Story 1: Tyrant Obama’s October Surprise Shafts American People: Permanent Resident Cards (PRC) and Employment Authorization Document (EAD) cards (green cards and work permit cards) — The requirement is for an estimated minimum of 4 million cards annually with the potential to buy as many as 34 million cards total! — Illegal, Unconstitutional and Impeachable — Throw The Tyrant Out — Deport 30-50 Million Illegal Aleins — Videos
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Immigration Professor, Unlawful Presence and Unlawful Presence Waivers, Part 3 of 3
EXCLUSIVE: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION QUIETLY PREPARES ‘SURGE’ OF MILLIONS OF NEW IMMIGRANT IDS
Despite no official action from the president ahead of the election, the Obama administration has quietly begun preparing to issue millions of work authorization permits, suggesting the implementation of a large-scale executive amnesty may have already begun.
Unnoticed until now, a draft solicitation for bids issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Oct. 6 says potential vendors must be capable of handling a “surge” scenario of 9 million id cards in one year “to support possible future immigration reform initiative requirements.”
The request for proposals says the agency will need a minimum of four million cards per year. In the “surge,” scenario in 2016, the agency would need an additional five million cards – more than double the baseline annual amount for a total of 9 million.
“The guaranteed minimum for each ordering period is 4,000,000 cards. The estimated maximum for the entire contract is 34,000,000 cards,” the document says.
The agency is buying the materials need to construct both Permanent Residency Cards (PRC), commonly known as green cards, as well as Employment Authorization Documentation (EAD) cards which have been used to implement President Obama’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program. The RFP does not specify how many of each type of card would be issued.
Jessica Vaughan, an immigration expert at the Center for Immigration Studies and former State Department official, said the document suggests a new program of remarkable breadth.
The RFP “seems to indicate that the president is contemplating an enormous executive action that is even more expansive than the plan that Congress rejected in the ‘Gang of Eight’ bill,” Vaughan said.
Last year, Vaughan reviewed the Gang of Eight’s provisions to estimate that it would have roughly doubled legal immigration. In the “surge” scenario of this RFP, even the relatively high four million cards per year would be more than doubled, meaning that even on its own terms, the agency is preparing for a huge uptick of 125 percent its normal annual output.
It’s not unheard of for federal agencies to plan for contingencies, but the request specifically explains that the surge is related to potential changes in immigration policy.
“The Contractor shall demonstrate the capability to support potential ‘surge’ in PRC and EAD card demand for up to 9M cards during the initial period of performance to support possible future immigration reform initiative requirements,” the document says.
A year ago, such a plan might have been attributed to a forthcoming immigration bill. Now, following the summer’s border crisis, the chances of such a new law are extremely low, giving additional credence to the possibility the move is in preparation for an executive amnesty by Obama.
Even four million combined green cards and EADs is a significant number, let alone the “surge” contemplated by USCIS. For instance, in the first two years after Obama unilaterally enacted DACA, about 600,000 people were approved by USCIS under the program. Statistics provided by USCIS on its website show that the entire agency had processed 862,000 total EADs in 2014 as of June.
Vaughan said EADs are increasingly coming under scrutiny as a tool used by the Obama administration to provide legalization for groups of illegal aliens short of full green card status.
In addition to providing government approval to work for illegal aliens, EADs also cost significantly less in fees to acquire, about $450 compared to more than $1000. In many states, EADs give aliens rights to social services and the ability to obtain drivers’ licenses.
Vaughan noted there are currently about 4.5 million individuals waiting for approval for the green cards having followed immigration law and obtained sponsorships from relatives in the U.S. or otherwise, less than the number of id cards contemplated by the USCIS “surge.”
USCIS officials did not provide additional information about the RFP by press time.
Solicitation Number: HSSCCG-14-R-00028
Agency: Department of Homeland Security
Office: Citizenship & Immigration Services
Location: USCIS Contracting Office
There have been modifications to this notice. You are currently viewing the original synopsis. To view the most recent modification/amendment, click here
USCIS Contracting will be posting a solicitation for the requirement of Card Stock used by the USCIS Document Management Division. The objective of this procurement is to provide card consumables for the Document Management Division (DMD) that will be used to produce Permanent Resident Cards (PRC) and Employment Authorization Documentation (EAD) cards. The requirement is for an estimated 4 million cards annually with the potential to buy as many as 34 million cards total.The ordering periods for this requirement shall be for a total of five (5) years. This is a Firm Fixed Price (FFP) supply purchase for commercial items, utilizing North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code 325211 and Product / Service Code (PSC) 9330. This requirement is for the acquisition of 100% polycarbonate solid body card stock with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and holographic images embedded within the card construction substrate layers, card design service, and storage.
The solicitation will be posted at this FedBidOpps webpage.
USCIS is charged with processing immigrant visa petitions, naturalization petitions, and asylum and refugeeapplications, as well as making adjudicative decisions performed at the service centers, and managing all other immigration benefits functions (i.e., not immigration enforcement) performed by the former INS. Other responsibilities include:
Administration of immigration services and benefits
Adjudicating asylum claims
Issuing employment authorization documents (EAD)
Adjudicating petitions for non-immigrant temporary workers (H-1B, O-1, etc.)
While core immigration benefits functions remain the same as under the INS, a new goal is to process applications efficiently and effectively. Improvement efforts have included attempts to reduce the applicant backlog, as well as providing customer service through different channels, including the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) with information in English and Spanish, Application Support Centers (ASCs), the Internet and other channels. The enforcement of immigration laws remain under CBP and ICE.
USCIS focuses on two key points on the immigrant’s journey towards civic integration: when they first become permanent residents and when they are ready to begin the formal naturalization process. A lawful permanent resident is eligible to become a citizen of the United States after holding the Permanent Resident Card for at least five continuous years, with no trips out of the United States that last for 180 days or more. If, however, the lawful permanent resident marries a U.S. citizen, eligibility for U.S. citizenship is shortened to three years so long as the resident has been living with the spouse continuously for at least three years and the spouse has been a citizen for at least three years.
USCIS handles all forms and processing materials related to immigration and naturalization. This is evident from USCIS’s predecessor, the INS, (Immigration and Naturalization Service) which is defunct as of May 9, 2003.
USCIS currently handles two kinds of forms: those relating to immigration, and those related to naturalization. Forms are designated by a specific name, and an alphanumeric sequence consisting of one letter, followed by two or three digits. Forms related to immigration are designated with an I (for example, I-551, Permanent Resident Card) and forms related to naturalization are designated by an N (for example, N-400, Application for Naturalization).
Also, USCIS runs an online appointment scheduling service known as INFOPASS. This system allows people with questions about immigration to come into their local USCIS office and speak directly with a government employee about their case and so on. This is an important way in which USCIS serves the public. USCIS maintains a blog entitled “The Beacon” as well as the “@uscis” Twitter account.
Unlike most other federal agencies, USCIS is funded almost entirely by user fees. Under President George W. Bush’s FY2008 budget request, direct congressional appropriations made about 1% of the USCIS budget and about 99% of the budget was funded through fees. The total USCIS FY2008 budget was projected to be $2.6 billion.
USCIS consists of 18,000 federal employees and contractors working at 250 offices around the world.
On March 1, 2003, the INS ceased to exist and services provided by that organization transitioned into USCIS. Eduardo Aguirre was appointed the first USCIS Director by President Bush. In December 2005, Emilio T. Gonzalez, Ph. D., was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Director of USCIS, and he held this position until April 2008. Nominated by President Barack Obama on April 24 and unanimously confirmed on August 7 by the U.S. Senate, Alejandro Mayorkas was sworn in as USCIS Director on August 12, 2009.
An employment authorization document (EAD, Form I-766), EAD card, known popularly as a “work permit”, is a document issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that provides its holder a legal right to work in the US. It is similar to, but should not be confused with the green card.
Certain ‘aliens’ (non-residents) who are temporarily in the United States may file a Form I-765, application for employment authorization, to request an EAD. An EAD is issued for a specific period of time based on alien’s immigration situation. Foreign nationals with an EAD can lawfully work in the United States for any employer.
Aliens who are sponsored by US employers and issued temporary work visas for such as H, I, L-1 or O-1 visas are authorized to work for the sponsoring employer, through the duration of the visa . This is known as ‘employment incident to status’. Aliens on such work visas do not qualify for an EAD according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service regulations (8 CFR Part 274a).
Currently the EAD is issued in the form of a standard credit card-size plastic card enhanced with multiple security features. The EAD card contains some basic information about alien: name, birth date, sex, immigrant category, country of birth, photo, alien registration number (also called “A-number”), card number, restrictive terms and conditions, and dates of validity.
The eligibility for employment authorizations are detailed in the Federal Regulations at 8 C.F.R. §274a.12. Only aliens who fall under the enumerated categories are eligible for an employment authorization document.
There are more than 40 types of immigration status that make their holders eligible to apply for an EAD. Some are nationality-based and apply to a very small number of people. Others are much broader, such as those covering the spouses of E-1, E-2, E-3 or L-1 visa holders.
USCIS issues EADs in the following categories:
Renewal EAD: Renewal cannot be filed more than 120 days before the current employment authorization expires.
Replacement EAD: Replaces a lost, stolen, or mutilated EAD. A replacement EAD also replaces an EAD that was issued with incorrect information, such as a misspelled name.
Obtaining an EAD
Applicants would file Form I-765 (application for employment authorization) by mail with the USCIS Regional Service Center that serves the area where they live. They may also be eligible to file Form I-765 electronically (seeUSCIS Electronic Filing). For employment based green card applicants, your priority date needs to be current to apply for Adjustment of Status (I485) at which time you can apply for EAD. Typically, it is recommended to apply for Advance Parole (AP) at the same time so that you do not have to get a visa stamping when re-entering US from a foreign country.
An interim EAD is an EAD issued to an eligible applicant when USCIS has failed to adjudicate an application within 90 days of receipt of a properly filed EAD application or within 30 days of a properly filed initial EAD application based on an asylum application filed on or after January 4, 1995. The interim EAD will be granted for a period not to exceed 240 days and is subject to the conditions noted on the document.
An interim EAD is no longer issued by local service centers. One can however take an INFOPASS appointment and place a service request at local centers, explicitly asking for it if the application exceeds 90 days and 30 days for asylum applicants without an adjudication .
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Americans want flight restrictions from Ebola countries. And it’s not close.
By Aaron Blake
Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they are concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the United States, and about the same amount say they want flight restrictions from the countries in West Africa where the disease has quickly spread.
A new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News shows 67 percent of people say they would support restricting entry to the United States from countries struggling with Ebola. Another 91 percent would like to see stricter screening procedures at U.S. airports in response to the disease’s spread.
Thus far, some countries in Europe have restricted flights from these countries in West Africa, and an increasing number of U.S. lawmakers are calling for similar bans. The White House has yet to increase restrictions, with federal officials saying such a move could actually increase the spread of the disease by hampering the movement of aid workers and supplies.
Concern about Ebola, at this point, is real but not pervasive. About two-thirds (65 percent) say they are concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the United States. But while people are broadly concerned about an outbreak, they are not necessarily worried about that potential outbreak directly affecting them. Just 43 percent of people are worried about themselves or someone in their family becoming infected – including 20 percent who are “very worried.”
That finding echoes a Pew poll from last week which showed just 11 percent were “very worried” about themselves or their families becoming infected. Since that survey, Dallas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan died, and news that a nurse who provided care for him became infected broke on the final day of the Post-ABC poll.
By comparison, slightly more Americans said they were worried about the H1N1 virus – a.k.a. the swine flu – in October 2009 (52 percent). Concern about Ebola is about on-par with concern about Avian influenza – a.k.a. the bird flu – in 2006 (41 percent) and slightly higher than concern about Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 (as high as 38 percent).
The support for increasing restrictions puts the White House in a tough spot. Given the moves by other countries and the American public’s stance, there is increasing pressure to act. And given the very real — but still somewhat muted — concerns about the disease, that’s significant, especially if the disease continues to expand.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that all travelers from Ebola outbreak countries in West Africa will be funneled through one of five U.S. airports with enhanced screening starting Wednesday.
Customs and Border Protection within the department began enhanced screening — checking the traveler’s temperature and asking about possible exposure to Ebola — at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Oct. 11.
Enhanced screening for travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea was expanded Oct. 16 to Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, New Jersey’s Newark and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta international airports.
Those airports were supposed to screen 94% of the average 150 people per day arriving from the three countries. Lawmakers from other states asked for enhanced screening at their airports, too.
Some lawmakers have called for more restrictions, such as suspending visas or denying entry at ports for citizens from the three countries.
Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, announced that travelers from West Africa must arrive at one of the five airports starting Wednesday.
“We are working closely with the airlines to implement these restrictions with minimal travel disruption,” Johnson said. “If not already handled by the airlines, the few impacted travelers should contact the airlines for rebooking as needed.”
The enhanced screening will apply to anyone who traveled recently to, from or through the three outbreak countries, according to the department’s announcement to be published Thursday in the Federal Register. Customs and Border Protection will work with airlines to identify potential travelers before they board, but airlines will be obligated to comply with the rule for carrying to the USA any passengers who recently traveled through the region, according to the filing.
The restrictions should affect only about nine travelers per day who would have arrived at other airports. Katie Cody, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, which serves Europe from hubs such as Philadelphia and Charlotte, said the airline has no concerns about the change.
“We have been tracking that, and we don’t have any concerns because the numbers are so small,” Cody said.
British Airways, which serves a variety of U.S. destinations other than the five targeted airports, said it would comply with the measures.
“Customers affected will be offered a refund or will be rerouted if there is availability,” spokeswoman Michele Kropf said.
Republican lawmakers offered muted praise but pressed for stricter travel restrictions.
“In addition to requiring all travelers from at-risk countries to fly through airports with enhanced screening measures in place, I continue to call on the administration to suspend all visas from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The head of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said a “real solution” is to deny entry to anyone from the three countries under a provision of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act.
“President Obama has a real solution at his disposal under current law and can use it at any time to temporarily ban foreign nationals from entering the United States from Ebola-ravaged countries,” Goodlatte said. “The vast majority of Americans strongly support such a travel moratorium, and I urge the president to take every step possible to protect the American people from danger.”
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said steering travelers through the five airports is a sensible precaution.
“As agreed upon by experts in both the public health and transportation communities, issuing a blanket travel ban would not only be counterproductive, but it would also irresponsibly impede getting much-needed supplies and relief to the countries that need it most,” Conyers said.
Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group for all aspects of travel, praised the move to calm travel concerns while avoiding a travel ban.
“The Obama administration continues to heed the counsel of an overwhelming consensus of health and security experts and resist calls for any sort of travel ban on the grounds that it will be counterproductive to efforts to contain Ebola,” Dow said.
A Liberian national, Thomas Eric Duncan, who became the first person diagnosed with the disease in the USA after arriving in Dallas on Sept. 20, had a temperature of 97.3 degrees but didn’t tell airport officials in Monrovia, Liberia, that he had cared for a pregnant woman suffering from Ebola. He died Oct. 8, and two nurses who treated him have become infected.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the enhanced screening adds a layer of protection against Ebola entering the country.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s policy to funnel all passengers arriving from Ebola hot spots to one of these five equipped airports is a good and effective step towards tightening the net and further protecting our citizens,” Schumer said.
Obama and Johnson have said they will continue to monitor travel restrictions for possible changes.
“We are continually evaluating whether additional restrictions or added screening and precautionary measures are necessary to protect the American people and will act accordingly,” Johnson said.
Gabbard Calls On CDC To Increase Incubation Period To Prevent Ebola Spread
By Chad Blair
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has called on the Center for Disease Control to implement stricter incubation guidelines for people who have been in contact with patients “confirmed or suspected” to have the Ebola virus.
According to a press release from her office, Gabbard is calling on the CDC to increase the quarantine and restriction period from the 21-day standard to 42 days, “based on the latest scientific studies and the World Health Organization report that the incubation period for the deadly Ebola virus can extend as long as 42 days.”
On Friday, Gabbard called for the “immediate suspension” of visas for citizens of Ebola-stricken West African nations as well as flights from those countries into the United States.
“Recent mistakes have revealed that the U.S. public health system is clearly not fully prepared to combat Ebola and prevent its spread in the United States,” she said in a statement.
Democrats like Gabbard are among a growing number who are “beginning to sound more like Republicans when they talk about Ebola. And Republicans are moving into overdrive with their criticism of the government’s handling of the deadly virus,” according to The Washington Post.
“The sharpened rhetoric, strategists say, suggests Democrats fear President Obama’s response to Ebola in the United States could become a political liability in the midterm election and Republicans see an opportunity to tie increasing concerns about the disease to the public’s broader worries about Obama’s leadership.”
The Washington Post notes, however, that Gabbard is “a liberal Democrat who is not in any danger of losing reelection.” It also reports that a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that “67 percent of Americans would support restricting entry to the United States from countries fighting dealing with an Ebola crisis.”
How is the end of an Ebola outbreak decided and declared?
Information note – October 2014
Who decides the date?
The WHO Ebola outbreak response team is responsible for establishing the date of the end of the outbreak in collaboration with the affected country’s subcommittee for surveillance, epidemiology and laboratory.
How is the date determined?
An Ebola virus disease outbreak in a country can be declared over once 42 days have passed and no new cases have been detected. The 42 days represents twice the maximum incubation period for Ebola (21 days). This 42-day period starts from the last day that any person in the country had contact with a confirmed or probable Ebola case.
This includes health care workers who have been exposed to patients with Ebola virus disease, even if the health worker was wearing personal protective equipment and followed infection control procedures since such a person could be exposed accidentally without realizing it. In the setting of an Ebola treatment centre, the date of the last infectious contact is defined as the day when the last patient in the treatment centre tested negative for Ebola virus disease, using a real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test.
If no new case has been detected at the end of this 42-day period, the risk of a further case is very low, and the outbreak is declared over.
Why 42 days?
The maximum incubation period for Ebola virus disease is 21 days. The 42-day period set by WHO (twice the maximum incubation period) provides a margin of security to cover any possible missed cases, uncertainty in reporting dates or hidden chains of transmission. (*)
During the 42-day period, the surveillance system should be fully functional, so that all contacts of the last patient are followed to detect possible chains of transmission.
