The Covid-19 “Manhattan Project” and its Ties to the CIA

On April 27, the Wall Street Journal reported about the creation of a “Manhattan Project” for Covid-19. A “secret group”, consisting in a dozen scientists and a few billionaires, was working “to cull the world’s most promising research on the pandemic” to then advise the White House in the best course of action.

As Rob Copeland wrote for the journal, the group is led by a 33-year-old physician-turned-venture-capitalist named Tom Cahill, a graduate from Duke University with extensive – maybe too extensive – contacts in the business world, as we will explore below. The “lockdown-era Manhattan Project”, as the group describes its own endeavor, is all about “distilling unorthodox ideas” from around the globe. As we can remember, the MP created the atomic bomb during WW II.

Cahill’s “secret group” is already influencing the Trump administration, which is taking advice from its 17-page memo, also made available by the journal. In other example of its influence, by the end of March Dr. Cahill made a phone call to Mike Pence’s aid, Nick Ayers, who managed to accelerate a lucrative FDA permission for Regeneron Pharmaceuticals – working on a potential vaccine for COVID-19 – to move its production to Ireland, where taxes and licenses are more lax.

Other policies included in the memo regard mandatory smartphone apps that will require people to report about their health and potential symptoms to a government agency on a daily basis.

But the brazen pecuniary nature of their enterprise comes to light when the WSJ informs us that the group of scientists working around Cahill – and their billionaire backers:

…has acted as the go-between for pharmaceutical companies looking for a reputable link to Trump administration decision makers. They are working remotely as (an) ad hoc review board for the flood of research on the coronavirus, weeding out flawed studies before they reach policy makers.

In other words, a private filter made of billionaires and scientists – who as we will see, own stock in some very profitable big pharma companies or work for them – is arbitrarily “weeding out” ideas from around the world regarding solutions to the pandemic… in the purported benefit of society?

Some could argue that that very same logic brought us to where we are right now: underfunded healthcare systems collapsed under a pandemic that was foreseen years or even decades in advance. As tens of writers and journalists have outlined in recent weeks around the world, what was needed for an up-to-the-task response to a threat like coronavirus, like stockpiles of specific medical equipment, more hospital beds and health professionals, was not a lucrative enough alternative for the privatized healthcare mercenaries in charge.

As few alternative media commented on the WSJ revelation, Naked Capitalism noted:

In essence, the country would be betting on venture capitalists and private equity specialists to solve the Covid-19 epidemic; oligarchs, in other words. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good bet… private equity is, after all, responsible for a range of social ills, including surprise billing from practices in privatized emergency rooms…

Just two months ago, when the pandemic was starting, Dr. Peter Hotez, from the Center for Vaccine Development at the Texas Children’s Hospital, told the US Congress that in 2016 he and his team of researchers had a vaccine for a strain of coronavirus “ready to go”, but by then, “nobody was interested…”, so they didn’t obtain funding to test it on humans. Hotez, who also stated that his vaccine “may have provided cross-protection from the (present) strain”, says that the SARS epidemic of 2003 and the MERS or camel flu of 2012, should have “triggered major federal and global investments to develop vaccines in anticipation…”

It didn’t. Our good doctor even approached big pharma companies after the recent outbreak regarding his would-be vaccine. He literally got this response from one of them: “Well, we’re holding back to see if this thing comes back year after year…”

Now some big pharma investors, hiding behind their scientists/employees –young Dr. Cahill is presented by the WSJ as an stoic “one suit” living in a “one bedroom rental near Boston’s Fenway Park”– are looking to make a kill among the biggest disaster in recent times, with an economic fallout yet to be seen.

And just as the billionaires behind the “Covid-19 Manhattan Project” are tied to big pharma and some of the most powerful investment trusts in the world, its head, Dr. Tom Cahill, is tied to the CIA’s venture capital, In-Q-Tel.

Cahill, Seventh Sense BioSystems, and the Gates Foundation

As former CIA director George Tenet stated in his memoirs: “…CIA identifies pressing problems, and In-Q-Tel provides the technology to address them. The In-Q-Tel alliance has put the Agency back at the leading edge of technology”. In-Q-Tel is notorious for investing in Keyhole, the technology that later became Google Earth.

As mentioned, Dr. Tom Cahill’s tender age didn’t stop him from developing a list of contacts among billionaire “philanthropists” like the notorious Michael Milken, and elite capitalist ventures like … well, the CIA’s investment fund.

Seventh Sense BioSystems was created in 2008 to develop a blood collection system that would facilitate diagnosis around the world, especially in the underdeveloped world. They designed a small device armed with micro-needles that would be fixed to the upper arm of the patient, drawing blood with a painless tap and storing it.

Dr. Cahill is a member of the board of directors at Seventh Sense. The medical technology start-up obtained money from In-Q-Tel for its very first round of funding ($4.2 million in total; the exact amount coming from the CIA’s front is unknown). Although the donation, made with tax-payer money, isn’t officially secret – the CIA’s venture fund works openly but discreetly –, the reasons why the agency could be interested in the project remain a mystery.

