Rethinking AIDS March/April 1994

In this interview with Bryan Ellison, we try to cover the broad outlines of the NIH/CDC influences on basic research science and the AIDS debacle.

RETHINKING: Bryan, let's start with you giving an overall summary of the two main features of how the HIV/AIDS epidemic actually can be, shall we say, manufactured or created by the NIH or the CDC.

ELLISON: The question is, how is it that we got the HIV hypothesis in the first place, and how is it that hundreds of thousands of scientists and tens of thousands of AIDS researchers can march to the drums of HIV, without ever considering any of the questions that have been raised by Peter Duesberg or Robert Root-Bernstein or any of these guys? How is it that they mindlessly all follow along? How did we get ourselves trapped in an HIV hypothesis that doesn't budge? How did we get it in the first place?

My contention is that this rests on two pillars. One is the biomedical research complex, funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, and the second pillar is the Public Health Service, which primarily acts these days through the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC. In fact by looking at the history of primarily those two organizations we can begin to get an understanding of why science not only can get itself in a rut with the HIV hypothesis, but how it had no choice but to do that.

Very simply, the NIH began in 1887 as something called the Hygienic Laboratory. It was very small back then. It was actually a branch through the Public Health Service, which itself was a branch, of the Navy. It came out of the Navy; it has retained its military connections. That's why the Surgeon General wears his white uniform; that has an actual rank within the military structure. In case of war, or in case of national emergency, the officers of the Public Health Service retain their officers' titles within the military command.

These were the early beginnings of the NIH. It was a fairly small backwater agency. In the 1930s Congress did create the National Cancer Institute, which was the first subdivision of NIH to focus on any particular subject, and gradually it became the National Institutes of Health—plural; it used to be the National Institute of Health.

Basically where the big break came was after World War II, in the polio epidemic. There was a transition; because of a scandal and a political shakeup, a man named James Shannon became the director of the NIH in 1955.

James Shannon wanted to create the largest scientific research establishment in history, and particularly he wanted to model biomedical research on the Manhattan Project—large sums of money, step on the gas pedal, and maybe science will go faster and better. Every year since 1956 the budget of NIH has grown, out of control. The result was at the time that the floods of new money were directed in a war against polio. It trained polio virologists—David Baltimore is an example—and these people went on after the polio epidemic ended, around 1960, to tackle cancer, and eventually to dominate the war on cancer. But they were all virologists by training. It was during the sixties that we saw the rise of people like Howard Temin as well, and Robert Gallo.

RETHINKING: Are you saying that they were looking for a viral cause of cancer?

ELLISON: They only looked for a viral cause of cancer. Nothing else was even being considered. All the top virologists, who were now in control of science by the sixties—because the new money pouring into NIH, turning it into a powerhouse of a federal agency rather than a backwater agency, had now put the virologists in the dominant position, because they had received all of the new money, or virtually all of it. So the virologists dominated the war on cancer. They still do to this day.

RETHINKING: What about the toxic aspects of cancer caused by radiation, poisons, or environmental factors: Is NIH also behind that?

ELLISON: The NIH did in fact create a program starting in 1962, as I recall, to search for chemical carcinogens in the environment, and this created a smaller but still oversized program within biomedicine, that began to blame even trace chemicals that are miles away from you for your cancer. These are barely detectible in the environment, but because men were now being paid full time just to find such chemicals, even the tiniest quantities of a chemical would be enough to blame for cancer. There were several oversized programs, but the biggest one by far is the virus-cancer program, which officially began in 1964, but actually had its roots a little bit earlier, in the war on polio. What happened was that the transition occurred to these slow diseases of cancer, or multiple sclerosis, or Alzheimer's, or diabetes, but the fast viruses were not compatible with the slow diseases. The virus invades you today; your immune system neutralizes it, and then a slow disease strikes years later.

How could the virologists somehow connect their fast viruses with the slow diseases? Well, along came some few virologists in the early sixties who simply invented the notion of the slow virus, which actually was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976.

RETHINKING: Who was that?

ELLISON: That was Carlton Guidachek. Of course once the concept—of slow viruses that can act even after they've been cleared from the body by the immune system—had come to be accepted, it was possible to blame conceivably any disease on a virus, no matter how uninfectious the disease was. So they proceeded through cancer, and by the time AIDS came along, once they realized that AIDS was a new bandwagon, a new parade if you will, all of the virus hunters from the start controlled all the reins of power in the biomedical research establishment, and so naturally they dominated the research on AIDS—literally from before the first publication on AIDS. The very first person to describe AIDS cases—Michael Gottlieb in Los Angeles describing five homosexual men with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia—himself was already suggesting that it was caused by a herpes type virus, Cytomegalovirus. After that Epstein-Barr virus was blamed, HTLV-1, and finally you have HIV. That was the result of the virus hunters being in a dominant position in the establishment. That's the reason that AIDS wasn't blamed on a bacterium or on an environmental cause or a toxicological cause. The virus hunters controlled biomedical research and the biomedical research establishment, and had done so since the war on polio, and had done so because the NIH was an overfed bureaucratic agency that had in fact created by far the largest scientific research establishment in the history of the world—more technicians wearing lab coats, grinding out more data on a daily basis. It only gets worse every year.