What is the procedure to make the declaration?
The WHO Ebola outbreak response team in collaboration with the affected country’s subcommittee for surveillance, epidemiology and laboratory determines the date of the end of the epidemic. The government of the affected country, in collaboration with WHO and international partners, makes an official declaration of the end of the epidemic.
The Obama administration has reversed course on putting travel restrictions on those coming from three West African nations tainted with Ebola and is putting in place demands that they enter only through five U.S. airports prepared to screen for the virus.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement that the new rules will take effect Wednesday, bowing to demands from both parties that the U.S. do a better job so secure the border from Ebola.
“Today, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s ongoing response to prevent the spread of Ebola to the United States, we are announcing travel restrictions in the form of additional screening and protective measures at our ports of entry for travelers from the three West African Ebola-affected countries,” said Johnson.
He said the rules require that anyone coming from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea enter the U.S. only through the five airports where special Ebola screenings have been set up: New York’s John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson and Chicago’s O’Hare.
“All passengers arriving in the United States whose travel originates in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea will be required to fly into one of the five airports that have the enhanced screening and additional resources in place. We are working closely with the airlines to implement these restrictions with minimal travel disruption. If not already handled by the airlines, the few impacted travelers should contact the airlines for rebooking, as needed,” said the statement.
He said that passengers flying into those airports on flights originating in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea “are subject to secondary screening and added protocols, including having their temperature taken, before they can be admitted into the United States. These airports account for about 94 percent of travelers flying to the United States from these countries.”
There are no direct, non-stop commercial flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to the U.S.
NIH unit treating Dallas nurse for Ebola is one of 4 special isolation facilities in U.S.
By Lena H. Sun
It has a specially designed air-flow system to prevent contaminated air from leaving the patient room. It requires anyone who enters to be buzzed in. Personnel who work there receive special training in infection control to prevent the spread of bioterror agents, natural or man-made. It also has a tiny gym.
Welcome to the Special Clinical Studies Unit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. It is a 4,000-square-foot unit inside the NIH Clinical Center, the nation’s only hospital dedicated to research, which provides free state-of-the-art care to very sick patients from all over the world.
Now it’s home to its first confirmed Ebola patient, Nina Pham.
Pham is the first patient with a confirmed infectious disease to be cared for in the special seven-bed unit, center director John Gallin said in an interview Friday. Opened in 2010 for patients who need advanced isolation and extended stays, the unit was initially designed to take care of personnel working at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in case they were exposed to infectious agents. In more recent years, it has been used to house healthy volunteers participating in live vaccine trials. The volunteers need to be monitored in a place where they can be safely quarantined, Gallin said. To accommodate those healthy volunteers, the unit has a dining room and a “tiny fitness area,” he said.
Pham, the first nurse diagnosed with Ebola after caring for a patient in Dallas, is in fair and stable condition, officials said Friday morning.
What does an Ebola isolation ward look like?
“We are giving her the best possible care on a symptomatic and systemic basis,” Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a news conference.
Pham, 26, was transferred to the facility, one of four in the country with a special biocontainment unit, late Thursday. She was diagnosed with Ebola on Sunday, becoming the first person to contract the disease on U.S. soil. Pham had been part of the team that treated Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who flew to Dallas last month before being diagnosed with Ebola. Duncan died last week, four days before it was announced that Pham had contracted the disease.
“There is no specific therapy that has been proven to be effective against Ebola, and that’s why excellent medical care is critical,” Fauci said. He said Pham was “very, very tired” from her trip.
Patients infected with the Ebola virus require a large number of staffers to provide care around-the-clock. At NIH, that comes out to about 27 people a week — doctors, nurses, support staff — for one patient, Gallin said. With about 50 to 60 such personnel specially trained for infectious disease and critical care, NIH can only care for two Ebola patients at a time, he said.
The four facilities that provide such care were designed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to protect against bioterrorism. Two of them, Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and the Nebraska Medical Center, are each treating one Ebola patient. The other facility is St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Mont.
They require staff to undergo more rigorous training in infection control, and staff must follow strict protocol for putting on and taking off personal protective equipment in a separate anteroom. Officials say meticulous attention to detail in following protocols is what sets them apart from other facilities.
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Emory has treated three Ebola patients, all of whom have recovered. The University of Nebraska treated one patient who recovered and is now caring for a freelance NBC cameraman. St. Patrick has not yet treated an Ebola patient. The hospital has received so many inquiries that it has set up a special hotline where they are transcribed and forwarded to the appropriate departments.
Bruce Ribner gives a tour of the Emory University Hospital isolation unit which has been used for treatment of patients infected with the Ebola virus. (Emory University via YouTube)
Unlike the Dallas hospital where Pham and another nurse were infected, which officials said most likely occurred because of a breach of protocol involving personal protective equipment, no health workers taking care of the Ebola patients at the special facilities have become infected.
“There is a step-by-step, checklisted procedure to putting on your personal protective equipment for when you go in to the patient’s room to perform your duties and when you come out,” said Mark Rupp, medical director of Nebraska Medical Center’s infection control department, which includes the special unit. “That’s the big difference with what goes on in our unit and what goes on in a regular intensive-care unit.”
The facilities have one person whose only job is to make sure health-care workers put on and take off their protective equipment correctly. At NIH, this person is dubbed “the Watson,” Gallin said, for the sidekick to Sherlock Holmes.
The Watson “has the authority to stop everything at any moment if someone looks like they’re breaking protocol,” Gallin said. The Watson has a checklist, like a pilot’s preflight checklist, and everything has to be done in that order. If not, the Watson can “scream at them and tell them to stop,” Gallin said, which apparently happened at least once Thursday night when doctors and staff were admitting Pham.
The protective gear that health-care workers take off is autoclaved (sanitized via pressurized steam) and then incinerated. Equipment that is not disposable is disinfected according to the manufacturer’s directions. The units also have negative air pressure to prevent germs from spreading beyond patient rooms. For Ebola patients, contaminated air is not such a concern because the disease is not transmitted through the air, but through contact with bodily fluids.
The seven-bed, 4,000-square-foot biocontainment unit at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., is a state-of-the-art facility built to keep the world’s scariest pathogens from escaping. The four U.S. facilities are all different — NIH’s even has a gym — but they contain many of the same things. This layout is based on the unit at Emory University in Atlanta.
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CDC: Airborne Ebola possible but unlikely
By Elise Viebeck
The Ebola virus becoming airborne is a possible but unlikely outcome in the current epidemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden said Tuesday.
The outbreak involves Ebola Zaire, a strain that is passed through bodily fluids, not the air. But some experts have expressed fear about viral mutations due to the unprecedented — and rising — number of Ebola cases.
Frieden sought to allay those fears during a call with reporters.
“The rate of change [with Ebola] is slower than most viruses, and most viruses don’t change how they spread,” he said. Frieden is unofficially spearheading the U.S. response to Ebola.
“That is not to say it’s impossible that it could change [to become airborne],” he continued. “That would be the worst-case scenario. We would know that by looking at … what is happening in Africa. That is why we have scientists from the CDC on the ground tracking that.”
A change in the way Ebola spreads would make the virus significantly more dangerous. The disease kills roughly half the people it infects, and lacking a vaccine or cure, its traceable chain of transmission through bodily fluids is one reason officials believe they can contain it.
Still, there is almost no precedent for a human virus mutating to become transmissible in a different way, a key piece of evidence in weighing whether that kind of shift is likely for Ebola.
“We have so many problems with Ebola, let’s not make another one that, of course, is theoretically possible but is pretty way down on the list of likely issues,” infectious diseases expert William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University told Scientific American.
Frieden touted new progress against Ebola in West Africa and Dallas, where a Liberian man remains in critical condition, but warned that “globally, this is going to be a long, hard fight.”
The Dallas patient interacted with 10 definite and 38 possible interlocturos who are now being monitored, he said. None have shown symptoms.
Some Ebola experts worry virus may spread more easily than assumed
Ebola could be spread through air in tight quarters, some scientists fear
Some Ebola experts worry that the virus may spread more easily than thought — through the air in small spaces, for example.
By DAVID WILLMAN contact the reporter NationMedical ResearchAfricaScientific ResearchDiseases and IllnessesEbolaU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Ebola researcher says he would not rule out possibility that the virus spreads through air in tight quarters
‘There are too many unknowns here,’ a virologist says of how Ebola may spread
Ebola researcher says he thinks there is a chance asymptomatic people could spread the virus
U.S. officials leading the fight against history’s worst outbreak of Ebola have said they know the ways the virus is spread and how to stop it. They say that unless an air traveler from disease-ravaged West Africa has a fever of at least 101.5 degrees or other symptoms, co-passengers are not at risk.
“At this point there is zero risk of transmission on the flight,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said after a Liberian man who flew through airports in Brussels and Washington was diagnosed with the disease last week in Dallas.
First Ebola infection outside West Africa
Three more people have been hospitalized in Madrid for possible exposure to the Ebola virus after a Spanish nurse tested positive for the virus.
Other public health officials have voiced similar assurances, saying Ebola is spread only through physical contact with a symptomatic individual or their bodily fluids. “Ebola is not transmitted by the air. It is not an airborne infection,” said Dr. Edward Goodman of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where the Liberian patient remains in critical condition.
Yet some scientists who have long studied Ebola say such assurances are premature — and they are concerned about what is not known about the strain now on the loose. It is an Ebola outbreak like none seen before, jumping from the bush to urban areas, giving the virus more opportunities to evolve as it passes through multiple human hosts.
Dr. C.J. Peters, who battled a 1989 outbreak of the virus among research monkeys housed in Virginia and who later led the CDC’s most far-reaching study of Ebola’s transmissibility in humans, said he would not rule out the possibility that it spreads through the air in tight quarters.
“We just don’t have the data to exclude it,” said Peters, who continues to research viral diseases at the University of Texas in Galveston.
Dr. Philip K. Russell, a virologist who oversaw Ebola research while heading the U.S. Army’s Medical Research and Development Command, and who later led the government’s massive stockpiling of smallpox vaccine after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also said much was still to be learned. “Being dogmatic is, I think, ill-advised, because there are too many unknowns here.”
If Ebola were to mutate on its path from human to human, said Russell and other scientists, its virulence might wane — or it might spread in ways not observed during past outbreaks, which were stopped after transmission among just two to three people, before the virus had a greater chance to evolve. The present outbreak in West Africa has killed approximately 3,400 people, and there is no medical cure for Ebola.
“I see the reasons to dampen down public fears,” Russell said. “But scientifically, we’re in the middle of the first experiment of multiple, serial passages of Ebola virus in man…. God knows what this virus is going to look like. I don’t.”
A resident looks from behind a gate during the Liberian government’s 11-day Ebola quarantine in the West Point district of Monrovia.
Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the CDC in Atlanta, said health officials were basing their response to Ebola on what has been learned from battling the virus since its discovery in central Africa in 1976. The CDC remains confident, he said, that Ebola is transmitted principally by direct physical contact with an ill person or their bodily fluids.
Skinner also said the CDC is conducting ongoing lab analyses to assess whether the present strain of Ebola is mutating in ways that would require the government to change its policies on responding to it. The results so far have not provided cause for concern, he said.
The researchers reached in recent days for this article cited grounds to question U.S. officials’ assumptions in three categories.
One issue is whether airport screenings of prospective travelers to the U.S. from West Africa can reliably detect those who might have Ebola. Frieden has said the CDC protocols used at West African airports can be relied on to prevent more infected passengers from coming to the U.S.
“One hundred percent of the individuals getting on planes are screened for fever before they get on the plane,” Frieden said Sept. 30. “And if they have a fever, they are pulled out of the line, assessed for Ebola, and don’t fly unless Ebola is ruled out.”
Individuals who have flown recently from one or more of the affected countries suggested that travelers could easily subvert the screening procedures — and might have incentive to do so: Compared with the depleted medical resources in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the prospect of hospital care in the U.S. may offer an Ebola-exposed person the only chance to survive.
U.S. To Increase Airport Screening For Ebola
The deteriorating conditions in Africa make it more likely additional cases of Ebola will appear in the United States and officials are pushing for increased screenings at airports.
A person could pass body temperature checks performed at the airports by taking ibuprofen or any common analgesic. And prospective passengers have much to fear from identifying themselves as sick, said Kim Beer, a resident of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, who is working to get medical supplies into the country to cope with Ebola.
“It is highly unlikely that someone would acknowledge having a fever, or simply feeling unwell,” Beer said via email. “Not only will they probably not get on the flight — they may even be taken to/required to go to a ‘holding facility’ where they would have to stay for days until it is confirmed that it is not caused by Ebola. That is just about the last place one would want to go.”
Liberian officials said last week that the patient hospitalized in Dallas, Thomas Eric Duncan, did not report to airport screeners that he had had previous contact with an Ebola-stricken woman. It is not known whether Duncan knew she suffered from Ebola; her family told neighbors it was malaria.
The potential disincentive for passengers to reveal their own symptoms was echoed by Sheka Forna, a dual citizen of Sierra Leone and Britain who manages a communications firm in Freetown. Forna said he considered it “very possible” that people with fever would medicate themselves to appear asymptomatic.
It would be perilous to admit even nonspecific symptoms at the airport, Forna said in a telephone interview. “You’d be confined to wards with people with full-blown disease.”
On Monday, the White House announced that a review was underway of existing airport procedures. Frieden and President Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counter-terrorism, Lisa Monaco, said Friday that closing the U.S. to passengers from the Ebola-affected countries would risk obstructing relief efforts.
CDC officials also say that asymptomatic patients cannot spread Ebola. This assumption is crucial for assessing how many people are at risk of getting the disease. Yet diagnosing a symptom can depend on subjective understandings of what constitutes a symptom, and some may not be easily recognizable. Is a person mildly fatigued because of short sleep the night before a flight — or because of the early onset of disease?
Moreover, said some public health specialists, there is no proof that a person infected — but who lacks symptoms — could not spread the virus to others.
“It’s really unclear,” said Michael Osterholm, a public health scientist at the University of Minnesota who recently served on the U.S. government’s National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. “None of us know.”
Russell, who oversaw the Army’s research on Ebola, said he found the epidemiological data unconvincing.
“The definition of ‘symptomatic’ is a little difficult to deal with,” he said. “It may be generally true that patients aren’t excreting very much virus until they become ill, but to say that we know the course of [the virus' entry into the bloodstream] and the course of when a virus appears in the various secretions, I think, is premature.”
The CDC’s Skinner said that while officials remained confident that Ebola can be spread only by the overtly sick, the ongoing studies would assess whether mutations that might occur could increase the potential for asymptomatic patients to spread it.
Finally, some also question the official assertion that Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air. In late 1989, virus researcher Charles L. Bailey supervised the government’s response to an outbreak of Ebola among several dozen rhesus monkeys housed for research in Reston, Va., a suburb of Washington.
What Bailey learned from the episode informs his suspicion that the current strain of Ebola afflicting humans might be spread through tiny liquid droplets propelled into the air by coughing or sneezing.
“We know for a fact that the virus occurs in sputum and no one has ever done a study [disproving that] coughing or sneezing is a viable means of transmitting,” he said. Unqualified assurances that Ebola is not spread through the air, Bailey said, are “misleading.”
Peters, whose CDC team studied cases from 27 households that emerged during a 1995 Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo, said that while most could be attributed to contact with infected late-stage patients or their bodily fluids, “some” infections may have occurred via “aerosol transmission.”
Ailing in Monrovia, Liberia
Relatives pray over a weak Siata Johnson, 23, outside the Ebola treatment center at a hospital on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia. (John Moore / Getty Images)
Skinner of the CDC, who cited the Peters-led study as the most extensive of Ebola’s transmissibility, said that while the evidence “is really overwhelming” that people are most at risk when they touch either those who are sick or such a person’s vomit, blood or diarrhea, “we can never say never” about spread through close-range coughing or sneezing.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that if a person who is highly viremic … were to sneeze or cough right in the face of somebody who wasn’t protected, that we wouldn’t have a transmission,” Skinner said.
Peters, Russell and Bailey, who in 1989 was deputy commander for research of the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, in Frederick, Md., said the primates in Reston had appeared to spread Ebola to other monkeys through their breath.
The Ebola strain found in the monkeys did not infect their human handlers. Bailey, who now directs a biocontainment lab at George Mason University in Virginia, said he was seeking to research the genetic differences between the Ebola found in the Reston monkeys and the strain currently circulating in West Africa.
Though he acknowledged that the means of disease transmission among the animals would not guarantee the same result among humans, Bailey said the outcome may hold lessons for the present Ebola epidemic.
“Those monkeys were dying in a pattern that was certainly suggestive of coughing and sneezing — some sort of aerosol movement,” Bailey said. “They were dying and spreading it so quickly from cage to cage. We finally came to the conclusion that the best action was to euthanize them all.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins pulled into the Ivy Apartments community late in the evening Friday wearing suit pants and a lavender dress shirt.
There were hazardous materials trucks all around, as cleaning crews had arrived to remove materials that might have been touched by Thomas Duncan, a Liberian man who is hospitalized in Texas with Ebola. The hazmat workers were covered from head to toe in bright yellow body suits, green gloves and breathing masks.
Jenkins walked into the apartment in building No. 6 to greet Louise Troh, her family and others who live with her and had been court-ordered to stay in their home because they were considered high risk after coming into contact with Duncan.
It was time to move, and Troh, her 13-year old son, a relative of Duncan’s and another man — all of whom lived in the apartment — got into the judge’s car for the 45-minute drive to their new, temporary home, in an undisclosed part of Dallas.
Jenkins, the judge, never covered up.
“I’m a married man with a little girl,” Jenkins told reporters later that night. “I’m wearing the same shirt I was when I was in the car with that family.
“I was in their house next to those materials, meeting with them, listening to them, and assuring them last night and again of course today. If there were any risk, I would not expose myself or my family to that risk.”
He added: “There is zero risk.”
