The jury is still out on whether the modern plague that is Covid-19 was man-made or occurred naturally.

The smart money, however, seems to be on that it leaked, by accident or deliberately, from a lab in Wuhan in China and into the local wet market.


This article was submitted by Stuart Crawford and Hamish de Bretton-Gordon.

Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is the former CO of the CBRN Regt, Bio
Security Fellow at Magdalene College Cambridge and author of the book ‘Chemical Warrior’. 

This article is the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal. If you would like to submit your own article on this topic or any other, please see our submission guidelines


From there, as we all know, it spread around the globe and has presented itself in various mutations and derivatives. Its impact has been pretty devastating with some 290 million cases and 5 ½ million deaths worldwide (as of 2nd January 2022), figures which are probably an underestimate. Most significant of all, perhaps, is the fact that the world seems to have been taken completely by surprise.

Whilst the health implications of the Covid-19 pandemic are pretty clear and resonate of the much more destructive Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20 (an estimated 50-100 million deaths worldwide) which killed more people than did the Great War, the defence and security implications have either been deliberately downplayed or possibly not yet fully assessed.

In health terms, here in the UK the government(s) and the NHS were caught on the hop and have been playing catch-up ever since. New mutations and variants have added further to the chaos and quite clearly we’re not out of the woods yet, not by a long chalk. While we are now desperately trying to mitigate the effects of the recent onslaughts, the big question is; how do we get better early warning of the next pandemic, for as sure as eggs is eggs there will be more in the future?

What has been severely lacking hitherto is effective ‘actionable’ intelligence to allow the government to make effective and timely decisions. Relying on mass testing produces a dated picture of the passage of the virus and hence decision-makers can only make reactive decisions. The panacea would be an early warning system that would allow preventative measures to be put in place before an epidemic becomes a pandemic. With the advance in DNA sequencing, we can now produce an almost real-time ‘weather’ map of the progress of the virus. This technology, allied to the latest detectors and networked to current security surveillance systems, would provide just such a system and is being developed in the UK, but will require significant funds to become an active reality. But a lot less than has been wasted on some pretty dubious preventative measures and PPE.

Less well explored are the military and security implications. It will not have escaped the attention of state actors just how much Covid-19 has disrupted everyday life in almost every country in the world. Biological warfare, of course, is hardly anything new, and those of us – the authors included – who went to the First Gulf War, for example, were inoculated against bubonic plague and anthrax amongst other threats, such was the alarm over Saddam’s SCUD missile threat and the warheads the missiles might carry.

Up till now, biological weapons have been dismissed by state and non-state actors as being ineffective. Too slow to make an impact and covered by medical countermeasures, lip service has been paid since the end of the Cold War to biological defence capability.  Al Qaeda and ISIS have dabbled with highly toxic pathogens like anthrax and plague with little success. But Covid, a not very virulent pathogen but highly transmissible, has changed all that. There is some evidence that Russia and China have had another look at biological weapons and without doubt, bad actors around the globe will be doing similar.  Had Covid been a terror event it would have dwarfed anything in the past and would possibly have been a bigger global shock than WW2?

There may be, however, a much more sinister threat looming. We have become, sadly, all too familiar with the terrorist threat in the UK, whether it be spill-over from the Northern Ireland Troubles of late last century or the latest waves of jihadist-inspired violence. Outrages like the 7/7 London bombings or the Manchester Arena attack show all too clearly that the threat is real, and the security services’ efforts, whilst impressive, cannot prevent every incident.

Whilst the bomb, and the suicide bomber, seems to be the weapon of mass destruction of choice for those who seek to do us harm for political and/or ideological ends, it will not have passed their notice that the widespread distribution of an infectious virus or disease can be a powerful weapon. Arguably it would be a much more dangerous threat than a bomb.

Are terrorists able to manufacture a biological weapon of this type and distribute it through a population? Could we see the advent of the “suicide infector” in addition to, or indeed supplanting, the suicide bombers with whom we are all too familiar? It seems that, given the means and the intent, a handful of infected individuals could spread themselves, and the disease they might be carrying, rapidly through the population before anyone had an inkling of their presence. Wholesale death, illness and disruption to everyday life could ensue.

