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Michael Callahan: DARPA’s Ventilator Guy in Wuhan
Michael Callahan, the Department of Defense’s virus intelligence expert in Wuhan, was key to the initial panic and ventilator guidance that killed thousands of Covid patients in spring 2020.
Aside from former Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger, another lesser-known national security figure who was key to the earliest days of the United States’ response to Covid-19 is Michael Callahan, longtime manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the United States government’s only confirmed point of contact regarding the earliest days of the Wuhan lockdown in January 2020.
Unlike more public-facing figures such as Anthony Fauci, Callahan isn’t often discussed in major media outlets. But stories of Callahan’s crucial role are available just beneath the surface, from outlets including Rolling Stone and National Geographic. His preferred media contact, Brendan Borrell, wrote a book centered around his exploits in the response to Covid.
Callahan had been one of the US government’s leading biowarfare experts since the early 2000s, when he was dispatched to the former Soviet Union for several years “to form alliances with scientists at some of the most secretive bioweapons laboratories in Russia and the former Soviet states.” This entailed the “reconfiguration of former biological weapons production facilities” in order “to fight disease rather than weaponize it,” primarily for purposes of vaccine production.
By way of background, the early 2000s were part of a brief lull in which America’s relations with former communist countries were uniquely dovish, with western officials seriously underestimating the strength of old ties and loyalties within the former Soviet Union especially.
Around that same time, Callahan worked in China during the original outbreak of SARS in 2003, a feat he shared with Matt Pottinger and—supposedly—with former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx.
Callahan had also supported gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and he spoke on gain-of-function research alongside Chinese CDC Director George Gao. Gao later appeared at both the Event 201 simulation of a coronavirus pandemic weeks before the initial outbreak of Covid as well as the subsequent simulation of the first-ever global outbreak of monkeypox, the facts of which came true soon after in the exact week predicted in the simulation.
According to National Geographic, Callahan was “working with Chinese colleagues on a longstanding avian flu collaboration” sometime in November 2019 when they first mentioned the appearance of a “strange new virus,” later named SARS-CoV-2. Callahan then flew to Singapore to see patients who had symptoms of the new virus. “After Singapore, Callahan flew to Washington, D.C., where he briefed U.S. government officials on where the disease might occur next,” National Geographic recalls.
Dr. Robert Malone has attested that Callahan called him to report the new coronavirus and to begin working on treatment protocols on January 4, 2020—the day after Chinese CDC Director George Gao had called US CDC Director Robert Redfield to report the virus. Malone reports that Callahan had worked for the CIA at some point.
According to Rolling Stone, Callahan then arrived in Nanjing on January 17, 2020, “looking forward to seeing his Chinese pals, a couple of veteran disease fighters he had met in Hong Kong during the 2002–2003 SARS outbreak.” Shortly after he arrived, the Chinese Communist Party issued a nationwide call for doctors to travel to Wuhan to volunteer in the fight against the novel virus. Callahan’s Chinese friends obliged, and Callahan followed.
“It was not sanctioned, not authorized,” Callahan said about his trip to Wuhan.
The day after Callahan arrived in Wuhan, Xi Jinping announced the strictest lockdown in history, barring all access to and from the city and the surrounding region. Callahan was now the United States’ only point of contact on the ground during the initial Wuhan outbreak.
That same day, terrifying videos began filling up social media feeds all over the world, showing Wuhan residents spontaneously collapsing and dying, their bodies piled high in the streets, and doctors forced to make apocalyptic decisions like having to weld residents into their homes or even shoot them as they tried to escape—both for their own good and, more so, for the good of the world.
All of these videos were later revealed to be fake, and nothing remotely like what they showed occurred anywhere else in the world. But people didn’t realize that at the time, and the videos went a long way to shaping the world’s initial terror of Covid.
Despite the fact that these videos were all fake, what Callahan reported about what he saw in Wuhan was remarkably similar to what took place in the videos. As Callahan tells it, the day Wuhan locked down, he “slipped on medical scrubs and donned an N95 mask and a pair of goggles to pass through the entrance of the Wuhan Central Hospital.” “He soon saw the familiar look of terror and confusion in the eyes of Wuhan’s infected patients as their shallow breathing quickened and their desperation grew.”
Callahan gives a graphic description of the human body’s fight against the coronavirus, lining it with metaphors of a war zone: “The body launches its riskiest line of defense—it sends in its assassins the killer T cells, which seek out infected cells and trigger their self-destruct buttons. As this war zone inside the lungs heats up, collateral damage becomes inevitable. Half of the immune system ends up fighting the other half. Red blood cells burst and disgorge their hemoglobin, an iron-rich molecule that wreaks havoc in the lungs, like a grenade mistakenly dropped in the trenches.”
These war zone metaphors might make for good entertainment next time you have a cold, but we now know that over 99.7% of patients who caught this new virus—including more than 99.9% of those under age 70—survived this internal struggle just fine.
