Aids has been a known disease for the past 30 years now, but many theories have arisen that claim its existence goes even further back than most of us are aware of. Sixty-five million people across the globe have been infected with H.I.V. Almost half of this number have died from the disease, and the number continues to rise.
During the 1980s, when the spread of the virus began, AIDS was not on the national agenda – information about the virus was silenced, and anyone with the illness was victimized. President Ronald Reagan did not respond to the AIDS epidemic during the first five years of his administration. Even once he began to speak out about AIDS, he rarely referred to it as a medical problem. Since the virus, in its beginning, mainly affected gay men, it silenced due to the homophobia that existed at the time.
The only forms of media during this time were newspapers and mainstream television, so this is where every North American got their information about what was happening in the world around them.
This article is about how, according to conspiracy theories, the C.I.A. created AIDS as a biological weapon. If you are wondering what a “biological weapon” entails, it means using biological organisms or any toxins with the ability to replicate, such as viruses, on victims to ensure the spread of the infectious agents between a population. A biological weapon, as you can tell, is far from any conventional threat we can imagine, which makes it much easier to be hidden from the masses. According to conspiracy stories, The C.I.A. would have used AIDS to gain an advantage over an enemy during war.
10What Are H.I.V. and AIDS?
A U.S. government website explains H.I.V. as “H.I.V. (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections with certain bodily fluids of a person with H.I.V., most commonly during unprotected sex (sex without a condom or H.I.V. medicine to prevent or treat H.I.V.), or through sharing injection drug equipment. If left untreated, H.I.V. can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The human body can’t get rid of H.I.V., and no effective H.I.V. cure exists. The human body can’t get rid of H.I.V., and no effective H.I.V. cure exists.
So, once you have H.I.V., you have it for life. However, by taking H.I.V. medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or A.R.T.), people with H.I.V. can live long and healthy lives and prevent transmitting H.I.V. to their sexual partners. In addition, there are effective methods to prevent getting H.I.V. through sex or drug use, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (P.E.P.). First identified in 1981, H.I.V. is the cause of one of humanity’s deadliest and most persistent epidemics.”
As this definition demonstrates, there is no cure to H.I.V. and AIDS and can be extremely life-threatening when left untreated. So, as the spread of AIDS began in the midst of the Cold War, medicine to help prevent the disease did not yet exist. This led people in North America to start being infected with the virus rapidly, on an immense scale. Although the virus was killing their people, rumors broke out that the C.I.A. invented AIDS in a laboratory to use as a biological weapon against their war enemies. So, was the AIDS epidemic deliberately spread by the C.I.A.?
9The C.I.A., the K.G.B., and Operation InfeKtion
C.I.A., standing for the Central Intelligence Agency, is a service created by the United States made to gather and analyze all information regarding national security around the world. The K.G.B. is the equivalent of the C.I.A. but for Russia. The C.I.A. blames the K.G.B. for the spread of disinformation about the AIDS epidemic and the C.I.A.’s involvement within it. The K.G.B. created misinformed campaigns against any of their opponents, which were meant to address the fears and concerns of their opponent’s population. Although Donald Trump seems to think he invented the idea of “fake news,” it was actually the USSR, may before Trump ever became President of the United States.
“Operation InfeKtion” was the name the K.G.B. gave to their mission to have the world believe that the C.I.A. invented AIDS as a biological weapon. It was one of the most audacious fake news stories ever created. The Soviets use the tactics of media control to spread disinformation. As the beginnings of AIDS started to spread fear on a global scale, the K.G.B. saw this as an opportunity for one of their most significant active measures yet. In this operation, the Soviets created a campaign that made the United States seem to play a vital role in the spread of the AIDS epidemic beginning in the 1980s.
Wikipedia tells us that “According to the U.S. State Department, the Soviet Union used the campaign to undermine the United States’ credibility, foster anti-Americanism, isolate America abroad, and create tensions between host countries and the U.S. over the presence of American military bases (which were often portrayed as the cause of AIDS outbreaks in local populations).”
8The Beginnings of Operation InfeKtion
In July 1983, an astonishing story was released in an Indian newspaper called the Patriot claims that the U.S. government’s scientist secretly created the H.I.V. virus as a biological weapon to kill both African-Americans and gay men. This article references a facility by the name of Fort Detrick in Maryland, which is supposedly where the virus first concocted. This was an insane allegation to be made against the U.S. government, and very risky for such a small newspaper to publish such a thing. Turns out, the K.G.B. created the Patriot newspaper as a way to spread disinformation in an English-speaking press so that the information would reach wider audiences than a Russian newspaper would.
So, how did the article come to be? “An anonymous letter was sent to the editor in July 1983 from a “well-known American scientist and anthropologist” who claimed that AIDS was manufactured at Fort Detrick by genetic engineers. The “scientist” claimed that “that deadly mysterious disease was believed to be the results of the Pentagon’s experiments to develop new and dangerous biological weapons,” and implicated C.D.C. scientists sent to Africa and Latin America to find dangerous viruses alien to Asia and Europe. These results were purportedly analyzed in Atlanta and Fort Detrick and thus the “most likely course of events” leading to the development of AIDS. The letter claimed that the Pentagon was continuing such experiments in neighboring Pakistan and as a result, the AIDS virus was threatening to spread to India.
