State of Plague, Part 1:Disease-Mongering as Militarized Trojan Horse for Globalization and Surveillance
The plague-stricken town, traversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing; the town immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies - this is the utopia of the perfectly governed city. The plague (envisaged as a possibility at least) is the trial in the course of which one may define ideally the exercise of disciplinary power. In order to make rights and laws function according to pure theory, the jurists place themselves in imagination in the state of nature; in order to see perfect disciplines functioning, rulers dreamt of the state of plague.
~Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
By Adriana Gamondes
Reporting from the Grave
In struggling to explain a new and imminently dangerous political shift in the US, Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch writes,
Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.
Tom Dispatch has been an important media source for the following report and I generally agree with the substance of the article—1% elections, demobilization of Americans, privatization of everything and the security state as fourth branch of government. I agree on every count except one—that any of this is new or lacks a name.
Like Engelhardt, only moreso, I also feel out of my depth with the issue of militarized “globalization” as it relates to the pharmaceutical crusade against consumer rights. Others have named these things separately and I’ve waited patiently for years for leading political analysts and activists to put the pieces together.
But it finally dawned on me that this is the type of reporting that can only happen from the bottom—from sources with little to lose but themselves—both because the view from political purgatory has a certain clarity and because activists and analysts who focus on broader political scopes generally have other life and death issues hinging on their ability and agency to get a their perspectives into the wider media. When they go down, so does the range of issues they might be rare voices for.
And let’s face it—the vaccine safety and policy reform campaign is more cautionary tale than inspirational activism narrative at this point. If Howard Zinn were alive today, the movement might be added to his list of tragic causes silenced by power and buried by history. Each attempt to improve things has been met at every pass with more system degeneration—from the erection of the disastrous Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP, “vaccine court”) to the Lilly rider and the Bruesewitz decision, crushing Omnibus rulings, the expansion of the childhood schedule to nearly 70 doses, the digging in of heels on mercury in flu shots and vaccines supplied to the third world, an exploding “autism drug” market further disincentivizing environmental research, the merging of aggressive front groups with a privatized state security apparatus, and finally the current campaign to legislate compulsory vaccination.
Even with recent successes against removal of personal exemptions in Oregon and Washington, state crusades against vaccine exemptions continue to spread, federal enforcement still looms, and vaccine safety and autism activists seem farther away from original goals. To make matters worse, in the case an individual is disabled by vaccination—an indisputed risk of a technology ruled “unavoidably unsafe” by the Supreme Court and the reason for the existence of the VICP— the treatment of the disabled in the US, including disabled veterans, is increasingly lethal and deplorable. And even those few awarded compensation in vaccine court would most likely be ineligible for medical exemptions under progressively narrowing parameters set by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
In terms of being the voice of change, those of us with dead and injured family members are, by all appearances, dead and buried ourselves except for the fact that every crackdown and step backward correspond to an increase in the number of Americans who view vaccine safety as a research priority or who suspect the tech is not as safe as claimed. Those shifts were inevitable but hardly victories since the aim had been to better the system before the damage, cost and jaundice spread.
All of this eventually led me to the realization that the war against balanced public health reporting in the US—one that effectively turns the subject into a career-burning swan song for any prominent journalist or public figure who dares to question the paradigm— is overwhelmingly political and has far less to do with protecting health or even industry profits than protecting the paradigm itself and its multiple unstated applications.
The use of public health campaigns for purposes other than actual public health could be seen as a sort of coercive tied selling. Except that, with the vaccine program, we’re arguably getting a side of targeted killings, drones, hegemony and expansionism, mass surveillance, radical economic programs including the privatization of education, an increasingly captured media, and yet another rationale for domestic militarization.
In other words, public health reform isn’t merely a secondary cause that would necessarily gain ground on a wave of political reconstruction if only, say, Citizens United were rolled back, if environmental protections were improved, if Halliburton-style privatization schemes were cut from the taxpayer teat, if regulatory capture could be curtailed, or if media and academia reclaimed freedom from corporate bondage, etc. Intead it’s a linchpin issue and perpetual entry point for the rest to stay as is or grow worse. In the battle to retain rights, addressing those being threatened under the guise of public health is not an avoidable morass but, at this moment, only the “dead” will name it.
The Vaccine Program’s Suicide by Agenda Ballast
By now, most of the country is aware that those dissenting from official public health doctrine on vaccination are facing potential threats of jail (USA Today, Washington Post, LA Times), segregation (National Public Radio), fines and civil suits (Forbes). The public has seen the media celebrating state child removal as a tool of vaccine enforcement (Daily Kos), along with the chilling proposal that children belong not to parents but to the state (USA Today).
It seems unlikely that all this is happening due to an outbreak of measles that seems to have run its course, was far smaller than last year’s, has so far involved zero deaths in the US, and is largely attributable—like the 2010 pertussis spike— to vaccine failure, not a drop in uptake. The fact that the current rash of state campaigns to remove exemptions followed directly on the heels of several whistleblower disclosures regarding vaccine inefficacy and the link between vaccination and autism suggests triggers other than measles might be pushing the agenda forward—one apparently bent on locking down consumers before whistleblower hearings set for spring potentially lead to mass opt-outs.