In the face of widespread fear — and in some cases misinformation — about Ebola following the first diagnosis of the virus in the United States, Dallas officials have taken a notable visual approach to make the point that, at least right now, the city is safe.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has reached the United States, as officials confirm one case in Dallas. Here’s how U.S. health officials plan to stop the virus. (Gillian Brockell and Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)
On a daily basis, workers monitoring the temperatures and health of as many as nine individuals who they believe might have had direct contact with Duncan have entered those people’s homes with no gloves, no masks and no personal protective equipment whatsoever.
And city officials including Jenkins, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson have interacted with the family no differently that they might have if the four people who are in a state of semi-isolation had been suspected of having come into contact with somebody sick with the flu.
“Based on our assessment, they were asymptomatic; therefore, I didn’t feel they posed any threat to me,” Thompson said in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday. “There is a standard procedure for when they should be using the PPE’s (personal protective equipment). In this case we knew our nurses, our staff, had assessed that they were asymptomatic.”
So far, none of the people who have potentially had contact with Duncan are showing any symptoms, Thompson said.
Yet concern and stigma are widespread in Dallas.
Photographs from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — where the epidemic is spiraling out of control — frequently show fully masked health workers carrying infected people to hospitals or burial sites. Those images have become closely associated with the virus and the outbreak in the public’s mind.
And for one day, similar images briefly appeared in Dallas as cleaning crews removed materials from Troh’s apartment that might have come into contact with the virus.
A hazmat team arrives on Oct. 3 to clean a unit at the Dallas apartment complex where the confirmed Ebola patient was staying. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The decision for the crew to wear personal protective equipment was made by the company, the “Cleaning Guys,” according to Dallas officials.
“We train for this type of thing,” company executive Brad Smith told ABC News. “Obviously, we haven’t trained for Ebola because there hasn’t been a situation in Texas until now.”
The Ebola virus is not very hearty outside of the human body.
Still, touching and destroying potentially infected materials is far different from speaking to or being in the same room with people who might have been exposed to the virus.
And public health expert Gavin Macgregor-Skinner, who worked in Nigeria to end that country’s outbreak, said that treating people with a sense of humanity and not feeding hysteria is critical to managing the Dallas Ebola case and others that might occur around the world.
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“Even in West Africa when we do contact tracing, we don’t put on personal protective equipment,” said Macgregor-Skinner, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “We have the six-feet rule: We stay about six feet away from people and I can interview them and I can make them feel like people.
“If they have no symptoms, we need to make them feel normal, like they’re part of the community, like they are still loved.”
Dallas officials have also urged residents to go about their normal activities and attend community gatherings and fairs without fear.
“The broader perspective is that we had done immediate disease tracking and contact tracing and the family had been identified who had had close contact and they had not shown any symptoms,” said Thompson. “Other than that one case, basically, his virus has been contained.”
‘In 1976 I discovered Ebola – now I fear an unimaginable tragedy’
Peter Piot was a researcher at a lab in Antwerp when a pilot brought him a blood sample from a Belgian nun who had fallen mysteriously ill in Zaire
Professor Peter Piot, the Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: ‘Around June it became clear to me there was something different about this outbreak. I began to get really worried’ Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP
Professor Piot, as a young scientist in Antwerp, you were part of the team that discovered the Ebola virus in 1976. How did it happen?
I still remember exactly. One day in September, a pilot from Sabena Airlines brought us a shiny blue Thermos and a letter from a doctor in Kinshasa in what was then Zaire. In the Thermos, he wrote, there was a blood sample from a Belgian nun who had recently fallen ill from a mysterious sickness in Yambuku, a remote village in the northern part of the country. He asked us to test the sample for yellow fever.
These days, Ebola may only be researched in high-security laboratories. How did you protect yourself back then?
We had no idea how dangerous the virus was. And there were no high-security labs in Belgium. We just wore our white lab coats and protective gloves. When we opened the Thermos, the ice inside had largely melted and one of the vials had broken. Blood and glass shards were floating in the ice water. We fished the other, intact, test tube out of the slop and began examining the blood for pathogens, using the methods that were standard at the time.
But the yellow fever virus apparently had nothing to do with the nun’s illness.
No. And the tests for Lassa fever and typhoid were also negative. What, then, could it be? Our hopes were dependent on being able to isolate the virus from the sample. To do so, we injected it into mice and other lab animals. At first nothing happened for several days. We thought that perhaps the pathogen had been damaged from insufficient refrigeration in the Thermos. But then one animal after the next began to die. We began to realise that the sample contained something quite deadly.
But you continued?
Other samples from the nun, who had since died, arrived from Kinshasa. When we were just about able to begin examining the virus under an electron microscope, the World Health Organisation instructed us to send all of our samples to a high-security lab in England. But my boss at the time wanted to bring our work to conclusion no matter what. He grabbed a vial containing virus material to examine it, but his hand was shaking and he dropped it on a colleague’s foot. The vial shattered. My only thought was: “Oh, shit!” We immediately disinfected everything, and luckily our colleague was wearing thick leather shoes. Nothing happened to any of us.
In the end, you were finally able to create an image of the virus using the electron microscope.
Yes, and our first thought was: “What the hell is that?” The virus that we had spent so much time searching for was very big, very long and worm-like. It had no similarities with yellow fever. Rather, it looked like the extremely dangerous Marburg virus which, like ebola, causes a haemorrhagic fever. In the 1960s the virus killed several laboratory workers in Marburg, Germany.
Were you afraid at that point?
I knew almost nothing about the Marburg virus at the time. When I tell my students about it today, they think I must come from the stone age. But I actually had to go the library and look it up in an atlas of virology. It was the American Centres for Disease Control which determined a short time later that it wasn’t the Marburg virus, but a related, unknown virus. We had also learned in the meantime that hundreds of people had already succumbed to the virus in Yambuku and the area around it.
A few days later, you became one of the first scientists to fly to Zaire.
Yes. The nun who had died and her fellow sisters were all from Belgium. In Yambuku, which had been part of the Belgian Congo, they operated a small mission hospital. When the Belgian government decided to send someone, I volunteered immediately. I was 27 and felt a bit like my childhood hero, Tintin. And, I have to admit, I was intoxicated by the chance to track down something totally new.
A girl is led to an ambulance after showing signs of Ebola infection in the village of Freeman Reserve, 30 miles north of the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Photograph: Jerome Delay/APWas there any room for fear, or at least worry?
Of course it was clear to us that we were dealing with one of the deadliest infectious diseases the world had ever seen – and we had no idea that it was transmitted via bodily fluids! It could also have been mosquitoes. We wore protective suits and latex gloves and I even borrowed a pair of motorcycle goggles to cover my eyes. But in the jungle heat it was impossible to use the gas masks that we bought in Kinshasa. Even so, the Ebola patients I treated were probably just as shocked by my appearance as they were about their intense suffering. I took blood from around 10 of these patients. I was most worried about accidentally poking myself with the needle and infecting myself that way.
But you apparently managed to avoid becoming infected.
Well, at some point I did actually develop a high fever, a headache and diarrhoea …
… similar to Ebola symptoms?
Exactly. I immediately thought: “Damn, this is it!” But then I tried to keep my cool. I knew the symptoms I had could be from something completely different and harmless. And it really would have been stupid to spend two weeks in the horrible isolation tent that had been set up for us scientists for the worst case. So I just stayed alone in my room and waited. Of course, I didn’t get a wink of sleep, but luckily I began feeling better by the next day. It was just a gastrointestinal infection. Actually, that is the best thing that can happen in your life: you look death in the eye but survive. It changed my whole approach, my whole outlook on life at the time.
You were also the one who gave the virus its name. Why Ebola?
On that day our team sat together late into the night – we had also had a couple of drinks – discussing the question. We definitely didn’t want to name the new pathogen “Yambuku virus”, because that would have stigmatised the place forever. There was a map hanging on the wall and our American team leader suggested looking for the nearest river and giving the virus its name. It was the Ebola river. So by around three or four in the morning we had found a name. But the map was small and inexact. We only learned later that the nearest river was actually a different one. But Ebola is a nice name, isn’t it?
In the end, you discovered that the Belgian nuns had unwittingly spread the virus. How did that happen?
In their hospital they regularly gave pregnant women vitamin injections using unsterilised needles. By doing so, they infected many young women in Yambuku with the virus. We told the nuns about the terrible mistake they had made, but looking back I would say that we were much too careful in our choice of words. Clinics that failed to observe this and other rules of hygiene functioned as catalysts in all additional Ebola outbreaks. They drastically sped up the spread of the virus or made the spread possible in the first place. Even in the current Ebola outbreak in westAfrica, hospitals unfortunately played this ignominious role in the beginning.
After Yambuku, you spent the next 30 years of your professional life devoted to combating Aids. But now Ebola has caught up to you again. American scientists fear that hundreds of thousands of people could ultimately become infected. Was such an epidemic to be expected?
No, not at all. On the contrary, I always thought that Ebola, in comparison to Aids or malaria, didn’t present much of a problem because the outbreaks were always brief and local. Around June it became clear to me that there was something fundamentally different about this outbreak. At about the same time, the aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières sounded the alarm. We Flemish tend to be rather unemotional, but it was at that point that I began to get really worried.
Why did WHO react so late?
On the one hand, it was because their African regional office isn’t staffed with the most capable people but with political appointees. And the headquarters in Geneva suffered large budget cuts that had been agreed to by member states. The department for haemorrhagic fever and the one responsible for the management of epidemic emergencies were hit hard. But since August WHO has regained a leadership role.
There is actually a well-established procedure for curtailing Ebola outbreaks: isolating those infected and closely monitoring those who had contact with them. How could a catastrophe such as the one we are now seeing even happen?
I think it is what people call a perfect storm: when every individual circumstance is a bit worse than normal and they then combine to create a disaster. And with this epidemic there were many factors that were disadvantageous from the very beginning. Some of the countries involved were just emerging from terrible civil wars, many of their doctors had fled and their healthcare systems had collapsed. In all of Liberia, for example, there were only 51 doctors in 2010, and many of them have since died of Ebola.
The fact that the outbreak began in the densely populated border region between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia …
… also contributed to the catastrophe. Because the people there are extremely mobile, it was much more difficult than usual to track down those who had had contact with the infected people. Because the dead in this region are traditionally buried in the towns and villages they were born in, there were highly contagious Ebola corpses travelling back and forth across the borders in pickups and taxis. The result was that the epidemic kept flaring up in different places.
For the first time in its history, the virus also reached metropolises such as Monrovia and Freetown. Is that the worst thing that can happen?
In large cities – particularly in chaotic slums – it is virtually impossible to find those who had contact with patients, no matter how great the effort. That is why I am so worried about Nigeria as well. The country is home to mega-cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt, and if the Ebola virus lodges there and begins to spread, it would be an unimaginable catastrophe.
Have we completely lost control of the epidemic?
I have always been an optimist and I think that we now have no other choice than to try everything, really everything. It’s good that the United States and some other countries are finally beginning to help. But Germany or even Belgium, for example, must do a lot more. And it should be clear to all of us: This isn’t just an epidemic any more. This is a humanitarian catastrophe. We don’t just need care personnel, but also logistics experts, trucks, jeeps and foodstuffs. Such an epidemic can destabilise entire regions. I can only hope that we will be able to get it under control. I really never thought that it could get this bad.
What can really be done in a situation when anyone can become infected on the streets and, like in Monrovia, even the taxis are contaminated?
We urgently need to come up with new strategies. Currently, helpers are no longer able to care for all the patients in treatment centres. So caregivers need to teach family members who are providing care to patients how to protect themselves from infection to the extent possible. This on-site educational work is currently the greatest challenge. Sierra Leone experimented with a three-day curfew in an attempt to at least flatten out the infection curve a bit. At first I thought: “That is totally crazy.” But now I wonder, “why not?” At least, as long as these measures aren’t imposed with military power.
A three-day curfew sounds a bit desperate.
Yes, it is rather medieval. But what can you do? Even in 2014, we hardly have any way to combat this virus.
Do you think we might be facing the beginnings of a pandemic?
There will certainly be Ebola patients from Africa who come to us in the hopes of receiving treatment. And they might even infect a few people here who may then die. But an outbreak in Europe or North America would quickly be brought under control. I am more worried about the many people from India who work in trade or industry in west Africa. It would only take one of them to become infected, travel to India to visit relatives during the virus’s incubation period, and then, once he becomes sick, go to a public hospital there. Doctors and nurses in India, too, often don’t wear protective gloves. They would immediately become infected and spread the virus.
The virus is continually changing its genetic makeup. The more people who become infected, the greater the chance becomes that it will mutate …
… which might speed its spread. Yes, that really is the apocalyptic scenario. Humans are actually just an accidental host for the virus, and not a good one. From the perspective of a virus, it isn’t desirable for its host, within which the pathogen hopes to multiply, to die so quickly. It would be much better for the virus to allow us to stay alive longer.
Could the virus suddenly change itself such that it could be spread through the air?
Like measles, you mean? Luckily that is extremely unlikely. But a mutation that would allow Ebola patients to live a couple of weeks longer is certainly possible and would be advantageous for the virus. But that would allow Ebola patients to infect many, many more people than is currently the case.
But that is just speculation, isn’t it?
Certainly. But it is just one of many possible ways the virus could change to spread itself more easily. And it is clear that the virus is mutating.
You and two colleagues wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journalsupporting the testing of experimental drugs. Do you think that could be the solution?
Patients could probably be treated most quickly with blood serum from Ebola survivors, even if that would likely be extremely difficult given the chaotic local conditions. We need to find out now if these methods, or if experimental drugs like ZMapp, really help. But we should definitely not rely entirely on new treatments. For most people, they will come too late in this epidemic. But if they help, they should be made available for the next outbreak.
Testing of two vaccines is also beginning. It will take a while, of course, but could it be that only a vaccine can stop the epidemic?
I hope that’s not the case. But who knows? Maybe.
In Zaire during that first outbreak, a hospital with poor hygiene was responsible for spreading the illness. Today almost the same thing is happening. Was Louis Pasteur right when he said: “It is the microbes who will have the last word”?
Of course, we are a long way away from declaring victory over bacteria and viruses. HIV is still here; in London alone, five gay men become infected daily. An increasing number of bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. And I can still see the Ebola patients in Yambuku, how they died in their shacks and we couldn’t do anything except let them die. In principle, it’s still the same today. That is very depressing. But it also provides me with a strong motivation to do something. I love life. That is why I am doing everything I can to convince the powerful in this world to finally send sufficient help to west Africa. Now!
The virus may be acquired upon contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected human or other animal. Spreading through the air has not been documented in the natural environment.Fruit bats are believed to be a carrier and may spread the virus without being affected. Once human infection occurs, the disease may spread between people, as well. Male survivors may be able to transmit the disease via semen for nearly two months. To make the diagnosis, typically other diseases with similar symptoms such as malaria, cholera and other viral hemorrhagic fevers are first excluded. To confirm the diagnosis, blood samples are tested for viral antibodies, viralRNA, or the virus itself.
Outbreak control require community engagement, case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, and safe burials. Prevention includes decreasing the spread of disease from infected animals to humans. This may be done by checking such animals for infection and killing and properly disposing of the bodies if the disease is discovered. Properly cooking meat and wearing protective clothing when handling meat may also be helpful, as are wearing protective clothing and washing hands when around a person with the disease. Samples of bodily fluids and tissues from people with the disease should be handled with special caution.
Heavy bleeding is rare and is usually confined to the gastrointestinal tract. In general, the development of bleeding symptoms often indicates a worse prognosis and this blood loss can result in death. All people infected show some signs of circulatory system involvement, including impaired blood clotting. If the infected person does not recover, death due to multiple organ dysfunction syndrome occurs within 7 to 16 days (usually between days 8 and 9) after first symptoms.
EVD is caused by four of five viruses classified in the genus Ebolavirus, family Filoviridae, order Mononegavirales. The four disease-causing viruses are Bundibugyo virus (BDBV), Sudan virus (SUDV), Taï Forest virus (TAFV), and one called, simply, Ebola virus (EBOV, formerly Zaire Ebola virus)). Ebola virus is the sole member of the Zaire ebolavirus species and the most dangerous of the known Ebola disease-causing viruses, as well as being responsible for the largest number of outbreaks. The fifth virus, Reston virus (RESTV), is not thought to be disease-causing in humans. These five viruses are closely related to the Marburg viruses.
Human-to-human transmission can occur via direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from an infected person (including embalming of an infected dead person) or by contact with objects contaminated by the virus, particularly needles and syringes. Other body fluids with ebola virus include saliva, mucus, vomit, feces, sweat, tears, breast milk, urine, and semen. Entry points include the nose, mouth, eyes, or open wounds, cuts and abrasions. The potential for widespread EVD infections is considered low as the disease is only spread by direct contact with the secretions from someone who is showing signs of infection. The symptoms limit a person’s ability to spread the disease as they are often too sick to travel. Because dead bodies are still infectious, traditional burial rituals may spread the disease. Nearly two thirds of the cases of Ebola in Guinea during the 2014 outbreak are believed to be due to burial practices. Semen may be infectious in survivors for up to 7 weeks. It is not entirely clear how an outbreak is initially started. The initial infection is believed to occur after ebola virus is transmitted to a human by contact with an infected animal’s body fluids.
One of the primary reasons for spread is that the health systems in the part of Africa where the disease occurs function poorly. Medical workers who do not wear appropriate protective clothing may contract the disease.Hospital-acquired transmission has occurred in African countries due to the reuse of needles and lack of universal precautions. Some healthcare centers caring for people with the disease do not have running water.
Airborne transmission has not been documented during EVD outbreaks. They are, however, infectious as breathable 0.8– to 1.2-μm laboratory-generated droplets. The virus has been shown to travel, without contact, from pigs to primates, although the same study failed to demonstrate similar transmission between non-human primates.
Bats drop partially eaten fruits and pulp, then land mammals such as gorillas and duikers feed on these fallen fruits. This chain of events forms a possible indirect means of transmission from the natural host to animal populations, which has led to research towards viral shedding in the saliva of bats. Fruit production, animal behavior, and other factors vary at different times and places that may trigger outbreaks among animal populations.
