s mother, who lived near Bangkok, where she worked at a factory, rushed to her bedside; sixteen hours later, her daughter was dead. 

Two weeks later, her mother, who hadn’t been exposed to the family’s sick chickens, died in a hospital near Bangkok with similar flu symptoms. As Dowell told Specter:

“Our Thai colleagues called us and said, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Kamphaeng Phet?’ And on the way up there they told me the story. And I just said, ‘We absolutely have to get hold of this virus.’ This could be the first clear case of person-to-person transmission, the beginning of something very significant, something terrifying. So the girl had died and been cremated, and the mother was dead and embalmed. She was literally at the wat, awaiting cremation. The Thai doctor who was riding in the car with me was calling on his mobile phone to the team there, telling them to do whatever they had to do to hold that embalmed body out and take some blood or a tissue sample.”

Dowell described the discovery as a “fluke,” but Specter notes that Dowell’s International Emerging Infections Program was actively monitoring Thailand for H5N1 with “more than a million residents under surveillance for signs of pneumonia and other bacterial infections.”

In Thailand, where Dowell’s team had the full cooperation of the Royal Thai Army and the Thailand Ministry of Public Health, this kind of virus hunting wasn’t very controversial in 2005. 

But, it should have been. Dowell was collaborating closely with the Pentagon’s Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences (AFRIMS), established in Thailand in 1958, when the U.S. had an official offensive biological weapons program. 

According to an officer who worked for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Thailand:

“Thailand was the laboratory for the soft side and Vietnam was the laboratory for the hard side or things that go boom.” 

The quote is included in Annie Jacobsen’s book, “The Pentagon’s Brain,” where she details some of DARPA’s experiments in Thailand. DARPA is listed among AFRIMS’ many collaborators.

AFRIMS hasn’t become as controversial as the Pentagon’s Indonesian lab, which ended up getting kicked out of that country (more on that below), but Thailand’s lackadaisical attitude towards U.S. virus hunting certainly changed when a scandal erupted in Indonesia that prompted Thailand, as well as India, Brazil and Nigeria, to agitate for sovereign control over viruses within their borders. 

These extraordinary events are covered in Edward Hammond’s 2009 article, “Indonesia fights to change WHO rules on flu vaccines,” and Alan Sipress’s 2010 book, “The Fatal Strain.”

They took place under the leadership of the courageous and controversial Siti Fadilah Supari, Indonesia’s Health Minister from 2004-2009 and a member of the Presidential Advisory Council from 2010 to 2012. 

With the world’s highest number of human H5N1 cases and a staggering case-fatality rate of over 80 percent, Indonesia desperately needed help from the WHO. In response to Dr. Supari’s urgent requests for medicine, WHO sent a limited emergency supply of Tamiflu, but said that Indonesia would have to wait months to buy more and pay up to forty dollars per treatment.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s Naval Medical Research Unit Two (NAMRU-2), operating in 62,000 square feet of space in three buildings within the Indonesian Ministry of Health, was clandestinely hunting the H5N1 virus. The lab’s permission to operate had expired in 2000 and Indonesia asked it to cease all activities in 2005, but the U.S. military continued to collect viruses, paying under the table for samples from doctors in Indonesian hospitals. 

Then, Dr. Supari learned that foreign pharmaceutical companies were manufacturing vaccines with Indonesian H5N1 virus.  

At that point, Dr. Supari demanded that WHO acknowledge Indonesia’s sovereignty over its viruses and sign a material transfer agreement, which would limit what could be done with Indonesia’s virus samples and entitle it to compensation for commercial use.

In December 2006, Indonesia stopped sending H5N1 samples to WHO.

At a WHO Executive Board meeting in 2007, Thailand’s representative spoke up in support of the Indonesian position, saying:

“We are sending our virus [samples] to the rich countries to produce antivirals and vaccines. And when the pandemic occurs, they survive and we die. . . . We are not opposed to sharing of information and virus [samples, but we will share them] on the condition that every country will have equal opportunity to get access to vaccine and antivirals if such a pandemic occurs.” 

