TBR News July 22, 2016

Jul 21 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. July 22, 2016:” When an empire slips into decline, it does so in clearly idenfiable stages. This is the case with the American empire at the present time. Franklin Roosevelt pushed the US into what became the Second World War for personal reasons. (The Roosevelt family were Jewish on both sides and Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies enraged the president) and the result of this was that at its conclusion there were two dominent nations left in the rubble. These were the United States and Russia and the struggle then began to see which would dominate. Initially, the United States was successful, and through duplicity and threats, reduced Russia to a squabbling and disintegrating state. But those in power in the United States also saw that Russia had enormous natural resosurces and so a frantic effort was made to not only subjugage Russia but also get physical control of her oil, gas and other assets. America was initally a democracy, then a republic and finally, an oligarchy. The men who controlled the policies of this country are a handful of very rich and powerful people; bankers and the oil industry predominent. And to secure America’s world leadership designs, small wars were fought to gain control of natural resources and establish American business interests and the American dollar as the world standards. The British Empire had achieved this goal at one point but lost everything through arrogance and carelessness and now the American empire finds itself in the same position as Britain did in 1914. Like the British, America has fought a series of wars against small and relatively defenseless countries to gain control of their resources. As an example of this, America attacked Iraq, not because we disliked Saddam Hussein (whom we captured and subsequently executed) but to gain control of the enormous but untapped Iraqi oil reserves. Iraq slipped through American control because of religious infighting and with that defeat, the next goal was Russia and her Arctic and Black Sea oil reserves.”

Thoughts of the Forbidden Man

When men have lost their natural instincts and ignore the obligationsimposed on them by Nature, then there is no hope that Nature will correct the loss that has been caused, until recognition of the lost instincts has been restored. Then the task of bringing back what has been lost will have to be accomplished. But there is serious danger that those who have become blind once in this respect will continue more and more to break down racial barriers and finally lose the last remnants of what is best in them. What then remains is nothing but a uniform mish-mash, which seems to be the dream of our fine Utopians. But that mish-mash would soon banish all ideals from the world. Certainly a great herd could thus be formed. One can breed a herd of animals; but from a mixture of this kind men such as have created and founded civilizations would not be produced. The mission of humanity might then be considered at an end.


Accomplices spent months helping Nice truck killer prepare attack – French prosecutor

July 21, 2016


The man responsible for mowing down 84 people in Nice planned the attack in advance, and was aided by a tight-knit team of associates, who helped him sketch out his plan, and acquired weapons for him.

“He seems to have envisaged and developed his criminal plans several months before carrying them out,” said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, speaking in a news briefing. “The investigation since the night of July 14 has kept moving forward and allowed us not only to confirm again the premeditated nature of [killer] Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s deadly act, but also to establish that he benefited from support and had accomplices in the preparation and carrying out of his criminal act.”

Police have uncovered thousands of calls and messages between Lahouaiej Bouhlel, and five accomplices, after going through his social media accounts, laptop and phone records.

“Put 2,000 tons of metal in the truck, f**k the brakes, and I’ll be watching,” says one message sent to Lahouaiej Bouhlel in April.

Four men and one woman, aged between 22 and 40. have been arrested. Among the suspects are a Tunisian man (same nationality as the attacker), two French-Tunisians, an Albanian, and a French-Albanian woman.

The five will soon appear before a court, to be read their initial charges. Only one of the suspects has a significant crime record, and none were on a terrorist watch list.

Police findings appear to contradict initial claims that the attacker was a “lone wolf” and was “radicalized” quickly.

Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s laptop contained detailed photos of last year’s Bastille Day fireworks, saved articles about other terrorist attacks, and mentions of the “magical” drug Captagon, a stimulant popular with militants fighting for Islamic State.

There are pro-jihadist messages between the group dating back at least as far back as January 2015, in which one of the suspects writes, “I’m happy they brought the soldiers of Allah to finish the work,” following the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine.

In the past year alone, Lahouaiej Bouhlel, had more than 1,270 conversations from his mobile with one of the men.

The accomplices continued to support Lahouaiej Bouhlel up until the day of the attack.

The Albanian couple allegedly helped 31-year-old Lahouaiej Bouhlel acquire the gun he used to shoot at policemen during his fatal drive.

One of the Tunisian men was photographed inside the leased truck, which was used in the attack, on two separate occasions (three days and one day before it happened). DNA belonging to another was located on one of the seats.

Even as he set off for his massacre, Lahouaiej Bouhlel sent two pre-recorded messages – which Molins described as “odious” – to his accomplices, in one of which the attacker thanked a man for a gun.

One of the men appears to have scouted the fireworks display for Lahouaiej Bouhlel in advance, and another stayed behind after the 2km rampage was over, taking photographs of medics and police wrapping up the dead bodies, and collecting evidence.

Investigators later found drugs, €2,600 ($2865) in cash and 11 mobile phones in the home of one of the suspects.

Molins says the suspects could now face charges of “participating in a terrorist organization with a view to preparing one or more crimes against the public.”

Donald Trump’s Remarks Rattle NATO Allies and Stoke Debate on Cost Sharing

July 21, 2016

by Sewell Chan

The New York Times

LONDON — Donald J. Trump’s statement that the United States might not come to the defense of NATO allies that do not foot their share of the bill fueled anxiety on Thursday in a Europe that is already deeply unsettled about Russia’s assertive posture, Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union and the rise of inward-looking populist and nationalist parties.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Trump suggested that if elected president he would use a country’s level of military spending as a factor in deciding whether the United States would honor its commitment to defend any member nation that comes under attack. While President Obama and other American officials have also pressed European countries in recent years to increase military spending in line with their commitments to NATO, Mr. Trump more explicitly linked financial considerations to the strategic response he would order as president in the event of an attack by Russia.

His comments left some European officials concerned that the United States under Mr. Trump would edge away from the security guarantees that Washington has provided to the Continent since World War II. But they also stoked the debate over cost sharing after years in which Europe had been slow to meet its commitments on military spending.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general and a former prime minister of Norway, said that he “will not interfere in the U.S. election campaign,” but made clear that he was alarmed by Mr. Trump’s remarks.

“Solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO,” he said in a statement. “This is good for European security and good for U.S. security. We defend one another. We have seen this in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of European, Canadian and partner-nation troops have stood shoulder to shoulder with U.S. soldiers.”