A few years after that, in 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation granted Seven Sense BioSystems over $2 million for its second round of funding. We should note that Novartis, also a Gates Foundation grantee, was tied to the recently incarcerated Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s lawyer. Novartis, working on a hydroxychloroquine treatment for the virus, paid Cohen more than $1 million for “policy insights” after Trump’s election in 2016. After their relationship was leaked, Novartis apologized. Later, a congressional investigation revealed the real objective of Novartis, the company: “explicitly sought to hire Michael Cohen to provide the company ‘access to key policymakers’ in the Trump administration…”

Dr. Cahill’s access to the White House, on the other hand, is a benefit provided to him by his own powerful godfathers, like Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics and co-chairman of Bane Capital – involved in “some of the biggest investments in biotech” since 2016. According to the WSJ, Pagliuca passed on a version of Cahill’s Scientists to Stop Covid-19 memo and policy recommendations to a Goldman Sachs executive, David Solomon, who then handed it to Trump’s Treasure Secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

As the WSJ stated, Pagliuca, along with PayPal’s Peter Thiel, Jim Pallotta – owner of Raptor Capital, also invested in biotechnologies and Big Pharma – and Michael Milken (a “philanthropist” and convicted felon who invented the “junk bonds”) gave Cahill the “legitimacy” to reach the White House “in the middle of the crisis”.

Finally, in an even more unintendedly sarcastic manner, the WSJ piece assures its readers that: “no one in the group stands to gain financially”. Maybe not directly.

An elite club of interconnected billionaire investors

A recent short documentary from The Corbett Report’s, “How Bill Gates Monopolized Global Health”, carefully explains how the Gates Foundation (also) donates millions of dollars to many world renowned media like The Guardian, the BBC, NPR and ABC News, where its dollars funds health related news segments. Its influence in media, the World Health Organization and hundreds of grants for research and development let Gates set the agenda for human health, to the point that is: “almost impossible to find any area of global health that has been left untouched by the tentacles of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation…

“It was Gates who sponsored the meeting that led to the creation of GAVI, the vaccine alliance, a global public-private partnership bringing together state sponsors and big pharmaceutical companies…” as Corbett reports. The openly stated objective of GAVI is to ensure healthy markets (for vaccines and other pharma products).

Government reactions in the US and UK, he adds, were shaped by the advice of two research groups, one from London’s Imperial College and the other from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (Seattle), both heavily funded by – you guessed it – the Gates Foundation.

Despite dubious disclaimers, the fact is that the handful of billionaires and multimillionaires backing Cahill’s group of Scientists to Stop Covid-19 have important and overlapping investments in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and therefore could be expected to make huge deals out of the present pandemic and the proposed solutions. Jim Pallotta’s Raptor Capital made millions investing in Hospira, a pharmaceutical company bought by Pfizer in 2015. Steve Pagliuca’s Bain Capital Life Sciences also invests in two dozen biotech startups, with special mentions to a couple Pfizer spinouts.

All of the billionaires or multimillionaires mentioned throughout this article seem to deal with the same companies, venture funds and holdings, as if they were part of an elite club of investors. Peter Thiel, through the Founders Fund, invested in Stemcentrx, a company designing cancer treatments with stem cells that was bought by AbbVie, owned in part by the Vanguard Group. The latter also have interests in Pfizer and half a dozen big pharma names that overlap with those receiving “charitable” donations from the Gates Foundation. The Vanguard Group is also one of the top institutional shareholders of Class B shares from Berkshire Hathaway, where Warren Buffett is CEO.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, according to a recent investigation by The Nation, own stock from a dozen well-known names in pharmaceuticals like GSK, Merck, Pfizer or Eli Lilly, while at the same time – and in an open conflict of interests – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation makes “philanthropic” donations to them.

Most of these firms, including “charities”, holdings and venture funds, have no qualms in dealing with pharmaceuticals and the kind of private companies that make them direly needed in the first place, like Coca-Cola, McDonalds or giants of the oil and agricultural industries, including the producers of glyphosate-carrying concoctions.

The so-called “Covid-19 Manhattan Project” is, in sum, an open door to the White House for an elite club of billionaires aiming at enlarging their already extravagant business portfolio at the expense of a catastrophic emergency. Far from new, it follows the same neoliberal logic that brought us to this point, putting in the hands of the superwealthy 0.01 % the future of health in the United States and the world just like another business opportunity.

As Joachim Hagopian once wrote for Global Research:

This is neither a new nor unique story. In fact, the story of big pharma is the exact same story of how big government, big oil, big agro-chem giants like Monsanto have come to power. The controlling shareholders of all these major industries are one and the same.

Daniel Espinosa Winder lives in Arequipa, second largest city of Peru. He graduated in Communication Sciences in Lima and started researching propaganda and mainstream media. He writes for a peruvian in print weekly, "Hildebrandt en sus trece" since 2018. His writings are a critique of the role of mass media in society". Read other articles by Daniel.