Event 201

My recent piece in Man’s World, the best underground men’s magazine. Reprinted here with permission.

On 18 October 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (CHS) held a strange pandemic simulation known as Event 201 before an invited audience of 130 people at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. Billed as a “tabletop exercise,” Event 201 purported to war-game a novel coronavirus pandemic, less than three months before China acknowledged a very real novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

The organisers modelled the fictive pathogen at the heart of their simulation on SARS. They envisioned a virus that originated in bats and made its way to humans via an animal intermediary, in this case pigs in Brazil. Unlike SARS, but like SARS-2, the fictive virus was said to cause mild symptoms in many people, in this way achieving higher transmissibility. The simulators assumed—correctly, as we now know—that it would take a year to develop and distribute a vaccine. After eighteen simulated months, or three hours of real time, the imaginary pandemic had killed 65 million people, with a SARS-like case fatality rate of 10%.

The events of the simulation unfolded via a series of staged news clips from the fictional Global News Network, and briefings delivered by CHS staff to a panel of fifteen participants. These players pretended to sit on a Pandemic Emergency Board, tasked with advising governments on policy questions. Through five sessions, this board addressed the problems of “medical countermeasures,” “trade and travel,” “financial resource allocation” and “communication” – all topics selected to emphasise the role of public-private partnerships, a longstanding obsession of the simulation’s co-sponsors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum. The participants were a collection of real-world figures drawn from business, government and globalist organisations. The most intriguing personality among them was George F. Gao, Director-General of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. In October 2019, SARS-2 was almost surely spreading among humans in Wuhan, very likely with Gao’s knowledge.

Event 201 achieved wide if low-key press coverage, and its organisers produced a series of vacuous recommendations. Their “Call to Action” demanded that “Governments, international organizations, and business ... plan ... for how essential corporate capabilities will be utilized during a large-scale pandemic.” These parties should “work together” to distribute medical supplies, “maintain travel,” “provide more resources and support for the development and surge manufacturing of vaccines,” and “prioritize reducing economic impacts.”

On 17 January 2020, as the Wuhan outbreak made headlines around the world, a statement appeared on the official Event 201 website, drawing attention to the recommendations the simulation had generated. Months later, a prominent disclaimer appeared, insisting that the “pandemic exercise” was not “a prediction” and that it merely “served to highlight preparedness and response challenges.” Some of the supporting documentation was revised to emphasise that the entire scenario was fictional.

If you are satisfied with that, you’re an idiot.

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The Center for Health Security has a curious history. It was founded in 1998 as the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies by Donald Henderson, the epidemiologist famous for heading the 1967–77 World Health Organisation campaign to eradicate smallpox. At first the Center ran primarily on government grants, which funded them to war-game virus outbreaks for the purpose of formulating defence and security policy. They held their first tabletop exercise, Dark Winter, at Andrews Airforce Base in June 2001. Dark Winter simulated an Iraqi smallpox attack on the United States, and like Event 201 it also had odd prophetic elements. At one point in the Dark Winter script, “the NY Times, Washington Post, and USA Today” receive “anonymous letters” threatening “renewed attacks” of “anthrax, plague and small pox” unless US forces are withdrawn from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. This was just months before 9/11 and the very real anthrax attacks of September/October 2001, as well as the ensuing US allegations about Saddam Hussein’s WMD stockpiles. The Center conducted a second wargame, Atlantic Storm, in 2005. True to Henderson’s background, this again featured a smallpox attack, this time carried about by fictional al Qaeda-style terrorists.

In the years after 2005, biowarfare faded as a fashionable concern, the Center stopped wargaming, and Henderson retired. The relevance of CHS waned, until they attracted the attention of the Open Philanthropy Project in 2017. Open Philanthropy functions as a vehicle for the superfluous wealth of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his tech-reporter wife, Cari Tuna. In February 2017, Open Philanthropy announced that they found CHS to be “the preeminent U.S. think tank doing policy research and development in the biosecurity and pandemic preparedness space,” and awarded them an initial grant of $16 million. An additional $19.5 million followed in 2019. Open Philanthropy hoped the money would free CHS from government funding, and encourage them to redirect their attention from biosecurity issues to “Global catastrophic risks” such as pandemics. They pledged to “work collaboratively” with CHS “to identify priority projects”. With their grant, it is clear, Open Philanthropy hoped to buy a different kind of research and advocacy, one more appealing to Silicon Valley money and globalist interests.

In their grant announcement, Open Philanthropy highlighted the 2005 Atlantic Storm exercise as among the “most valuable” work performed by CHS to date, and so it’s hardly surprising to find that the think tank responded to their award by reviving their tradition of tabletop exercises. On 1 June 2018, they held Clade X, their first such simulation in thirteen years. This centred on a hybrid nipah-parainfluenza virus released by microbiologists working for A Brighter Dawn, a fictive group modelled on Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attacks in Tokyo. Clade X participants were current or former members of the US government, pretending to serve on an Executive Committee chaired by the National Security Adviser.

