When I accidentally stumbled across the medical ‘Information is Power’ scheme organised by Kailos Genetics, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and the Redstone Federal Credit Union I could feel the something’s not right segment of my brain quickly heating up. Not only was this an odd trinity of forces out blessing Alabama with their generosity but one had direct links to the CIA while another provided credit to the poor. An odd collection of bedfellows.
Their attractively entitled ‘Information is Power’ programme, launched in October 2015, offers free DNA testing and analysis to 30 year old women in Jackson, Limestone, Madison, Marshall and Morgan counties. On their website HudsonAlpha sells the merits of the initiative by proclaiming it is designed to identify “gene variants known to increase one’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer”. It was extended for further year in 2016 and now included similarly aged men. It has taken DNA from well over 1500 people.
The initial decision to concentrate on identifying gene variants that predispose a woman to breast and ovarian cancer is socially laudable but medically questionable. Breast cancer has one of the highest survival and cure rates of all cancers. Also, in Alabama the most prevalent form is lung cancer.
The choice of counties is also baffling: all have a White majority, some overwhelmingly so. Only Madison comes near to reflecting the state’s ethnic demographic. Marshall – population 99,000, 88% White, 2% African American – has a 4.99% incidence of cancer. In rural Greene – population 8,848, 82% African American, 17% White – it is 6.13%. No Blackbelt counties are recipients of the trios largesse yet in these districts cancer rates are consistently highest with men contracting and dying the most. Simply, cancer affects the poorest the greatest.
So, we have an ostensibly socially beneficial medical programme that wants to use developments in bioscience to combat cancer. Yet, instead of using statistics produced by the Alabama Department of Public Health and freely available to identify the most prevalent and injurious forms of cancer it concentrates on one that, while it has a high prevalence, is not the biggest killer.
Collecting DNA is the 21st century Gold Rush. It seems everyone with a website and a lab is at it. The rapid development in genetics and bioscience generally has been extensively commodified. The information extracted is often sold commercially by bioscience companies and by the military. A Newsweek article argued the real money was not in selling you a health analysis but selling that data on for biomedical research.
Unlike the 19th century Gold Rush there is regulation in (the US) provided by the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA), 2008. The problem is it has some notable, very convenient exceptions: it does not apply to the US military and long-term care, disability and life insurance.
The ‘Information is Power’ programme specifically seeks out the BRCA gene that raises your risk to breast cancer. If an insurance company finds you have it, it can legally deny you life insurance. Who, then, is really empowered by DNA information extracted?
Kailos Genetics has a close working partnership with In-Q-Tel (IQT), the investment arm of the CIA. A July 2017 press release proclaimed the partnership allows Kailos to continue development of next generation sequencing (NGS) laboratory and software solutions that may benefit the intelligence community.
The ‘intelligence community’ by their own admission are very interested in biosciences. Ten years ago a paper by James Petro of the Defense Intelligence Agency argued there was an urgent need for the CIA to develop relationships with bioscientists. In 2016 CIA director James Clapper reiterated the necessity of forging ever closer relationships with bioscientists because ‘normal scientific developments could also be harnessed as weapons’. It also confirmed the primacy of bioscience over nuclear science for the US intelligence and military establishment.
For Petro US national security demands that the funding, outcome and publication of bioscience research is monitored by the state. Monitoring could, in effect, mean doing nothing; or it could mean classifying part or all of particular research programmes as secret. The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (2002) has been a step in this direction of greater government oversight and control of bioscience.
Deep State bioscience research is literally a dark area about which little is publicly known. An example that has managed to break out into the light is the Pentagon’s Project Jefferson which worked to engineer a vaccine resistant form of anthrax. This ‘blackbox’ research by the military and intelligence industries is, according to Harvard biologist Matthew Meselson, potentially dangerous: ‘The more you create secret research in biology, the more you create risk’. The question that comes to mind with this particular project is why would the military want this form of anthrax? It cannot be justified on defence grounds and can only be used for offensive/attack purposes, a view supported by Bradford University (UK) bioweapons expert, Malcolm Dando. ‘If the US goes down these roads, it indicates routes that people can follow’. Development of biological weapons is banned by the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention, a 1972 treaty signed by China, Russia, USA and 172 other countries.
The Pentagon have a group of scientists, JASON – operating under their parent company, the Mitre Corporation – who both advise and conduct experments for different parts of the US government. During the 1990s it jumped feet first into human genome studies in an effort to explore its military uses.
Certain key personnel act as the top-level intermediaries between the military, intelligence, political and bioscience communities: Mitre board member David Jeremiah is also a director of the CIA’s IQT serving in the company alongside Deep State heavyweight Paul Kaminski and former deputy director of the CIA, Richard J Kerr. James Hudson and Troy Moore of HudsonAlpha are both directors of Kailos Genetics. In an industry where a disproportionate number of practitioners die in mysterious circumstances – 14 microbiologists passed away in a 3 month period in 2001-02 alone – there are an elite, ubiquitous cabal who appear invincible.
Clapper, in his time as head of the CIA, was very interested in exploring how CRISPR technology – altering DNA inside living cells – could be used by the intelligence community. Military and intelligence community interpretations of the science potential now envisages the truly frightening scenario where gene modification can be instigated without the knowledge of the victims/recipients, spreading from person to person through bodily fluids or and/or contact. The benefit of weaponising such a development in the abilities of governments to socially engineer populations for purposes of ‘full spectrum dominance’ are obvious. Silent, covert wars can be ‘fought’ that leave physical infrastructures untouched and show little collateral damage.
Is this one of the reasons why the CIA and Kailos Genetics are so interested in collecting DNA in Alabama? The seductive attraction of a free programme with the altruistic banner Knowledge is Power operating in a poor state with few public health facilites is obvious. But surely that is the contradiction. What do poor participants do with the information? We know that it can used legally used against them when seeking life and care insurance. In a society where medical insurance is almost mandatory for the vast majority of US citizens, the benefits of the knowledge don’t seem so universally empowering.
We know that historically the CIA and other intelligence and military agencies have used apparently benign and ostensibly altruistic health initiatives for their own ‘defence’ goals, such as the fake vaccination drive in Abbottabad, Pakistan to collect Osama bin Laden’s family’s DNA. There is also a history of genetic testing being utilised for eugenic propaganda: a mass testing of African-Americans in Massachusetts during the 1990s for sickle cell caused some scientists to argue that the carriers of the mutation should not have children.
So, in the words of Marvin Gaye, what’s going on in Alabama with Kailos Genetics, HudsonAlpha and the Redstone Federal Credit Union and their DNA trawl of thirty year olds in the five – overwhelmingly White – counties of Madison, Morgan, Marshall, Limestone and Jackson?