Excerpts from Fear of the Invisible.....
How the HIV Papers were fixed at the last moment.
I was now faced by a quandary. The very papers the above investigations found to be riddled with fraud were the ones I was told to go to if I wanted to know how the French HIV was proved to cause AIDS, for the American government investigators had praised as successful the last of the experiments documented in them, those carried out after February 22nd and before March 30th 1984. These, they said, had used the French virus and had finally and successfully proved it to cause AIDS. (Yet they also said these experiments were so poorly recorded that they were unrepeatable.)
I was unused to the idea that I could trust only parts of scientific papers, but this was what I was expected to do. The prestigious investigations and institutions were all in agreement. They condemned as false Gallo's claim that he and his team had isolated this virus in 1982, in other words, before the French. Instead they scathingly concluded that, as of the 22nd February 1984, that is six weeks before these Science papers went for publication on March 30th, Gallo could not have identified HIV, since up until this date ‘no HIV-specific reagents [antibodies] were available to prove that a particular sample harboured the AIDS virus.'
In other words, Gallo could not have identified HIV in 1982 and 1983 as he has claimed, by detecting antibodies specific to it. The investigating scientists pointed out that it was impossible to prove an antibody targeted the AIDS virus before proving what virus caused AIDS!
It was not that the French had earlier proved their virus caused AIDS. They had stated in 1983, just before sending a sample of their virus to Gallo, that: ‘the role of the virus in the aetiology of AIDS remains to be determined.' However it was not just viruses they sent him. It was reported that it was a sample of a culture grown in their laboratory from the blood cells of a suspected AIDS patient, but their 1983 p
aper stated birth umbilical cord cells were in fact used, with no mention of the mother being infected. They thought some particles in the culture might be retroviruses that caused AIDS - but could not be sure. Montagnier later confessed, they could not find in their serum any particles with ‘the morphology typical of retroviruses.'
Therefore, it was evident that, as it was not the French, it must have been Gallo and Popovic who proved the French virus to cause AIDS - and they must have done this in that final six weeks of experimenting.
I thus began to read the account of Gallo and Popovic's final 1984 experiments in the Science papers with great care and some expectation. These are recorded in the first of the four papers, the one for which Popovic is the lead author.
From the reports of the US investigations and of others involved at the time. I knew that Gallo had been so confident in their coming success with the French virus that he had left his senior investigative scientist, Popovic, in charge of the vital work with the French virus while he went off to France to boast that they had already discovered the AIDS virus.
In the same total confidence, before going abroad, he also made advance arrangements for Popovic's paper, and three others based on it, to be published together in the May 4th issue of Science. He would not return until only two weeks before the papers were to be submitted for publication on March 30th 1984.
I found this most odd - how could Gallo be absolutely certain of the outcome of these vital experiments before they were carried out! Otherwise, how does one explain his otherwise irrational confidence, his putting at risk of his professional status, by going off to boast of his success before it was achieved?
I needed to know more, so I raked through the Gallo laboratory documents these investigations had unearthed, including some that John Crewdson retrieved under Freedom of Information legislation. One of these turned out to be the draft of the key Science paper, as typed up by Popovic and presented to Gallo on his return from France, a few days before the papers went to the publisher.
I was thrilled to find this. I had learnt of its existence from the reports of the investigators. They told me it had only survived because Popovic had taken extraordinary steps to protect it from the shredding machine. He had secretly sent it to his sister in Austria for safekeeping, only to be made public if needed to prove who had falsified his research.
He had retrieved it when the investigations began - but had hoped not to use it. Then after an interview with the OSI, he was sent by mistake a tape that recorded, not just his answers to questions, but also the comments made after he left the room. This revealed that he, rather than Gallo, was to be found guilty of scientific misconduct. Next morning he had a lawyer give this carefully hidden draft to the OSI.
Knowing all this, made me extremely curious to read the manuscript. I was keen to see what Popovic had reported before Gallo did his editing. After all, it was he who had completed these experiments, not Gallo. The Investigators had reported: 'Dr. Popovic single-handedly carried out the most important early HIV experiments.' They had also verified that the handwritten changes on the draft were by Gallo.
On his return to the States from Europe, Gallo had collected this draft, started to read it and then received a terrible shock. It was nothing like what he had anticipated. Popovic had only just left for a skiing holiday in Utah. Gallo contacted him urgently on the Friday 21st of March and ordered him back. This was only 9 days before the paper had to be sent for publication.