Bushmeat being prepared for cooking in Ghana, 2013. Human consumption of equatorial animals in Africa in the form of bushmeat has been linked to the transmission of diseases to people, including Ebola.
Bats are considered the most likely natural reservoir of the EBOV. Plants, arthropods, and birds were also considered. Bats were known to reside in the cotton factory in which the first cases for the 1976 and 1979 outbreaks were observed, and they have also been implicated in Marburg virus infections in 1975 and 1980. Of 24 plant species and 19 vertebrate species experimentally inoculated with EBOV, only bats became infected. The absence of clinical signs in these bats is characteristic of a reservoir species. In a 2002–2003 survey of 1,030 animals including 679 bats from Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, 13 fruit bats were found to contain EBOV RNA fragments. As of 2005, three types of fruit bats (Hypsignathus monstrosus, Epomops franqueti, and Myonycteris torquata) have been identified as being in contact with EBOV. They are now suspected to represent the EBOV reservoir hosts. Antibodies against Zaire and Reston viruses have been found in fruit bats in Bangladesh, thus identifying potential virus hosts and signs of the filoviruses in Asia.
Between 1976 and 1998, in 30,000 mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and arthropods sampled from outbreak regions, no ebolavirus was detected apart from some genetic traces found in six rodents (Mus setulosus andPraomys) and one shrew (Sylvisorex ollula) collected from the Central African Republic. Traces of EBOV were detected in the carcasses of gorillas and chimpanzees during outbreaks in 2001 and 2003, which later became the source of human infections. However, the high lethality from infection in these species makes them unlikely as a natural reservoir.
Transmission between natural reservoir and humans is rare, and outbreaks are usually traceable to a single case where an individual has handled the carcass of gorilla, chimpanzee or duiker. Fruit bats are also eaten by people in parts of West Africa where they are smoked, grilled or made into a spicy soup.
Like all mononegaviruses, ebolavirions contain linear nonsegmented, single-strand, non-infectious RNAgenomes of negative polarity that possesses inverse-complementary 3′ and 5′ termini, do not possess a 5′ cap, are notpolyadenylated, and are not covalently linked to a protein. Ebolavirus genomes are approximately 19 kilobase pairs long and contain seven genes in the order 3′-UTR-NP-VP35-VP40-GP-VP30-VP24-L-5′-UTR. The genomes of the five different ebolaviruses (BDBV, EBOV, RESTV, SUDV, and TAFV) differ in sequence and the number and location of gene overlaps.
Like all filoviruses, ebolavirions are filamentous particles that may appear in the shape of a shepherd’s crook or in the shape of a “U” or a “6”, and they may be coiled, toroid, or branched. In general, ebolavirions are 80 nm in width, but vary somewhat in length. In general, the median particle length of ebolaviruses ranges from 974 to 1,086 nm (in contrast to marburgvirions, whose median particle length was measured at 795–828 nm), but particles as long as 14,000 nm have been detected in tissue culture.
The ebolavirus life cycle begins with virion attachment to specific cell-surface receptors, followed by fusion of the virion envelope with cellular membranes and the concomitant release of the virus nucleocapsid into the cytosol. The viral RNA polymerase, encoded by the L gene, partially uncoats the nucleocapsid and transcribes the genes into positive-strand mRNAs, which are then translated into structural and nonstructural proteins. Ebolavirus RNA polymerase (L) binds to a single promoter located at the 3′ end of the genome. Transcription either terminates after a gene or continues to the next gene downstream. This means that genes close to the 3′ end of the genome are transcribed in the greatest abundance, whereas those toward the 5′ end are least likely to be transcribed. The gene order is, therefore, a simple but effective form of transcriptional regulation. The most abundant protein produced is the nucleoprotein, whose concentration in the cell determines when L switches from gene transcription to genome replication. Replication results in full-length, positive-strand antigenomes that are, in turn, transcribed into negative-strand virus progeny genome copy. Newly synthesized structural proteins and genomes self-assemble and accumulate near the inside of the cell membrane. Virions bud off from the cell, gaining their envelopes from the cellular membrane they bud from. The mature progeny particles then infect other cells to repeat the cycle. The Ebola virus genetics are difficult to study due to its virulent nature.
Endothelial cells, macrophages, monocytes, and liver cells are the main targets of infection. After infection, a secreted glycoprotein (sGP) known as the Ebola virus glycoprotein (GP) is synthesized. Ebola replication overwhelms protein synthesis of infected cells and host immune defenses. The GP forms a trimeric complex, which binds the virus to the endothelial cells lining the interior surface of blood vessels. The sGP forms a dimeric protein that interferes with the signaling of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, which allows the virus to evade the immune system by inhibiting early steps of neutrophil activation. These white blood cells also serve as carriers to transport the virus throughout the entire body to places such as the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, and spleen.
The presence of viral particles and cell damage resulting from budding causes the release of chemical signals (to be specific, TNF-α, IL-6, IL-8, etc.), which are the signaling molecules for fever and inflammation. The cytopathic effect, from infection in the endothelial cells, results in a loss of vascular integrity. This loss in vascular integrity is furthered with synthesis of GP, which reduces specific integrins responsible for cell adhesion to the inter-cellular structure, and damage to the liver, which leads to improper clotting.
The travel and work history along with exposure to wildlife are important to consider when the diagnosis of EVD is suspected. The diagnosis is confirmed by isolating the virus, detecting its RNA or proteins, or detecting antibodiesagainst the virus in a person’s blood. Isolating the virus by cell culture, detecting the viral RNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and detecting proteins by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) works best early and in those who have died from the disease. Detecting antibodies against the virus works best late in the disease and in those who recover.
During an outbreak, virus isolation is often not feasible. The most common diagnostic methods are therefore real-time PCR and ELISA detection of proteins, which can be performed in field or mobile hospitals. Filovirions can be seen and identified in cell culture by electron microscopy due to their unique filamentous shapes, but electron microscopy cannot tell the difference between the various filoviruses despite there being some length differences.
Phylogenetic tree comparing the Ebolavirus and Marburgvirus. Numbers indicate percent confidence of branches.
The genera Ebolavirus and Marburgvirus were originally classified as the species of the now-obsolete Filovirus genus. In March 1998, the Vertebrate Virus Subcommittee proposed in the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) to change the Filovirus genus to the Filoviridae family with two specific genera: Ebola-like viruses andMarburg-like viruses. This proposal was implemented in Washington, DC, on April 2001 and in Paris on July 2002. In 2000, another proposal was made in Washington, D.C., to change the “-like viruses” to “-virus” resulting in today’s Ebolavirus and Marburgvirus.
The risk of transmission is increased among those caring for people infected. Recommended measures when caring for those who are infected include isolating them, sterilizing equipment and surfaces, and wearing protective clothing including masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles. If a person with Ebola dies, direct contact with the body of the deceased patient should be avoided.
In order to reduce the spread, the World Health Organization recommends raising community awareness of the risk factors for Ebola infection and the protective measures individuals can take. These include avoiding contact with infected people and regular hand washing using soap and water. Traditional burial rituals, especially those requiring washing or embalming of bodies, should be discouraged or modified. Social anthropologists may help find alternatives to traditional rules for burials. Airline crews are instructed to isolate anyone who has symptoms resembling Ebola virus.
The Ebola virus can be eliminated with heat (heating for 30 to 60 minutes at 60 °C or boiling for 5 minutes). On surfaces, some lipid solvents such as some alcohol-based products, detergents, sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or calcium hypochlorite (bleaching powder), and other suitable disinfectants at appropriate concentrations can be used as disinfectants.
Quarantine, also known as enforced isolation, is usually effective in decreasing spread. Governments often quarantine areas where the disease is occurring or individuals who may be infected. In the United States, the law allows quarantine of those infected with Ebola. During the 2014 outbreak, Liberia closed schools.
Contact tracing is regarded as important to contain an outbreak. It involves finding everyone who had close contact with infected individuals and watching for signs of illness for 21 days. If any of these contacts comes down with the disease, they should be isolated, tested, and treated. Then repeat the process by tracing the contacts’ contacts.
A hospital isolation ward in Gulu, Uganda, during the October 2000 outbreak
The disease has a high mortality rate: often between 25 percent and 90 percent. As of September 2014, information from WHO across all occurrences to date puts the overall fatality rate at 50%. There are indications based on variations in death rate between countries that early and effective treatment of symptoms (e.g., supportive care to prevent dehydration) may reduce the fatality rate significantly. If an infected person survives, recovery may be quick and complete. Prolonged cases are often complicated by the occurrence of long-term problems, such as inflammation of the testicles, joint pains, muscle pains, skin peeling, or hair loss. Eye symptoms, such as light sensitivity, excess tearing, iritis, iridocyclitis, choroiditis, and blindness have also been described. EBOV and SUDV may be able to persist in the semen of some survivors for up to seven weeks, which could give rise to infections and disease via sexual intercourse.
The first identified case of Ebola was on 26 August 1976, in Yambuku, a small rural village in Mongala District in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire). The first victim, and the index case for the disease, was village school headmaster Mabalo Lokela, who had toured an area near the Central African Republic border along the Ebola river between 12–22 August. On 8 September he died of what would become known as the Ebola virus species of the ebolavirus. Subsequently a number of other cases were reported, almost all centered on the Yambuku mission hospital or having close contact with another case. 318 cases and 280 deaths (a 88% fatality rate) occurred in the DRC. The Ebola outbreak was contained with the help of the World Health Organization and transport from the Congolese air force, by quarantining villagers, sterilizing medical equipment, and providing protective clothing. The virus responsible for the initial outbreak, first thought to be Marburg virus, was later identified as a new type of virus related to Marburg, and named after the nearby Ebola river. Another ebolavirus, the Sudan virus species, was also identified that same year when an outbreak occurred in Sudan, affecting 284 people and killing 151.
1995 to 2013
The second major outbreak occurred in 1995 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, affecting 315 and killing 254. The next major outbreak occurred in Uganda in 2000, affecting 425 and killing 224; in this case the Sudan virus was found to be the ebolavirus species responsible for the outbreak. In 2003 there was an outbreak in the Republic of Congo that affected 143 and killed 128, a death rate of 90%, the highest to date.
In August 2007, 103 people were infected by a suspected hemorrhagic fever outbreak in the village of Kampungu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The outbreak started after the funerals of two village chiefs, and 217 people in four villages fell ill. The 2007 outbreak eventually affected 264 individuals and resulted in the deaths of 187.
On 30 November 2007, the Uganda Ministry of Health confirmed an outbreak of Ebola in the Bundibugyo District in Western Uganda. After confirmation of samples tested by the United States National Reference Laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization confirmed the presence of a new species of Ebolavirus, which was tentatively named Bundibugyo. The WHO reported 149 cases of this new strain and 37 of those led to deaths.
The WHO confirmed two small outbreaks in Uganda in 2012. The first outbreak affected 7 people and resulted in the death of 4 and the second affected 24, resulting in the death of 17. The Sudan variant was responsible for both outbreaks.
On 17 August 2012, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported an outbreak of the Ebola-Bundibugyo variant in the eastern region. Other than its discovery in 2007, this was the only time that this variant has been identified as the ebolavirus responsible for an outbreak. The WHO revealed that the virus had sickened 57 people and claimed 29 lives. The probable cause of the outbreak was tainted bush meat hunted by local villagers around the towns of Isiro and Viadana.
Increase over time in the cases and deaths during the 2014 outbreak
In March 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a major Ebola outbreak in Guinea, a western African nation. Researchers traced the outbreak to a two-year old child who died on 28 December 2013. The disease then rapidly spread to the neighboring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is the largest Ebola outbreak ever documented, and the first recorded in the region.
On 8 August 2014, the WHO declared the epidemic to be an international public health emergency. Urging the world to offer aid to the affected regions, the Director-General said, “Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own. I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible.” By mid-August 2014, Doctors Without Borders reported the situation in Liberia’s capital Monrovia as “catastrophic” and “deteriorating daily”. They reported that fears of Ebola among staff members and patients had shut down much of the city’s health system, leaving many people without treatment for other conditions. By late August 2014, the disease had spread to Nigeria, and one case was reported in Senegal. On 30 September 2014, the first confirmed case of Ebola was diagnosed in the United States at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas.
Aside from the human cost, the outbreak has severely eroded the economies of the affected countries. A Financial Times report suggested the economic impact of the outbreak could kill more people than the virus itself. As of 23 September, in the three hardest hit countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, there were only 893 treatment beds available while the current need was 2122. In a 26 September statement, the WHO said, “The Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa is the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times. Never before in recorded history has a biosafety level four pathogen infected so many people so quickly, over such a broad geographical area, for so long.”
By 29 September 2014, 7,192 suspected cases and 3,286 deaths had been reported, however the World Health Organization has said that these numbers may be vastly underestimated. The WHO reports that more than 216 healthcare workers are among the dead, partly due to the lack of equipment and long hours.
For more about the outbreak in Virginia, US, see Reston virus.
Cases of ebola fever in Africa from 1979 to 2008.
The first recorded outbreak of EBD occurred in Southern Sudan in June 1976. A second outbreak soon followed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire). Virus isolated from both outbreaks was named “Ebola virus” by Belgian researchers after the Ebola River, located near the Zaire outbreak. Although it was assumed that the two outbreaks were connected, scientists later realized that they were caused by distinct species of filoviruses, Sudan virus and Ebola virus.
Shortly afterward, a US Army team headquartered at USAMRIID went into action to euthanize the monkeys which had not yet died, bringing those monkeys and those which had already died of the disease toFt. Detrick for study by the Army’s veterinary pathologists and virologists, and eventual disposal under safe conditions.
Blood samples were taken from 178 animal handlers during the incident. Of those, six animal handlers eventually seroconverted, including one who had cut himself with a bloody scalpel. When the handlers did not become ill, the CDC concluded that the virus had a very low pathogenicity to humans.
The Philippines and the United States had no previous cases of Ebola infection, and upon further isolation, researchers concluded it was another strain of Ebola, or a new filovirus of Asian origin, which they named Reston ebolavirus (REBOV) after the location of the incident.
It is widely believed that outbreaks of EVD among human populations result from handling infected wild animal carcasses. Some research suggests that an outbreak in the wild animals used for consumption, bushmeat, may result in a corresponding human outbreak. Since 2003, such outbreaks have been monitored through surveillance of animal populations with the aim of predicting and preventing Ebola outbreaks in humans.
Recovered carcasses from gorillas contain multiple Ebola virus strains, which suggest multiple introductions of the virus. Bodies decompose quickly and carcasses are not infectious after three to four days. Contact between gorilla groups is rare, suggesting transmission among gorilla groups is unlikely, and that outbreaks result from transmission between viral reservoir and animal populations.
Ebola has a high mortality among primates. Frequent outbreaks of Ebola may have resulted in the deaths of 5,000 gorillas. Outbreaks of Ebola may have been responsible for an 88% decline in tracking indices of observed chimpanzee populations in 420 square kilometer Lossi Sanctuary between 2002 and 2003. Transmission among chimpanzees through meat consumption constitutes a significant risk factor, while contact between individuals, such as touching dead bodies and grooming, is not.
Reston ebolavirus (REBOV) can be transmitted to pigs. This virus was discovered during an outbreak of what at the time was thought to be simian hemorrhagic fever virus (SHFV) in crab-eating macaques in Reston, Virginia (hence the name Reston elabavirus) in 1989. Since the initial outbreak it has since been found in nonhuman primates in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Italy. In each case, the affected animals had been imported from a facility in the Philippines, where the virus had infected pigs. Despite its status as a Level‑4organism and its apparent pathogenicity in monkeys, REBOV has not caused disease in exposed human laboratory workers. In 2012 it was demonstrated that the virus can travel without contact from pigs to nonhuman primates, although the same study failed to achieve transmission in that manner between primates. According to the WHO, routine cleaning and disinfection of pig (or monkey) farms with sodium hypochlorite or other detergents should be effective in inactivating the Reston ebolavirus. If an outbreak is suspected, the area must be immediately quarantined.
While pigs that have been infected with REBOV tend to show symptoms of the disease, it has been shown that dogs may become infected with EBOV and remain asymptomatic. Dogs in some parts of Africa scavenge for their food and it is known that they sometimes eat infected animals and the corpses of humans. Although they remain asymptomatic, a 2005 survey of dogs during an EBOV outbreak found that over 31.8% showed a seroprevalence for EBOV closest to an outbreak versus 9% a farther distance away.
A number of experimental treatments are being studied. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s animal efficacy rule is being used to demonstrate reasonable safety to obtain permission to treat people who are infected with Ebola. It is being used as the normal path for testing drugs is not possible for diseases caused by dangerous pathogens or toxins. Experimental drugs are made available for use with the approval of regulatory agencies under named patient programs, known in the US as “expanded access”. On 12 August 2014 the WHO released a statement that the use of not yet proven treatments is ethical in certain situations in an effort to treat or prevent the disease.
Researchers looking at slides of cultures of cells that make monoclonal antibodies. These are grown in a lab and the researchers are analyzing the products to select the most promising of them.
As of August 14, 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any drugs to treat or prevent Ebola and advises people to watch out for fraudulent products. The unavailability of experimental treatments in the most affected regions during the 2014 outbreak spurred controversy, with some calling for experimental drugs to be made more widely available in Africa on a humanitarian basis, and others warning that making unproven experimental drugs widely available would be unethical, especially in light of past experimentation conducted in developing countries by Western drug companies.
ZMapp is a monoclonal antibody vaccine. The limited supply of the drug has been used to treat a small number of individuals infected with the Ebola virus. Although some of these have recovered the outcome is not consideredstatistically significant. ZMapp has proved effective in a trial involving Rhesus macaque monkeys.