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While the earliest CHS tabletop exercises represented legitimate attempts to war-game biological warfare scenarios, culminating in serious policy recommendations and even a journal article, Clade X was nothing but media theatre. Beyond a vague five-page policy document, its only lasting legacy were press reports, including a breathless write-up in the New Yorker, and other articles in places like the Washington Post, Vox, the Daily Mail, and STAT. As a war game, Clade X was entirely fake. The players formulated recommendations for an off-stage, notional American president, who then issued pre-scripted orders that were oblivious to all advice. Whatever the mock Executive Committee recommended, in other words, the simulated pandemic unfolded as the organisers had determined it would. It had to be this way: The press-friendly production, including the pre-filmed Global News Network segments that would recur in Event 201, made spontaneity impossible.

The GNN clips are not the only element Clade X and Event 201 share. In many ways, the two simulations are twin events. Clade X reads like a trial balloon to attract the interests of more important collaborators like the Gates Foundation and the WEF, who, as we have seen, joined forces with CHS to sponsor Event 201 the very next year. Bizarrely, the product of this collaboration was a tabletop exercise of vastly lower quality. However artificial, the GNN clips in Clade X feature real actors, and the participants are all prominent American politicians capable of miming plausible policy discussions. In comparison, Event 201 comes off as a festival of vacuity and incompetence. The staged nature of the simulation is deemphasised in Clade X, but on full display in Event 201, where the Pandemic Emergency Board cannot develop any specific policy recommendations at all. Many of its participants, particularly the business representatives, plainly have nothing to contribute; for long stretches they recite nothing but flat, preformulated talking points. Particularly excruciating is the performance of the obvious diversity hire Latoya Abbott, from Marriott International; and Martin Knuchel, a profoundly stupid and verbose Lufthansa executive. Chinese CDC Director General George Gao is among the most qualified people in the room, and yet for the entire event he summons not a single substantive word. The policy advice that Clade X generated was at least specific. The organisers demanded, for example, that the United States cultivate the “Capability to produce new vaccines and drugs for novel pathogens within months.” The very same point recurs in the policy sheet produced by Event 201, diluted to the point of worthlessness: “Governments,” we read, “should provide more resources and support for the development and surge manufacturing of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics that will be needed during a severe pandemic.”

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Dark Winter and Atlantic Storm, the earliest wargames hosted by the fledgling Center for Biodefense Strategies, were clearly designed to thematise the inadequacy of smallpox vaccine stockpiles. Donald Henderson, whose life’s work was smallpox eradication, constructed these exercises to warn the US government against complacency.

The deeper purpose of Clade X and Event 201 is a more difficult matter. Both events are full of eccentricities, some of them suggesting intentional misdirection. Consider the strange hybrid pathogen featured in Clade X. It is so unusual that CHS had to publish a brief document, “Clade X Pathogen Engineering Assumptions,” to clarify its nature to participants and media. There, the organisers describe a pathogen combining the lethality of not-very-transmissible nipah with the transmissibility of nonlethal parainfluenza, essentially a frankenvirus concocted by death-cult scientists, all while the real threats surround controversial gain of function research conducted by well-funded, prominent researchers on known pathogens.

Event 201 is still more peculiar. As a prophecy for the Covid pandemic, it fails entirely on the policy side. Lockdowns, border closures, green passes – none of the clowns gathered for the media circus at the Pierre predicted any of that. On the virus side, though, Event 201 knows the future. An airborne, novel coronavirus, which causes mild symptoms in enough people to be more transmissible than SARS, and for which a vaccine is at least a year away—this is SARS-2 in everything but name. They were wrong only in insisting on a naturally occurring pathogen. As everyone knows, SARS-2 was almost surely enhanced at and leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The bizarre thing, is that this is precisely where CHS should have been right. All their prior tabletop exercises, after all, had been about outbreaks caused by humans.

We may never fully understand the conspiracy at the heart of Event 201. But there are hints: Advance publicity for Event 201 is notably coy. A tweet from 22 August 2019 is typical in promising that Event 201 will feature a “scientifically plausible pandemic.” It’s hard to know whether the simulation was always planned around a coronavirus, but this seems unlikely. Earlier CHS simulations had all featured outbreaks with no firm historical analogues. To this wrinkle comes clues that Event 201 was substantially revised at the last minute, perhaps around the time that Chinese public health officials like Gao became aware of a lab leak in Wuhan. Compared to the wealth of background research developed for Clade X—25 separate documents, some of them dense, footnoted papers—Event 201 seems hardly researched at all. Consistent with major, last-minute changes requiring that much work be discarded, the website presents only five brief and thinly-documented “Fact Sheets.” Intriguingly, almost none of these documents mentions coronaviruses at all. The primary exception is a longer piece called “Medical Countermeasures,” where we find an overview of coronavirus vaccine research. The footnotes show this section of the document was thrown together very late, between 8 and 14 October. And then there are the awkward, poorly acted GNN news clips, substantially worse than the videos produced for Clade X, suggestive of last minute re-filming; and the bizarrely vacuous discussion and recommendations of the participants, all whom obviously had hardly been briefed on the topic.

At the last minute, it looks like somebody succeeded in placing a preview of SARS-2 at the heart of Event 201. Perhaps the purpose was to seed early media stories about natural coronavirus outbreaks, but more sinister scenarios are easy to imagine. Whatever the story, this much is clear: As the media and scientific establishments engage in ever more open propaganda and advocacy, glitches in the matrix like Event 201 will only become more common, and harder to understand.