Considering that 1/3 of US children are now living in poverty, it’s disturbing that the same seemingly progressive media outlets decrying municipal violation traps, state child snatching for profit and the criminalization of American life are simultaneously stumping for mandates. Since this is also happening in conjunction with a campaign for a universal adult mandate and tracking program, and while there are nearly 300 vaccines in the approval pipeline, this could eventually push even the most compliant consumers past their limits and into legal standoffs that most can’t afford.
But some might argue that, in the post 9/11 disaster capitalism era, triggering mass dissent might be part of the scheme, or at least easily enfolded into it. The list of corporations profiting from prison labor should be a prime illustration. From Truthdig: "Abbott Laboratories, AT&T, AutoZone, Bank of America, Bayer, Berkshire Hathaway, Cargill, Caterpillar, Chevron, the former Chrysler Group, Costco Wholesale, John Deere, Eddie Bauer, Eli Lilly, ExxonMobil, Fruit of the Loom, GEICO, GlaxoSmithKline, Glaxo Wellcome, Hoffmann-La Roche, International Paper, JanSport, Johnson & Johnson, Kmart, Koch Industries, Mary Kay, McDonald’s, Merck, Microsoft, Motorola, Nintendo, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Quaker Oats, Sarah Lee, Sears, Shell, Sprint, Starbucks, State Farm Insurance, United Airlines, UPS, Verizon, Victoria’s Secret, Wal-Mart and Wendy’s."
In our increasingly militarized, scanned, surveilled and economically battered society, the state has means to more easily crush public resistance than at any time in history. The result would certainly be a boon for privatized probation corporations, privatized prisons and privatized foster care used in some regions to balance budgets. But what exactly would it do for faith in preventive medicine?
Borrowing a term from Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling, the current assaults on consumer rights are an act of “politicide” in two senses— one intentional and the other unintended. First, it’s an attempted “integrity assassination” of independent science that rightfully watchdogs the safety and efficacy of vaccination, and an attempt to outlaw a diverse consumer safety movement. But it’s also an inadvertent manual for political suicide on the part of vaccine industrialists and public health authorities responsible for sustaining the vaccine program.
In his novel Dark Green, Bright Red, Gore Vidal wrote “…all the great impatient men who eventually strangle for lack of air in the stratosphere of indulged will. Men who must tumble down and, in the tumbling, smash, if not themselves, the beloved image of their dreaming.” Or put more directly, the vaccine industry and public health proponents, over-ballasted with too many interlocking political and corporate agendas, are in the process of smashing, if not themselves, then any remnant of trust in public health.
The agenda ballast goes far beyond domestic mandates and, consequently, the distrust has gone global. On May 16th, 2014, President Obama’s top counterterrorism and homeland security advisor Lisa Monaco penned a letter to the deans of 13 schools of public health vowing that the CIA will cease using vaccine campaigns abroad as cover for military and surveillance missions. Monaco’s letter surfaced a few days later, on May 18th. From Fox News:
President Obama's top counterterrorism advisor has vowed that the CIA will no longer be able to use vaccination programs as cover for intelligence operations like those the agency carried out prior to the killing of Usama bin Laden in 2011.
Lisa Monaco announced the policy change last week in a letter to the deans of 13 schools of public health. Monaco's letter said that the CIA has agreed to stop using vaccination programs and workers for intelligence purposes. The agency has also agreed not to use genetic material obtained through such programs.
The educators had written to Obama last year protesting the use of immunization programs as a front for espionage. The most prominent program [emphasis added]was run by Dr. Shakil Afridi, who offered hepatitis vaccinations in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad as cover for his CIA-backed effort to obtain DNA samples from children at a compound where bin Laden was later killed during a 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs. Afridi was convicted and sentenced by a Pakistani court to 33 years in prison for treason. The sentence was later overturned and Afridi faces a retrial.
In 2012, the United Nations suspended a polio vaccination effort in Pakistan after gunmen killed several health workers. Taliban militants accused health workers of acting as spies for the U.S…
The CIA's use of a vaccine program to spy on bin Laden's compound undercut Obama's own high-profile speech to the Muslim world in 2009, in which he touted U.S. efforts to slash the growth of polio in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. With Obama administration assurances, Muslim scholars in two international groups issued religious decrees urging parents to vaccinate their children.
Notice the pluralization and time frame from the Fox News excerpt above: “vaccination programs as cover for intelligence operations…like those the agency carried out prior to the killing of Usama Bin Laden in 2011.”
The BBC reported that backlash against vaccine campaigns abroad before and after the Neptune Spear mission to kill Bin Laden was driven mostly by the reported connection between immunization drives and drone strikes in Pakistan—also plural. Until details are declassified or leaked, we’re left to envision troops of health workers doubling as spies, gathering local intel throughout target zones in Pakistan or elsewhere to coordinate strikes that have reportedly killed an estimated 1,147 civilian “unknowns”, including hundreds of children, in order to target an estimated 41 suspected combatants— a rate of 28 civilian deaths per presumed combatant.