Do we have any defence against this threat? There are two key measures that will greatly reduce the biological terror threat.  Firstly, there needs to be effective regulation and policing of the 3000+ labs around the globe that deal with pathogens and procurement of the aforementioned early warning system.  There is the UN’s Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention but most pay lip service to it and it is too poorly funded to be effective.  Revamping this Convention, getting support, especially from Russia and China, would be a great start. No doubt most militaries including the UK need a comprehensive stocktake of their defensive biological capabilities.  If you have no morals or scruples such weapons are almost perfect, and most of our state and non-state adversaries have no clearly apparent morals or scruples.

Against this background, time is not on our side. We are not being sensationalist in saying that, despite the lessons of Covid, the UK remains wide open to another wave of new variants or viruses against which we have no effective early warning system.

Worse still, should any terror group get it hands on a biological weapon and decide to spread it amongst our population in pursuit of their evil ends, we currently have no effective defence.

Covid-19 has been our wake up call. There is no time to lose.

© Stuart Crawford and Hamish de Bretton-Gordon 2022

Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University. He now works as a political, defence and security consultant and is a regular commentator on military and defence topics in print, broadcast and online media.
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Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 months ago

I once read of a security report with the hypothetical scenario of a state actor/terror group using a commercial vessel, sailing up the Thames into Greater London, and releasing a deadly Chemical or Biological device.

Further more, CBDE Porton Down conducted experiments ( Secretly ) in the Cold War, releasing spores around the London Underground system, and the Post Office / government tunnel systems to monitor their spread. The RAF also sprayed the stuff over west country towns!

Basically, as Dads Army says “We’re doomed.”

David Lloyd
David Lloyd
3 months ago

The 7th 2019 CISM Military World Games were held from 18Oct – 27Oct in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. 9300 miitary athletes from 109 countries attended. Many athletics and gymnasium disciplines were held at the Wuhan Five Rings Sports Center and the Wuhan Sports Center, less than ten miles from the Wuhan Virology Institute. There were no restrictions on minging and many athletes enjoyed socialising with Chinese from the city. The various stadia were well attended with Chinese spectators. It appears that a strong correlation exists in COVID-19 cases reported at U.S. military facilities that are home bases of members of… Read more »

Jay
Jay
2 months ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

Same lab that released a SARS virus in 2004….world largest petri dish

Bulkhead
Bulkhead
3 months ago

Well thats it, I still have my bunker in the backyard I’m off to stock up on baby’s heads and corned dog not forgeting some good beer. Bye

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 months ago
Reply to  Bulkhead

sorry Bulk but If a pandemic does not get you an exponential growth AI reaching singularity, nuclear war or global warming will. Your essentially buggered and a bunker is just dragging it out, sort of like overlong resuscitations. I’d just grab the beers invite your friends around and have a nice time till the end.

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 months ago

To be honest, there is no effective way to protect a modern population against a high R0 high case mortality rate disease. If you are looking at an R0 of above five growth rates mean by the time you have found it everyone has it. so R0 of 5 with say a day 3-5 infectious time period: day 1= 1 case day 3/5 = 5 new cases day 6/8 =25 new cases day 8/10= 125 new cases day 11/13= 625 new cases day 14/16= 3125 new cases day 17/ 19= 15625 new cases day 20/22= 78125 new cases day 23/25=… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

I hate it when you do these great posts. Full of facts, knowledge, and really quite sobering. It is scary.

Julian
Julian
3 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Some people also don’t realise how lucky we got with SARS-CoV2 being so similar to SARS-COV1 and MERS. Although the necessary reagents were initially in short supply at least the science to develop tests for SARS-CoV2 that were sufficiently accurate in terms of acceptably low rates of false positives and false negatives was done quite quickly and early in the pandemic. That was by no means a given, it is quite conceivable that in the early stages of some other pandemic accurate tests might not be available so soon. (The similarities to SARS-CoV1 also gave the vaccine developers a big… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 months ago

Hi Luke do you have the reference links please ?

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
3 months ago

What this dose highlight is that the WHO cannot be trusted as after its “inspection” of the facilities in Wuhan they released a load of cods-wallop about having no evidence despite several Chinese whistle blowers contacting the WHO officials with evidence. I do however think the research needed to develop a Bio-weapon needs a lot of funding behind it so a more realistic terrorist weapon would be a dirty Nuclear weapon such as a radioactive source used in the oil industry or a chemical weapon as we saw in the Japanese underground. That is not to say that the likes… Read more »

Jay
Jay
2 months ago

China blocked all attempts to trace the source, WHO’s hands were tied, I don’t like the conclusion they came to in the light of Chinese state blocking

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
2 months ago
Reply to  Jay

The problem is Jay they published a report despite the blocking instead of growing a set and stating that a true report is not possible because they were unable to look at the evidence.