WHO refused.

Gates was the fixer who made sure foreign virus hunting could continue in Indonesia.

The Gates Foundation led Indonesia to believe that it would fund the production of H5N1 vaccines. With this expectation, Indonesia immediately resumed sharing bird-flu virus samples, but the promised vaccine stockpile failed to materialize, even though the U.S. was able to create its own cache of H5N1 vaccines after Congress appropriated $7.1 billion for pandemic preparation in 2005 (the U.S. vaccine was created with a Vietnam strain).

In January 2008, Dr. Supari published a book on her campaign for viral sovereignty and vaccine justice, “It’s Time for the World to Change.”

Her book included evidence that genetic data from Indonesia's virus samples were transferred by the Centers for Disease Control to a database at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“It was the same laboratory that designed the atomic bomb to destroy Hiroshima in 1945,” Dr. Supari wrote, adding: 

“It is likely that they utilize the same facility to research and develop chemical weapons. What a terrifying fact! The DNA sequence data had been the privilege for the scientists in Los Alamos. Whether they used it to make vaccines or develop chemical weapons would depend on the need and the interest of the U.S. government.”

Dr. Supari was vilified for raising the specter of biological weapons. The English version of her book was banned. In 2017, she was sentenced to jail on a bribery conviction and wasn’t released until October, 2020. 

The current Indonesian government strictly enforces its view that Dr. Supari is a dangerous conspiracy theorist. In November 2020, the drummer of the Indonesian punk band Superman Is Dead was sentenced to 14 months in jail. 

According to the Jakarta Post, one of his offenses was that he “accused ‘the global elite,’ including United States billionaire Bill Gates, of being behind the pandemic and has publicly supported former health minister and graft convict Siti Fadilah Supari, who has voiced similar suspicions about the Microsoft cofounder.”

Dr. Supari’s life has been ruined, and her supporters are being jailed, but her cause garnered some success. 

In 2010, NAMRU-2 was forced out of the country due to what the military called Dr. Supari’s “unsubstantiated accusations of espionage, biological weapons research, and development of ‘new diseases’ to enhance pharmaceutical companies’ profit margins.”

In 2011, the WHO’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework stated that countries sharing virus samples with WHO's Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System should be compensated with vaccines and antivirals when needed. However, the Framework was:

“not legally binding, avoid[ed] intellectual property issues that complicated the negotiations, d[id] not include commitments from developed countries to donate portions of influenza vaccines they purchase[d], and face[d] implementation challenges in an increasingly difficult global health environment.)”

Her worries about biological weapons turned out to be justified. In 2012, a paper was published explaining how the Indonesian H5N1 virus had, essentially, been weaponized.

Dowell’s support for gain-of-function experiments on H5N1

Dowell has been an important spokesperson for the government’s policy of collecting and manipulating novel zoonotic viruses to maximize their pandemic potential, a strategy more suited to a biological weapons program than disease surveillance, and one that likely resulted in the current pandemic.

In his 2006 piece, “The Science: How a Human Pandemic Could Start,” Dowell wrote:

“While rare instances of H5N1 passing from person to person have been documented, there is no indication that it can do so efficiently. That could change. … A series of mutations or a single genetic reassortment event (a type of gene swapping among viruses) could enable H5N1 to spread efficiently among humans, triggering a pandemic. … H5N1 may evolve into something that’s easily spread through coughing, sneezing, or contact with contaminated hands.”

In his wisdom, Fauci decided to see if he could make that happen in a lab. 

As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Fauci commissioned two gain-of-function research teams with grants titled, “Pandemic Potential of H5N1 Influenza Viruses,” and “Understanding the Emergence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Viruses” 

Gates chipped in, too, with grants 48339 and OPPGH5383 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

The men Fauci chose to lead the H5N1 teams were scientists who he had funded since 1990 under grants with titles including “Influenza Virus Assembly.” 

They were Ron Fouchier at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Tokyo. 