He added, “Two world wars have shown that peace in Europe is also important for the security of the United States.”

Article 5 of the 1949 treaty that set up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization obliges any member of the alliance to come to the defense of another member if it comes under attack. The article has been invoked only once — after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

“They have an obligation to make payments,” Mr. Trump said in the interview. “Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make.”

Asked whether the United States would come to the aid of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — three Baltic states that were invaded by the Soviet Union in 1940, and joined NATO in 2004 — in the event of a Russian invasion, Mr. Trump replied, “I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do,” referring to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, for whom Mr. Trump has expressed admiration.

Reminded that NATO members are obligated by treaty to come to one another’s defense, Mr. Trump responded: “Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.Asked on Thursday about Mr. Trump’s comments, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon of Britain snapped: “Article 5 is an absolute commitment. It doesn’t come with conditions or caveats.”

Less than two weeks ago, at a NATO summit meeting in Warsaw, Mr. Obama reassured America’s allies that “in good times and in bad, Europe can count on the United States — always.”

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, took to Twitter to emphasize that his country was one of only five NATO members to meet the target that it spend 2 percent of gross domestic product — a broad measure of economic activity — on military spending. (The others are the United States, Britain, Poland and Greece.)

Mr. Ilves also noted that Estonia contributed troops to the fight in Afghanistan in keeping with Article 5.

Artis Pabriks, a former foreign and defense minister of Latvia, which borders Russia and has stepped up military spending, wrote on Twitter: “If Trump doubts NATO solidarity in the case of Article 5, then his election is dangerous for Baltic security.”

Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, tried to calm her citizens. “Regardless of who becomes the next president of the U.S., we trust America,” she told reporters. “It has always defended nations under attack, and will do so in the future.”

Ms. Grybauskaite added: “Lithuania — as well as other Baltic states — is doing everything it can. We are modernizing our armed forces, we have reinstituted conscription and our defense spending will reach 2 percent of G.D.P. in 2018. I do not think interpretations of candidate Trump’s remarks are necessary. We know that the U.S. will remain our most important partner.”

In Russia, Mr. Trump’s comments met with approval. Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign relations committee of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, contrasted Mr. Trump with Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. “Clinton’s creed: strengthen the U.S.’s anti-Russian alliances. Trump’s creed: respond only to real threats,” Mr. Pushkov wrote. “Aggressive banality versus common sense.”

NATO’s 28 members pledged at summit meetings in Wales in 2014 and in Warsaw this month to do more to meet the 2 percent of GDP spending target, and Mr. Stoltenberg has made reaching that goal a priority.

Xenia Wickett, the head of the United States and Americas program at Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank based in London, said Mr. Trump was echoing — albeit in far less diplomatic terms — concerns raised by a succession of American secretaries of defense, including the three who have served Mr. Obama: Robert M. Gates, Leon E. Panetta and Ashton B. Carter.

“The U.S. is no longer willing to cover the approximately 75 percent of the NATO budget that it currently does,” Ms. Wickett wrote in an email. “Trump takes it to the extreme, which is new, but the direction is not new. Trump wants to see a more ‘fair’ division of labor.” She added, “Unfortunately, his way of expressing it is likely to aid our adversaries rather than assist the alliance.”

Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, the head of the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a research organization, said too much was being made of Mr. Trump’s remarks. She said the imbalance in NATO spending “is just not sustainable,” adding, “Trump is taking the burden-sharing debate to extreme levels, by directly calling into question U.S. responsibility as a NATO member state to fulfill its obligations under Article 5, in case a NATO member state got attacked by Russia.”

She added that European leaders needed to persuade their citizens “of the importance of investing in defense to face current and future security challenges.”

But Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden, said he feared that Mr. Trump’s remarks would embolden autocratic and aggressive powers. “There is certainly a risk that he will encourage states like Russia and China to take the risk that U.S. will not stand up for its allies and its commitments, and that could be extremely dangerous for global stability,” he said. “He’s downplaying not only the defense of common interests, but also the defense of common values. Democracy seems nearly to be a derogatory term for him.”


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2016, Issue No. 60

July 20, 2016


A longstanding conundrum surrounding efforts to negotiate reductions in nuclear arsenals is how to verify the physical destruction of nuclear warheads to the satisfaction of an opposing party without disclosing classified weapons design information. Now some potential new solutions to this challenge are emerging.

Based on tests that were conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1960s in a program known as Cloudgap, U.S. officials determined at that time that secure and verifiable weapon dismantlement through visual inspection, radiation detection or material assay was a difficult and possibly insurmountable problem.

“If the United States were to demonstrate the destruction of nuclear weapons in existing AEC facilities following the concept which was tested, many items of classified weapon design information would be revealed even at the lowest level of intrusion,” according to a 1969 report on Demonstrated Destruction of Nuclear Weapons.

But in a newly published paper, researchers said they had devised a method that should, in principle, resolve the conundrum.

“We present a mechanism in the form of an interactive proof system that can validate the structure and composition of an object, such as a nuclear warhead, to arbitrary precision without revealing either its structure or composition. We introduce a tomographic method that simultaneously resolves both the geometric and isotopic makeup of an object. We also introduce a method of protecting information using a provably secure cryptographic hash that does not rely on electronics or software. These techniques, when combined with a suitable protocol, constitute an interactive proof system that could reject hoax items and clear authentic warheads with excellent sensitivity in reasonably short measurement times,” the authors wrote.

See Physical cryptographic verification of nuclear warheads by R. Scott Kemp, et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online July 18.

More simply put, it’s “the first unspoofable warhead verification system for disarmament treaties — and it keeps weapon secrets too!” tweeted Kemp.

See also reporting in Science Magazine, New Scientist, and Phys.org.

In another recent attempt to address the same problem, “we show the viability of a fundamentally new approach to nuclear warhead verification that incorporates a zero-knowledge protocol, which is designed in such a way that sensitive information is never measured and so does not need to be hidden. We interrogate submitted items with energetic neutrons, making, in effect, differential measurements of both neutron transmission and emission. Calculations for scenarios in which material is diverted from a test object show that a high degree of discrimination can be achieved while revealing zero information.”

See A zero-knowledge protocol for nuclear warhead verification by Alexander Glaser, et al, Nature, 26 June 2014.

