June 22, 2020
by Joseph Fitsanakis
The general discussion about how and when the White House was alerted by its spy agencies about COVID-19, points to the existence of ‘disease intelligence’ programs in the United States Intelligence Community. Relatively little is known about the history and current state of these programs. Last weekend, however, ABC News’ investigative correspondent Lee Ferran brought to light an article from 48 years ago in a declassified intelligence publication that sheds light on the roots of the Central Intelligence Agency’s disease intelligence effort.
The article was published in the declassified edition of Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s in-house research publication. Written by Warren F. Carey and Myles Maxfield, the article appeared [.pdf] in the spring 1972 issue of the journal, and is titled “Intelligence Implications of Disease”. It discusses the 1966 outbreak of meningitis in China’s Guangdong Province, which prompted the CIA to begin tracking diseases in a systematic way. The outbreak first appeared in the city that is today known as Guangzhou, and within weeks it had resulted in a military takeover of the Chinese healthcare system. The latter collapsed in places, and prompted the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (known today as the Directorate of Science and Technology) to begin collecting data in order to assess the political fallout of the disease.
The article states that the CIA cryptonym for the disease was Project IMPACT. Its scope was limited, but it expanded 1968, when the world health community began to issue alerts about the so-called Hong Kong flu. Known officially as Hong Kong/A2/68, the virus spread around the world in a few months, and is believed to have killed between 1 and 4 million people, including around 100,000 Americans. At that time, according to the article in Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s Project IMPACT “went global”, and was combined with BLACKFLAG, an ongoing effort by the Agency to “computerize disease information and derive trends, cycles and predictions” on a global scale.
Project BLACKFLAG tracked the spread of the disease in the Soviet Union and in North Vietnam, and issued regular analyses of the political ramification of the epidemic. That was not easy, say the authors, given the fact that most nations of the communist bloc tried to conceal information about it. The CIA was also able to issue warnings to its teams of operatives abroad, instructing them to shield themselves from the flu as it spread around East Asia and, eventually, the world.
According the authors, the CIA’s early disease intelligence projects were able to demonstrate that data aggregation was critical in helping monitor and forecast outbreaks. It also showed that these such forecasts could have “an initiating and vital role” in political, military and economic intelligence. Today, says Ferran, the CIA’s disease intelligence program has the same twofold mission it had when it was first conceived: first, to collect intelligence about the actual extent of the spread of diseases abroad —which may differ from the official information provided by foreign governments; and second, to try to forecast the consequences of these trends for American interests in the regions impacted by an ongoing epidemic or pandemic.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2020 | Permalink
UNWTO launches comprehensive Tourism Recovery Tracker
As growing numbers of countries around the world ease restrictions on travel, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has launched a new Tourism Recovery Tracker to support global tourism. This represents the latest concrete action undertaken by the United Nations specialized agency as it leads the response of global tourism and guides recovery.The most comprehensive tourism…
As growing numbers of countries around the world ease restrictions on travel, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has launched a new Tourism Recovery Tracker to support global tourism. This represents the latest concrete action undertaken by the United Nations specialized agency as it leads the response of global tourism and guides recovery.The most comprehensive tourism dashboard to date, the Tracker is the result of a partnership between international organizations and the private sector. Available for free, it covers key tourism performance indicators by month, regions and subregions allowing for a real time comparison of the sector recovery across the world and industries. All key tourism data in one placeThe UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker compiles all the relevant data in one place, giving governments and the private businesses the ability to track the recovery of tourism at global and regional level, alongside information on the top destinations for international tourism The tracker includes data on:international tourist arrivalsseat capacity in international and domestic air routes,air travel bookings,hotel searches and bookings,occupancy rates anddemand for short term rentalsThe UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker is available for free and is a collaborative effort by a group of partners including the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), ForwardKeys, STR, Sojern and AIRDNA.According to UNWTO latest World Tourism Barometer, the massive drop in international travel demand over the period January-June 2020 translates into a loss of 440 million international arrivals and about US$ 460 billion in export revenues from international tourism. This is around five times the loss in international tourism receipts recorded in 2009 amid the global economic and financial crisis.The Tracker was announced on the back of the 112th Session of the UNWTO Executive Council, which met in person and virtually in Tbilisi, Georgia, to work together to guide the sustainable and responsible recovery of tourism from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The power of smell: Learning to feel through scent
On our first family holiday to the Blue Mountains, we were surrounded by thick bush. Early mornings smelled of eucalyptus oil from the gum trees. It was winter and cold, but I delighted in running through the rooms with my brother, pulling on the long cords hanging down from the high ceilings to turn the lights…
On our first family holiday to the Blue Mountains, we were surrounded by thick bush. Early mornings smelled of eucalyptus oil from the gum trees. It was winter and cold, but I delighted in running through the rooms with my brother, pulling on the long cords hanging down from the high ceilings to turn the lights on and off. My joy did not last.