Justice for 9/11 clearly isn’t served by misuse of health programs and further civilian deaths, nor is domestic safety. As Wikileaks recently disclosed, an internal CIA analysis of the drone program rates the so-called targeted killings of “High Value Targets” as less than a success for reasons other than the “unintentional” civilian casualty rate. The program, analysts conclude, does not consistently reduce insurgency. Add to this reports that several terrorist attacks have occurred since the National Security Agency has been engaging in mass data collection, and that the CIA “Torture Report” has concluded that “enhanced interrogation techniques”— techniques such as waterboarding, beatings, isolation, extreme exposure and, as journalist Seymour Hersh charged, rapes of children in front of their mothers—did not prevent a single act of terrorism.
Absent evidence that broken treaties on human rights and medical ethics have been effective in improving the safety of Americans, it might appear that these operations are some kind of vast, maccabre experiment. In fact, about the only thing advanced by the torture program— other than acting as a key recruiting tool for militant extremists— was government funded research on the “science of torture.”
By the same token, the one vaccination drive used as cover for a military operation the public knows about— the Bin Laden mission— couldn’t have produced immunity to the disease being vaccinated for. In an article from 2012 titled The Imperial Mind, Glenn Greenwald wrote,
Americans of all types — Democrats and Republicans, even some Good Progressives — are just livid that a Pakistani tribal court (reportedly in consultation with Pakistani officials) has imposed a 33-year prison sentence on Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani physician who secretly worked with the CIA to find Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil. Their fury tracks the standard American media narrative: by punishing Dr. Afridi for the “crime” of helping the U.S. find bin Laden, Pakistan has revealed that it sympathizes with Al Qaeda and is hostile to the U.S. (NPR headline: “33 Years In Prison For Pakistani Doctor Who Aided Hunt For Bin Laden”; NYT headline: “Prison Term for Helping C.I.A. Find Bin Laden”). Except that’s a woefully incomplete narrative: incomplete to the point of being quite misleading.
What Dr. Afridi actually did was concoct a pretextual vaccination program, whereby Pakistani children would be injected with a single Hepatitis B vaccine, with the hope of gaining access to the Abbottabad house where the CIA believed bin Laden was located. The plan was that, under the ruse of vaccinating the children in that province, he would obtain DNA samples that could confirm the presence in the suspected house of the bin Laden family. But the vaccine program he was administering was fake: as Wired‘s public health reporter Maryn McKenna detailed, “since only one of three doses was delivered, the vaccination was effectively useless.” [author’s emphasis] An on-the-ground Guardian investigation documented that ”while the vaccine doses themselves were genuine, the medical professionals involved were not following procedures. In an area called Nawa Sher, they did not return a month after the first dose to provide the required second batch. Instead, according to local officials and residents, the team moved on.”
…one consequence of their actions was to—there is always in these societies serious concern about what outsiders, Americans, are up to when they come in and start, you know, sticking needles in people and so on. It’s always there. Takes a lot of work to overcome that hostility. And it was being overcome in Pakistan. Now it’s gone. They will not permit people to come in carrying out vaccinations. Polio is almost gone in the world. Pakistan is one of the last places where it survives. OK, we’re encouraging the spread of polio. And as one commentator pointed out—back to the Yemeni in the Senate—one of these days, people are going to look at this crippled child and say, "You did it to us." And you can guess what’s going to happen then.
The loss of trust in medical philanthropy has already happened for multiple reasons, one of which is the quality of vaccines being distributed in the third world (discussed later). But however understandable the resistance, this dissent has perpetually been doubled back as yet more drone-justifying spin characterizing Muslims and people in developing countries as hysterical, superstitious, a threat to progress, science and survival of the species and therefore expendable. And it’s been too easy to simply transfer that model to domestic resistance and double it back as further justification to scrap civil freedoms while refusing to address actual complaints.
It’s just another example of how seemingly failed policies have been highly successful in terms of unstated goals, much like the Bush administration lie that torture was producing intel on Sadam Husein’s production of weapons of mass destruction that was nevertheless effective in getting the US into a war of aggression. Likewise, certain foreign public health operations, while travesties in terms of their stated purposes, were successful in an ulterior sense. Could this also be true for the failures of US public health policy? Is health the real objective of forcing consumers to the biotech trough and, if not, what is?
Global vaccine profits, which have risen exponentially in just a few years—from 6 billion in 2006 to nearly $30 billion by 2013 and with projected profits of $100 billion by 2020—only partly explain the intensity of the public health crusade. Taking vaccine industry defender Seth Mnookin at his word—since he scoffs at the idea that financial incentives could be driving the push to expand the vaccine market— there remains a question of whether vaccination has been somehow militarized not just abroad but domestically.
The campaign for compulsory vaccination, if anything, might be an illustration of how some of it goes hand in hand. Part 2 explores the question of whose hands might be drawing the net and why.
Adriana Gamondes is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism and one of the blog’s Facebook administrators.