But the technology of nuclear disarmament and the politics of it are two different things.

For its part, the U.S. Department of Defense appears to see little prospect for significant negotiated nuclear reductions. In fact, at least for planning purposes, the Pentagon foresees an increasingly nuclear-armed world in decades to come.

A new DoD study of the Joint Operational Environment in the year 2035 avers that:

“The foundation for U.S. survival in a world of nuclear states is the credible capability to hold other nuclear great powers at risk, which will be complicated by the emergence of more capable, survivable, and numerous competitor nuclear forces. Therefore, the future Joint Force must be prepared to conduct National Strategic Deterrence. This includes leveraging layered missile defenses to complicate adversary nuclear planning; fielding U.S. nuclear forces capable of threatening the leadership, military forces, and industrial and economic assets of potential adversaries; and demonstrating the readiness of these forces through exercises and other flexible deterrent operations.”

See The Joint Operating Environment (JOE) 2035: The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 14 July 2016.

Snowden designs hardware to thwart cellphone digital surveillance

July 22, 1016


NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and a hacker colleague have designed cellphone hardware that would alert a user to radio digital surveillance and errant signals.

The cellphone battery case, or “introspection engine” is designed for the iPhone 6 to monitor the electrical signal sent to its internal antennas.

Snowden and Andrew Huang, a hardware hacker, presented the design before an audience at the MIT Med Lab in Boston, Massachusetts on Thursday, according to Wired magazine.

The battery case comes with a small mono-color screen and tiny wires that slot into the iPhone’s SIM-card slot to test points on the phone’s circuit board.

There the wires read electrical signals sent to the phone’s two antennas that are used by its radio, including GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi and cellular modem. The battery case will then warn the user through an alert message or an audible alarm if its radios are transmitting anything when they are meant to be off.

The purpose of the device is to offer the cellphone owner a check on whether the phone’s radio is transmitting, a concern for those wanting protections from hackers or for reporters wanting protections from government surveillance in hostile foreign countries.

“One good journalist in the right place at the right time can change history,” Snowden told the MIT Media Lab crowd via video stream, according to Wired magazine. “This makes them a target, and increasingly tools of their trade are being used against them.”

Snowden speaking via video stream said the add-on is more trustworthy than the “airplane mode” which has been shown can be hacked or spoofed.

“Our approach is: state-level adversaries are powerful, assume the phone is compromised,” Andrew Huang told Wired.

For the purpose of Thursday’s presentation the hardware is still in its design stage. The pair plan to develop a prototype over the next year, and then create a supply chain in China.

Snowden and Huang then plan to offer the devices to journalists and newsrooms.

Huang told Wired that when reporters are overseas in places like Syria or Iraq, “those [governments] have exploits that cause their phones to do things they don’t expect them to do.”

He added “You can think your phone’s radios are off, and not telling your location to anyone, but actually still be at risk.”

Huang said turning off your phone with its power button can still be hacked with clever malware and even placing it in a Faraday bag designed to block all radio signals can still lead to leaked signals.

Greek court remands Turkish soldiers

Eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece by helicopter after the failed coup have been handed suspended prison terms for illegal entry. They remain in custody pending asylum hearings, with Ankara demanding extradition.

July 21, 2016


A court in Greece’s northern city of Alexandroupoli imposed suspended two-month jail terms Thursday on eight military officers who fled Turkey last Saturday in a high-tech Black Hawk helicopter.

The court acknowledged mitigating circumstances of having acted while under threat. The pilot was acquitted of a charge of violating flight regulations.

The eight are to remain in Greek police custody until their applications for asylum are heard in August.

The case has strained ties between Greece and Turkey, two NATO allies, with Ankara demanding the officers’ return. Turkey has already recovered its aircraft.

One of the Turkish officers told the Alexandroupoli court that the group feared “indiscriminate” arrests if handed over to Turkish authorities.

Another said: “I would not have left Turkey had my life not been threatened.”

Faces hidden

Brought to court Thursday, they kept their faces hidden and declined to give their names. On arrival they were identified by rank as two commanders, four captains and two sergeants.

The court hearing preceded a post-coup sitting of the Turkish parliament. President Tayyip Erdogan was expected to ask lawmakers to endorse sweeping new powers to expand a crackdown.

Already, some 10,000 have been arrested. More than 58,000 civil service employees have been dismissed, forced to resign or have had their licenses revoked.

Neocon Schizophrenia

When friends of friends are enemies

July 19, 2016

by Philip Giraldi


A friend recently observed to me that it is ironic that the neoconservatives, whose bottom line foreign policy issue is the uncritical support of Israel, should be obsessed with constantly confronting and goading Russia even though Tel Aviv and Moscow get along just fine. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has traveled to Russia three times in the past year and he and President Vladimir Putin reportedly understand each other very well.

To be sure, part of the reasoning behind the Israeli offering the hand of friendship is certainly demographic and electoral as many Israelis are Russian in origin and also characteristically strongly support recent right wing governments. They are regarded as essential members of Netanyahu’s coalition, but there is clearly more to it than counting votes.

From the Israeli point of view, Russia, though allied with Syria and friendly with Iran, does not threaten Israel and it also is an available resource to help Tel Aviv develop, refine and market its claimed offshore energy resources. Israel, increasingly isolated because of its repression of the Palestinians, is always eager to make new friends who will help protect it in international fora, witness Netanyahu’s recent charm offensive in Africa.

From the Russian point of view, Israel is a useful friend given its unparalleled access to the U.S. Congress, the White House and the American media. The Netanyahu government also understands Moscow’s concerns about radical Islam in the Arab world and Central Asia and is willing to share information that it obtains to contain the problem. For both Israel and Russia terrorism is not an abstraction – it sits right on and even inside their borders.

Even though Israel is undercutting the neocon plan to isolate and punish Russia at every opportunity people like Bill Kristol, the Kagans and John Bolton make no effort to criticize Netanyahu for his temerity. It is a policy of deliberately looking the other way and it underlines the essential phoniness of what the neoconservatives stand for. To put it bluntly, the neocons claim to support American military dominance globally for altruistic reasons but the reality is that they are largely in it for the money as well as the political and media access to power that money brings with it in contemporary America. What would Sunday morning talk shows be like without a beaming Bill Kristol?