The government investigators report that Gallo then extensively changed the paper's typed text in his own hand at the last moment before sending it for publication. His changes are the key evidence later cited to prove that he had deliberately hidden the use of the French virus. The Congressional Staff Report stated: ‘The cover-up of the LTCB's [Gallo's Laboratory] work with the IP [Institut Pasteur] virus advanced to a more active phase in mid-March 1984, when Dr. Gallo systematically rewrote the manuscript for what would become a renowned LTCB paper.'
I now had in front of me what Popovic saw when he got back to the laboratory in Washington on Monday 24th March, only 6 days before this key paper had to be submitted to Science. It was fascinating to see that his 13 page typed manuscript had been absolutely covered in Gallo's scribbled comments, redrafted paragraphs and furious notes in the margins. There were also two extra pages of his rough notes added at the end.
Gallo had changed the title of the paper. When published it would claim that they had ‘isolated' the virus. But there was no mention of isolation in the title originally. I was intrigued. Isolation is said to be a key step in the study of any virus. I looked over the whole draft paper with care and found there were no experiments in it designed to isolate the virus for research purposes.
But where was the justification for calling the virus ‘cytopathic'! I knew that elsewhere Gallo claimed that it killed T-Cells, But extraordinarily, I could find no trace in this paper, as drafted or as published, of any evidence produced to prove this - despite this claim being made in its title.
But, wasn't this paper supposed to prove this virus to cause AIDS by killing T-Cells? That is what everyone has said of it since. As far as I could see, after the most careful of readings, the paper simply stated that proteins thought to be from a virus were found in serum samples from less than half of the AIDS patients tested. This was not just weak evidence. It established no causal relationship at all. Surely I must be missing something? I went back to reading the draft with great care.
I shrugged aside my sceptical thoughts and started to read the body of the paper.
On its page three was the famous admission by Popovic that he had used the French virus LAV ‘which is described here as HTLV-III'. Gallo deleted this and noted alongside: ‘I just don't believe it. You are absolutely incredible.' It seems he must have previously instructed Popovic not to mention the French origin.
The investigators commented later that these edits were 'highly instructive with respect to the nature and intent of Dr. Gallo's actions'. It was fortunately, I thought, that he had left the underlying text mostly legible.
From what I read, Popovic seems to have been entirely honest in reporting their renaming of the French virus, although he must have known this would make Gallo furious. This made me wonder if Popovic had wisely decided to make Gallo write the deceptive text himself. (Was this why Popovic went away to ski?) I hoped the rest of his original typed draft would be equally honest.
The rest of that page was simply a summary of Gallo's earlier work with the leukaemia-linked HTLV-I. It said: ‘epidemiologic data strongly suggests AIDS is caused by an infectious agent' but presented none of this data to support this.
But when I turned the page, I was riveted. Gallo had deleted a statement by Popovic saying: 'Despite intensive research efforts, the causative agent of AIDS has not yet been identified.'
(images in book - scanned copies of the words as typed by Popovic and changed by Gallo)
This was totally unexpected. Nothing I read had led me to expect this. No one had mentioned these deleted words. Not Crewdson, not any of the investigators, no history of AIDS science. No one had reported these words, let alone their deletion by Gallo.
If Popovic had said ‘prior to our research, the causative agent of AIDS had not been identified', I would not have been at all surprised. It would have been precisely what I expected. But - the sentence was unexpectedly in the present tense. Was he saying that their work with the disguised French virus had not yet succeeded? He had been brutally honest about admitting that he was using the French viruses. Was he being equally honest here?
Since then, I have repeatedly re-read the paper - and, much to my surprise, I find it contains no attempt at any point to prove that this virus causes AIDS! It is all about their efforts to grow a virus in a laboratory culture, not about research on this virus. Was Popovic admitting here that they had not yet managed to prove it causes AIDS? If so, then this would give an entirely new meaning to one of the most famous papers in virology. However, I decided that I would carefully read what else Popovic had to report before making up my mind.
Gallo clearly thought no one but Popovic would see his editing. When the paper was retyped and published a few weeks later it would be so completely changed that a government Research Integrity Adjudications Panel would report of it; ‘The paper in question, it is undisputed, made a major and lasting contribution to establishing that a retrovirus was the etiological agent of AIDS.'
I wondered with what had Gallo had replaced these words ‘despite intensive research efforts, the causative agent of AIDS has not yet been identified' in the final published document. I checked and found that they were replaced with words that said precisely the opposite. It now read 'that a retrovirus of the HTLV family might be an etiological agent of AIDS was suggested by the findings'.
