Healthcare/Biosafety

Who is behind misinformation about Lugar Lab spread by News Front and Geworld?

23 March, 2020

On 18 March 2020, News Front Georgia published an article titled “Coronavirus has not originated in China! Hello, Lugar Laboratory!” Referring to Global Research Canada and the government of China, the article alleged that the coronavirus was intentionally imported into China by US servicemen. By mentioning Tbilisi-based Lugar Laboratory in connection with the spread of coronavirus, News Front further exploited a popular conspiracy theory whereby viruses and dangerous pathogens are spread from the Lugar Lab. News Front also mentioned Kristian Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) who, according to News Front, claimed that the virus had not spread from China, but was introduced there. 

Referring to the same sources, Georgia and World (Geworld.ge) also used the conspiracy theory about US servicemen having imported coronavirus to China. An article, identical to the one published on the New Front webpage, had a photo captioned: “They imported the new coronavirus to China,” featuring US servicemen.

"'

The articles published by News Front and Geworld represented misinformation and both were created with a similar technique that could be easily seen from identical structure of the texts and minor changes made to them on purpose to not have them look alike. Global Research Canada is a well-known conspiracist website which is regarded as unreliable by NewsGuard. As regards TSRI researcher Kristian Andersen, News Front and Geworld quoted him manipulatively. It was precisely a recent TSRI study which proved that the new coronavirus is not a man-made virus but originated naturally. With regard to the government of China, the US Department of State called on China to refrain from spreading misinformation in the current situation. 

1. According to the TSRI study, the new coronavirus has originated through natural processes.

To prove that coronavirus was intentionally imported into China by US servicemen, News Front and Geworld referred to TSRI researcher Kristian Andersen. In reality, the TSRI proved that the new coronavirus originated through natural selection and it is not a man-made virus. This study does not corroborate the pro-Kremlin media conspiracies but debunks them. 

 The TSRI website states that the genomic analysis of COVID-19 virus strains does not confirm that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered.

Kristian Andersen: “By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes.” 

"

2. The Foreign Affairs Ministry of China has levelled accusations at the USA without evidence. 

The Foreign Affairs Minister of China, whose tweets were used as sources by News Front and Geworld, spread accusations without any arguments and evidence. Much like the abovenamed news media, the Minister made references to Global Research Canada and its writer, Larry Romanoff, whose article, published on 4 March, alleged that the new coronavirus was introduced in China by US servicemen.

"

The US State Department responded to these accusations with a statement warning the government of China against spreading “rumors.” 

Statement of US Department of State: “Secretary of State conveyed strong U.S. objection to [China's] efforts to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States. Mike Pompeo stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors.”

3. Coronavirus genotype differs by countries

To support the conspiracy theory, News Front said that the varieties of virus discovered in Iran and Italy were not identical to that in China. According to News Front, it was a proof that the virus was brought into China from another country.

A new study of coronavirus by GISAID finds that virus genotypes spread in countries differ. For example, the coronavirus genotype in Georgia coincides with that in Australia, the Netherlands, the USA, Great Britain and Finland. Genome sequence data from Covid-19 cases in Georgia was studied by the Lugar Lab.

"
GISAID

4. Global Research Canada is not a reliable source and is notorious for the spread of conspiracies.

Global Research is a Canadian news website founded by Michel Chossudovsky in 2001. Global Research is known for its anti-Western, anti-capitalist, anti-global and pro-Russian conspiracist editorial policy.

Based on The Economist and NATO experts, the free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, included Global Research in the list of fake news websites. Media Bias Fact Check, which rates degree of bias in news media, categorizes Global Research as a conspiracy-pseudoscience source. Global research is considered unreliable by News Guard too.

"

In response to the article about coronavirus and US laboratories, a US media outlet, USA Today, prepared a vast material detailing the current scientific consensus on the origins of coronavirus. To obtain comment on the conspiracies, the media outlet made efforts to contact the writer from Global Research, Larry Romanoff, but with no result.

5. A single technique behind the articles of News Front and Geworld.

The articles published by News Front and Geworld are almost identical and one can easily see common features, proving, over again, the ties between these two media. The Myth Detector has already proved these ties by showing that a network of Facebook pages and groups, on the one hand, and the news outlet News Front, on the other, have same writers.

These two articles have the same sources and a similar structure of texts; however, the texts are slightly altered through changing the order of sentences and replacing some words with corresponding synonyms.

News Front Georgia

Geworld.ge

This version is supported by other facts too. As expert of infectious diseases at Georgetown University, Daniel Lucey, stated, the first case of coronavirus occurred in Wuhan on 1 December 2019 and the patient had no link to the seafood (or bats). According to the doctor, the first human infections must have occurred in November, but they were not identified until later. It was only in December 2019, when several cases occurred, that doctors concluded that they were dealing with a new virus.

This version is supported by other evidence. Expert of infectious diseases at Georgetown University, Daniel Lucey, noted that the first case of disease was confirmed in Wuhan on 1 December 2019 and the patient had no link whatsoever to the seafood. In the physician’s words, the first human infections must have occurred in November, but until later, they were not revealed. And it was only in December 2019, when several cases occurred simultaneously, that doctors concluded they were dealing with a new, unknown virus.

The same version is supported by Kristian Andersen, a biologist at the Scripps Research Institute. According to him, the virus not only has no link to Wuhan seafood market, but it has not originated in Wuhan at all and has been imported to China from another country. Proof of that, in Anderson’s opinion, is the point that genotypes of the virus discovered in Iran and Italy are not identical to that in China.

The same theory is shared by Kristian Andersen, a biologist-evolutionist at the Scripps Research Institute. He is sure that the virus has no link whatsoever to Wuhan seafood market and has not been “born” in China at all. Covid-19 has been imported to China from another country. This version is proved by the fact that genotypes of the virus that has spread in Iran and Italy are not identical to that in China. In other words, they must have been created in various locations.

In the summary of his article, Larry Romanoff notes that one cannot consider the US Fort Detrick a source of spread of coronavirus-19 with 100-percent assurance, but given that 1059 instances of leak of pathogens from US secret labs were observed between 2005 and 2012 (Hello, Lugar Laboratory!! – “Newsfront,” see several examples here), this option becomes increasingly plausible.  

Larry Romanoff concludes that it is impossible to say with full confidence that the US Fort Detrick is a source of spread of Covid-19. To this end one, at least, needs to get information from the US base. But given that 1059 instances of leak of pathogens from US secret labs were recorded between 2005 and 2012 (once in three days, on average), this option becomes increasingly plausible.


 6. The pro-Kremlin news media manipulatively link conspiracy theory about coronavirus and US servicemen with the Lugar Lab.

News front and Geworld manipulatively link conspiracies about coronavirus spread with the Lugar Laboratory. By doing so they sow fear and doubts among readers that viruses may be deliberately spread from various labs, including the Lugar Lab. This narrative is among key messages of Kremlin’s misinformation campaign, which it uses to demonize the USA, on the one hand, and on the other hand, to distract attention from critical issue concerning Russia.


Prepared by Sopo Gelava and Lika Buchunteli
Myth Detector Laboratory