DRS
DRS
3 months ago

Maybe 12 monkeys was not a work of fiction then!

Gareth
Gareth
3 months ago

It would also help if the UK government took note of it’s own pre-existing knowledge and experience instead of ignoring it. For example, in 2016 there was a ‘war games’ type exercise (Exercise Cygnus) to stress-test the NHS to examine how it would cope in the event of a (then) hypothetical future pandemic. One result of Cygnus was that it was discovered that the NHS would quickly run short of emergency ventilation units. When the real pandemic came along, needless to say, that is exactly what happened, despite there being several years between Cygnus and COVID in which more EVU… Read more »

Frank62
Frank62
2 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

When this kicked off HMG acted as though it was nothing & immedeately set about poo-pooing every anti viral protocol until they finally realised it was serious. BJ crowed about still shaking everybody’s hands & every time action was needed it was very late with clear gaps for the virus to continue going. While this is starghgering incompetance bordering on the psychotic, it’s worse in that with few exceptions it was similar across the globe. “Wolves in sheeps clothing” seems to be the standard in governments across the globe. Now if a more serious chem/bio weapon was inflicted on us… Read more »

Stc
Stc
3 months ago

Simple common sense tells you that Russia and China have been investigating these types of warfare constantly. Only the British are naive and stupid enough to actually follow the rules. As for the suicide attack, this is only a problem because our politicians and civil servants are too woke and too soft. Beyond protecting their own privileged position the concept of defence is beyond them.

Something Different
Something Different
2 months ago
Reply to  Stc

I really don’t see how being woke (or what used to be called not being prejudiced or discriminatory) has to do with having the ability or not to deal with this threat? Not many would call the current incumbent of Number 10 partially woke. Are you suggesting we act like authoritarian regimes elsewhere, that doesn’t seem very British, does it?

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
2 months ago

I was very surprised that there was no mention of the successor to the Joint CBRN Regt as a counter to this threat. Capability is with both the RAF Regt and the army’s 28 Engr Regt.

Jonathan
Jonathan
2 months ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Hi Graham, the truth is the CBRN capability when it comes to Biological threats is pretty minimal. We are taking a single point attack with a know bacterial agent, anthrax has always been the classic as it creates a spore which is really resistant. Bacterial agents or a limited number of very stable viruses. From a war fighting point of view Bacteria have always been the most likely beasties to be used as you can grow them easily ( they self replicate if provided with dinner) and may of them are persistence so you don’t need to take some much… Read more »

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
2 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Thanks Jonathan. I agree with all that. Our counter-CRBN capability may be minimal but we could not afford to have more than a dedicated army Regiment (Bn strength) and a Sqn of the RAF Regt.

Florent Pirot
Florent Pirot
2 months ago

The Wuhan lab, a tunnel uranium mine behind and laogai inmates sent in to dig uranium. Their internal contamination as work support for virus mutations. https://uraniumisagenocidegiant.com/2020/05/31/wuhan-p4-used-a-uranium-tunnel-mine-and-laogai-inmates-to-mutate-viruses-rapidly-proof-in-pictures/

Then a deliberate release because there was a dissident communist group, anti-Xi, pro Hu Jintao and linked to the French government, thriving around, and putting the city into lockdown was seen as the best way to arrest them in stealth. It spilled out of the CCP’s hands after volcanic tephra fallout from the Taal eruption brought more airborne alpha emitting nanoparticulates.

Helen Jamieson
Helen Jamieson
2 months ago

Please stop thinking SARS-CoV-2 is a ‘man made’ virus. It’s not and there are thousands more naturally occurring viruses, out there- happily circulating, without human knowledge of them! The human population happens to be so large now, we are increasingly encroaching on animal habitats etc so we will see more and more viruses who make the transition from living, unhindered, within (for example) bats, to being able to infect humans, eventually! It’s that simple! Yes, MAYBE, SARS-CoV-2 was being researched in a Wuhan lab and was mistakenly released, due to bad lab practices but make no mistake, It is a… Read more »