I then found Popovic had upset Gallo still further in the very next sentence by calling Gallo's theory that a retrovirus caused AIDS an 'assumption'. Gallo deleted this word, replacing it with ‘hypothesis', as can be seen in the clipping (reproduced in book)
Popovic then summarized the tenuous basis of their ‘assumption.' This went: as Myron Essex had found a retrovirus believed to cause in cats a T-cell leukaemia that suppresses the immune system, as Gallo had found in humans a retrovirus HTLV-I similarly said to cause a rare leukaemia, since 30 to 40% of AIDS patients had proteins in their blood similar to those from this retrovirus, and as the putative virus in their blood produced giant cancer cells (‘syncytia') in the laboratory; it was assumed that the AIDS virus was a newly evolved, out-of-Africa, member of the same very small HTLV family of viruses!
But it was immediately clear that Popovic had no intention of testing and proving this theory in this paper. All he went on to report were his attempts to find a way to grow the disguised French virus in a laboratory dish.
Gallo and Popovic were well aware that their earlier efforts to prove their virus (HTLV-3) caused AIDS had ended in failure. That was why Popovic was now working with a disguised French virus. I continued to read the paper with care.
From Gallo's scribbled comments, I was surprised to learn that he clearly expected Popovic to achieve no more than to find a way of growing enough of the disguised French virus to enable them to patent a blood test for it. He never once asked for a test to be included showing it causes AIDS.
Thus in these papers there are no experiments to prove their virus killed T-cells. This was more important than one might think; given to this day no other human retrovirus is known to kill. If HIV were such an exception, if it has a unique capability, then one would expect to find here an effort to prove this.
Reading more widely, I have found scientists still do not understand how HIV can destroy T-Cells. Joseph McCune reported in Nature in 2001; ‘We still do not know how, in vivo [in the patient], the virus destroys CD4+ T cells... Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the loss of CD4+ T cells, some of which seem to be diametrically opposed.'
But, at that time, the early 1980s, Gallo was on a rescue mission. He was trying to rescue his hypothesis that retroviruses were major causes of human diseases. He had failed to prove they were a major cause of cancer. He now wanted to prove they caused AIDS.
As I read on, I began to understand Popovic's difficulties. He explicitly stated they could not test their suspect virus or analyse its genetic code before they found a way to produce enough of it in a laboratory culture for them to experiment with it. In this paper he was thus totally concerned with achieving just this first step.
After failing to produce retroviruses in many cell cultures, Popovic had finally tested a culture that he had found abandoned in the laboratory fridge. He divided this to make a few cultures, and then tested each to see if any would grow the French virus. He was pleased to report that some of these showed signs of retroviral growth. This was the heart of his paper - his great achievement. Nothing more or less.
And how did he judge which culture was the most successful? A table in his report explained that he had worked this out by assessing ‘the amount of released virus' through measuring ‘ RT activity in the culture.'
Now RT, meaning the enzyme Reverse Transcriptase, is naturally part of all our cells as well as of all retroviruses and some other viruses. So, how did Popovic know the RT activity he measured was from a retrovirus? He never explained this. Yet on this depended the success of his modest experiment.
And it was not as if this ‘RT activity' had appeared spontaneously. Popovic had only detected it after adding chemicals to the cells that were known to provoke RT activity. (These he called the ‘T-Cell Growth Factor' or TCGF). He presumed that if these provoked RT activity in the culture, then his virus must be present. He explained: ‘the successful detection and isolation of HTLV was made possible by the discovery of TCGF.'
But Popovic found and noted that, after adding these chemicals, he only detected ‘transient' spikes of RT activity. This frustrated him immensely. He interpreted this as meaning his retrovirus had briefly appeared - and then vanished. He stated (before Gallo edited this): ‘HTLV variants ... can only be detected transiently...'
I had to ask; what if these spikes of RT activity are part of defensive reactions by cells to these chemicals? Why should they be solely linked to a particular retrovirus?
But - I then had another thought. What if the ‘AIDS virus' was in fact a human retrovirus created by our cells to defend them against toxins? In recent times, evidence has been found for retroviruses sometimes being able to repair damaged DNA. (More about this in a later chapter.) Could the ‘HIV' virus be in fact a particle sent out to repair damage caused by drug-based toxins - or damage caused by the diseases common in AIDS cases? This was but a thought, but Popovic had produced no evidence that proved any retroviruses to be doing damage.
