Operation Warp Speed-Dangerous Liaisons and Precedents

With the COVID-19 pandemic in our rearview mirror, not everyone remembers Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a program to fast track development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Operation Warp Speed Announced

First announced by President Trump in May of 2020, the private-public partnership between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Defense (DOD) was transitioned to the White House COVID-19 Response Team in 2021 and the Operation Warp Speed name was then scrapped.

Most initial objections to OWS centered on the risks of a fast-tracked, non-FDA tested vaccine, how the program unduly enriched drug makers and executives with public monies (more on that later) and, to a certain extent, how the program fell short of its promises.

But months later, more questions arose. For example, soon after the roll-out of OWS, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), called for Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on the military role that had been chiseled out in OWS (even though Senate Committee on Appropriations hearings on OWS had had been held mainly addressing operational issues).

When hearings were not held, Sen. Warren and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to the HHS, the DOD and to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), all also part of OWS that, “The American people deserve to know that the federal government is using their tax dollars to develop COVID-19 medical products at the best possible price for the public,” and requested information about contracts.

operation warp speed
Operation warp speed

The Military Partnership Questioned

Why did OWS unite government health services with the military to begin with? According to Politico, OWS was modeled after the successful Manhattan Project which conjoined the U.S.’ top scientists with the military to create the U.S.’ atomic bomb at the beginning of WWII – a mission so crucial and urgent that time could not wait. (OWS was even initially referred to as MP2 before its Operation Warp Speed name.)

The problem was, President Trump was widely seen as not addressing the pandemic with enough urgency. According to Politico, as the pandemic escalated, the White House’s coronavirus task force was ineffectual because of “political rivalries.”

Bloomberg Businessweek agreed. “Trump failed to come up with a national strategy to control its [COVID-19’s] spread and left it to the states to respond … .Then he endorsed a company-driven approach,” the publication wrote. Despite pandemic “practice runs” like Dark Winter and Crimson Contagion, pandemic planning was ununified and scattered across the federal government with “nothing as visible as a Federal Emergency Management Agency,” added Bloomberg.

For its part, the DOD believed its management and oversight were crucial to the vaccine effort because “the DOD has decades of experience making and managing large contract purchases with the private sector and also handling the logistics of distributing what it buys globally.”

But not everyone was satisfied with the sizeable military partnership. Stat, a health and medicine news outlet produced by Boston Globe Media, reported that at OWS’ start, approximately 60 military officials, including at least four generals, were participating – “many of whom have never worked in health care or vaccine development” – and that military personnel greatly outnumbered civilian scientists on the project.

“One senior federal health official told STAT he was struck by the presence of soldiers in military uniforms walking around the health department’s headquarters in downtown Washington, and said that recently he has seen more than 100 officials in the corridors wearing ‘Desert Storm fatigues,'” wrote Stat.

Helming the operation according to an organizational chart of OWS obtained in 2020 were HHS secretary Alex Azar and DOD secretary Mark Esper followed by Gen. Gustave Perna, a four-star U.S. general (with Gen. Paul Ostrowski, a former special forces soldier, serving as Perna’s deputy) and Moncef Slaoui formerly of GlaxoSmithKline.

At appointment, Slaoui owned $12 million-worth of shares of the biotech Moderna, a vaccine maker, which Sen. Warren called out as a conflict of interest and which he divested. Six months after OWS’ launch, Trump fired Esper as defense secretary.

Secrecy and Hidden Partners

Only two months after OWS was announced, its secrecy became very apparent. When Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) asked Gary Disbrow, acting director of HHS’s BARDA about the vaccines in the OWS portfolio during Senate Committee on Appropriations hearings, he replied “I cannot specifically mention the companies,” according to Science. “We’re in active negotiations with many of them.”

When Sen. Baldwin followed up by asked Disbrow how many vaccine candidates would be selected, he laughed and said, “More than one.”

As OWS coalesced, its secrecy aura grew. According to Whitney Webb, reporting for Children’s Health Defense and the River Cities’ Reader, hidden partners and undisclosed links with problematical entities abounded in OWS.

For example, the non-government OWS contractor, Advanced Technology International (ATI), had strong links to the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security (in addition to DOD) yet it might have been chosen precisely because its non-government status allowed it to “bypass the regulatory oversight and transparency of traditional federal contracting mechanisms,” she wrote.

Moreover, ATI actually managed the OWS vaccine maker participants Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Pfizer and Sanofi instead of the government who they were supposed to be serving. Why? (And why did, SiO2 Materials Science, a company OWS charged with making the vials for the vaccines, install 32 new security cameras around its operations facility.)

ATI also manages Medical CBRN Defense Consortium or (MCDC) writes Webb which is focused on “advanced development efforts to support the Department of Defense’s (DoD) medical pharmaceutical and diagnostic requirements to counter Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) threat agents.” MCDC members include Emergent Biosolutions and the DOD/CIA contractor Battelle Memorial Institute, both of which have “unsettling ties to the 2001 anthrax attacks,” she writes. “Another member of the MCDC is CIA/NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and weapons manufacturer General Dynamics.”

Other secret partners, unreported links between OWS participants and questionable groups and possible quid pro quos are uncovered by Webb in articles at Children’s Health Defense and the River Cities’ Reader,

Vaccine Maker Bonanza

Anyone who followed the COVID-19 pandemic realizes it was a taxpayer-funded bonanza for biotechs and vaccine makers. In 2020 alone, those who held stocks in companies like Moderna, Novavax and Regeneron netted over $1 billion. One reason for the profit party was: vaccine executives were able to “keep investments in drug companies that would benefit from the government’s pandemic efforts,” through a maneuver that amounted to an “end run around federal conflict-of-interest regulations,” writes reporter Rachana Pradhan.

Nor was Pfizer left out. While Pfizer did not accept OWS funds like other vaccine makers, it made $3.5 billion in the first three months of 2021, reported the New York Times, largely because, Unlike several rival manufacturers, which vowed to forgo profits on their shots during the Covid-19 pandemic, Pfizer planned to profit on its vaccine.”

Privacy Concerns

With so many hidden, high-tech and data-gathering partners secretly connected to OWS, privacy was – and is – clearly a concern.

While OWS leaders said they would conduct an “active pharmacovigilance surveillance system” to track the health effects of vaccine receivers for 24 months after their jab, what is to keep the shadowy companies from also tracking who does and does not receive the vaccines, writes Dr. Joseph Mercola on the Children’s Health Defense website. Especially since the multinational computer technology corporations Google and Oracle have been contracted to “collect and track vaccine data” as part of OWS’ surveillance systems.

Such companies acting as a part of OWS, escalate concerns about OWS secrecy and conflicts of interest as well as personal privacy suggests Dr. Mercola. And it gets worse!

In early 2021, tech giant Oracle announced in a press release that it now “will serve as the CDC’s central data repository for all vaccination data in the U.S. This ‘national clearing house’ system will receive data from all U.S. jurisdictions administering vaccinations.” How did this happen some wonder?

With Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who founded the company in 1977, now charged with curating the vast national medical, financial and personal datasets and with complete access to them, “pharmacovigilance” takes on an even more sinister cast writes reporter Jay Hawker – beyond Operation Warp Speed’s initial red flags.

Martha Rosenberg

Martha Rosenberg is the Investigative Health Correspondent for NewsBlaze. Martha illustrates many of her stories with relevant cartoons. She was staff cartoonist at Evanston Roundtable.