And the cash for the neocons comes mostly from defense contractors who are eager to have a clearly defined serious enemy to boost military spending coupled with an articulate group of pundits who insist on seeing threats worldwide and are willing to promote that viewpoint. Keeping the cash flowing to fund that nice corner office with a view of the Capitol even trumps the Israel relationship but the neocons are careful to make sure the two issues never bump up against each other when they are fulminating against Obama’s national security policies.

We are currently witnessing neocon perfidy at its most refined. They are jumping over themselves to support Hillary Clinton for president in spite of her manifest corruption and unreliability because Donald Trump has threatened to do two things: first he has expressed his unwillingness to enter into new wars in the Middle East or anywhere else and second he has stated that Washington should be even handed when attempting to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Both are anathema to the neocons and Trump has further complicated matters by indicating that he would be willing to talk with Vladimir Putin. If Trump were to win, many neocons would likely find themselves having to look for a real job, a terrifying prospect for people with few skills to fall back on.

Hillary Clinton on the other hand will do what is right from the neocon point of view – confronting the world one nation at a time starting with Iran, which she has threatened to “obliterate.” She will also need to boost defense spending to support her wars, will stiff Vlad, and will allow Bibi to move in down the hall at the White House as Bill will often be out on the town and his room in the East Wing is not needed.

Hillary’s bellicosity guarantees that the military industrial complex cash machine will continue to operate full speed, driving scores of leading neocons to announce that they will vote for her. Reuel Marc Gerecht, one of the neocons’ favorite Iran bashers, concluded in an article appearing in a recent issue of the Weekly Standard that Hillary’s “not a neoconservative, but Hillary Clinton isn’t uncomfortable with American power. Unlike Obama, she isn’t the apologetic type. Whatever her opinions were in the Vietnam era, she doesn’t now view the Cold War ambivalently. She’s certain that might married right in that struggle, even in the Third World, where Obama and many on the left have serious doubts.” I’m not completely sure what that pompous bit of prose is supposed to mean but Gerecht in a backhanded fashion also provided what is for me a ringing endorsement of Donald Trump, though he of course meant to do the opposite having stated his intention to vote for Hillary, writing “Trump is probably the most anti-interventionist presidential candidate since Eugene V. Debs, the indefatigable socialist, in 1912.”

The issue of Israel has, of course, been somewhat hidden during the lead-up to the major party nominating conventions, with everyone inevitably expressing his or her deep affection for Netanyahu, but it has surfaced somewhat in the Democratic Party platform deliberations where Cornel West and James Zogby attempted to introduce some language critical of the occupation of the former Palestinian West Bank. They failed in that attempt though it is possible that something similar will be introduced from the floor during the actual convention. It will undoubtedly also fail even if it succeeds as it did in 2012 when the presiding chairman seemed to hear more “yea” votes than anyone else present in the hall.

The Republicans, still firmly under control of the neocon foreign policy clique, have outdone the Democrats. On July 12th the platform committee, with input from Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, advisers to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, approved a plank on Israel that does not accept creation of a Palestinian state at all unless Israel decides to take action to permit that to develop. On that and all other issues there will be “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. The subcommittee that drafted the position reportedly approved it by an overwhelming majority followed by a standing ovation.

The document calls Israel a “beacon of democracy and humanity.” It states that “support for Israel is an expression of Americanism” and declares that the U.S. Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem. It denies that Israel is an “occupier,” and calls for legislation to combat the “anti-Semitic” Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The plank could have been written by Netanyahu’s Foreign Ministry or perhaps by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and basically cedes to Israel control over the direction of U.S. foreign policy in a critical and unstable region.

And there has been additional activity in Congress lately regarding Iran, with a large sale of Boeing jets being blocked and three additional bills submitted for consideration that will punish that country by, among other steps, denying it access to international finance. Indeed, the unrelenting neocon hostility towards Iran is a subset of the pro-Israel bias as Tehran is perceived as a problem for Tel Aviv while the arguments made to suggest that Iran threatens Europe and the United States lack any plausibility.

The creation of enemies unnecessarily, as applied to both Iran and Russia, is a symptom of the neoconservative disease. It is a pointless search for full spectrum military dominance that panders to an inchoate fear that the U.S. is surrounded by foes that can only be dealt with by decisive kinetic action which will require large defense budgets. Today’s neo-conservatism is a movement born from a curious amalgam of interests that have come together at a time when the United States is in reality militarily unchallenged worldwide and is threatened neither by any other country nor by the pinpricks inflicted by terrorists. Neocons and their associated liberal interventionists have to an extent dominated the foreign and defense policy thinking of the two major parties and most of the media but their message is ultimately based on emphasizing national insecurity, which in the current context is somewhat inexplicable. The United States has never been more secure internationally, if not domestically, and the only problems it is confronting are themselves part and parcel of the imbroglios that have been engineered by the interventionists and their friends. Speculation is that a Trump victory will actually end their dominance. If that is so, it might just be sufficient reason to vote for Donald Trump.

Aedes Aegypti Mosquito: Fighting the Most Dangerous Animal in the World

July 21, 2016

by Marian Blasberg, Hauke Goos and Veronika Hackenbroch


It is a Monday morning in April and a young man named Leandro Fornitan is heading into battle together with 300,000 male mosquitoes of the Aedes aegypti species. The insects are stored in several hundred plastic containers that have been loaded onto the bed of a truck Fornitan is driving through the streets of a residential district in the Brazilian city of Piracicaba. Aside from a few dogs, the streets are empty at this early hour.

The mosquitoes in the containers are 11 days old. And the deadly secret they are carrying with them is invisible.

Just like Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that grow up in the wild, Fornitan’s specimens have the same black-and-white striped pattern reminiscent of Adidas jogging suits. They all have the same bushy feelers, with which they navigate through their short lives — a life which, for a male Aedes, has but one aim: reproduction.

But the mosquitoes that Fornitan will release into the wild this morning were bred in a laboratory. And they possess an artificial genetic modification that will be passed on during mating. That gene produces a protein called tTAV, which will ensure that the mosquitoes’ larvae will die before reaching adulthood.

In other words, the genetically modified mosquitoes that Fornitan is currently testing in Piracicaba are manmade assassins being sent into battle against their own species. It is a kind of biological weapon, deployed with the goal of decimating the population of Aedes aegypti, a species that carries around a dozen diseases, many of them deadly, including yellow fever, dengue fever and other, largely unresearched illnesses such as chikungunya and Zika.