A number of antiviral medications are being studied. Favipiravir, an anti-viral drug approved in Japan for stockpiling against influenza pandemics, appears to be useful in a mouse model of Ebola. On 4 October 2014, it was reported that a French nun who contracted Ebola while volunteering in Liberia was cured with Favipiravir treatment.BCX4430 is a broad-spectrum antiviral drug developed by BioCryst Pharmaceuticals and currently being researched as a potential treatment for Ebola by USAMRIID. The drug has been approved to progress to Phase 1 trials, expected late in 2014.Brincidofovir, another broad-spectrum antiviral drug, has been granted an emergency FDA approval as an investigational new drug for the treatment of Ebola, after it was found to be effective against Ebolavirus in in vitro tests. It has subsequently been used to treat the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the USA, after he had recently returned from Liberia. The antiviral drug lamivudine, which is usually used to treat HIV / AIDS, was reported in September 2014 to have been used successfully to treat 13 out of 15 Ebola-infected patients by a doctor in Liberia, as part of a combination therapy also involving intravenous fluids and antibiotics to combat opportunistic bacterial infection of Ebola-compromised internal organs. Western virologists have however expressed caution about the results, due to the small number of patients treated and confounding factors present. Researchers at the NIH stated that lamivudine had so far failed to demonstrate anti-Ebola activity in preliminary in vitro tests, but that they would continue to test it under different conditions and would progress it to trials if even slight evidence for efficacy is found.
A 2014 study found that three ion channel blockers used in the treatment of heart arrhythmias, amiodarone, dronedarone and verapamil, block the entry of Ebolavirus into cells in vitro. Given their oral availability and history of human use, these drugs would be candidates for treating Ebola virus infection in remote geographical locations, either on their own or together with other antiviral drugs.
Melatonin has also been suggested as a potential treatment for Ebola based on promising in vitro results.
The WHO has stated that transfusion of whole blood or purified serum from Ebola survivors is the therapy with the greatest potential to be implemented immediately, although there is little information as to its efficacy. At the end of September, WHO issued an interim guideline for this therapy. The blood serum from those who have survived an infection is currently being studied to see if it is an effective treatment. During a meeting arranged by WHO this research was deemed to be a top priority. Seven of eight people with Ebola survived after receiving a transfusion of blood donated by individuals who had previously survived the infection in an 1999 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This treatment, however, was started late in the disease meaning they may have already been recovering on their own and the rest of their care was better than usual. Thus this potential treatment remains controversial.Intravenous antibodies appear to be protective in non-human primates who have been exposed to large doses of Ebola.The World Health Organisation has approved the use of convalescent serum and whole blood products to treat people with Ebola.
Vaccines have protected nonhuman primates. Immunization takes six months, which impedes the counter-epidemic use of the vaccines. Searching for a quicker onset of effectiveness, in 2003, a vaccine using an adenoviral (ADV) vector carrying the Ebola spike protein was tested on crab-eating macaques. Twenty-eight days later, they were challenged with the virus and remained resistant. A vaccine based on attenuated recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) vector carrying either the Ebola glycoprotein or the Marburg glycoprotein in 2005 protected nonhuman primates, opening clinical trials in humans. The study by October completed the first human trial, over three months giving three vaccinations safely inducing an immune response. Individuals for a year were followed, and, in 2006, a study testing a faster-acting, single-shot vaccine began; this new study was completed in 2008. Trying the vaccine on a strain of Ebola that more resembles one that infects humans is the next step. On 6 December 2011, the development of a successfulvaccine against Ebola for mice was reported. Unlike the predecessors, it can be freeze-dried and thus stored for long periods in wait for an outbreak. An experimental vaccine made by researchers at Canada’s national laboratory in Winnipeg was used, in 2009, to pre-emptively treat a German scientist who might have been infected during a lab accident. However, actual EBOV infection was never demonstrated beyond doubt. Experimentally, recombinant vesicular stomatitis Indiana virus (VSIV) expressing the glycoprotein of EBOV or SUDV has been used successfully in nonhuman primate models as post-exposure prophylaxis. The CDC’s recommendations are currently under review.
Simultaneous phase 1 trials of an experimental vaccine known as the NIAID/GSK vaccine commenced in September 2014.GlaxoSmithKline and the NIH jointly developed the vaccine, based on a modified chimpanzee adenovirus, and contains parts of the Zaireand Sudan ebola strains. If this phase is completed successfully, the vaccine will be fast tracked for use in West Africa. In preparation for this, GSK is preparing a stockpile of 10,000 doses.
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Jump up^Formenty P, Libama F, Epelboin A, Allarangar Y, Leroy E, Moudzeo H, Tarangonia P, Molamou A, Lenzi M, Ait-Ikhlef K, Hewlett B, Roth C, Grein T (2003). “[Outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in the Republic of the Congo, 2003: a new strategy?]“. Med Trop (Mars) (in French) 63 (3): 291–5.PMID14579469.
Jump up^Borio L, Inglesby T, Peters CJ, Schmaljohn AL, Hughes JM, Jahrling PB, Ksiazek T, Johnson KM, Meyerhoff A, O’Toole T, Ascher MS, Bartlett J, Breman JG, Eitzen EM, Hamburg M, Hauer J, Henderson DA, Johnson RT, Kwik G, Layton M, Lillibridge S, Nabel GJ, Osterholm MT, Perl TM, Russell P, Tonat K (2002). “Hemorrhagic fever viruses as biological weapons: medical and public health management”. Journal of the American Medical Association287 (18): 2391–405.doi:10.1001/jama.287.18.2391. PMID11988060.
Jump up^Formenty P, Boesch C, Wyers M, Steiner C, Donati F, Dind F, Walker F, Le Guenno B (1999). “Ebola virus outbreak among wild chimpanzees living in a rain forest of Côte d’Ivoire”. The Journal of infectious diseases. 179. Suppl 1 (s1): S120–S126.doi:10.1086/514296. PMID9988175.
Jump up^Geisbert TW, Lee AC, Robbins M, Geisbert JB, Honko AN, Sood V, Johnson JC, de Jong S, Tavakoli I, Judge A, Hensley LE, Maclachlan I (29 May 2010). “Postexposure protection of non-human primates against a lethal Ebola virus challenge with RNA interference: A proof-of-concept study”. The Lancet375 (9729): 1896–1905. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60357-1.PMID20511019.
Jump up^Warren TK, Warfield KL, Wells J, Swenson DL, Donner KS, Van Tongeren SA, Garza NL, Dong L, Mourich DV, Crumley S, Nichols DK, Iversen PL, Bavari S (September 2010). “Advanced antisense therapies for postexposure protection against lethal filovirus infections”. Nature Medicine16 (9): 991–994.doi:10.1038/nm.2202. PMID20729866.
Jump up^Gehring G, Rohrmann K, Atenchong N, Mittler E, Becker S, Dahlmann F, Pöhlmann S, Vondran FW, David S, Manns MP, Ciesek S, von Hahn T (2014). “The clinically approved drugs amiodarone, dronedarone and verapamil inhibit filovirus cell entry”. J. Antimicrob. Chemother.69 (8): 2123–31.doi:10.1093/jac/dku091. PMID24710028.
Jump up^Tan, DX; Reiter, RJ; Manchester, LC (2014 Sep 27). “Ebola virus disease: Potential use of melatonin as a treatment.”. Journal of pineal research. PMID25262626.
Story 2: 315,000 More Americans Have Left Labor Force in September 2014 Bringing Total To 92,584,000 — Nearly Seven Years Later The Number of Employed Hits 146.6 Million Last Seen In November 2007 — Labor Participation Rate At 62.7% Should Be At 67% — The Ebola Income and Jobs Effect Will Hit In The November 7 Jobs Report After Elections — Videos
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Employment Situation Summary
Transmission of material in this release is embargoed until USDL-14-1796
8:30 a.m. (EDT) Friday, October 3, 2014
Household data: (202) 691-6378 • email@example.com • www.bls.gov/cps
Establishment data: (202) 691-6555 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.bls.gov/ces
Media contact: (202) 691-5902 • PressOffice@bls.gov
THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION -- SEPTEMBER 2014
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 248,000 in September, and the
unemployment rate declined to 5.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
reported today. Employment increased in professional and business services,
retail trade, and health care.
Household Survey Data
In September, the unemployment rate declined by 0.2 percentage point to 5.9
percent. The number of unemployed persons decreased by 329,000 to 9.3 million.
Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were
down by 1.3 percentage points and 1.9 million, respectively. (See table A-1.)
Among the major worker groups, unemployment rates declined in September for
adult men (5.3 percent), whites (5.1 percent), and Hispanics (6.9 percent). The
rates for adult women (5.5 percent), teenagers (20.0 percent), and blacks (11.0
percent) showed little change over the month. The jobless rate for Asians was
4.3 percent (not seasonally adjusted), little changed from a year earlier.
(See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)
Among the unemployed, the number of job losers and persons who completed temporary
jobs decreased by 306,000 in September to 4.5 million. The number of long-term
unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 3.0
million in September. These individuals accounted for 31.9 percent of the unemployed.
Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed is down by 1.2 million.
(See tables A-11 and A-12.)
The civilian labor force participation rate, at 62.7 percent, changed little in
September. The employment-population ratio was 59.0 percent for the fourth
consecutive month. (See table A-1.)
The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred
to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed in September at 7.1 million.
These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part
time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a
full-time job. (See table A-8.)
In September, 2.2 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force,
essentially unchanged from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.)
These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work,
and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as
unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.
(See table A-16.)
Among the marginally attached, there were 698,000 discouraged workers in September,
down by 154,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) Discouraged
workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are
available for them. The remaining 1.5 million persons marginally attached to the labor
force in September had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or
family responsibilities. (See table A-16.)
Establishment Survey Data
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 248,000 in September, compared with an
average monthly gain of 213,000 over the prior 12 months. In September, job growth
occurred in professional and business services, retail trade, and health care.
(See table B-1.)
Professional and business services added 81,000 jobs in September, compared with an
average gain of 56,000 per month over the prior 12 months. In September, job gains
occurred in employment services (+34,000), management and technical consulting
services (+12,000), and architectural and engineering services (+6,000). Employment
in legal services declined by 5,000 over the month.
Employment in retail trade rose by 35,000 in September. Food and beverage stores
added 20,000 jobs, largely reflecting the return of workers who had been off payrolls
in August due to employment disruptions at a grocery store chain in New England.
Employment in retail trade has increased by 264,000 over the past 12 months.
Health care added 23,000 jobs in September, in line with the prior 12-month average
gain of 20,000 jobs per month. In September, employment rose in home health care
services (+7,000) and hospitals (+6,000).
Employment in information increased by 12,000 in September, with a gain of 5,000
in telecommunications. Over the year, employment in information has shown little net
Mining employment rose by 9,000 in September, with the majority of the increase
occurring in support activities for mining (+7,000). Over the year, mining has added
Within leisure and hospitality, employment in food services and drinking places
continued to trend up in September (+20,000) and is up by 290,000 over the year.
In September, construction employment continued on an upward trend (+16,000).
Within the industry, employment in residential building increased by 6,000. Over
the year, construction has added 230,000 jobs.
Employment in financial activities continued to trend up in September (+12,000) and
has added 89,000 jobs over the year. In September, job growth occurred in insurance
carriers and related activities (+6,000) and in securities, commodity contracts,
and investments (+5,000).
Employment in other major industries, including manufacturing, wholesale trade,
transportation and warehousing, and government, showed little change over the month.
In September, the average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls
edged up by 0.1 hour to 34.6 hours. The manufacturing workweek was unchanged at
40.9 hours, and factory overtime edged up by 0.1 hour to 3.5 hours. The average
workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls
edged down by 0.1 hour to 33.7 hours. (See tables B-2 and B-7.)
Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls, at $24.53,
changed little in September (-1 cent). Over the year, average hourly earnings
have risen by 2.0 percent. In September, average hourly earnings of private-sector
production and nonsupervisory employees were unchanged at $20.67.
(See tables B-3 and B-8.)
The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for July was revised from +212,000
to +243,000, and the change for August was revised from +142,000 to +180,000.
With these revisions, employment gains in July and August combined were 69,000 more
than previously reported.
The Employment Situation for October is scheduled to be released on Friday,
November 7, 2014, at 8:30 a.m. (EST).
Employment Situation Summary Table A. Household data, seasonally adjusted
Summary table A. Household data, seasonally adjusted
[Numbers in thousands]
Civilian noninstitutional population
Civilian labor force
Not in labor force
Total, 16 years and over
Adult men (20 years and over)
Adult women (20 years and over)
Teenagers (16 to 19 years)
Black or African American
Asian (not seasonally adjusted)
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity
Total, 25 years and over
Less than a high school diploma
High school graduates, no college
Some college or associate degree
Bachelor’s degree and higher
Reason for unemployment
Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs
Duration of unemployment
Less than 5 weeks
5 to 14 weeks
15 to 26 weeks
27 weeks and over
Employed persons at work part time
Part time for economic reasons
Slack work or business conditions
Could only find part-time work
Part time for noneconomic reasons
Persons not in the labor force (not seasonally adjusted)
Marginally attached to the labor force
- Over-the-month changes are not displayed for not seasonally adjusted data.
NOTE: Persons whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race. Detail for the seasonally adjusted data shown in this table will not necessarily add to totals because of the independent seasonal adjustment of the various series. Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.
Employment Situation Summary Table B. Establishment data, seasonally adjusted
Summary table B. Establishment data, seasonally adjusted
Footnotes (1) Includes other industries, not shown separately. (2) Data relate to production employees in mining and logging and manufacturing, construction employees in construction, and nonsupervisory employees in the service-providing industries. (3) The indexes of aggregate weekly hours are calculated by dividing the current month’s estimates of aggregate hours by the corresponding annual average aggregate hours. (4) The indexes of aggregate weekly payrolls are calculated by dividing the current month’s estimates of aggregate weekly payrolls by the corresponding annual average aggregate weekly payrolls. (5) Figures are the percent of industries with employment increasing plus one-half of the industries with unchanged employment, where 50 percent indicates an equal balance between industries with increasing and decreasing employment. (p) Preliminary
Story 1: Obama Spreading Communicable Diseases Across United States With Illegal Aliens in Schools and Communities– TB, Virus, Ebola — What’s Next? — Pandemic! — Videos
Story 1: When Will Obama Close United States Airports and Borders To Flights and Travelers From Ebola Virus Disease Infected Countries Such As Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria? Time To Follow Saudi Arabia’s Stringent Ebola Checks! — Videos
Obama Just Endangered 250 Million Americans, UNBELIEVABLE!
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Ebola Outbreak: Saudi Arabia Bans Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia From Hajj
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SOMETHING ‘NEVER SEEN BEFORE’ IS COMING TO AMERICA (GLOBAL PANDEMIC)
Michael Osterholm on the Bird Flu in China
Pandemic Influenza: Science, Economics, and Foreign Policy: Session Two: The Economics
Watch experts analyze the economic effects of pandemic influenza including on the labor force and trade.
This session was part of a CFR symposium, Pandemic Influenza: Science, Economics, and Foreign Policy, which was cosponsored with Science Magazine.
Yanzhong Huang, Director, Center for Global Health Studies, Seton Hall University
Andrew Jack, Pharmaceutical Correspondent, Financial Times
Michael T. Osterholm, Director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), University of Minnesota (via teleconference)
Robert E. Rubin, Co-Chair, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Saudi Arabia bans Ebola-stricken countries from hajj pilgrimage
With the arrival of approximately two million people from around the world in Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage, there are a group of pilgrims who were not welcomed.
The Saudi government has banned the entry of travelers from three countries currently dealing with the Ebola epidemic: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The decision to reject visa requests from these countries has affected 7,400 people, according to the Associated Press.
Despite banning pilgrim seekers from West Africa, Saudi officials are granting visas to pilgrims travelling from Nigeria. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz International Airport has provided them with two exclusive lounges as a precaution.
“So far 118,000 pilgrims have arrived by air from Nigeria. There was not a single suspected case of the deadly virus among anyone of them,” said Abdul Ghani Al-Malki, supervisor of hajj affairs at the airport.
Saudi officials have also been closely monitoring incoming flights from Kenya, Congo and other countries with reported cases of Ebola. Al-Malki told the local Saudi Gazettethat airport’s health inspection center ensured that planes and their passengers were not only free of Ebola, but other contagious diseases as well. “We have double-checked the papers that prove the airplanes had been sprayed twice before taking off to their destinations.”
Saudi Arabia plays down Ebola concern for Hajj pilgrimage
Some in the crowd wore face masks – a possible precaution over Ebola fears
Two million Muslims have begun the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a five-day ritual central to Islam.
This year there have been concerns pilgrims may spread the contagious diseases Ebola and MERS.
Saudi Arabia, where the Hajj takes place, played down fears on Ebola, having banned pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Their decision has excluded 7,400 Muslims, though it is estimated that 1.4m of the pilgrims are international.
Some of the numbers involved in 2014’s Hajj – in 60 seconds
Saudi Arabia has claimed this year’s Hajj is Ebola free as pilgrims flooded into Mina, 5km (three miles) from the holy city of Mecca, for the start of the pilgrimage.
As well as refusing visas to those from the three countries worst hit by Ebola, Saudi authorities asked all visitors to fill out medical screening cards and detail their travels over the past three weeks.
But Ebola is not the only disease concerning the Saudi government.
MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, hit Saudi Arabia badly in the spring of this year.
Since 2012, there have been more than 750 cases of MERS in the country. Of this total 319 people died, some of whom were health workers.
The meaning of Hajj
Pilgrims walk around the Kaaba in Mecca, the building is the most sacred place in Islam and the direction of prayer for Muslims
Hajj is an annual five-day pilgrimage which all able-bodied Muslims are required to perform at least once in their lives, if they can afford it
It is the fifth and final pillar of Islam and is supposed to cleanse Muslims of sin and bring them closer to each other and God
The pilgrims, or Hajjis, wear simple white garments called “ihram” which give them all equal status
Those going on the hajj are required to abstain from sex, not to argue, kill anything or hunt and to avoid shaving and cutting their nails
Pilgrims perform several rituals during the hajj including walking counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba in Mecca, drinking from the Zam Zam Well and performing a symbolic stoning of the devil.
Will Airborne Ebola Become A Modern Global Plague?
The last several months have led to much confusion about the spread of the Ebola virus. Health officials and governments first denied that a serious threat existed and took no significant action to prevent its spread outside of West Africa. Then, after it had made it’s way to six different countries in the region, officials at the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control started to panic. Apathy gave way to the real fear that we were facing a virus on a whole different scale than ever before.