This survival rate was greatly reduced, however, by the treatment protocol which Callahan and his colleagues used on patients, following “Chinese expert consensus” to employ “invasive mechanical ventilation” as the “first choice” for people with moderate to severe respiratory distress—in part to protect medical staff. As Callahan recalled:
When they got to a point when the drugs were no longer working, when the oxygen wasn’t helping, when the pulse oximeter readings dropped to 70, 60, 50… there was only one thing Callahan’s colleagues could do to keep them alive: anesthetize them and place them on ventilators… Except what Callahan was seeing was that patients were being put on ventilators faster than they were coming off them.
It’s not terribly surprising that patients were being put on ventilators faster than they were coming off—because as we now know, the ventilators were killing them.
Studies later revealed that patients over age 65 who were put on mechanical ventilators experienced a 97.2% mortality rate in the initial months of Covid—effectively a death sentence—before a grassroots campaign put a stop to the practice. To put this in perspective, patients over age 65 were more than 26 times as likely to survive if they were not placed on mechanical ventilators.
All told, the use of mechanical ventilators is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of Covid patients in the United States alone, as corroborated in a recent examination by Jessica Hockett of the vastly skewed number of excess deaths by age where ventilators were widely employed.
Based on his experience in Wuhan, Callahan then advised the White House on the procurement of new ventilators, as Borrell writes, “offering up his medical expertise on purchases for the stockpile.”
Callahan supposedly treated hundreds of patients while he was in Wuhan, apparently without realizing that ventilators were killing them. By contrast, some doctors including Cameron Kyle-Sidell, a young doctor in New York City, began noticing the harm ventilators were causing soon after they began treating Covid patients in March 2020.
Callahan says that, toward the end of January, he then slipped out of Wuhan by boat to escape the strict lockdown:
Chinese officials were planning to tighten Wuhan’s quarantine measures, banning residents even from stepping out to buy food. Callahan slipped across the river by boat—“the black-market way”—and returned to Nanjing.
Based on everything we know about China, escaping Xi Jinping’s lockdown by boat would seem to be a risky maneuver.
Around that time, Callahan was signed on for a six-month stint with the US Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response “to provide virus intelligence by way of his Chinese connections” and “advise on how to respond to the virus inside the United States.” Callahan said the virus was far worse than was being reported, and that the incidence of disease “was four times that being reported to the WHO.”
After leaving China, Callahan returned to Washington DC, where he breathlessly recalled the horrors he’d seen in Wuhan. As Borrell writes:
Once inside Dr. Bob’s office, Callahan replayed, in his amped-up, breathless mode of speech, the horrors that had befallen Wuhan’s hospitals: patients in the hallways, health-care workers abandoning their posts, oxygen supplies running low.
Like White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, Callahan emphasized the issue of asymptomatic spread. As he wrote at the end of January: “Asymptomatic and minimally ill patients will propagate virus into distant communities.”
Days later, Callahan was dispatched to the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan to observe and evacuate patients there. As Borrell writes, the numbers from the Diamond Princess confirmed his team’s “worst fears”—though as anyone who followed these events might recall, this fear was belied by the actual numbers themselves:
Of the four hundred Americans on board, fifty-eight were confirmed to have infections. Of those, twelve were asymptomatic and forty-six were symptomatic. About a quarter of the infected patients required hospitalization, and 2 percent needed intensive care.
“2 percent” of 58 infected patients is… one. This paragraph is a long way of saying that one person out of 400 required intensive care. But this was enough to confirm Callahan’s “worst fears” about asymptomatic spread.
The rush for mechanical ventilators that killed so many thousands of Covid patients in the early months has thus far been something of a mystery. In early March 2020, the World Health Organization issued provider guidance to healthcare workers based entirely on the “Chinese expert consensus” to use ventilators as the “first choice” for Covid patients. Rubber stamping this guidance was one of the WHO’s many atrocities during the response to Covid, and it goes a long way to explaining why ventilators were so widely used all over the world.
But as Jeffrey Tucker has rightly noted, there had to have been other sources aside from the WHO recommending ventilators for there to have been such a mad rush to procure them within the White House and at the federal and state levels more generally.
Callahan’s advocacy for ventilators based on his experience in Wuhan goes a long way to answering where that initial rush for ventilators came from. In Callahan’s defense, he says that Jared Kushner’s procurement of hundreds of thousands of ventilators had actually been inspired by “models coming from the academic world,” independent of his own input, indicating that other modes of influence had been pushing for ventilators as well. Further, Callahan may well have been panicked in the heat of the moment.
But given he claims to have treated hundreds of patients in Wuhan, it’s unclear why Callahan didn’t stop to realize that ventilators were killing patients before recommending them for use in the United States. That Borrell’s account of Callahan’s ventilator advocacy was not even published until December 2021 makes this even more bizarre, because it was well known by May 2020 that the use of ventilators had been extraordinarily deadly—hence why doctors all over the world mostly stopped using them.
Callahan goes on to spend the rest of the response to Covid primarily on vaccines, pushing to have as many vaccines and boosters as possible approved and available as quickly as possible. There’s nothing particularly interesting about this work other than that it’s a major revenue stream that never would have materialized if not for the hysteria surrounding Covid. Through his advocacy for ventilators, and as the US government’s only confirmed point of contact during the initial Wuhan lockdown, Callahan played an outsized role in initiating this hysteria.
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