7The C.I.A. Creating AIDS Story Continues to Spread
Soon after the K.G.B.’s secret article was released in the Patriot, they contacted their allied service, the B.S.S. (Bulgarian State Security) about the matter. The telegram the K.G.B. sent to the B.S.S. read:
“Facts have already been cited in the press of the developing countries, in particular, India, that testify to the involvement of the special services of the United States and the Pentagon in the appearance and rapid spread of the AIDS disease in the United States, as well as other countries. Judging by these reports, along with the interest shown by the U.S. military in the symptoms of AIDS and the rate and geography of its spread, the most likely assumption is that this most dangerous disease is the result of yet another Pentagon experiment with a new type of biological weapon. This is confirmed by the fact that the disease affected initially only certain groups of people: homosexuals, drug addicts, immigrants from Latin America.”
A month after the Patriot newspaper released its article claiming that the C.I.A. concocted AIDS, the Soviet newspaper “Literaturnaya Gazeta” revised the story and cited the Patriot article as their source. The title of this article read “Panic in the West, or What Is Hiding Behind the Sensation Surrounding AIDS.” The report included real data about the AIDS disease, but false information about its beginnings – although no one knew this yet. This article, unlike the one published in the Indian journal, got way more attention around the world.
6The K.G.B.’s Story Gets Revived
The second time the K.G.B. released a story about the C.I.A. creating AIDS as a biological weapon was in 1985. They revived the story from the one found in the Patriot and published this one in a prominent Moscow newspaper, but they used the Patriot as the source for their story. The second article gave no clue into Russia’s creation of this lie, which was all a part of their plan to have people believe them. In 1986, the K.G.B. decided they wanted to take their C.I.A. and AIDS story to the next level, so they found scientists who would back up their claims with supposed data.
Two East German biologists by the names of Dr. Jakob Segal and Dr. Lilli Segal published a report saying they were able to prove that the AIDS virus was, in fact, created by the U.S. government. The K.G.B. made sure this report, once released, was read all over the continent of Africa – and in a short period of time, the story went viral. Many newspapers then began to publish their versions of this story, and by March of 1987, this case was brought to mainstream television. “A Soviet military publication claims the virus that causes AIDS leaked from a U.S. Army laboratory conducting experiments in biological warfare,” reporter Dan Rather informs millions of American viewers. “C.B.S. News, black newspapers, the gay press, niche publications critical of the C.I.A. and the right-wing presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche all promoted the conspiracy theory,” according to the New York Times.
5How Did the C.I.A. Find Out That the K.G.B. Was Behind This False Story?
Detectives like Kathleen Bailey and Todd Leventhal were part of the U.S. government’s team that had to figure out where the news from India’s Patriot article had begun. This first article is said to have several grammar mistakes, which was a clue into English not being the primary language for the people who wrote the article. Due to the grammar found in the article, Detective Bailey was sure it was written by a Russian-language speaker. Detective Leventhal says the U.S. government was aware that the K.G.B. used the Patriot newspaper as a way to relay information in English. The K.G.B. also always placed their disinformed stories in a third-world country, like Japan, Thailand, or India, because the journalists were supposedly easier to trick.
According to Wikipedia, “U.S. Embassy officials wrote dozens of letters to various newspaper editors and journalists and held meetings and press conferences to clarify matters. Many of their efforts resulted in newspaper printing retractions and apologies. Rebuttals appeared in reports to Congress and from the State Department saying that it was impossible at the time to build a virus as complex as AIDS; medical research had only gotten so far as to clone simple viruses.”
The K.G.B. had done an excellent job of getting the rest of the world to believe their false story about the C.I.A. inventing AIDS, so trying to debunk the entire story took a long time.
4What Was the Impact on America?
Detective Bailey from the C.I.A. says, “Foreign government actually believed that the U.S. was creating this biological warfare agent. For them to think that damaged their view of the United States – not only as a culture, but it taints all of our policies. It’s in the back of their minds every time they discuss anything with us.” On national television, Bailey claimed, “the primary origin of misinformation about the United States abroad is the Soviet Union.” She, and her partner Detective Leventhal were part of the Active Measures Working Group, which was given the nickname “Truth Squad” in the C.I.A.
Their job was to track and expose the Soviet Union’s disinformation, but they were also assigned tons of other projects, which caused this one to be put on the back burner – mainly since only a minimal budget was provided for this project. The detectives who took part in the Active Measures Working Group at this time, regardless of everything, were motivated by truth. Their plan was the call the Soviets out one their lies one at a time.