At its current rate, some mathematical models show that the virus could infect anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 by the end of the year, with over 4,000 people worldwide having been infected thus far. About 2,300 people, over 50% of those who have contracted it, have died.
Fired Up Obama to Immigration Activists: ‘No Force On Earth Can Stop Us’
‘Si se puede, si votamos! Yes, we can, if we vote!’
BY DANIEL HALPER
A fired up President Barack Obama had a message to immigration activists at a dinner this evening in Washington, D.C.: “no force on earth can stop us.”
“The clearest path to change is to change [the voter turnout] number,” said Obama “Si se puede, si votamos! Yes, we can, if we vote!”
“You know, earlier this year, I had a chance to host a screening of the film Cesar Chavez at the White House, and I was reminded that Cesar organized for nearly 20 years before his first major victory. He never saw that time as a failure. Looking back, he said, I remember the families who joined our movement and paid dues long before there was any hope of winning contracts. I remember thinking then that with spirit like that, no force on earth could stop us.
“That’s the promise of America then and that’s the promise of America now. People who love this country can change it. America isn’t Congress. America isn’t Washington. America is the striving immigrant who starts a business or the mom who works two low-wage jobs to give her kids a better life. America is the union leader and the CEO who put aside their differences to make the economy stronger. America is the student who defies the odds to become the first in the family to go to college. The citizen who defies the cynics and goes out there and votes. The young person who comes out of the shadows to demand the right to dream. That’s what America is about.
“And six years ago, I asked you to believe, and tonight, I ask you to keep believing, not just in my ability to bring about change, but in your ability to bring about change. Because in the end, DREAMer is more than just a title, it’s a pretty good description of what it means to be an American.
“In an abundance of caution, we have activated the appropriate infection control protocols, including isolating the patient,” said hospital spokesperson Kerry-Ann Hamilton in a statement. “Our medical team continues to evaluate and monitor progress in close collaboration with the CDC and the Department of Health.”
Hamilton did not share further details about the patient, citing privacy reasons, but said the hospital will provide updates as warranted.
The D.C. Department of Health released a statement shortly before 1 p.m. Wednesday, saying that the department has been working with the CDC and Howard University Hospital to monitor “any patients displaying symptoms associated with the Ebola virus.”
There are no confirmed cases of Ebola in D.C., said the statement.
At Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Maryland, a patient is in isolation with “flu-like symptoms and a travel history that matches criteria for possible Ebola,” according to a statement from the hospital. Lab results indicate the patient has another illness.
“We are working closely with the Montgomery County Health Department and State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) as well as the CDC to manage this case and to ensure we continue to be prepared to care for patients with Ebola symptoms,” the statement said.
“We will only be making an announcement if and when there is a laboratory confirmed case, and that announcement would be made in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the CDC,” Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Mary Anderson said.
The White House announced Friday that senior administration officials will hold a briefing on the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola pandemic at 4:30 p.m., NBC News reported.
As public health advocates had warned, the raging Ebola outbreak in West Africa has begun to affect Westerners, though the disease is difficult to spread casually.
The cameraman, Ashoka Mukpo, had been working with chief medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman. NBC News is flying Mukpo and the entire team back to the U.S. so Mukpo can be treated and the team can be quarantined for 21 days.
Snyderman told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that she and the rest of her crew have shown no signs of the disease and have taken precautions while covering the outbreak, including washing their hands with bleach.
The crew are quarantining themselves as a precaution.
“There is no risk to people who have been in contact with those who have been sick with Ebola and recovered, or people who have been exposed and have not yet shown symptoms,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden of the CDC.
Officials Say About 100 Individuals Will Be Monitored for Potential Exposure
By ANA CAMPOY, DREW HINSHAW and DAN FROSCH
The number of people in Texas who are being screened for potential exposure to Ebola expanded to approximately 100, and four members of a family close to the U.S. patient were ordered to remain in their Dallas home. (Photo: AP)
The number of people in Texas who are being screened for potential exposure to Ebola expanded Thursday to roughly 100, as health officials cast a wide net to try to prevent the one confirmed case of the disease from sparking an outbreak.
Four members of a family close to Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man diagnosed with the virus, were ordered to remain in their Dallas home and not receive any visitors until at least Oct. 19, to pass the 21-day maximum incubation period for the often-deadly disease.
The 100 people being screened represent a “very wide net,” including some who possibly had brief encounters with Mr. Duncan, Texas health officials said. They added that the number is likely to drop as they narrow the list to those actually at potential risk of infection.
Thursday, an American freelance journalist in Liberia tested positive for the disease, his father and his employer, NBC News, said. The 33-year-old man is tentatively scheduled to be transported back to the U.S. on Sunday.
In Mr. Duncan’s case, Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said officials so far have identified only “a handful” of individuals who may have had close contact with him.
The public health search comes as authorities in Liberia grapple with how Mr. Duncan managed to leave their country and bring Ebola to the U.S. despite government efforts to stop transmission of the virus, a journey that took him from a neighborhood of tin-roof houses in a West African capital to an isolation ward at a Dallas hospital.
Before traveling to Texas via Belgium, Mr. Duncan escorted a woman to a treatment ward in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, where she was turned away and died of the virus within hours, said Irene Seyou, Mr. Duncan’s next-door neighbor.
In a community near where U.S. victim Thomas Eric Duncan lived in Monrovia, many have died and children are worried they will be taken away. Glenna Gordon for The Wall Street Journal
On Sept. 16, several health workers arrived in Mr. Duncan’s neighborhood in Monrovia to investigate a report that a pregnant 18-year-old woman, recently sent home from a nearby clinic, had shown Ebola symptoms that included vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding, said Prince Toe and other members of the Ebola Response Team in the capital’s 72nd community.
But when the team arrived in the neighborhood, residents insisted the pregnant teenager had been in a car accident, said Mr. Toe, the unit’s supervisor. When the neighbors grew rowdy at being pressed for information, the team turned back, he said.
At Liberia’s airport, the temperatures of arriving and departing passengers are checked three times by security guards—at the entrance, before the check-in desk and at the metal detectors—to screen out those who display Ebola’s hallmark early symptom, a fever.
Passengers are asked to fill out questionnaires about whether they had been in contact with any Ebola victims. Mr. Duncan lied on those forms—and would be prosecuted for doing so if he returns to Liberia—the Associated Press reported Liberia’s government as saying Thursday.
Mr. Duncan is in an isolation unit at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, which initially sent him home with antibiotics after he complained of illness, only to accept him on Sunday after he returned in an ambulance. Hospital officials have since conceded that they erred by not taking him in initially after he mentioned his symptoms and country of origin.
Hospital officials said Thursday that Mr. Duncan’s condition continued to be serious. Dr. Frieden of the CDC said Mr. Duncan’s physicians were discussing the possible use of experimental treatments with his family.
Edward Goodman, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital’s epidemiologist, said the team of doctors treating Mr. Duncan has received guidelines from the CDC but that there is no specific treatment for Ebola other than supportive measures, such as keeping the patient well hydrated to avoid organ damage and supplying oxygen.
Most of the 100 people Texas is tracking for potential Ebola exposure haven’t been ordered to stay home. Officials said they ordered four of Mr. Duncan’s family members to remain in their home because the family disobeyed their request to stay there. They said the family, which was examined Thursday, hadn’t developed any symptoms. A law enforcement official is stationed outside their apartment to make sure they don’t leave.
Ebola is a highly contagious virus, but only if you come into contact with certain bodily fluids of those infected. What do scientists know about how it’s transmitted? WSJ’s Jason Bellini has #TheShortAnswer.
Judge Clay Jenkins, the highest elected official in Dallas County, said there were no plans to issue similar orders for other people. Local and state health officials said they had delivered groceries to the family and were arranging for a contractor to clean the apartment. Mr. Jenkins said it appeared that sealed bags filled with Mr. Duncan’s belongings, including his clothes and sheets, were still inside, and that the family had pushed mattresses against the wall.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings sought to assure the public that the risk of contagion was minimal. “We’re getting the word out and people are starting to understand what has happened,” he said.
Still, at schools attended by five children who came into contact with Mr. Duncan, attendance was down to 86% from the 95% level that is normal, said Mike Miles, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, who added that custodians were doing extra cleaning.
While officials sought to control the panic over Ebola in Texas, some people who had come into contact with Mr. Duncan wondered why he hadn’t received treatment sooner.
Joe Joe Jallah said he met Mr. Duncan last week when visiting Mr. Jallah’s former wife, Louise Troh, the same woman Mr. Duncan had come to see in the U.S.
Ms. Troh declined to speak about the situation when reached by phone.
Mr. Jallah, who has a daughter with Ms. Troh, said he listened as Mr. Duncan described how dire things had become in Liberia, and how rigorous the health screenings were during his trip to the U.S.
Several days later, on Saturday, Mr. Jallah said he heard that Mr. Duncan had fallen ill at Ms. Troh’s apartment. Concerned, Mr. Jallah went back.
“He was lying down on the floor with a comforter. He said he was sick and that he had no appetite,” Mr. Jallah said.
“I said, ‘Did you go to the hospital?’ He said, ‘Yes, but they did nothing for me,’” Mr. Jallah recalled. “I said, ‘You should eat so you can gain strength.’”
The next day, Mr. Jallah said he returned after his daughter, Youngor Jallah, a nurse’s aide who visits her mother frequently, called, sounding frantic and saying that Mr. Duncan was still sick.
Ms. Jallah said Mr. Duncan had been up all night with diarrhea. His eyes were red, he seemed exhausted and had no appetite for the breakfast she made. He tried to drink some tea. Ms. Jallah took his temperature and it was 104, she said.
Ms. Jallah decided to call an ambulance. When emergency workers came, she informed them that Mr. Duncan was sick and had traveled to Dallas from a virus stricken-region in Africa. The workers put masks over their faces.
Ms. Jallah said she has since been told she and her family must stay in their home for 17 more days.
“I am concerned for myself. When I took his blood pressure, I never had no protection. I worry about my kids. My kids were over there with my mom,” she said.
Osterholm has been particularly outspoken on the lack of international prepardness for an influenzapandemic. Osterholm has also been an international leader against the use of biological agents as weapons targeted toward civilians.
Osterholm serves on the editorial boards of five journals, and is a reviewer for another two dozen. He is a past president of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) and has served on the CDC National Center for Infectious Diseases Board of Scientific Counselors from 1992 to 1997.
Osterholm serves on the IOM Forum on Emerging Infections. He has served on the IOM Committee on Emerging Microbial Threats to Health in the 21st Century and the IOM Committee on Food Safety, Production to Consumption, and he was a reviewer for the IOM Report on Chemical and Biological Terrorism. He is a frequent consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Defense, and the CDC.
California SUPERVOLCANO Earthquake Swarm — Mono Lake / Mammoth Mountain
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Supervolcano.The Truth About Yellowstone.
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Mammoth earthquake swarm is the largest in nearly a decade
Morre than 600 small earthquakes have rattled the Mammoth Lakes region in less than 36 hours as ripple effects continued across one of the most seismically active volcanic regions in California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The swarm of quakes — ranging from magnitude 1.0 to 3.8 — began just before 5 a.m. Thursday, according to the USGS.
“This is one of the largest earthquake swarms we’ve seen in the past decade or so,” said David Shelly, a USGS research seismologist who has been studying the volcanic system near Mammoth Lakes. “We’ll be tracking it closely.”
Residents reported periodic rattles through the day but said they were used to the shaking given that Mammoth is a seismically active area.
Earthquake swarms are not uncommon to this region in California’s Eastern Sierra. Countless small faults crisscross the area known as the Long Valley Caldera, Shelly said. This roughly 20-mile-wide crater-like depression, adjacent to Mammoth Mountain, was formed from ash and pumice deposits during a volcanic “super eruption” about 760,000 years ago.
At 11,053 feet, Mammoth Mountain is a lava dome complex on the southwest rim of the caldera and last erupted about 57,000 years ago. The volcanic region is one of the most seismically active in a mostly quiet network of 17 volcanoes throughout California.
The central part of the caldera has been uplifting slowly in recent decades, and these earthquake swarms happen episodically as part of the volcanic and tectonic interactions in the area, Shelly said.
It doesn’t mean that the volcano is any more active. It’s an ongoing process in an volcanic system.
– David Shelly, USGS research seismologist
Deep down in the earth, there is magma, but the magma is not what’s moving, Shelly said. The earthquakes are usually triggered when water and carbon dioxide above the magma move up into higher layers of the earth’s crust and into the cracks of the small faults. The increase in fluid pressure sets off the movements.
“It doesn’t mean that the volcano is any more active,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process in an volcanic system.”
The latest earthquakes seem to be occurring in the same location as a swarm in July, when about 200 quakes of magnitude 2.7 or smaller rocked the area.
The size of the most recent swarm was notable, but was not nearly the size of some swarms in the 1980s and 1990s.
In the 1980s, the area was hit with multiple 6.0-magnitude temblors, which were likely overshadowed by the Mount St. Helens eruption in Washington state, Shelly said.
The last larger swarm occurred in 1997, when temblors as high as magnitude 4.9 shook the region. Thousands of earthquakes were part of that sequence, which lasted several months, Shelly said.
Mammoth quake swarm
Mammoth Mountain is one of the most seismically active volcanoes in California. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
There has been no indication that this week’s earthquakes will turn into anything like what happened in 1997. About 109 quakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater have been recorded since Thursday morning, while hundreds of smaller 1.0-magnitude quakes made up a bulk of the activity. At least six were greater than 3.0 magnitude.
By midday Friday, the swarm seemed to be slowing down, but Shelly said scientists would continue to monitor the area closely.
“At this point, we don’t know if it would continue to die down, or if there’d be another stage to this swarm,” Shelly said. “This is certainly an interesting scientific opportunity to better understand the processes that are driving this activity.”
Story 1: The Select Committee on Benghazi Will Never Answer The Most Important Questions — Why Was The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) In Benghazi, Libya and What Were They Doing? — Shipping Arms Through Turkey To The Syrian Rebels — Free Syrian Army, Al Nustra, Islamic State — Al Qaeda Arms Deal Gone Bad — Congress and Obama Arms Our Enemies To Kill Christians — The War on Christians! — Videos
The Tyrant’s Liars Club
Benghazi Select Committee Holds First Public Hearing Trey Gowdy On The Record
Watch Live: Select Committee on Benghazi Holds First Hearing
President Obama announces bipartisan House and Senate support of his plan to arm rebels in Syria
Islamic State: Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels approved
Rand Paul Lambasts White House, Congress for Arming Syrian Rebels
General: Benghazi ‘Botched Arms Deal’ To Muslim Brotherhood And Al Qaeda
Chairman Gowdy’s Questioning in First Benghazi Select Committee Hearing
Trey Gowdy Demands Answers On Benghazi
Rand Paul Destroys Hillary Clinton Over Benghazi-Gate During Capitol Hill Press Conference
Chaffetz: Clinton’s Top Aides Involved In Benghazi Documents Scrub
Hillary allies secretly removed Benghazi documents damaging to her ahead of ARB probe
Obama Admin Lied To Us! They Knew Who Attack Us In Benghazi, Libya On 9-11!!
RUSH: Benghazi Cover-Up Blown Wide Open And Nobody’s Talking About It
CIA Arming Syrian Rebels With Missiles, Taxpayer Dollars
Congress Passes War Funding To Support Obama’s ISIS Fight
The Benghazi Select Committee: Many Questions Remain Unanswered
Patrick Cockburn on the rise of the Islamic State
The Rise of ISIS: US Invasion of Iraq, Foreign Backing of Syrian Rebels Helped Fuel Jihadis’ Advance
Patrick Cockburn: U.S. Turns Blind Eye As Saudis Fund Jihadists in Syrian Conflict (2 of 2)
Syria – Who are Jabhat al-Nusra? – Truthloader
Who are ISIS? – Truthloader
Thousands of Surface To Air Missiles Are Missing In Libya
Libya rebels discover Gaddafi’s huge tank store in Tripoli ready for battle
The largest arms depot in Africa ( Alqaha)been taking over by Libyan freedom fighters
Benghazi, Arms for Rebels & Obama Lies About Syrian Chemical Weapons
FSA rebels shoot down SAA aircraft with 9K38 “Igla” MANPADS
Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front): Reports on Terror Group from CNN & Al-Jazeera… Purpose Explained!
13 Hours – Full Interview of the Three Benghazi Survivors – Fox News
Benghazi – The Truth Behind The Smokescreen – Bret Baier Reporting
Glenn Beck Why Obama Hid the Truth of Benghazi
Rep. Trey Gowdy blasts Jay Carney and Ambassador Susan Rice: I want to know why we were lied to!
Susan Rice Caught Lying About Benghazi – Rep. Trey Gowdy Whistleblower Questioning
Treason Exposed! Obama Used Benghazi Attack to Cover Up Arms Shipments to Muslim Brotherhood
CIA Pressuring Agents With Knowledge Of Benghazi To Keep Silent
SYRIA CNBC: Benghazi Is Not About Libya But An Operation To Put Arms & Men In Syria
Retired Lt Gen Jerry Boykin suspects US Was Running Guns To Syrian Rebels Via Benghazi
SYRIA Rand Paul “Maybe We Were Facilitating Arms Leaving Libya Going Through Turkey Into Syria”
Rand Paul Blasts Stupid Senate for Wanting to Arm Syrian al-Qaeda Fighters
Sen. Rand Paul: ‘Worldwide War on Christianity’ Ignored by Obama, Media
House Votes to Arm Syrian Rebels; CR Passes (Updated) (Video)
After voting to give President Barack Obama the authority to arm and train Syrian rebels, the House passed legislation Wednesday to fund the government until Dec. 11, moving the bill to avoid a government shutdown and address Islamic State organizations to the Senate.
House lawmakers voted 319-108 to pass the continuing resolution, with 143 Democrats joining 176 Republicans in support of the measure. 55 Democrats and 53 Republicans voted against the bill.
A vote on the spending bill, which will continue government spending through Dec. 11 at a $1.012 trillion level, was delayed last week so lawmakers could attach a request from the president to give him Title 10 authority to fight the Islamic State group.