Even though this research had been ongoing and he had been funding it for more than 15 years, Fauci positioned the Fouchier and Kawaoka projects as a reaction to the threat of an H5N1 pandemic. 

In February 2006, Fauci convened a one-day in-house “NIAID Influenza Research Summit” to identify influenza research priorities. In September, he opened up the topic to a 35-member “Blue Ribbon Panel on Influenza Research” that included Fouchier and Kawaoka. Then he gave them grants, which he claimed were intended to carry out research the panel recommended, but nowhere in the panel’s report does it suggest that gain-of-function experiments akin to biological weapons research should be conducted. 

Fouchier and Kawaoka’s now infamous gain-of-function experiments showed that, through lab manipulation, H5N1 could be altered to become transmissible among humans via airborne infection. 

Their 2012 papers cited Dowell’s 2005 discovery of a person-to-person H5N1 infection in Thailand among their references, but used the Indonesian and Vietnamese strains of the virus.

H5N1 gain-of-function experiments shock scientists and public

The reaction to the H5N1 experiments that Dowell asked for and Fauci commissioned was explosive. As the editorial board of the New York Times wrote in January 2012: 

“Scientists have long worried that an influenza virus that has ravaged poultry and wild birds in Asia might evolve to pose a threat to humans. Now scientists financed by the National Institutes of Health have shown in a laboratory how that could happen. In the process they created a virus that could kill tens or hundreds of millions of people if it escaped confinement or was stolen by terrorists. 

“We nearly always champion unfettered scientific research and open publication of the results. In this case it looks like the research should never have been undertaken because the potential harm is so catastrophic and the potential benefits from studying the virus so speculative. 

“Unless the scientific community and health officials can provide more persuasive justifications than they have so far, the new virus, which is in the Netherlands, ought to be destroyed. …

“In the future, it is imperative that any such experiments be rigorously analyzed for potential dangers — preferably through an international review mechanism, but also by governmental funding agencies — before they are undertaken, not after the fact as is happening in this case.”

As we related in our profile of Christian Hassell, Fauci was forced to suspend his funding of gain-of-function research on pathogens with pandemic potential, but the funding ban was short-lived and selectively enforced. 

Daszak, Zhengali and Baric’s work on coronaviruses continued uninterrupted with NIAID funding, and when the funding ban was officially lifted, it was revealed that the review committee that was established to monitor the research was operating in secret. Not even its membership was made public, let alone its deliberations or decisions. 

To date, the only thing that has been revealed about the so-called P3CO (Potentially Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight Committee) is that Assistant Secretary for Pandemic Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec put Hassell in charge of it.

So, for all the kerfuffle the H5N1 virus hunting and weaponization caused, virtually nothing has changed.

We can’t even get a real investigation into whether COVID-19 originated in a lab.

Meanwhile, a vast international network of Pentagon-funded virus hunters and military laboratories engaged in dual-use experiments that could cause a lab accident or be diverted to bioweapons research continues.

In his 21 years at the CDC, Dowell built and directed this network.

Dowell partners with the Pentagon on global disease surveillance network

The U.S. military has become the world’s largest pharmaceutical company.

As we discovered in our investigations of Robert Kadlec and Christian Hassell, this didn’t happen in 2020 with Operation Warp Speed, as extraordinary as the military’s role in that has been. 

It’s history goes back to the founding of the U.S. Army Medical School in 1893. It was the U.S. military that invented and deployed some of the first vaccines. 

Since the 1940s and even earlier, the military, building upon its biological weapons expertise, has invested in a permanent infrastructure of laboratories and scientists around the world for disease surveillance and epidemiology, as well as the development and testing of medical countermeasures. 

As we discussed in our Fauci profile, while the military’s increasing focus on pathogens and infectious disease has been a long-term project, the post-9/11 period during which Dowell worked at the CDC was transformative and established the military’s dominance in this sector.

Dowell helped to shape this.