“This mosquito,” says Fornitan, “is the most dangerous animal in the world.” Indeed, Aedes aegypti presents a threat to some 4 billion people across the globe.

The world long approached the Aedes agypti plague as though it were a storm that would soon blow over, but it has now become a fixture in large cities in the tropics. If nothing is done, experts say, more and more people will die as a result. And it has also become clear that some of the tropical diseases carried by this insect are coming to Europe. Partly, that is the result of rising temperatures on the European continent. In the southwestern German city of Freiburg, for example, scientists have determined that a population of Aedes mosquitoes survived the German winter for the first time. It used to be that only those who traveled to the tropics were at risk of becoming infected with tropical illnesses. But now, many in Europe must face the prospect of the tropics coming to them.

It was images from Brazil that sent a jolt of fear around the world at the beginning of this year. Across the country, babies were suddenly being born with heads that were misshapen and too small. When indications mounted that this curious increase in cases of so-called microcephaly was connected to the Zika epidemic that had stormed across Brazil in the previous months, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international emergency.

The Mosquito of the 21st Century

Brazil mobilized 220,000 soldiers for the battle, sending them through bathrooms, yards and garages to eliminate standing water where female Aedes mosquitoes lay their eggs. But the campaign did little to reduce the threat. In the first four months of this year, officials registered 100,000 additional cases thought to be Zika. In addition, almost a million people were infected with dengue fever, more than ever before in such a short span of time.

There is no vaccine against the Zika virus and there is no medicine that can prevent people from becoming infected. In March, medical researchers said that Zika can also be transmitted via sexual intercourse and, as if that weren’t enough, 151 health experts wrote an open letter in May demanding that the Olympic Games — set to kick off in Rio in two weeks — be postponed or moved. Taking the risk of holding the games as planned, they said, would be irresponsible. The city is expecting a half-million visitors. If only a tiny fraction of them become infected by the virus, these games — intended to crown Brazil’s climb to economic power status — could mark the beginnings of a catastrophe.

The fear of a global Zika outbreak has put the spotlight on an insect that was long seen as the smaller, less dangerous brother of the Anopheles, which spreads malaria. But times are changing. Whereas the Anopheles was the mosquito of the 20th century, the Aedes aegypti seems intent on taking that crown for the 21st.

The number of people dying of malaria has long been in decline, but Aedes-spread dengue fever, by contrast, is now considered the fastest spreading mosquito-borne illness in the world. Fully 128 countries are now considered at risk of dengue and around 400 million people become infected each year, according to WHO. Most of them suffer from rashes, joint pain and high fever. But an estimated 20,000 per year have a different reaction: They experience severe internal bleeding which often ends in death.

It took dengue fever half a century before the WHO’s map of affected areas slowly turned red. But in the case of Zika, it is as though someone dumped a bucket of red paint on half the world. After the virus arrived in Brazil in 2013, likely by plane from French Polynesia, it only took a few months for it to spread to 60 countries. And everywhere Zika became established, it had been preceded by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The mosquito was also there when chikungunya fever broke out on the island of La Réunion in 2005. It was there when chikungunya spread to India and it was there when the virus jumped from the Caribbean to the American mainland. Even yellow fever, which long seemed to have been eradicated, is making a comeback. By the time Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda this spring reported the worst outbreak of the disease in decades, the mosquito had already infected 2,000 people. Three hundred of them died.

On the Front Lines

What, though, can be done? Will it be possible to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito once and for all, or will we have to be satisfied with protecting ourselves to some degree from the diseases the insect carries?

The genetically modified laboratory mosquito from the British company Oxitec is the most innovative strategy yet developed to combat the insects. In trials on the Cayman Islands and in Panama, Fornitan says, their method succeeded in reducing the wild Aedes population by 90 percent in just a few months. They are now trying to do the same in Piracicaba.

Leandro Fornitan heads to the front lines six days a week. Next to him is an open laptop showing a map of the residential district. Whenever the computer peeps an alert, Fornitan reaches behind him, takes the lid off of one of the mosquito containers, holds it to a funnel sticking through his cracked window and pounds on the bottom of the container. A fan and the mosquitoes’ instincts do the rest.

“Normally,” Fornitan says, “we need one container every 100 meters. But there are hotspots where we release more” — such as scrap yards, bus stops and supermarkets.

The Aedes mosquito is never far from places where people live, work, play or wait. It is a problem facing Piracicaba and Rio de Janeiro, but also dozens of other cities worldwide, like Jakarta, Luanda and Singapore. They hide behind curtains, underneath beds and inside cars, constantly on the search for the scent of humans. Aedes aegypti is attracted both by the carbon dioxide that we exhale and by our perspiration, an alluring combination of butanoic acid and propanoic acid. Female mosquitoes pursue this scent until they come close enough to their victims to sense the warmth and dampness that everyone’s body emits.

In contrast to the Anopheles, which primarily bites at dusk and at night, Aedes aegypti females do most of their hunting during the daytime. You hardly notice when she caresses your skin with her feelers in the search for blood veins. The mosquito’s proboscis is made up of a lower lip and its six bristles. Some of the bristles have tiny hooks at their tips, which are drilled into the skin when the mosquito moves her head back and forth — until it finds a capillary to suck blood from.

Blood is vital for female mosquitoes. It provides the protein necessary to complete the egg creation process.

To prevent blood from quickly clotting, mosquitoes secrete an anticoagulant into their host’s bodies. It is this exchange of bodily fluids that makes mosquitoes into a so-called vector — an animal that transmits pathogens.

As Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes have become better known, demand has spiked. Last year, the US biotech firm Intrexon bought Oxitec — which was originally formed out of an Oxford University research project — for $160 million. Fornitan’s new bosses have practically lived in the air in recent months, traveling from hotspot to hotspot. Just in case their client’s desperation isn’t sufficient, they carry a study along with them that shows how significant the damage produced by the Aedes mosquito is.

In a country like India, the study notes, inpatient treatment of dengue fever patients can easily cost as much as half of a family’s annual income. In Thailand, the tourism industry estimates that dengue-induced revenue losses could amount to as much as $363 million. In Malaysia, researchers have calculated that 10,000 dengue cases resulted in the loss of 940,000 work days.