That authority would allow the Obama administration to equip Syrian rebels for the intended purpose of fighting ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also referred to as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Obama praised the House and urged the Senate to follow suit on the legislation, which he reiterated is not an authorization for the use of U.S. troops in Syria.
“Today’s vote is another step closer to having the authorization to train and equip vetted elements of the moderate Syrian opposition so they can defend themselves against, and ultimately push back on, ISIL forces,” he said in a statement
Just before the CR vote, lawmakers voted 273-156 to adopt the Syrian rebel amendment. 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats voted for the proposal, while 85 Republicans and 71 Democrats voted against it.
As voting on the amendment took place, members stared at the board in the House chamber showing who was voting for the amendment and who was voting against it. Despite a tally that was never really close, it was a dramatic vote.
Much of the debate on the CR turned into a debate on the proposal to arm Syrian rebels, and, more broadly, the specter of another war in the Middle East. In fact, the CR has become such a proxy for the Syria amendment that the Club for Growth, a conservative group opposed to the spending bill, withdrew its key vote on the legislation, explaining that the vote was now largely driven by foreign policy.
But if it were true that foreign policy was driving decisions on the CR, then it was the memories of past foreign policy decisions largely driving this current debate.
Liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans worried on the House floor that this initial authorization was the first step of a larger military entanglement.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a staunch opponent of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said the six-hour debate on the amendment reminded her of “the failure to have a thorough and robust debate in the wake of 9/11,” which, she said resulted in an overly broad authorization that was a “blank check for perpetual war.”
Other members voted against the amendment because they worried of an opposite effect. Louisiana Republican John Fleming expressed concern that the authorization was “little more than an incremental strategy, not unlike the one used in Vietnam.”
“History warns of the dangers of such approaches,” Fleming said. “By moving hesitantly in piecemeal fashion, the enemy has more time to learn, adapt and get stronger. This is a recipe for a stalemate and failure.”
Many other lawmakers expressed concern over the stated strategy of arming the Free Syrian Army. They said there was no guarantee those rebels would always be allies of the United States, or that they wouldn’t simply use their U.S.-supplied weapons to take down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad instead of ISIL.
The Obama administration says there will be a thorough vetting process before any Syrian rebel is handed a weapon, but, by Wednesday, many lawmakers remained less than convinced. California Republican Dana Rohrabacher called the administration’s plan “wishful thinking, not realistic planning.”
But congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle insisted the authority was needed.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said earlier Wednesday that Obama deserved the support of Democrats in what she acknowledged was a “war vote,” but a proposal that was “discrete” and “short-term.”
“It is not pleasant, it’s not easy,” Pelosi later said on the House floor. “It’s hard. But it really is necessary for the House to approve this.”
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said ISIL was already threatening U.S. allies in the Middle East and in Europe. ”And if left unchecked,” he said, “it will surely threaten us here at home.”
The ranking Democrat on the Armed Services panel, Adam Smith of Washington, argued that arming Syrian rebels would deny ISIL a “safe-haven,” and Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, who sponsored the amendment, said there was “no doubt” that any strategy to defeat ISIL would need to include a Syria component.
The plan to arm Syrian rebels is a middle-of-the-road response to the rise of ISIL. It isn’t an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, as the amendment explicitly indicates, and it won’t, by itself, dismantle terrorists in the region. But it’s not nothing.
Speaker John A. Boehner appealed to his conference by arguing this was a first step toward defeating ISIL, saying Congress had a responsibility to give the president this authority. While hetold reporters Tuesday there’s “a lot more” the U.S. needed to be doing to address ISIL, the Ohio Republican said there was “no reason not to do what the president asked us to do.”
Already, GOP leaders seem to be indicating that the House may soon consider a new authorization for use of military force for the Middle East, with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthytelling reporters on Monday that, “after November,” there may be an “opportunity” to debate a larger military authorization.
As for the CR itself, the 10-week extension, if it is — as expected — agreed to by the Senate and signed by the president, will force lawmakers to return after the midterm elections and begin work on a more permanent spending solution. Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said he was hopeful the House and Senate could work out an omnibus package similar to the one lawmakers worked out in January 2014.
“It is my sincere hope that if this CR is enacted, we can use the coming months wisely to craft agreement on all 12 bills by Dec. 11,” said the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Nita M. Lowey of New York. “There is absolutely no reason to punt our responsibilities into the new year and new Congress.”
Conservatives had pushed for a longer CR — one that would fund the government until, say, March 1, 2015 — so that a new Congress, perhaps one with a Senate under Republican control, could set the spending levels. Conservatives also voiced concern over extending the Export-Import Bank until June 30, 2015. They wanted to simply let the credit agency expire.
But the reauthorization until June 30 seemed to scare Democrats more than Republicans. Democrats are showing unease that they won’t have a must-pass bill in June to which they can attach another extension of the Ex-Im Bank, and they worry that decoupling the agency from a spending bill will ultimately kill it.
Democrats seemed to understand, however, that holding up the CR over the length of extension on such an inside-the-Beltway issue would not be politically advantageous just before an election.
Passing the CR allows both Republicans and Democrats to get back to their districts early and campaign for about six weeks before the midterms. While the House is scheduled to be in session next week, most aides expect McCarthy to cancel the remaining legislative days before November and send everyone to the campaign trail early.
Clinton insiders screened Benghazi documents before ARB probe, official says
BY ED MORRISSEY
Just how unfettered was that “unfettered access” promised by the State Department to the Accountability Review Board in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack two years ago? According to one of the four officials punished and then cleared by State for the failures that led to the death of four men, a weekend housecleaning operation kept the ARB from seeing some of the most explosive documentation related to the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens. Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell told Sharyl Attkisson that the operation was supervised by advisers within Hillary Clinton’s inner circle, in this Daily Signal exclusive:
As the House Select Committee on Benghazi prepares for its first hearing this week, a former State Department diplomat is coming forward with a startling allegation: Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to “separate” damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. This is the first time Maxwell has publicly come forward with the story. …
When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.
“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors.
“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’ ”
Not long afterward, two people high up the State Department chain arrived to check on the operation. Attkisson describes them as “close confidants” of Hillary Clinton, probably from Maxwell’s own description, although neither are named in Attkisson’s report. Maxwell says that both of them accompanied him into another office with a fourth person, where they personally vetted more documents:
Maxwell says after those two officials arrived, he, the office director and an intern moved into a small office where they looked through some papers. Maxwell says his stack included pre-attack telegrams and cables between the U.S. embassy in Tripoli and State Department headquarters. After a short time, Maxwell says he decided to leave.
“I didn’t feel good about it,” he said.
Don’t expect that this will disappear as quietly. Maxwell says that members of the select House committee on Benghazi have already deposed him on this weekend filing session, including both chair Trey Gowdy and Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Chaffetz told Attkisson that he is “100% confident the Benghazi Select Committee is going to dive deep on that issue.”
The ARB has insisted all along that they conducted a thorough and independent probe, a claim at which Maxwell scoffs on both counts in Attkisson’s report. This could let them off the hook, though. If State conspired to hide evidence from them, it will give the ARB an opening to withdraw their report — which would be a PR move entirely, since the ARB had no authoritative status otherwise — and give Congress even more validation for pursuing this in select-committee form. If Maxwell testifies to this in open session and the BSC finds one or more corroborating witnesses, it will put this right back front and center. And we may still yet hear from the unnamed advisers, too, as to what their orders were, and who gave them.
Benghazi Post-Attack Satellite Revelations
Benghazi, Libya showing the locations of the U. S. Consulate and CIA Annex on the outskirts of town
Perplexing questions yet remain surrounding the attacks in Benghazi that killed U.S. Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Satellite images taken before and AFTER the attacks, which anyone can view on Google Earth, show evidence of the attacks at both the Consulate and CIA Annex. They help clarify conditions on the ground at the time.
Google Earth (GE) is an incredibly useful online tool. With it, armchair sleuths at home can uncover important details about news events that get overlooked by the big shot mainstream media.
Such is the case with the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
Geography and News Events
Google Earth provides two unique capabilities to the armchair sleuth:
A scalable geographic look at any place on Earth and its surroundings
A history of images of that place to investigate its background and history
Most important for investigating the Benghazi attacks is that the most current GE satellite image of both the Consulate and CIA Annex were taken on 9/17/2012, just 6 days after the attack.
GE’s image history is used to go back and forth between before and after images to identify evidence of the attacks visible from space.
For the attack on the CIA Annex this is particularly important because Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed when hit by mortar fire while defending the Annex from a rooftop position.
Plainly visible on the satellite image of the Consulate complex are the burned out remains of two vehicles, the charred remains of burnt furniture next to one of the vehicles and the couch and other things tossed into the swimming pool by either the terrorists or looters.
GE shows us that the U.S. Consulate is located on the outskirts of Benghazi in a very open area surrounded by an orchard and soccer field. Contrary to news reports, GE tells us it is in a narrow rectangular shaped property about 300 feet wide and 800 feet long.
The property is surrounded by trees with no visible wall. It was built as a residence. It has two gates.
The back gate has no defenses whatsoever.
The consulate has three main buildings and a guardhouse at the front gate. The front gate has been fortified with barriers since October of 2011. Those barriers are the only visible signs of increased security at the Consulate. The unprotected back gate opens onto Fourth Ring Road, one of the main streets circling Benghazi.
Its three main structures are the consulate building, a detached Ambassador’s residence with saferoom where Ambassador Stephens was found; and a nearby guard barracks near the front gate.
GE history reveals the main consulate building, detached residence and swimming pool were a lonely patch of dirt in August of 2007 and that they were under construction in June of 2009. Little has changed since then.
During the consulate attack Navy SEAL Woods and others came from the CIA Annex, fought their way to consulate, rescued staff and recovered the body of Sean Smith. They took them back to the CIA Annex from the consulate.
The CIA Annex
CIA Annex showing where mortar rounds struck building tops and grounds
Line of sight, the CIA Annex complex is located about a mile from the consulate next to what appears to be a large warehouse with many buildings.
The annex is within a thick wall surrounding a 300 X 400 foot rectangle. It is better fortified and much more defensible than the consulate. It is also closer to civilian targets.
The annex took mortar fire. Mortar strikes show up as distinct smudges on the satellite image near the red dots. Navy SEALs Doherty and Woods were killed by one of the rooftop mortar strikes.
GE history reveals the annex was built some time after June 28th, 2009.
From satellite images it is easy to see why Ambassador Stephens would be seriously concerned about consulate security, especially given all the al Qaeda activity in area and previous attacks.
The consulate, originally built as someone’s house, was barely modified after it was acquired by the U.S. government. It is not even clear from satellite imagery that it had a surrounding wall. Its unguarded back gate opens onto a main Benghazi street and is easily penetrable.
The Annex is better protected and was successfully defended against a physical breach, albeit at the cost of Doherty and Woods who gave their lives defending the annex from a rooftop position.
Woods and Doherty probably deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor for their heroic efforts.
Armchair sleuthing reveals this immutable fact… the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, one of the most dangerous places in the world, was woefully under-protected at the time of the attacks. The warning signs of another inevitable attack were all present. Those up the chain of command had been told.
Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith and the others didn’t stand a chance.
Someone MUST be held accountable!
Intrigue Surrounding The Secret CIA Operation In Benghazi Is Not Going Away
In May CNN’s Jake Tapper argued that the CIA’s presence in Benghazi, where four Americans were killed in an attack on September 11, 2012, should be scrutinized.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) agreed, saying: “There are questions that must be asked of the CIA and this must be done in a public way.”
The Agency, for its part, doesn’t want anyone knowing what it was doing in the Libyan port city.
Sources told CNN that 35 Americans were in Benghazi that night — 21 of whom were working out of the annex — and that several were wounded, some seriously.
One source said: “You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation.”
Among the questions are whether CIA missteps contributed to the security failure in Benghazi and, more importantly, whether the Agency’s Benghazi operation had anything to do with reported heavy weapons shipments from the local port to Syrian rebels.
In short, the CIA operation is the most intriguing thing about Benghazi.
Here’s what we know:
At about 9:40 p.m. local time on Sept. 11, a mob of Libyans attacked a building housing U.S. State Department personnel. At 10:20 p.m. Americans arrived from a CIA annex located 1.2 miles away, to help the besieged Americans. At 11:15 p.m. they fled with survivors back to the secret outpost.
Armed Libyans followed them and attacked the annex with rockets and small arms from around midnight to 1:00 a.m., when there was a lull in the fighting.
At about 5:15 a.m., right after Doherty’s group arrived, the attackers began shooting mortars at the annex, leading to the death of Doherty and fellow former Navy SEAL and CIA contractor Tyrone Woods.
At 6 a.m. Libyan forces from the military intelligence service arrived and subsequently took more than 30 Americans — only seven of whom were from the State Department — to the Benghazi airport.
So the CIA’s response to go to the mission where Ambassador Christopher Stevens was located, after being held back for 20 minutes, saved American lives but also ended up exposing the annex.
And according to Paula Broadwell, the mistress of David Petraeus when he was CIA director, the CIA may have provided an impetus for the attack by holding prisoners: “Now I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back.”‘
At its heart a CIA operation’
The top-secret presence and location of the CIA outpost was first acknowledged by Charlene Lamb, a top official in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, during Congressional testimony in October.
In January, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that the CIA was leading a “concerted effort to try to track down and find and recover … MANPADS [man-portable air defense systems]” looted from the stockpiles of toppled Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
The State Department “consulate” served as diplomatic cover for the previously-hidden annex.
Weapons from Benghazi to Syria
Also in October we reported the connection between Ambassador Stevens, who died in the attack, and a reported September shipment of SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles (i.e. MANPADS) and rocket-propelled grenades from Benghazi to Syria through southern Turkey.
That 400-ton shipment — “the largest consignment of weapons” yet for Syrian rebels — was organized by Abdelhakim Belhadj, who was the newly-appointed head of the Tripoli Military Council.
Stevens’ last meeting on Sept. 11 was with Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and a source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi “to negotiate a weapons transfer in an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists.”
Syrian rebels subsequently began shooting down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets with SA-7s akin to those in Qaddafi’s looted stock. (The interim Libyan government also sent money and fighters to Syria.)
What did the CIA know?
Collectively these details raise the question of what the CIA knew, given that Agency operatives in Libya were rounding up SA-7s, ostensibly to destroy them, while operatives in southern Turkey were funneling weapons to the rebels.
The State Department told CNN that it was not involved in any transfer of weapons to other countries, but it “can’t speak for any other agencies.”
Ambassador Stevens certainly would have known if the new Libyan government was sending 400 tons of heavy weapons to Turkey from Benghazi’s port.
Just like the CIA would know if those the weapons arrived in Turkey and began showing up in Syria.
Journalist Damien Spleeters created this sourced map, drawing info shared on social media such as YouTube, that gives an idea of the MANPADS presence in Syria.
We’ve added red tag noting the Turkish port, Iskenderun, where the massive SA-7 shipment docked.
And this map of nearby Turkish highways shows that the heavy weapons could have been transported from the port to the Syrian city of Aleppo in three hours.
Other intriguing details
This week Nancy Youssef of McClatchy reported that Ambassador Stevens twice turned down offers for additional security, despite specifically asking for more men in cables to the State Department.
Right after the attack American Matthew VanDyke, who fought with Libyan rebels during their revolution, told us he suspected that extremist groups in the nearby mountains — who felt marginalized by the new Libyan government — “saw their opportunity to pounce.”
In May Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) told CNN: “I’ve actually always suspected that, although I have no evidence, that maybe we were facilitating arms leaving Libya going through Turkey into Syria. … Were they trying to obscure that there was an arms operation going on at the CIA annex? I’m not sure exactly what was going on, but I think questions ought to be asked and answered.”
So now that the White House has released more than 100 pages of Benghazi emails, and the State Department’s role during and after the attack have been probed ad nauseam, the only thing to explore is “whatever [the CIA] was doing.”
In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.＊ Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.
Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.
For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’
The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)
Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.
The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.
A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’
In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.
The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’
In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.
At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)
The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’
The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’
The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.
The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’
Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.
The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.
Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)
The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)
In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)
The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.
The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’
Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.
By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’
There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.
An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.
The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoğlu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)
But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.
The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.
Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.
The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’
A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’
As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’
The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’
Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of a government national security meeting, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander, if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.
Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’
Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.
He cited a list of what appeared to be hard-won evidence of Assad’s culpability: ‘In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighbourhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.’ Obama’s certainty was echoed at the time by Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, who told the New York Times: ‘No one with whom I’ve spoken doubts the intelligence’ directly linking Assad and his regime to the sarin attacks.
But in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’
The complaints focus on what Washington did not have: any advance warning from the assumed source of the attack. The military intelligence community has for years produced a highly classified early morning intelligence summary, known as the Morning Report, for the secretary of defence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a copy also goes to the national security adviser and the director of national intelligence. The Morning Report includes no political or economic information, but provides a summary of important military events around the world, with all available intelligence about them. A senior intelligence consultant told me that some time after the attack he reviewed the reports for 20 August through 23 August. For two days – 20 and 21 August – there was no mention of Syria. On 22 August the lead item in the Morning Report dealt with Egypt; a subsequent item discussed an internal change in the command structure of one of the rebel groups in Syria. Nothing was noted about the use of nerve gas in Damascus that day. It was not until 23 August that the use of sarin became a dominant issue, although hundreds of photographs and videos of the massacre had gone viral within hours on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. At this point, the administration knew no more than the public.
Obama left Washington early on 21 August for a hectic two-day speaking tour in New York and Pennsylvania; according to the White House press office, he was briefed later that day on the attack, and the growing public and media furore. The lack of any immediate inside intelligence was made clear on 22 August, when Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the State Department, told reporters: ‘We are unable to conclusively determine [chemical weapons] use. But we are focused every minute of every day since these events happened … on doing everything possible within our power to nail down the facts.’ The administration’s tone had hardened by 27 August, when Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, told reporters – without providing any specific information – that any suggestions that the Syrian government was not responsible ‘are as preposterous as suggestions that the attack itself didn’t occur’.