In the disinfectant soaked emergency room, the doctors marvelled at my stoicism. At only four years old, I stuck out my tongue unbidden and breathed in for the stethoscope, despite lung-wrenching bursts of asthma that had me gasping for air. I made no other sound. Right from the start, crying from fear or pain, or crying for any reason really, was actively discouraged. Snot and mucous blocked my already overburdened sinuses, making me worse. I was always an obedient child.
When I was young, I often fell sick. I was allergic to cow’s milk since birth and then to almost anything I touched, ingested or smelled. Sunshine makes me sneeze, and I get headaches from even the most expensive of perfumes worn by people standing a considerable distance away. My sense of taste has been diminished along with the ability to recognise and name every flavour in the food on my plate.
But despite, or perhaps because of, the damage, my sense of smell has been enhanced.
Standing in our kitchen at home one day, aged eight, an intense aroma of lavender enveloped the room. When I inhaled deeply, it flooded my senses, and the solid countertops, cupboards and floors around me vanished from sight.
I remember nothing else, just an aide-memoire, a photo of me as a toddler sitting on the veranda at my grandmother’s house. It is black and white, but I know my hair was bright blonde back then. I had been caught in the act of falling over or awkwardly sitting down the way babies do when they are dressed in baggy overalls on top of voluminous cloth nappies.
As I look at this much smaller, much younger me, my nostrils fill with bouquets of lavender once more. It grew in great whorls along my grandmother’s driveway, and she made sachets of it to put in the drawers with her clothes.
That day in the kitchen grandmother came to say goodbye. Lavender is happiness mixed with melancholy and longing.
Jasmine and cigars
My parents fought a lot before they separated that same year. I perceived that the noise they made was not good, but I was too young to understand the content.
In summer, the house was permeated with the heady scent of jasmine. A vine grew around the railings on the terrace outside and when mum was happy, she would cut long tendrils of it and arrange it in three white elliptical vases. They fitted together to make a whole, in a way we as a family never did.
Most days she spent a lot of time in bed, curtains drawn. Dad worked and played hard, and was not in the house very often and when he was, the home became a battlefield with me the unwilling spectator. Yet the waft of a smouldering cigar still takes me back to sitting on his lap, content.
Dinner times were sacred in that house. Mum was half English, so we sat up at the table and asked before we got down.
Serviettes were made of paper and only used when we had a takeaway, but napkins were nice and always made of cloth. The soup should be spooned away from the body, and the special round-headed spoons should never be confused with the oval-headed ones laid out for dessert.
Mum was big on rules. But it did not stop the fights between my older brother and sister. The tang of pepper always hits me like the shaker one of them threw at the other. I cannot remember who raised their arm, missed their target and got me square in the forehead instead. Dead centre. The lid came off, releasing the contents, making my eyes sting, and my nose run uncontrollably. Pepper still makes me sneeze but not as much as then. Its spice is tinged with threat.
At everyday meals we used the ordinary cutlery, keeping the silver set for best. Polishing it was one of the many chores I was given.
The silver polish, a pink semi-unguent liquid emanating forcefully from a plastic bottle, was unlike other chemical concoctions because it left my olfactory nerve in peace.
The repetition of applying the polish, rubbing it in and going over and over the surface until the black grease from handling was replaced by a brilliant sheen, was seductively hypnotic.
The non-stop chattering, as my mind tried to process life events and determine their meaning, stopped, and I just was. Calm.
In my teenage years, I did as my mother instructed and used my brain to question and challenge at every turn. Her method for dealing with this was to remain suspended in a palpable seething silence for weeks at a time.
When she did unleash, every moment of self-doubt, intimate secret joy, fear or concern I had confessed, in fact any daughterly intimacy I shared, no matter how insignificant, could and would be used to punish, torment and hurt me.
I learned early on that showing a reaction, any at all, was ill-advised.
By the time I was 18, I no longer gave her any ammunition, even about events as momentous as losing my virginity. How I longed to tell her, just to experience the thrill of knocking her off balance, if only for a moment.
[Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]My memory paintbox
Looking back at my childhood is like viewing an incomplete painting. I can make out scattered, isolated instances of happiness, but on the whole, the canvas is largely blank.
My memory paintbox holds no fine brushes to define outlines or rich colour palette to fill in the hues. It only contains an automatic self-defence mechanism that blurs all the details when it comes to my emotions.
If voices are raised and feelings aired, a red cloud blankets my brain. Whole sentences and single words are obscured or even replaced by another from the same lexicon, similar but not equally exact in meaning. Nuance disables my comprehension. A few minutes after the fact, I cannot remember clearly what was said to me or what I myself said. Even innocuous titbits like what I was wearing, elude me.
Just thinking of initiating discussions about what makes me unhappy or facing conflict head-on suffocates me. I fight against intense panic and dread, and fail to understand what it is I am feeling, let alone know whether it is appropriate or not.
Throughout, my olfactory memory bank overflows. Like a dog distracted by high-pitched sounds, when I pick up a scent, I become completely obsessed by something no one else can discern. Crinkling my nostrils I have to sniff incessantly until I am able to identify what it is I can smell.
My first all-consuming, life-changing love was with a married man whose wife left him in spirit when she had a one night stand, years before she left him in person.
He and I lived together for two years, although I spent the last six months mustering up the willpower to leave him. I was 22 by then and cried a lot in the shower and constantly changed my mind.
Afterwards, we remained friends, good ones, joking about how we would grow old and disgraceful together. At least I would, he was already known for being outspoken and rude.
Then one day he took the lid off a bottle of paint thinner and drank it all down. He was not found for two weeks.
When I went round to his house a week later, the metallic stench of blood still lingered and clung to every corner of every room. It registered so pungently with my nasal cilia that I could taste it on my tongue. I sometimes notice a diluted version when I am at the dentist, or sucking a paper cut on my finger. Brackish and full of loss.
I dropped out of university and went to London and hitch-hiked, bussed and ferried around Europe. For a whole year, I was free, from my family, my mother and my incomprehensible emotion-laden memories. I drank more than was good for me, danced with strangers and reinvented myself.
“Love ’em and leave ’em” was my unoriginal creed and a trailing caress of sandalwood my calling card.
The pure oil was sold in tiny exotic tinted glass bottles at Portobello Market in London, by solemn Indian men dressed in dhoti, armoured against the cold in ancient furs or discarded army greatcoats.
For once, I was just like all the other women I hung around with – pretty, young and fragrant. Normal.
Damp, talc and hospital smells
My father spent the last six weeks of his life in a drab palliative care unit built in a gully, dense with eucalyptus trees.
The building never really saw the sun, so a pervasive trace of damp mingled with the everyday hospital odours, like microwaved meals drowned in white sauce, the antiseptic whiff of soap and the fetid presence of death.
It was summer, and I went to see dad every day. It was so hot I carefully slathered my face with thick sunscreen each morning for the long walk down the hill, and back up again.
I took care to dress well, with matching handbag, shoes and lipstick to accentuate the smile on my face my father loved to see until the day he stopped talking.
Dad had always been a smart dresser and used the same brand of talc day in, day out. I can smell him shaking the light floury spots of white powder all over his shoulders from a time when I first started to retain memories. The red squeeze bottle standing sentry next to his hospital bed ran out the same day he was declared to be actively dying.
Substituting smells for feelings
I used to get great satisfaction in working out what it was I could smell. It substituted perfectly for needing to know what I felt. Acknowledging an emotion, perceiving a sentiment, or just identifying a memory as an expression of feeling a particular way is something I had never been able to completely articulate or comprehend.
When dad died, that began to change. After his death, if by chance I breathed in a waft of his talcum powder emanating from a passing stranger, I always looked up and smiled, expecting to see him. Of course I never did, but I relished the fragrance because it marked his presence, confirmed that he once was.
In contrast, I despised the sickly perfume of the sunscreen I wore to the hospital, and will not willingly choose to use it again. At first, it was because it served to remind me of my father’s absence. All the attendant feelings that accompanied the weeks he lay dying were listed in its ingredients. I was afraid if I rubbed it onto my skin again, those emotions would engulf me, just like the red fog that shuts down my brain during arguments.
However, the olfactory memories of my father sparked by the talc and the sunscreen are equally zoetic. They represent the whole of my father’s being and the total of my experience of his life and death. The negative emotions they evoke are as necessary and essential as the positive.