In order to do something about the Aedes, we need to have a clear understanding of the insect’s behavior. That is the common message delivered by those around the world who are trying to develop strategies to conquer the mosquito. James Logan agrees. A biologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Logan is one of just a handful of scientists around the world who is conducting research into how exactly mosquitoes behave.

Logan is searching for answers to fundamental questions. What are mosquitoes capable of perceiving? How do they find their victims? How have they managed to survive since the time of the dinosaurs?

“Mosquitoes were on this planet before us,” Logan says, “and most probably they will still be here when we have long gone.”

A Cocktail of Scent Molecules

Logan is an inquisitive 37-year-old who is unable to hide his admiration for the mosquito as he walks in his lab coat through the basement vaults where his institute’s insectarium is located. It is tropically humid in the room and the walls are lined with cages where Logan keeps the objects of his studies.

Logan reaches for a wired metal cylinder containing blood warmed to body temperature behind a transparent membrane. He sets the cylinder on one of the cages and within seconds, a swarm of mosquitoes flock to it. “Fascinating, isn’t it?” he says.

You have to look extremely closely to see on the mosquito’s head the two ultra-thin antennae it uses to navigate through its life. These antennae, which are equipped with thousands of receptors, are its most important organ. It is a kind of super sniffer that collects scents and leads the mosquito to standing water and to the human blood and plant nectar that it feeds on.

“Look at this room,” Logan says. “It looks quite empty. But for the mosquito, it is full of a cocktail of different odor molecules. We humans send out about 500 odor molecules, and the mosquito can detect about 20 of these. The CO2 of our breath, the carboxylic acid in our socks or the sweat on our skin. All this together tells the mosquito: Over there, there is a human.”

Logan believes that if we want to protect ourselves from mosquitoes, we have to outflank their sense of smell. That means that we have to change our bodily odors such that mosquitoes think: It’s not a human standing over there, but something else.

“Mosquito repellant,” Logan says, “is our first line of defense.”

For years, Logan has been testing the effectivity of such products for the pharmaceuticals industry, but it is challenging. DEET is still the most reliable substance out there, a synthetic molecule that was developed in the 1940s by the US military after it became clear that, in some wars, almost as many men were being lost to mosquitoes as to enemy fire. Logan explains that DEET activates certain receptors on the antennae, thus confusing mosquitoes. But DEET has two disadvantages. First, it has side-effects. And second, it doesn’t work as well on Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as it does on the Anopheles.

‘Constantly a Step Ahead’

Logan has thus resolved to take a closer look at the 10 percent of people whose blood, for as yet undetermined reasons, is ignored by mosquitoes — an attribute that is hereditary, as he has discovered. He found a number of such people and invited them into his laboratory for testing. He wrapped them in foil and siphoned off their bodily odors, which he then dissolved in a solvent and broke down into their component parts. He then connected the disembodied heads of dead mosquitoes (their antennae continue to function for up to an hour after death) to electrodes and passed the bodily odors over them, one component part after another. He then waited to see if his computers picked anything up.

He dreams of coming up with a remedy that will help normal people produce the natural anti-mosquito substance present in 10 percent of the population. A pharmaceutical company would then be able to produce a pill both for tourists and for those who are constantly threatened by the Aedes aegypti mosquito in their daily lives. But Logan isn’t sure how long it will take to develop such a drug. First, he says, the genes responsible for naturally producing the anti-mosquito substance must be identified. And even if he is successful, the question remains as to whether Aedes aegypti will become resistant to such a pill.

Like all mosquito researchers, he is well aware that Aedes aegypti has always had a response when humans have placed obstacles in its path. “Aedes is constantly a step ahead of us,” Logan says, “because it is able to adapt quickly.”

It is this flexibility in dealing with adversity that put humans on the mosquito menu in the first place. Back when mosquitoes lived exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa, they preferred targeting wild animals to sate their thirst for blood. Females mostly laid their eggs in branch hollows that filled with water during the rainy season. Evolution researchers have differing answers to the question as to when mosquitoes began changing their behavior. According to one theory, a changing climate was to blame. When the Sahara began expanding around 1,000 years ago, that meant that much of the mosquitoes’ habitat dried out, which in turn meant that water could only reliably be found in places where humans had settled — and these humans soon became their most stable source of blood.

A second theory holds that the domestication of the mosquito only happened much later, as a spontaneous event that took place on a slave ship traveling from Africa to the New World. That theory was developed by the Brazilian historian Rodrigo Magalhaes, who wrote his Ph.D. about the 20th century South American fight against an insect that has repeatedly caused yellow fever outbreaks since its arrival.

On a humid afternoon, Magalhaes is sitting in his bookstore in the heart of Rio. The temples of his eyeglasses are black-and-white striped, just like the body of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Until the outbreak of Zika, he says, nobody was interested in his studies. Now, though, he is suddenly receiving a lot of attention.

Magalhaes refers to his research as “the astonishing story of a 100-years war,” one in which both sides, humans and mosquitoes have suffered devastating defeats. It is a story that makes clear the difficulties facing a researcher like Logan as he searches for a chemical substance that might ward off Aedes.

The tragic hero in Magalhaes’ drama is an American doctor named Fred Soper, who in 1947 became the coordinator of a program to eliminate the Aedes aegypti mosquito under the auspices of the Pan American Health Organization. It marked the first time that the world resolved to eliminate a vector in the effort to destroy a virus. And Soper believed that he possessed the miracle weapon that would make it possible: Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane.

DDT is a chemical whose potency as an insecticide was discovered in 1939 by an employee of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Geigy. Years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine.

Soper managed to get South American countries to change their laws such that local mosquito hunters were guaranteed access to private homes. For years, these teams traipsed through the streets of South American cities spraying DDT into living rooms, bathrooms and kitchens. They sprayed it on the fronts of buildings, on sidewalks and in public places — and in the countryside, airplanes sprayed the stuff on coffee and sugar plantations. Magalhaes says that for Aedes aegypti, the insecticide had the same effect that napalm did in Vietnam. They died on contact with DDT.

In 1958, 11 years after launching his campaign, Fred Soper announced that all countries in South and Central America had successfully eliminated the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

“The problem,” says Magalhaes, “was the United States.”