The absence of immediate alarm inside the American intelligence community demonstrates that there was no intelligence about Syrian intentions in the days before the attack. And there are at least two ways the US could have known about it in advance: both were touched on in one of the top secret American intelligence documents that have been made public in recent months by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor.
On 29 August, the Washington Post published excerpts from the annual budget for all national intelligence programmes, agency by agency, provided by Snowden. In consultation with the Obama administration, the newspaper chose to publish only a slim portion of the 178-page document, which has a classification higher than top secret, but it summarised and published a section dealing with problem areas. One problem area was the gap in coverage targeting Assad’s office. The document said that the NSA’s worldwide electronic eavesdropping facilities had been ‘able to monitor unencrypted communications among senior military officials at the outset of the civil war there’. But it was ‘a vulnerability that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces apparently later recognised’. In other words, the NSA no longer had access to the conversations of the top military leadership in Syria, which would have included crucial communications from Assad, such as orders for a nerve gas attack. (In its public statements since 21 August, the Obama administration has never claimed to have specific information connecting Assad himself to the attack.)
The Post report also provided the first indication of a secret sensor system inside Syria, designed to provide early warning of any change in status of the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal. The sensors are monitored by the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that controls all US intelligence satellites in orbit. According to the Postsummary, the NRO is also assigned ‘to extract data from sensors placed on the ground’ inside Syria. The former senior intelligence official, who had direct knowledge of the programme, told me that NRO sensors have been implanted near all known chemical warfare sites in Syria. They are designed to provide constant monitoring of the movement of chemical warheads stored by the military. But far more important, in terms of early warning, is the sensors’ ability to alert US and Israeli intelligence when warheads are being loaded with sarin. (As a neighbouring country, Israel has always been on the alert for changes in the Syrian chemical arsenal, and works closely with American intelligence on early warnings.) A chemical warhead, once loaded with sarin, has a shelf life of a few days or less – the nerve agent begins eroding the rocket almost immediately: it’s a use-it-or-lose-it mass killer. ‘The Syrian army doesn’t have three days to prepare for a chemical attack,’ the former senior intelligence official told me. ‘We created the sensor system for immediate reaction, like an air raid warning or a fire alarm. You can’t have a warning over three days because everyone involved would be dead. It is either right now or you’re history. You do not spend three days getting ready to fire nerve gas.’ The sensors detected no movement in the months and days before 21 August, the former official said. It is of course possible that sarin had been supplied to the Syrian army by other means, but the lack of warning meant that Washington was unable to monitor the events in Eastern Ghouta as they unfolded.
The sensors had worked in the past, as the Syrian leadership knew all too well. Last December the sensor system picked up signs of what seemed to be sarin production at a chemical weapons depot. It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian army was simulating sarin production as part of an exercise (all militaries constantly carry out such exercises) or actually preparing an attack. At the time, Obama publicly warned Syria that using sarin was ‘totally unacceptable’; a similar message was also passed by diplomatic means. The event was later determined to be part of a series of exercises, according to the former senior intelligence official: ‘If what the sensors saw last December was so important that the president had to call and say, “Knock it off,” why didn’t the president issue the same warning three days before the gas attack in August?’
The NSA would of course monitor Assad’s office around the clock if it could, the former official said. Other communications – from various army units in combat throughout Syria – would be far less important, and not analysed in real time. ‘There are literally thousands of tactical radio frequencies used by field units in Syria for mundane routine communications,’ he said, ‘and it would take a huge number of NSA cryptological technicians to listen in – and the useful return would be zilch.’ But the ‘chatter’ is routinely stored on computers. Once the scale of events on 21 August was understood, the NSA mounted a comprehensive effort to search for any links to the attack, sorting through the full archive of stored communications. A keyword or two would be selected and a filter would be employed to find relevant conversations. ‘What happened here is that the NSA intelligence weenies started with an event – the use of sarin – and reached to find chatter that might relate,’ the former official said. ‘This does not lead to a high confidence assessment, unless you start with high confidence that Bashar Assad ordered it, and began looking for anything that supports that belief.’ The cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war.
*The White House needed nine days to assemble its case against the Syrian government. On 30 August it invited a select group of Washington journalists (at least one often critical reporter, Jonathan Landay, the national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, was not invited), and handed them a document carefully labelled as a ‘government assessment’, rather than as an assessment by the intelligence community. The document laid out what was essentially a political argument to bolster the administration’s case against the Assad government. It was, however, more specific than Obama would be later, in his speech on 10 September: American intelligence, it stated, knew that Syria had begun ‘preparing chemical munitions’ three days before the attack. In an aggressive speech later that day, John Kerry provided more details. He said that Syria’s ‘chemical weapons personnel were on the ground, in the area, making preparations’ by 18 August. ‘We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.’ The government assessment and Kerry’s comments made it seem as if the administration had been tracking the sarin attack as it happened. It is this version of events, untrue but unchallenged, that was widely reported at the time.
An unforeseen reaction came in the form of complaints from the Free Syrian Army’s leadership and others about the lack of warning. ‘It’s unbelievable they did nothing to warn people or try to stop the regime before the crime,’ Razan Zaitouneh, an opposition member who lived in one of the towns struck by sarin, told Foreign Policy. The Daily Mail was more blunt: ‘Intelligence report says US officials knew about nerve-gas attack in Syria three days before it killed over 1400 people – including more than 400 children.’ (The number of deaths attributable to the attack varied widely, from at least 1429, as initially claimed by the Obama administration, to many fewer. A Syrian human rights group reported 502 deaths; Médicins sans Frontières put it at 355; and a French report listed 281 known fatalities. The strikingly precise US total was later reported by the Wall Street Journal to have been based not on an actual body count, but on an extrapolation by CIA analysts, who scanned more than a hundred YouTube videos from Eastern Ghouta into a computer system and looked for images of the dead. In other words, it was little more than a guess.)
Five days later, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence responded to the complaints. A statement to the Associated Press said that the intelligence behind the earlier administration assertions was not known at the time of the attack, but recovered only subsequently: ‘Let’s be clear, the United States did not watch, in real time, as this horrible attack took place. The intelligence community was able to gather and analyse information after the fact and determine that elements of the Assad regime had in fact taken steps to prepare prior to using chemical weapons.’ But since the American press corps had their story, the retraction received scant attention. On 31 August the Washington Post, relying on the government assessment, had vividly reported on its front page that American intelligence was able to record ‘each step’ of the Syrian army attack in real time, ‘from the extensive preparations to the launching of rockets to the after-action assessments by Syrian officials’. It did not publish the AP corrective, and the White House maintained control of the narrative.
So when Obama said on 10 September that his administration knew Assad’s chemical weapons personnel had prepared the attack in advance, he was basing the statement not on an intercept caught as it happened, but on communications analysed days after 21 August. The former senior intelligence official explained that the hunt for relevant chatter went back to the exercise detected the previous December, in which, as Obama later said to the public, the Syrian army mobilised chemical weapons personnel and distributed gas masks to its troops. The White House’s government assessment and Obama’s speech were not descriptions of the specific events leading up to the 21 August attack, but an account of the sequence the Syrian military would have followed for any chemical attack. ‘They put together a back story,’ the former official said, ‘and there are lots of different pieces and parts. The template they used was the template that goes back to December.’ It is possible, of course, that Obama was unaware that this account was obtained from an analysis of Syrian army protocol for conducting a gas attack, rather than from direct evidence. Either way he had come to a hasty judgment.
The press would follow suit. The UN report on 16 September confirming the use of sarin was careful to note that its investigators’ access to the attack sites, which came five days after the gassing, had been controlled by rebel forces. ‘As with other sites,’ the report warned, ‘the locations have been well travelled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the mission … During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.’ Still, the New York Times seized on the report, as did American and British officials, and claimed that it provided crucial evidence backing up the administration’s assertions. An annex to the UN report reproduced YouTube photographs of some recovered munitions, including a rocket that ‘indicatively matches’ the specifics of a 330mm calibre artillery rocket. The New York Times wrote that the existence of the rockets essentially proved that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack ‘because the weapons in question had not been previously documented or reported to be in possession of the insurgency’.
Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at MIT, reviewed the UN photos with a group of his colleagues and concluded that the large calibre rocket was an improvised munition that was very likely manufactured locally. He told me that it was ‘something you could produce in a modestly capable machine shop’. The rocket in the photos, he added, fails to match the specifications of a similar but smaller rocket known to be in the Syrian arsenal. The New York Times, again relying on data in the UN report, also analysed the flight path of two of the spent rockets that were believed to have carried sarin, and concluded that the angle of descent ‘pointed directly’ to their being fired from a Syrian army base more than nine kilometres from the landing zone. Postol, who has served as the scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations in the Pentagon, said that the assertions in the Times and elsewhere ‘were not based on actual observations’. He concluded that the flight path analyses in particular were, as he put it in an email, ‘totally nuts’ because a thorough study demonstrated that the range of the improvised rockets was ‘unlikely’ to be more than two kilometres. Postol and a colleague, Richard M. Lloyd, published an analysis two weeks after 21 August in which they correctly assessed that the rockets involved carried a far greater payload of sarin than previously estimated. The Times reported on that analysis at length, describing Postol and Lloyd as ‘leading weapons experts’. The pair’s later study about the rockets’ flight paths and range, which contradicted previous Times reporting, was emailed to the newspaper last week; it has so far gone unreported.
The White House’s misrepresentation of what it knew about the attack, and when, was matched by its readiness to ignore intelligence that could undermine the narrative. That information concerned al-Nusra, the Islamist rebel group designated by the US and the UN as a terrorist organisation. Al-Nusra is known to have carried out scores of suicide bombings against Christians and other non-Sunni Muslim sects inside Syria, and to have attacked its nominal ally in the civil war, the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA). Its stated goal is to overthrow the Assad regime and establish sharia law. (On 25 September al-Nusra joined several other Islamist rebel groups in repudiating the FSA and another secular faction, the Syrian National Coalition.)
The flurry of American interest in al-Nusra and sarin stemmed from a series of small-scale chemical weapons attacks in March and April; at the time, the Syrian government and the rebels each insisted the other was responsible. The UN eventually concluded that four chemical attacks had been carried out, but did not assign responsibility. A White House official told the press in late April that the intelligence community had assessed ‘with varying degrees of confidence’ that the Syrian government was responsible for the attacks. Assad had crossed Obama’s ‘red line’. The April assessment made headlines, but some significant caveats were lost in translation. The unnamed official conducting the briefing acknowledged that intelligence community assessments ‘are not alone sufficient’. ‘We want,’ he said, ‘to investigate above and beyond those intelligence assessments to gather facts so that we can establish a credible and corroborated set of information that can then inform our decision-making.’ In other words, the White House had no direct evidence of Syrian army or government involvement, a fact that was only occasionally noted in the press coverage. Obama’s tough talk played well with the public and Congress, who view Assad as a ruthless murderer.
Two months later, a White House statement announced a change in the assessment of Syrian culpability and declared that the intelligence community now had ‘high confidence’ that the Assad government was responsible for as many as 150 deaths from attacks with sarin. More headlines were generated and the press was told that Obama, in response to the new intelligence, had ordered an increase in non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. But once again there were significant caveats. The new intelligence included a report that Syrian officials had planned and executed the attacks. No specifics were provided, nor were those who provided the reports identified. The White House statement said that laboratory analysis had confirmed the use of sarin, but also that a positive finding of the nerve agent ‘does not tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination’. The White House further declared: ‘We have no reliable corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.’ The statement contradicted evidence that at the time was streaming into US intelligence agencies.
Already by late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta. An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. The consultant told me that Tariq had been identified ‘as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin’. He is regarded as a high-profile target by the American military.
On 20 June a four-page top secret cable summarising what had been learned about al-Nusra’s nerve gas capabilities was forwarded to David R. Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. ‘What Shedd was briefed on was extensive and comprehensive,’ the consultant said. ‘It was not a bunch of “we believes”.’ He told me that the cable made no assessment as to whether the rebels or the Syrian army had initiated the attacks in March and April, but it did confirm previous reports that al-Nusra had the ability to acquire and use sarin. A sample of the sarin that had been used was also recovered – with the help of an Israeli agent – but, according to the consultant, no further reporting about the sample showed up in cable traffic.
Independently of these assessments, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assuming that US troops might be ordered into Syria to seize the government’s stockpile of chemical agents, called for an all-source analysis of the potential threat. ‘The Op Order provides the basis of execution of a military mission, if so ordered,’ the former senior intelligence official explained. ‘This includes the possible need to send American soldiers to a Syrian chemical site to defend it against rebel seizure. If the jihadist rebels were going to overrun the site, the assumption is that Assad would not fight us because we were protecting the chemical from the rebels. All Op Orders contain an intelligence threat component. We had technical analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, weapons people, and I & W [indications and warnings] people working on the problem … They concluded that the rebel forces were capable of attacking an American force with sarin because they were able to produce the lethal gas. The examination relied on signals and human intelligence, as well as the expressed intention and technical capability of the rebels.’
There is evidence that during the summer some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were troubled by the prospect of a ground invasion of Syria as well as by Obama’s professed desire to give rebel factions non-lethal support. In July, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, provided a gloomy assessment, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee in public testimony that ‘thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces’ would be needed to seize Syria’s widely dispersed chemical warfare arsenal, along with ‘hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers’. Pentagon estimates put the number of troops at seventy thousand, in part because US forces would also have to guard the Syrian rocket fleet: accessing large volumes of the chemicals that create sarin without the means to deliver it would be of little value to a rebel force. In a letter to Senator Carl Levin, Dempsey cautioned that a decision to grab the Syrian arsenal could have unintended consequences: ‘We have learned from the past ten years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state … Should the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.’
The CIA declined to comment for this article. Spokesmen for the DIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they were not aware of the report to Shedd and, when provided with specific cable markings for the document, said they were unable to find it. Shawn Turner, head of public affairs for the ODNI, said that no American intelligence agency, including the DIA, ‘assesses that the al-Nusra Front has succeeded in developing a capacity to manufacture sarin’.
The administration’s public affairs officials are not as concerned about al-Nusra’s military potential as Shedd has been in his public statements. In late July, he gave an alarming account of al-Nusra’s strength at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. ‘I count no less than 1200 disparate groups in the opposition,’ Shedd said, according to a recording of his presentation. ‘And within the opposition, the al-Nusra Front is … most effective and is gaining in strength.’ This, he said, ‘is of serious concern to us. If left unchecked, I am very concerned that the most radical elements’ – he also cited al-Qaida in Iraq – ‘will take over.’ The civil war, he went on, ‘will only grow worse over time … Unfathomable violence is yet to come.’ Shedd made no mention of chemical weapons in his talk, but he was not allowed to: the reports his office received were highly classified.
A series of secret dispatches from Syria over the summer reported that members of the FSA were complaining to American intelligence operatives about repeated attacks on their forces by al-Nusra and al-Qaida fighters. The reports, according to the senior intelligence consultant who read them, provided evidence that the FSA is ‘more worried about the crazies than it is about Assad’. The FSA is largely composed of defectors from the Syrian army. The Obama administration, committed to the end of the Assad regime and continued support for the rebels, has sought in its public statements since the attack to downplay the influence of Salafist and Wahhabist factions. In early September, John Kerry dumbfounded a Congressional hearing with a sudden claim that al-Nusra and other Islamist groups were minority players in the Syrian opposition. He later withdrew the claim.
In both its public and private briefings after 21 August, the administration disregarded the available intelligence about al-Nusra’s potential access to sarin and continued to claim that the Assad government was in sole possession of chemical weapons. This was the message conveyed in the various secret briefings that members of Congress received in the days after the attack, when Obama was seeking support for his planned missile offensive against Syrian military installations. One legislator with more than two decades of experience in military affairs told me that he came away from one such briefing persuaded that ‘only the Assad government had sarin and the rebels did not.’ Similarly, following the release of the UN report on 16 September confirming that sarin was used on 21 August, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told a press conference: ‘It’s very important to note that only the [Assad] regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin.’
It is not known whether the highly classified reporting on al-Nusra was made available to Power’s office, but her comment was a reflection of the attitude that swept through the administration. ‘The immediate assumption was that Assad had done it,’ the former senior intelligence official told me. ‘The new director of the CIA, [John] Brennan, jumped to that conclusion … drives to the White House and says: “Look at what I’ve got!” It was all verbal; they just waved the bloody shirt. There was a lot of political pressure to bring Obama to the table to help the rebels, and there was wishful thinking that this [tying Assad to the sarin attack] would force Obama’s hand: “This is the Zimmermann telegram of the Syrian rebellion and now Obama can react.” Wishful thinking by the Samantha Power wing within the administration. Unfortunately, some members of the Joint Chiefs who were alerted that he was going to attack weren’t so sure it was a good thing.’
The proposed American missile attack on Syria never won public support and Obama turned quickly to the UN and the Russian proposal for dismantling the Syrian chemical warfare complex. Any possibility of military action was definitively averted on 26 September when the administration joined Russia in approving a draft UN resolution calling on the Assad government to get rid of its chemical arsenal. Obama’s retreat brought relief to many senior military officers. (One high-level special operations adviser told me that the ill-conceived American missile attack on Syrian military airfields and missile emplacements, as initially envisaged by the White House, would have been ‘like providing close air support for al-Nusra’.)
The administration’s distortion of the facts surrounding the sarin attack raises an unavoidable question: do we have the whole story of Obama’s willingness to walk away from his ‘red line’ threat to bomb Syria? He had claimed to have an iron-clad case but suddenly agreed to take the issue to Congress, and later to accept Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical weapons. It appears possible that at some point he was directly confronted with contradictory information: evidence strong enough to persuade him to cancel his attack plan, and take the criticism sure to come from Republicans.
The UN resolution, which was adopted on 27 September by the Security Council, dealt indirectly with the notion that rebel forces such as al-Nusra would also be obliged to disarm: ‘no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer [chemical] weapons.’ The resolution also calls for the immediate notification of the Security Council in the event that any ‘non-state actors’ acquire chemical weapons. No group was cited by name. While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone. There may be more to negotiate.
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