Diplomatic Viruses: a deeply disturbing film about a US military laboratory in Georgia

Diljana Gaytandzhieva, “Diplomatic Viruses” (Al Mayadeen, 2018)

Bulgarian journalist Diljana Gaytandzhieva gained fame early in 2018 for uncovering and reporting on shipments of weapons from EU countries through Azerbaijani airline Silk Way Airlines to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, some of which later turned up among terrorists in Syria, over a period from 2016 onwards: for this reporting, she was sacked by her Bulgarian newspaper employer. Recently Gaytandzhieva has been in Tbilisi, Georgia, interviewing residents living near the Richard Lugar Research Center, a military laboratory currently being utilised by the US Department of Defense, and hearing their complaints of smells and strangely coloured smoke emanating from that facility at night, and of pollutants smelling like rotten eggs being piped through their neighbourhood and into local waterways from the facility. Through her interviews and gaining access to documents from insiders, Gaytandzhieva finds that the facility is being used by the US government to research biological and chemical weapons, and that disease pathogens, mosquitoes and various chemicals are being transported as diplomatic cargo to the facility by people from the US embassy in Tbilisi. She attempts to get access to the laboratory and to speak to an entomologist apparently working there but is constantly rebuffed and threatened. At one point during her stay in Tbilisi, she is locked in her rented apartment and is forced to call emergency services to help her get out.

This documentary, filmed for Al Mayadeen TV news channel, and narrated by Patrick Henningsen (of 21Wire) off-camera, follows Gaytandzhieva closely as she uncovers one disturbing fact after another. Why is the US ferrying frozen human and disease pathogens as diplomatic cargo to the Lugar Center laboratory? Why is there an entomologist (Joshua Bast) working there? Is research being done on dangerous mosquito-borne diseases? Is there a connection between the work being done at the Lugar Center and an outbreak of Crimea-Congo haemorrhagic fever in Georgia back in 2014/5? Residents living near the Lugar Center mention four Filipino nationals being seriously injured and two of them dying: were these four people poisoned by dangerous chemicals at the facility? Why are researchers at the Lugar Center collecting DNA and RNA samples from Russian people? Why are there private companies also using the resources at the Lugar Center and what are their interests in doing so? Why did the Georgian government sign an agreement with the US Department of Defense in which Georgia has to give up control over what happens at the Lugar Center and over what researchers, government and private alike, do with effective diplomatic immunity?

To Gaytandzhieva and the Russian government, what the US is doing at the Lugar Center and in other laboratories in over 20 other countries is conducting research and experiments in biological and chemical weapons, often using human tests subjects, even communities, without their consent and with often dire consequences for neighbourhoods and even whole small towns surrounding these laboratories. In recent years since the US established military research labs in Ukraine, the number of exotic disease outbreaks including outbreaks of botulinism poisoning has risen alarmingly.

That the US is collecting and presumably testing DNA and RNA samples taken from Russian people should be of great concern: do the Americans plan to create a virus or bacterium that will target Russian Federation nationals but no-one else? How do the Americans propose creating a disease that targets specific ethnic groups but not any other? What they are doing is impossible in the case of Russians because Russians have absorbed many peoples in the past and will have a highly diverse genetic pool compared to other populations. Would the US be able to control the pathogen if it were to spread to nations outside Russia and into its own territory? (Would the US government even care?) The documentary digs fairly deep into issues of great medical, political and environmental importance.

This is a very worthwhile and important video to watch. Gaytandzhieva has done an excellent job at great personal risk to herself.