When Detective Bailey released an article debunking all that the K.G.B. had managed to do with Operation InfeKtion, it wasn’t long before the Soviets’ leader during this time, Mikhail Gorbachev, got his hands on it. Gorbachev’s response to it shocked the nation. Rather than trying to deny everything, he apologized to President Reagan and promised to stop spreading the false AIDS story. So, the U.S. government thought “problem solved!”
3Did the End of the Soviets Mean the End of Disinformation?
As the Soviet Union began to collapse in 1989, Detective Leventhal released a final report about Operation InfeKtion to the Congress. It read “the formidable Soviet active measures and disinformation apparatus, which has manipulated world opinion for decades, has disintegrated. But many large fragments of their apparatus continue to exist and function, for the most part now under Russian rather than Soviet sponsorship.”
The K.G.B. spends a majority of their time on “active measures,” which essentially means the strategic spreading of false information about another country on a global scale. This is done in one of the K.G.B.’s departments, known as Department A, which had a multi-million-dollar budget during the time of the Cold War (1947-1991). The soul of active measures is done through disinformation. According to an ex-KGB member, disinformation means “deliberately distorted information that is secretly leaked into the communication process in order to deceive and manipulate.” Disinformation is more than mere propaganda; it is a perfectly organized attempt to deceive a population into believing the “information” it is putting out.
The K.G.B. was the ones who spread the rumor about J.F.K. being shot by the C.I.A. and the story about the C.I.A.’s attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II, so it’s clear how far they can go with their spread of disinformation.
2The Past Understanding of Where AIDS Came From
A French-Canadian man by the name of Gaetan Dugas who traveled the world as a flight attendant has been known as the man responsible for the spread of AIDS, specifically in North America, for the past few decades. For this reason, he was labeled as “Patient Zero.” Today, this hypothesis has been marked as false. New studies have begun to look at the early days of AIDS to debunk the conventional idea of the entire disease spreading because of one person, and a recent film was released to show the world they were wrong about “Patient Zero.”
The film “Killing Patient Zero” takes the viewer through Gaetan’s life and his struggle with AIDS, the virus that ends up killing him in 1984. After his death, the media portrayed Gaetan as the villain who caused the spread of AIDS across North America. Director Laurie Lind comes in with a different view on the subject, claiming that we should see Gaetan as a hero. Lind makes this remark because of Gaetan’s willingness to participate in the “cluster study,” where he gave the names of 72 men he had shared sexual intercourse with.
With this information, the C.D.C. was able to prove that AIDS was a sexually transmitted disease. It turns out that this study referred to Gaetan as “Patient Oh,” which down the line got misinterpreted as Patient 0. This caused people to see him as the first to have spread the disease, but in reality, he was one of the thousands of men to be infected with AIDS during the 1980s.
1The U.S. Government and AIDS Today
“According to the latest available data, in 2017, 38,739 people received an H.I.V. diagnosis in the United States. That annual number of new diagnoses has remained essentially stable since 2013. Further, approximately 15% (or 1 in 7) of the estimated 1.1 million people with H.I.V. in the U.S. don’t know they have it. These data make clear that not all people who need them are benefitting from the proven H.I.V. prevention and treatment tools currently available.”
The stigma that surrounds AIDS continues to exist, maybe not as bad as it was during the 1980s, but it’s definitely still there. The difference between then and now is that there has been much more research done about the virus and how to prevent it. Modern science has brought us closer to ending the illness that has been understood as incurable for so long, although we’re not quite there yet.
According to hiv.org, “In the State of the Union Address on February 5, 2019, President Donald J. Trump announced his Administration’s goal to end the H.I.V. epidemic in the United States within 10 years. To achieve this goal and address the ongoing public health crisis of H.I.V., the proposed Ending the H.I.V. Epidemic: A Plan for America will leverage the powerful data and tools now available to reduce new H.I.V. infections in the United States by 75 percent in five years and by 90 percent by 2030.”
So, where did AIDS really come from, if not the C.I.A. and not “Patient Zero”? Dr. Jacques Pepin traces the origins of AIDS back to chimpanzees. Supposedly, the first person who was infected with AIDS got the disease from a chimpanzee almost 100 years ago. Pepin assumes this infection took place with a hunter who had probably killed a chimpanzee for meat for his village, and in the process, hurt himself, letting his blood come into contact with that of the chimp. If this was not the case, Pepin says it could have also been whoever ended up cooking the chimpanzee that was first infected with the virus. Pepin remarks that the primary source of H.I.V. 1 came from a subspecies of chimps that lived in Central Africa during the 1920s, which means the first person who started the AIDS pandemic was sure to have lived in this geographic location.
Although the K.G.B. made the world think the C.I.A. invented AIDS as a biological weapon, this thought now only exists in conspiracy theories. Today, the common understanding of where AIDS originated is, as Dr. Pepin found, from an infection that spread from a chimpanzee to a human
On a slightly more serious note, since millions of people across the globe have no idea that they have been infected with the H.I.V. virus, getting blood tests regularly can be something that ends up saving your life. If the U.S. government sticks to its plan to help reduce the spread of H.I.V. by 75% in the next five years, the world is going to be a much healthier place.