Heard It on the X: The active US biological weapons programme in Ukraine
Do you remember the 1975 song ‘Heard It on the X’ by the Texan blues-rock band ZZ Top? In the 1960s and 70s, the ‘X’ referred to the first letter of the codes for Mexican private radio stations. Contrary to their American counterparts, they broadcast with unlimited wattage and thus covered most of the USA. Anybody could buy any amount of radio time. So, many US preachers and other quacks exploited the opportunity to peddle their ‘truths’, Jesus-autographed prayer cloths, snake oils, or whatever.
Almost half a century later, Elon Musk bought Twitter, rebranded it ‘X’, and began pushing his social medium as a beacon of free speech. Along came Tucker Carlson, a prominent purveyor of extreme right-wing and alternate (aka ‘conservative’) realities. Fox News had just ousted him abruptly for relentlessly pushing Donald Trump’s ‘truths’ about the ‘rigged’ 2020 presidential election and the claim of massive fraud committed by companies providing voting machines. So, Tucker now beguiles not just America but the whole world on the X.
Enter Robert (Bob) F. Kennedy Jr., a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2024 presidential elections and a notorious conspiracist, especially in the areas of public health, vaccines and the life sciences. On 14 August, he discussed the war in Ukraine, biological research laboratories and the murder of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, in episode 16 of ‘Tucker on X’. To put it mildly, he has a rather unique spin on the origins of the supposed US biological weapon (BW) programmes and funding of biological research abroad (in the broadcast, the part on BW starts around 00:34:25 and ends at 00:45:45).
Kennedy Jr.’s departure point was the lie that in 2001, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks against New York and Washington, DC and the later mail-delivered letters filled with anthrax spores. Somebody in the government, he posited, was responsible for the BW attack against members of Congress because they were trying to block the PATRIOT Act (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). The FBI then traced the origins of the anthrax spores to the ‘CIA biolab at Fort Detrick’. From there, he argued that the PATRIOT Act reopened the BW arms race without the USA abandoning the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). As he put it:
The PATRIOT Act has a provision in it that says we’re not walking away from the Geneva Convention, which makes it a hanging offense to develop bioweapons. We’re not walking away from the weapons charter of 1972, 1973, but we are adopting a new role that any federal official who violates those acts cannot be prosecuted. So it reopened it effectively.
Carlson then segued the rambling to the biological laboratories in Ukraine by bringing up the testimony by Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, about US support for biological research in Ukraine. Asked by Senator Marco Rubio during a hearing on 8 March 2022 (about two weeks after the Russian invasion) whether Ukraine has biological or chemical weapons, she sidestepped the question by replying that ‘Ukraine has biological research facilities, which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces, may be seeking to gain control of’, adding that the USA was ‘working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach’. She also refuted Russian allegations the Ukrainians were plotting to use BW. Right-wing commentators (including Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Jr.), echoed by Russian media, interpreted the statement as evidence that the USA was financing BW laboratories in Ukraine. To return to the interview, Carlson ended his interjection with:
But the fact remains there are US biolabs in Ukraine. Why would we have biolabs in Ukraine?
When continuing with ‘Because we’re developing bioweapons…’ after the interviewer’s question, Kennedy Jr. did not seem interested in pursuing the question. It felt more like a filler phrase to brush off Carlson and transition back to his original narrative of US BW activities under the PATRIOT Act. And he went straight off asserting that after 2001, the US started using new kinds of synthetic biology, genetic engineering and CRISPR technology to create a next generation of BW. With the PATRIOT Act and its clause to circumvent the BTWC, the USA transferred the authority for such activities to the Department of Health and Human Services, and more specifically to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), directed by Anthony Fauci.
Kennedy Jr. did not elaborate further as the reference to the NIAID director set him to spin yet another right-wing conspiratorial thread about how Fauci bore responsibility for several accidents in US biological laboratories and, most importantly, for funding the BW research work at the Wuhan laboratory in China, which led to the escape of the COVID-19 virus and hence to the global pandemic. (And as usual, conspiracy theories have embedded elements of truth.)
Reinforcement of alternative facts
Tucker Carlson’s interview with Bob Kennedy Jr. took place during the BTWC Working Group meeting in Geneva (7-18 August). On the final day, the Russian head of delegation picked up on the interview in reply to a US comment, saying that a presidential candidate had confirmed US funding of military biological research in Ukraine. He was likely reading from a Russian press item on his phone.
Interestingly, despite all his rambling and conspiracy-infused opinions, Kennedy Jr. never elaborated on Carlson’s suggestion of BW laboratories in Ukraine. (To Carlson’s next interruption when talking about the laboratory accidents in the USA, he reacted: ‘So let me just finish this brief history about what happened…’.)
Still, Carlson was able to reintroduce his conspiracy theory, which he had first aired on his evening show for Fox News the day after Nuland’s testimony (after which Russian TV and Facebook users picked it up). While several outlets debunked the assertion (e.g. FactCheck.org, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Vox Ukraine), Russia repeated it during regular military press briefings and diplomatic statements.
In his session with Kennedy Jr., Carlson posed few questions and never challenged his guest. He did not insist on getting a comment on Nuland’s statement and happily allowed the interviewee to continue with his stream of consciousness. Carlson had achieved his objective and, in so doing, created a new, quotable source to confirm his alternative fact. As the Russian head of delegation did during the BTWC Working Group session…
So, with that, let’s fade out with ZZ Top:
So listen to your radio
Most each and every night
‘Cause if you don’t, I’m sure you won’t
Get to feeling right
(Not intended, but nice pun in the last verse.)