Without large, frightening, and overwhelming emotional episodes, times of joyous, delirious excitement and pleasure have no meaning. They need a context in which to take form, otherwise life is bereft of connotation and nothing more than an objective description of events.
Now, when I deliberately reach for a different brand of sunscreen, it is because I like the smell, and no longer a way to avoid identifying and dealing with how I feel.
SuperM Unite: K-pop’s Avengers Call For Togetherness On Super One
Courtesy of SM Entertainment Halfway through Super One, the first full-length studio album from the South Korean band SuperM, something unexpected happens. After the breakout single “Tiger Inside,” a fearsome composition of guttural growls and clapping beats, cools off, its fiery sound gives way to the twinkling piano keys of the group’s first ballad, “Better…
Courtesy of SM Entertainment
Halfway through Super One, the first full-length studio album from the South Korean band SuperM, something unexpected happens. After the breakout single “Tiger Inside,” a fearsome composition of guttural growls and clapping beats, cools off, its fiery sound gives way to the twinkling piano keys of the group’s first ballad, “Better Days.” It’s a hopeful song about overcoming hard times collectively, and with its slow-burning, ‘90s-tinged nostalgia, it seems at once outside the group’s typically boisterous sound and perfectly placed. The dichotomous arrangement of the two tracks resonates as the sonic equivalent of reaching the peak of a mountain, then looking out over a cloudy expanse, off to “better days, better days, better days” — and toward forever. You realize the world is so small.
“The lyrics are, kind of, very healing,” the 24-year-old Thai singer Ten says of the track during a Zoom press conference. After he speaks, his six collaborators — Taemin, Baekhyun, Kai, Taeyong, Mark, and Lucas — clap and cheer wildly in response. “I think people, when you listen to ‘Better Days,’ you can get that energy that we, us together, can make a better day.”
The “Avengers of K-pop” have been making history since they arrived on the circuit less than a year ago. The first K-pop supergroup, comprised of seven key members from acts under the parent company SM Entertainment (SHINee, EXO, NCT 127, WayV), their eponymous EP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first Korean artists to do so with a first release. Their sound became synonymous with the electricity of their earliest, instantly iconic single, “Jopping,” a formula followed by “2 Fast” and “Super Car.” That inherent energy is perhaps what made their work immediately appropriate for big-stadium tours: They embarked on their first world tour, We Are the Future Live, months after their debut, concluding at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden. It’s also what makes their first ballad such an outlier within their catalog, albeit perfectly at home on Super One.
“We all need to come together and unite,” 27-year-old Taemin declares of the LP’s core message with the help of a translator. “We all need to come together to overcome rather than just the individuals.” That notion resonates immediately and poignantly while the group speaks to a group of journalists separated by continents and a global pandemic; at the end of the chat, they pose for selfies with smiles and peace signs for the digital grid of writers. This experience, a yearning to be together while being forced apart, is framed on the bumping, radio-ready English closing track “With You,” which was previously performed during Global Citizen’s Lady Gaga-curated One World: Together At Home benefit livestream. But the notion appears throughout, as on “Tiger Inside,” about unleashing one’s inner strength.
Courtesy of SM EntertainmentThough collective healing might be the driving theme of Super One, it’s equally defined by its eclecticism. It grooves into R&B on “Step Up” and “So Long,” while the album’s titular opus, “One (Monster & Infinity),” a hybrid remix, is an all-out banger with a gooey techno beat. The track might give SHINee fans flashbacks: It’s the first medley of its kind from an SM group since “Sherlock (Clue + Note).” “When I recorded ‘Sherlock’ with SHINee back in the day, at that time, it was like one of the first times we were doing this, so it felt very experimental,” Taemin adds. “At that time, I was a little worried but not worried about how this would end up sounding at the end of the recording process… A lot of people might think that mixing two songs together is, kind of, quite tall of a task, but we were able to do it, and I’m really happy with the results.”
A debut album is a symbolic, defining moment for an artist’s career; on Super One, SuperM are both the sum of their parts while also transcending that, a unique symbiosis among larger-than-life singular talents. And yet, there’s still more for the boys to learn along the way: “I’m sure everyone feels the same way but, as artists, when we start out our careers, I can’t help but to feel that a lot of the moments that we go through feel like we’re still trying to get there, like we’re not fully there yet,” 25-year-old Taeyong says. “There are a lot of moments where it might’ve felt like a failure but actually, everything was like a step to build up what they have now.”