A Note on the Ukraine “Biolab” Conspiracy Narrative

At Foreign Policy, Justin Ling discusses Glenn Greenwald’s extrapolation from evidence given by U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland to Marco Rubio concerning biolabs in Ukraine:

Writer Glenn Greenwald, increasingly aligned with far-right polemicists, spun an imaginary narrative where Rubio was “visibly stunned,” characterizing Nuland’s comments as confirmation of U.S-controlled or created biological weapons in Ukraine.

Greenwald’s theory was quickly endorsed by Fox News host and de facto voice of the American far-right Tucker Carlson. Carlson dismissed the idea that QAnon (“whatever that is,” Carlson said) was responsible for the original theory—despite the theory’s originator being a longtime QAnon follower. Carlson declared Nuland’s testimony confirmation that “the Russian disinformation they’ve been telling us for days is a lie, and a conspiracy theory, and crazy, and immoral to believe is, in fact, totally and completely true,” he said. “Woah.”

Greenwald also cited the story as evidence that “disinformation” trackers cannot be trusted, and he responded to criticisms that he was spouting Russian propaganda by denouncing “drooling McCarthyite cretins like @peterjukes”. Of course, for characters such as Greenwald the way to deal with apparently new information is to assimilate it into a pre-existing narrative, rather than to Google around for a bit and look for the actual wider context. In this instance, Russia and Greenwald also capitalised on an increasing sense among the public that biolabs are inherently sinister and nefarious, a view engendered by sensationalising articles about the origins of Covid-19.

The reality – that US funding assisted Ukraine with upgrading legacy ex-Soviet institutions involved in useful pathogen research – has now been dealt with in detail across the mainstream media, including even on Fox News itself (see also here).

One particular line of bogus intrigue that caught my eye was in a post by Natalie Winters at Raheem Kassam’s National Pulse, which referred to a “deleted” page on a site called BioPrepWatch.com. That page featured a brief news item from 2010 called “Biolab opens in Ukraine”, which included the following details:

U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar applauded the opening of the Interim Central Reference Laboratory in Odessa, Ukraine, this week, announcing that it will be instrumental in researching dangerous pathogens used by bioterrorists.

…Lugar said plans for the facility began in 2005 when he and then Senator Barack Obama entered a partnership with Ukrainian officials. Lugar and Obama also helped coordinate efforts between the U.S and Ukrainian researchers that year in an effort to study and help prevent avian flu.

This is all consistent with information that is easily available online, and the piece itself is obviously derivative of some press release (the article is attributed to one “Tina Redlup”, but this is probably a house name for a team tasked with generating all kinds of “bio”-related news content). The only reason that anyone would bother to refer to it now is because its deletion might appear suspicious – but for the fact that all of the site’s old news content was deleted in 2017, before the site was revamped in 2020.

Meanwhile, the academic Marc Owen Jones has done a cluster analysis of Twitter accounts. He found a “few tight clusters mentioning biolabs, and seemingly helping push the conspiratorial narrative including numerous Americans, such as @JackPosobiec @ChuckCallesto @bennyjohnson”. There is also further analysis by Kate Starbird.

UPDATE: Greenwald’s interpretation has also been amplified on YouTube by Russell Brand, a middle-aged former comedian turned conspiracy-peddler.

UPDATE 2: At GB News, Mark Steyn gave a monologue titled “Wuhan 2.0?”, which was afterwards re-uploaded by RT to Gab. As summarised by RT on the same post:

Steyn’s eight-minute speech targeted Dr Anthony Fauci’s involvement and apparent cover-up of US gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and slammed the “court eunuchs of the legacy media” for insisting the Ukrainian biolabs were innocent.

UPDATE 3: A useful debunking thread has appeared on Twitter by Olga V. Pettersson, a Russian geneticist living in Sweden. It is in Russian, but has been translated into English by Ilya Lozovsky, senior editor at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

One Response

  1. Russell Brand’s age hardly seems relevant.

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