Why did the Livermore Lab produce a “study” that DENIES the use of anthrax in Rhodesia’s civil war?

Why did the DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Lab produce a 2015 study suggesting that anthrax was NOT used as a bioweapon in Rhodesia’s civil war?

by Meryl Nass

Rhodesia is no more, having been renamed Zimbabwe after it became a majority-ruled black nation in 1980. Rhodesia was a British territory before 1965, when the 5% white minority seized control to preclude Britain granting majority rule.  A civil war ensued, with the two sides divided by race.  By the war’s end in 1980, the black “guerrilla” “terrorist” “communist” side had been attacked with chemical and biological weapons including organophosphate “nerve gas,” rat poison, cholera, anthrax and arguably other chem-bio agents.

I was first to publicly identify this anthrax epidemic, which killed at least 182 people and affected 10,000, to be an act of biological warfare, in 1992.  Subsequently much literature (scientific, historical and memoir, originating from Zimbabwe, South Africa, the UK and US) has amplified the evidence base and added details, though much remains hidden. Of interest, this confirmatory literature includes a report from the US Naval War College and US Air War College, and a book and related episode of BBC TV’s Panorama.  The history of anthrax biowarfare in Rhodesia seemed incontrovertible.

US DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory takes aim at this history, misses widely

I was forwarded a report produced in 2015 by a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), disputing that the Rhodesian anthrax epidemic was due to biological warfare. The study was published by LLNL, rather than in a peer-reviewed journal, yet it required considerable resources to produce. The report ran to 43 pages and 56 footnotes.

In order to claim the epidemic occurred naturally, the report’s author, Stephan P Velsko, employed a method he termed “opinion calculus,” by which he transmuted the actual facts of the epidemic into opinions and (often incorrect) assertions. He then assigned weights to the opinions and assertions (the weights being his opinions) and used a mathematical construct, Dempster-Shafer theory, to impart a scientific veneer to the gobbledygook calculations.

Unable to marshall any evidence to support his conclusion that biological warfare did not occur, Velsko jettisoned all the existing evidence to instead favor the absence of evidence, claiming,  “Many items of evidence that have been proffered over the years are shown to be nearly irrelevant to the final conclusion, while the absence of certain expected types of evidence plays a critical role in the assessment.” 

Here are three examples (from many more I could cite) of Velsko/LLNL’s arguments:

1.  Although anthrax cases were required to be reported in Rhodesia, Velsko disputes the meaning of the huge size of the epidemic, suggesting it was inflated by poor quality reporting.  While reporting rates for any rare disease always increase as doctors become more familiar with it, Velsko never mentions the fact that the Rhodesian event remains, by far, the largest anthrax epidemic in world history.

2.  Velsko disputes that the epidemic jumped from district to district in a geographic and temporal pattern unknown to other anthrax epidemics, twisting the history. He claims instead that the epidemic was localized to one epicenter, with nearby peripheral cases caused by transport of meat.  In order to make this claim, he omits the considerable evidence of when and where cases occurred.

However, I previously recorded the dates and locations of cases using Zimbabwe’s public health records and other sources.  Below is a new photo of the map I annotated in 1992 with multicolored stars for reported anthrax case locations, and numbers of cases, where known.  Some of the stars have gone missing, but it should be obvious that cases were identified widely within Zimbabwe’s borders (marked in yellow).  Visible, but more difficult to see, are the case numbers which, despite Velsko’s claims, were considerable from east of Harare to northwest of Bulawayo. Additionally, the star colors indicate the temporal movement of the epidemic to new areas, a feature unique to this epidemic but disputed by Velsko.

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