Popovic wrote in his paper that, when he examined his cultures with an electron microscope, he saw particles that might be retroviruses. He had centrifuged culture samples, and found RT activity in the band with the right density for retroviruses. So - retroviruses might be present - but which ones? In any case, this did not prove they caused AIDS.
Popovic began his conclusion to his paper with these words: ‘We report here the establishment and characterization of an immortalized T-Cell population which is susceptible to and permissive for HTLV cytopathic variants.'
To my great surprise, this from start to end was all of consequence that Popovic had to report in this ‘key' paper - and he seemingly had got even this wrong by equating RT enzyme activity with the presence of their virus. After noting ‘RT activity' in their cultures, he had felt he had no need to prove anything else before concluding: ‘Thus, the data clearly indicate continuous HTLVIII production by permanently growing T-Cell population in a long term culture.'
But, the very last paragraph of his conclusion was even more revealing. (Please excuse its technical jargon. I will explain.)
‘The transient expression of cytopathic variants of HTLV in cells from AIDS patients and the lack of a proliferate cell system which would be susceptible and permissive for the virus represented major obstacle in detection, isolation and elucidation of the agent of this disease. The establishment of a T-Cell population, which, after virus infection, can continuously grow and produce the virus, provides the possibility for detailed biological, immunological and nucleic acid studies of this agent. ‘
This is the sum total of his claims. Despite the enormous spin that Gallo later put on this paper; Popovic did not claim in it to prove any virus the cause of AIDS! He explained that all he had tried to do was to develop a culture of T-cells that would grow (‘was permissive for') their suspect virus - as the lack of such a culture was ‘a major obstacle' both to finding and studying such a virus. ‘Transient expression' meant no more than that RT activity was intermittent in his culture. His last sentence states that finding such a culture - ‘providing the possibility' for the necessary research to be carried out.
That is it. These were the very last words of his paper - before Gallo rewrote them. They make it crystal clear that all that Popovic claimed to achieve was to have made the vital detailed tests a future ‘possibility'. Without such future studies it would be impossible to identify a virus as causing AIDS, as Popovic well knew. This at last made sense of his earlier statement that the cause of AIDS remained to be discovered. It explained why Popovic's paper contained no experiments designed to prove a virus the cause of AIDS. It explained Gallo's urgent rewriting of the text. If he had not rewritten this paper and made it near impossible to verify, his gamble of announcing a major discovery before he had made it would have been revealed and, without any doubt, would have ended his career.
Thus, in the paper widely credited with proving HIV to cause AIDS, there is nothing of the sort. There is no mention of any experiment carried out to prove this, or even to establish that the HIV virus was in any way ‘cytotoxic'.
If Gallo did fix and spin these papers, this might explain why, against all scientific norms, he afterwards refused samples of his culture and virus to scientists whom he suspected might want to verify his conclusions and imposed on others an outrageous agreement that they would not use them to attempt to repeat these experiments. It may also explain why Gallo documented their experiments so badly, according to the ORI, that it was impossible to repeat them, leaving scientists, and all of us, having to rely on trust that he got things right.
As for AIDS being spread by the sexual transmission of HIV, no evidence at all to support this was presented in the four Science papers. Yet, immediately after these papers appeared, the press described AIDS as caused by a sexually transmitted virus. Was this also the result of spin by Robert Gallo? I would have to search for the evidence. But first, I needed to look at the other documents unearthed by the governmental investigations to see if these might contain evidence that proved HIV dangerous.
The evidence that HIV kills T-Cells
Popovic's paper calls HTLV-3 a 'cytopathic' retrovirus; that is, one that causes degeneration or disease in cells. But when I searched for any evidence in his paper to support this, I could only find the observation that AIDS patients typically have low numbers of ‘Helper' (DC4) T-Cells - with the implied inference that this was because the AIDS virus had killed them.
It is widely known in science that many factors can diminish the numbers of these cells - such as chronic drug addiction, severe malnutrition and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Sometimes even healthy people have low numbers. As I have noted, in 2001 Nature reported that it still was not known how HIV could kill T-cells. In 2006 a paper by Benigno Rodriquez reported that HIV can't be killing more than 4% to 6% of the CD4 cells lost in AIDS cases - in other words not enough by itself to cause AIDS.
Popovic noted in his paper that there was a CD4-CD8 ‘reverse ratio', before Gallo deleted it. Popovic meant by this that when Helper CD4 T-Cells cells fall in number, the population of Killer CD8 T-cells goes up commensurately, and vice versa. We now know our immune system can change CD4s into CD8s as needed. It needs only a very small surface change to them. This too might explain why sometimes there are fewer CD4 cells. It may simply be that we need more CD8s.