RETHINKING: How much money do they spend a year?

ELLISON: Now the NIH is spending about ten billion dollars per year. And what that does is, the more data you grind out, the less time and ability anyone has to think about the data or interpret the data, and so of course you just get deeper and deeper in the HIV hole.

RETHINKING: The second pillar you mentioned is the public health aspect of this, namely the Centers for Disease Control.

ELLISON: Now we have the other question, which is, the first official identification of AIDS cases occurred in June of 1981. From there it was fewer than three years, until April 1984, when Bob Gallo held a press conference and officially declared, and had it set in federal stone, that AIDS was caused by HIV, a retrovirus.

RETHINKING: This was declared without having published any scientific paper.

ELLISON: He'd published no papers on it, and he declared it in a press conference, and it was set in stone. Now, the virus hunters did dominate the establishment, still do, and they will blame any disease they can get their hands on on a virus. However, they're usually rather slow. The disease has to be around for a long time before they notice it and start searching for a virus. Otherwise they don't pay attention. Cancer had been around for thousands of years of recorded history, and other diseases too. AIDS was far too brand new, and it was mostly striking male homosexuals and intravenous drug users, and these were just not groups that anyone was inclined to pay attention to. The virus hunters had bigger things on their minds. Gallo himself was not interested in finding an AIDS virus. He was more caught up looking for a leukemia virus, and he was looking at retroviruses.

So the question is, how did we get from the discovery of a disease that affected marginalized groups in society, to within three years where the virus hunters were already blaming it on a specific virus? That's a major feat. To put it in summary form, you can trace it to the Public Health Service, but particularly public health activists, and to understand these sorts of people you have to understand that the commissioned officer corps of the Public Health Service were not research scientists ever. I'm not talking now about the modern NIH research scientist type; I'm talking about the original commissioned officers of the Public Health Service. Their role was to put on uniforms and to try to control and manage epidemics by going to cities around the United States, quarantining, exerting emergency controls, trying to shut down commercial districts—all creating great resentment on the part of local people, and in no case is there any proof that their measures succeeded. But they are proud of thinking of themselves as activists, trying to contain epidemics for our general health, for our common good.

The modern incarnation of the public health movements, and of these activists, who are not research scientists, but who are proud of being activists, is the Centers for Disease Control, which began as malaria control in war areas in World War II, based out of Atlanta, Georgia, where it still resides today. It became renamed in the 1940s the Communicable Disease Center. You can see in the name that it was biased toward infectious disease, because infectious disease creates fear on the part of the population, and eliminates a lot of the resistance to otherwise draconian measures. Their bias, or course, was always to look for—what they do is they try to define clusters of disease, try to make diseases appear to be infectious, so as to justify their strong-handed measures to contain and control the disease. If it's infectious, people are more afraid of it.

RETHINKING: There is so much more of this on the tapes and in your book. But you told me recently that the CDC is trying to define violence and gun-related crimes as clusters of epidemic disease.

ELLISON: That's right. Violence of course they are not calling an infectious disease, but they are trying to treat it as a disease with perhaps some kind of environmental cause. They think they can cure violence by two measures primarily. One is gun control; they think if you get rid of the guns, then the gangs of course will stop purchasing their automatic weapons through the underground. And second, that if you fund the gangs and their organizations, their front groups, that are creating riots and violence, that you will then induce them to become peaceful.

RETHINKING: Where did you get that from?

ELLISON: This is from articles published by CDC officers themselves, who are not outlining their strategy for, quote, "how to stop the epidemic of violence." They believe that because it's an epidemic or disease that it shouldn't be punished. You shouldn't fill up the jails with these people, or death row. Rather you should give them money and take everyone else's guns.

The Centers for Disease Control has had three major programs through which it can make diseases appear infectious and make everyone step in line to agree. One is that in the early 1950s they formed a special unit, an elite, semi-secret unit, that is now almost fully secret, called the Epidemic Intelligence Service, or EIS. New graduates of medical schools, or biological graduate schools, or perhaps dental schools, or a few other things, public health departments, are recruited upon graduation to take a several-week course, and then dispatched on two-year active assignment, paid by the CDC, in various local and state health departments to become the eyes and ears of the CDC—an invisible intelligence network that watches for the tiniest clusters of disease, and, when the CDC deems appropriate, turns them into national emergencies. We saw this kind of cynical manipulation in the 1957 Asian flu epidemic. We saw it in the 1960s with clusters of leukemia, which they tried to make appear infectious. We saw that with the swine flu epidemic that never materialized, in 1976, and with the Legionnaire's epidemic that same year. And we've seen it more recently with Lyme disease, with Hantavirus pneumonia, and just one thing after another.