In 2002, he published, “Protecting the nation's health in an era of globalization; CDC's global infectious disease strategy,” where he announced his vision for “A Global Approach to Disease Surveillance”:

“In the years ahead, regional surveillance networks should expand, interact, and evolve into a global “network of networks” that provides early warning of emerging health threats and increased capacity to monitor the effectiveness of public health control measures.  

“CDC’s laboratorians, epidemiologists, and behavioral scientists will maintain an active research program to develop tools to detect, diagnose, predict, and eliminate diseases of global or regional importance. When a new disease threat is reported anywhere in the world, CDC’s laboratorians and field investigators will be available to help answer questions about disease transmission, treatment, control, and prevention.”

Dowell’s strategy for realizing this goal was to connect the U.S. military armed services labs to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) labs to the CDC labs.

In 2004, with funding from Congress that he personally lobbied for, he created the U.S. Global Disease Detection network and became its director. According to a 2011 report from the Gates-Foundation-funded Center for Strategic International Studies:

“In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) embedded a new Global Disease Detection and Response Center (GDDRC) site in NAMRU-3 [the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 3 in Cairo Egypt], both physically in the Navy laboratory’s offices and organizationally as part of its command structure. 

“The results of these collaborations between GEIS [Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center’s Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System], CDC, the overseas laboratories, and their partners include an influenza detection network throughout Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia; malaria detec- tion along the Cambodian border regions, including emerging drug resistance; detection of the first human cases of avian influenza in Egypt; predictive models for Rift Valley fever in Kenya, in partnership with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); ALERTA, an electronic disease detection system with comprehensive coverage of the Peruvian military; disease detection programs in all 27 Egyptian governates; and direct translation of epidemiological data from Nepal into new northern hemisphere vaccine strains for Influenza A (H3N2).”

In 2009, Edward Hammond reported that the size of the program doubled between 2005, when the network was active in 30 countries and included three high containment (BSL-3) labs with a total processing capacity of 9,000 influenza specimens per year, and 2007, when it was active in 65 countries and included eight BSL-3 labs and the capacity to process 18,000 samples annually.

In 2014, while he was still at the CDC, Dowell launched the Global Health Security Agenda as a joint program with the Department of Defense. It included 30 countries, including Uganda and Vietnam (where the CDC had run pilot projects in 2013) and Ethiopia, Georgia, India, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, and Thailand, which were brought in by DTRA.

The core of the CDC-Pentagon collaboration Dowell fostered was, and continues to be, the labs of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and Naval Medical Research Center, both of which receive funding from the Gates Foundation. These include AFRIMS, Dowell’s partner in Thailand, NAMRU-2, which was relocated to Cambodia after being kicked out of Indonesia, and the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate at the Richard M. Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia (USAMRD-Georgia). 

By locating CDC disease surveillance within the Pentagon’s network of labs, Dowell has largely shielded it from public scrutiny, but documents leaked from USAMRD-Georgia to reporter Dilyana Gaytandzhieva have provided the basis for a disturbing series of Arms Watch exposés on the lab’s sometimes deadly research. 

Gaytandzhieva also found that the lab hunted bat coronaviruses with Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance.

Another potential link between Dowell’s network of virus-hunting military labs and the current pandemic is the collaboration between Shi Zhengli’s Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Naval Medical Research Center on “Comparative Analysis of Bat Genomes Provides Insight into the Evolution of Flight and Immunity,” research published in 2012 with Pentagon funding through DTRA.

From the available evidence, it seems most likely that the COVID-19 pandemic is the result of bat coronaviruses collected in Yunnan in 2013 that were accidentally released seven years later and 1,000 miles away in Wuhan -- after they had been manipulated in gain-of-function experiments involving genetic engineering and synthetic biology.

But, with all the labs around the world―including Pentagon labs funded by the Gates Foundation―being involved in coronavirus hunting and experimentation, the Wuhan Institute of Virology isn’t the only place we should look for the origins of COVID-19―or the next pandemic.

Alexis Baden-Mayer is political director for the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

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