Resistance to DDT

Because the US hadn’t experienced a yellow fever epidemic since 1905 and because dengue and Zika hadn’t yet become a danger, American politicians were reluctant to spend millions of dollars to do battle against an apparently harmless insect. They ignored Soper’s entreaties.

By 1965, the Aedes aegypti was back, first in Mexico and then, one year later in Nicaragua and two years after than in the northern Brazilian city of Belém, where researchers determined that the mosquitoes had the exact same genetic code as Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Florida.

Magalhaes leans back. “That the huge effort had been in vain was one problem,” he says. “The other was that Aedes aegypti was suddenly resistant to DDT.”

During the time when Soper’s army of sprayers was making its way through Central and South America, and perhaps even earlier, a change in the mosquito’s genetic code took place during one of the species’ myriad breeding cycles — one which made the insect immune to the poison. It was a mutation that guaranteed the survival of the species.

“It is a question of evolutionary intelligence,” says Magalhaes. Survival of the fittest.

Adapting to humans and the development of a resistance to DDT aren’t the only responses Aedes aegypti has found to its changing habitat. In contrast to the malaria-carrying mosquito Anopheles, Aedes was able to quickly adapt to conditions in rapidly growing megacities. Whereas they once bred in branch hollows found in the pre-historic African forest, today they are just as happy with car tires, plastic bottles or computer casings — the normal junk produced by tropical cities, left in the open to slowly decompose and to fill with water when it rains.

Aedes aegypti, the mosquito of the 21st century, has become established in the slums of cities like Rio de Janeiro, where the sewage system is just as dysfunctional as garbage disposal. In Piracicaba, the neighborhood mosquito hunters have found that the stomachs of many Aedes females can now hold twice as much blood as they could just 20 years ago. In a city like Singapore, which is lit up all night long, researchers have found that the mosquitoes now suck blood around the clock.

The forecasts of climate researchers also play into the hands of Aedes aegypti. Steady warming is one element, but more important is the possibility of an increasing number of droughts, which will lead more people to store water in vats on their rooftops.

The Search for a Vaccine

In Rio, the Secretariat for Tourism recently urged guests in town for the Olympic Games to avoid visiting favelas during their stay. In mid-June, shortly after the 151 scientists and doctors urged the cancellation of the games, a WHO emergency committee took a closer look at the situation in the city. The experts reached the conclusion that allowing the games to go forward would have little effect on the spread of the Zika virus, in part because the mosquito population had significantly shrunk during the cooler winter months.

But the committee, it would seem, has been unable to allay widespread fears. Recently, professional cyclist Tejay van Garderen, whose wife is expecting their first child, announced that he would not be participating in the games. Golfer Jason Day, the number-one ranked player in the world and a favorite for the gold, joined him. When the German track and field team recently cancelled a planned on-site training camp, there were complaints that there still isn’t a vaccine against the virus, despite its having been first identified 70 years ago in Uganda.

It is an understandable grievance. A vaccine for yellow fever was developed in the 1940s, but in the decades since then, there has been no additional vaccine created to protect humans from the diseases carried by Aedes aegypti.

Developing an injection that would render the mosquito harmless is a dream shared by Marie-José Quentin-Millet, who spent almost 20 years searching for a vaccine against dengue fever for the French company Sanofi Pasteur. “When we started,” she says, “we were all still young and beautiful!”

Quentin-Millet is standing in the visitors’ gallery of a snow-white factory building in the Lyon suburb of Neuville-sur-Saône. Behind a pane of glass, a biotech laboratory — with its gigantic bioreactors and dozens of pipes — can be seen, along with several lab workers sitting at their computers wearing surgical masks. She says she can hardly believe that a vaccine is now actually being produced.

“Dengue is so complex,” she says.

The problem she faced in her efforts to conquer the virus is that there are four different varieties of dengue. In order to render all four of these so-called serotypes harmless, a four-in-one vaccine needed to be developed.

When Quentin-Miller and her team took up the challenge in the 1990s, they were like a group of mountain climbers trying to decide which flank would lead them most directly to the summit. They spent 10 years researching how they should start.

“There were moments,” Quentin-Miller says, “when we almost gave up.”

Ultimately, it was the well-established yellow fever vaccine that got them on the right track. They introduced two genes from each dengue fever serotype into the vaccine. Following promising tests on animals, they performed trials on small groups of people before finally performing large-scale studies involving the vaccination of 35,000 children in Asia and Latin America.

In the end, it wasn’t a single injection that rendered the mosquito harmless, but three, delivered at six-month intervals. Among the test subjects, the risk of becoming infected with dengue sank by 60 percent and the number of life-threatening cases sank by 80 percent. It wasn’t a perfect outcome, but better than nothing.

What, though, happens next? Over the years, Sanofi Pasteur invested €€€€ 1.5 billion euros in the search for the vaccine — money that it, under the brand name Dengvaxia, must now recoup. In April, the first shipment left the factory and a short time later, 800 schoolchildren in the Philippines were vaccinated under the media spotlight. Mexican officials have also now approved Dengvaxia, as has Brazil.

But the Brazilian Health Ministry also announced in May that it was not going to include the vaccine in the country’s free public vaccination program. The ministry, it was reported, would have had to pay €€22 euros for each dose. That is too much for a country that is currently trying to cut spending amid an economic crisis.

The Promise of Profit

Instead, newspapers reported, the vaccine was to be distributed via a network of private clinics, where a privileged minority can protect itself against the dengue virus for €around €100 euros. The vast majority of the population, however, most of which lives in places where the mosquito has established itself, won’t be able to afford Dengvaxia.

Brazil is not a poor country, but it is a good example of the difficulties facing companies like Sanofi Pasteur in markets south of the equator. They must deal with governments that have tight budgets or a limited desire to invest in public health — or both. It is no accident that pharmaceutical companies in 2013 worked on the development of 183 medications for heart disease and only 18 for treating malaria. In contrast to health problems encountered in the industrialized world, tropical illnesses don’t hold the promise of profit.

That’s the good news for the mosquito. The bad news, though, is that the further it advances into wealthier countries, the greater the possibility that it will be targeted by pharmaceutical companies. Whereas Anopheles is primarily a problem for some of the poorest countries in Africa, the Aedes aegypti has crossed a red line. Countries like China and India have pulled out their calculators and are comparing the price of vaccines with the costs of treating dengue fever at public hospitals. That is the bet that Sanofi Pasteur has made — and it is one that others are making as well. Five additional dengue vaccines, it is said, are currently under development by companies around the world.