Even after those two years, every member of the EIS becomes part of a permanent reserve officer corps for the CDC that could be called up in case of national emergency or time of war, to serve as officers of their respective ranks, with actual emergency powers. Today many of these people, by sitting in foundations, major companies, the new media, Surgeon General's office, and other key positions politically, act as silent advocates for the CDC, echoing the CDC's viewpoint whenever it needs support. So of course that's a very influential network, and I might add that as of about one year ago, because of too many outside requests for the membership directory of the EIS, the CDC has recently suppressed the availability of this directory. They no longer want people knowing what the membership is.

RETHINKING: Some of these members hold high media positions.

ELLISON: That's right. Just as an example, the head medical writer for the New York Times, Larry Altman, is a graduate from the 1960s of the EIS.

The other program that the CDC has is called a partnership program. Basically they give grants to private organizations—even creating private organizations in some cases—supposedly to spread education, meaning the CDC party line. But in effect by spreading around this money the CDC creates and buys influence with organizations that do not appear to be connected to the CDC, at least officially. So for example, the CDC has thrown this money around to medical groups such as the American Red Cross, to hemophilia organizations, to gay rights and AIDS activist groups.

RETHINKING: And this is all carefully documented in your book?

ELLISON: That's right. In fact we list a number of the organizations that are funded, and I looked at some of those in my last RETHINKING AIDS article. There are enormous lists, and I'm only just beginning to uncover many of the organizations that are funded under this partnership program with what they call community-based organizations. See, the idea is—the CDC puts it in slightly different language. They say, well, these organizations can reach their constituencies more effectively than we can. That's code language, of course, for saying that it's more believable when it seems to come from private organizations without a conflict of interest.

RETHINKING: What kind of money is involved—some sort of minimum amounts they might give. Do they give money to ACT-UP, or those kinds of groups?

ELLISON: I haven't yet been able to prove ACT-UP. I can document the connection with several AIDS activist groups. I don't want to name more until I can prove them.

RETHINKING: What is the most unlikely group CDC funds that you uncovered?

ELLISON: Well, let me name two examples. On the AIDS activist, gay rights side of the AIDS debate, as it has been publicly constituted, they have funded the National Association for People with AIDS. It is a militantly pro-gay rights organization, but coordinates a good deal of the AIDS activist movement.

RETHINKING: And they fund the other side of that, too.

ELLISON: They simultaneously fund Americans for a Sound AIDS Policy, which has advised the religious right, and was the primary advising group to William Dannemeyer, Congressman. So the CDC was financing both groups at the same time, and the fact is that while the two sides debated on red-herring issues, so to speak, they agreed on one thing, and that is that we needed stronger public health measures, and that the CDC were good guys. This is an example of the sort of thing they fund. The funds could range anywhere from, I gather, a few thousand or a few tens of thousands of dollars, all the way up to millions of dollars, as in the case of the Red Cross. It depends on what level of money is required to buy off a group. Some of these groups were created entirely by CDC funding.

RETHINKING: For example?

ELLISON: For example, Americans for a Sound AIDS Policy. So the CDC, with its EIS officers, and with its partnership program, has created circles of influence far beyond its own immediate existence, where much of its influence is not recognized as coming from the CDC. Thus we have what appears to be a groundswell of support for any CDC position, which is in reality orchestrated by the Public Health Service and particularly by the CDC.

To illustrate how they use this in AIDS, quite simply the EIS network was heavily involved in identifying the first AIDS cases, which were not even a cluster. The first five AIDS cases did not know each other. They had no connection to each other. They hadn't even been connected sexually through anonymous sexual encounters or anything that we know of. But they found all five and defined it as a cluster arbitrarily. From there they went on to redefine diseases that existed in hemophiliacs, in intravenous drug users, in Haitians, in Africans, wherever they could go, for the purpose of making the AIDS epidemic appear to be infectious. The dominant view among those few scientists looking at AIDS from the very beginning was that it must be caused by drugs, particularly by poppers, which were wildly popular in the homosexual community. This was the view they were fighting, and they had to make AIDS look infectious. They did it through these kinds of cluster studies, by redefining diseases in other groups. The EIS was instrumental in that, and the partnership program, since 1984, when it began for the AIDS project, has been instrumental in creating what appears to be a spontaneous support for the public health activist viewpoint of AIDS, and for blaming it on a virus, from all sectors.

I must also say that this why the virus hunters paid attention to AIDS—because the CDC brought it to their attention and made it look infectious, and meanwhile the virus hunters, who dominated the NIH and the universities funded by the NIH, jumped on it and picked their own favorite virus, a retrovirus, on which to blame AIDS.

It is this Public Health Service, which spends many billions of our taxpayer dollars, that has in one sense or another created this HIV hypothesis, and which defends it to the last drop of blood. I think the only way we're going to ever deal with this and really to break the hold of the HIV hypothesis, and prevent future calamities like this, which will be inevitable, is to start cutting back the Public Health Service radically, perhaps abolishing some agencies.*