In some frustration I have since searched for earlier papers in which Gallo or Popovic might have proved LAV, renamed as HTLV-3, able to kill or as cytopathic - but there are none, utterly none. The Institut Pasteur likewise seems not to have proved this. Neither had Popovic or Gallo proved their own virus, HTLV3, able to kill T-Cells.
All I could discover of any possible relevance is that, whenever Gallo tried to grow T-cell cultures before 1983, the T-cells died. Many factors could have caused this, such as the wrong nutrients, bacterial contamination, or mould - the latter found by the investigators to be contaminating some of his cultures.
Gallo did mention later that cells in the culture sometimes seemed to be enlarged and clumped - but that was a consequence of them being ‘immortalised' by being made cancerous, not of them dying.
So, did the Science papers contain any firm evidence for HIV killing blood cells? I had to conclude, after a thorough search, that no evidence at all of this was presented in these papers, despite Gallo adding the word ‘cytopathic' to this Popovic paper's title. But, this omission is surely something anyone can confirm - so why are so few asking these vital questions?
‘HIV is not in Gallo's pictures of HIV.'
A letter I found preserved in the inquiry records contained further disturbing evidence. It was from Dr Matthew Gonda, the Head of the Electron Microscopy Laboratory at the National Cancer Institute, replying to a letter from Gallo of March 1984 that had asked him to prepare for publication EM micrographs of the ‘enclosed samples' that ‘contain HTLV' [HIV].
Gonda's reply is dated March 26th, just four days before these images were needed for publication. Gonda told him: 'I would like to point out that the ‘particles' ... are in debris of a degenerated cells' and 'at least 50 per cent smaller' than they should be if they were retroviruses. He concluded: 'I do not believe any of the particles photographed are HTLV I, II or III.' He devastatingly added that: 'No other extracellular ‘virus-like' particles were observed.' Gonda copied this letter to Popovic.
Discovering this was an enormous surprise because the Science articles, as sent for publication four days later, included four micrographs ‘of HTLV-III' credited to Gonda. In the accompanying text, Gallo declared all these particles of the right shape and correct size for HTLV-III - although close examination reveals most are of different shapes and sizes. (See the images below - HTLV-III is said to be the roundish dots bordering the vastly bigger cell.)
If these are the same images - then, for Gallo to say these are definitely of HTLV-III was highly unethical and most misleading since he had received Gonda's expert advice to the contrary.
(the chapter continues to cite other similar letters that cast doubts on the veracity of these key HIV papers.... later chapters of the book look at recent HIV research and finds the errors continued.)
‘The Dynamics of CD4+ T-cell Depletion in HIV Disease' by Joseph McCune in Nature, April 19, 2001
Benigno Rodriguez et al., published 27th September 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association
Letter from Matthew Gonda, Head Electron Microscopy Laboratory; to Mika Papovic (stet), 26th March 1984
Quoted in Crewdson, page 503. The appeal was heard by the Research Integrity Adjudications Panel
‘The Dynamics of CD4+ T-cell Depletion in HIV Disease' by Joseph McCune in Nature, April 19, 2001
Dingell Congressional Inquiry Staff Report. Around mid-February  further work was done by Gallo's laboratory to try to get a rabbit antiserum that was specific to the virus, but without the virus being first truly isolated and analyzed, this was still an impossible task. There is no laboratory record of such work being done - and Popovic explicitly stated in March 1984 that this work had not been done. (In his paper as he had prepared it for publication in Science prior to Gallo editing it.
Francoise Barre-Sinoussi et al. (including. L. Montagnier). 1983. Isolation of a T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Science 220: 868-871
Professor Etienne De Harven has pointed out to the author that the microphotographs Montagnier produced of this virus show it as grown on birth cord lymphocytes. The 1983 paper stated: ‘These were detection of: ‘umbilical cord lymphocytes showed characteristic immature particles with dense crescent (C- type) budding at the plasma membrane...' Barre-Sinoussai et al. Isolation of T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Science 1983;220: 868-71.
Interview with Djamel Tahi-1997. Text of video interview with Professor Luc Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute July 18th 1997. Continuum 1998; 5:30-34. The original French is given in a later footnote.
Staff Report of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Dingell Committee on Energy and Commerce United States House of Representatives
Popovic et al.; Science, 225, 1984, pp. 497-500.