Sanofi Pasteur has also begun working on a Zika vaccine. The virus, says Quentin-Millet, is less complicated than the dengue virus. If scientists all work together, Quentin-Millet is convinced that it will take much less than 20 years to develop a Zika vaccine.

Still, it is an illusion to believe that a vaccine can completely conquer the mosquito. In fact, it is a fallacy that led countries like Angola, Congo and Uganda to believe that large-scale vaccination campaigns had brought an end to yellow fever. After the number of cases plunged dramatically in the 1980s, they gradually removed the illness from their vaccination programs. The result is that today, two generations later, yellow fever is back and in cities like Luanda, which the Aedes mosquito calls home, there is a shortage of the vaccine.

Indeed, it looks as though the battle against mosquito-borne illnesses is one that will continue for quite some time. Vaccines such as the one developed by Sanofi Pasteur might limit the risk of dying from a mosquito bite, but they don’t eliminate it — and neither do the mosquito repellants James Logan is testing in London. Everything that humans have thus far done to destroy the mosquito has failed in one way or the other. And Oxitec isn’t likely to change that. After six months, the number of dengue cases in the test region had sunk from 132 to just two and the Aedes aegypti population had shrunk by 90 percent. But that is about as much as can be expected, Fornitan says. The mosquitoes, he says, keep coming back — in cars, buses and trains.

A Volunteer Army

“The only thing remaining to us is vigilance and education,” says a small, wiry retiree named Justin Foo, who is waiting for two colleagues in front of a residential building in central Singapore. Foo used to work as an engineer, but today he wears the yellow vest of a “Dengue Prevention Volunteer.” He belongs to a kind of citizens’ militia that has joined the battle against the mosquito on behalf of state environmental authorities.

Foo points to a residential building that they are planning to visit. The inspectors used to find mosquito eggs in every second household in Singapore. Today, the ratio is 1:100.

Singapore is a small, densely populated country with 5.5 million inhabitants that lies almost exactly on the equator. That means that warm temperatures are constant and that rain falls at virtually the same time every afternoon, even outside of the rainy season. They were the kind of conditions perfect for the Aedes aegypti mosquito when soldiers and travelers unwittingly brought the species to Southeast Asia during World War II. Singapore experienced its first serious outbreak of dengue fever in the early 1960s. In 1966, the country established an authority to fight the disease and today, the Environmental Health Institute has 850 employees along with several thousand volunteers like Foo.

Over the decades, Singapore has developed a control system that is now seen as being unique in the world. It is a kind of mosquito secret police, which keeps a close eye on citizens and forces them to comply with regulations through a mixture of education and punishment.

The lifecycle of a female Aedes is at least 10 days long. During this period, they lay several hundred tiny eggs on four or five occasions. In contrast to the Anopheles, which lays its eggs on the surface of standing water, the Aedes mosquito positions its spawn just above the water’s surface. When the rain comes and the water level climbs, a new lifecycle begins in each egg.

Foo and volunteers like him are intent on breaking this cycle. It is his task to prevent the eggs from coming into contact with water.

At the health administration’s headquarters, all data relating to egg deposits are collected by computer and correlated with weather data, such as temperature, rainfall amount and how long the precipitation lasted. Individual finds are dismissed as being random, but if a second find is recorded in the same spot within 14 days, it is treated as a cluster, meaning that a public servant, known as a Vector Control Officer, is dispatched to spray the site with insecticide. If a resident wants to know if clusters have recently been found in his area or if there have been any recent cases of dengue, he can download a smartphone app that conveys such data.

In 2015, controllers undertook 1.4 million checks. On this morning, a routine patrol is on the schedule. As Foo and his colleagues walk through the residential block, they distribute brochures that tell residents what individuals can do in the battle against Aedes aegypti. The officers ring at every door and when it is opened, they smile amicably and take off their shoes before wandering inside. They shine their flashlights into toothbrush cups, turn over buckets stored under sinks and take a close look into flower pots on the balcony. If they find anything, residents must pay a fine equal to €130 euros. Repeat offenders pay another €130 euros and a third offense lands the offender in court.

Whereas soldiers in Brazil only went into action after a million people had become infected with the Zika virus, Foo patrols all year. Furthermore, the government of Singapore has pursued a clearly defined plan. The country invests around $2,000 per capita in the fight against the mosquito each fiscal year. Initially, after the program was introduced in the 1960s, the number of dengue cases plunged, before leveling off in the 1980s at around 9.3 cases per 100,000 residents.

Since then, though, the mosquitoes have retaken the city. Dengue washes over Singapore in waves, and if you look at the number of cases over the course of decades, it becomes apparent that the waves have become more frequent and the outbreaks more widespread. When the dengue-ratio climbed back over 300 cases per 100,000 in 2005, countermeasures were strengthened once again and a regular information campaign about disease outbreaks was reintroduced.

“It might sound absurd,” says a spokesperson at the Environmental Health Institute, “but the problems are a product of our success. The virus once again has an opportunity because our immune systems hardly produce antibodies anymore.”

Foo’s superiors now hope that the vaccine from Sanofi will soon be approved, even if it only offers limited protection against the dengue serotypes present in Singapore. Scientists are also campaigning for the deployment of the Oxitec mosquito — or they have proposed further experimentation with the Wolbachia mosquito, which are infected with bacteria that make them immune to dengue.

Bigger Gaps

There are dozens of strategies that humans are employing in the battle against the mosquito. But not a single one of them, it seems, has had the desired effect. It looks as though we will have to get used to the idea that mosquitoes will always find a gap in the safety net. And these gaps are getting bigger.

Thus far, Europe had thought it was safe. Viruses like dengue, Zika, and chikungunya, people thought, were largely a problem facing the developing world. When Germans became infected, it was generally those who had traveled to the tropics and not taken the warnings issued by the Foreign Ministry seriously enough. But it looks as though the rules of the game are slowly changing.

The German government is planning to provide €600 million euros in aid for vaccine campaigns by 2020 in the 22 poorest countries in the world — an initiative which, in times like these, could be interpreted as yet another substantial initiative to combat the root causes of flight. But that’s not all it is.

In 2010, southern France and Croatia registered the first autochthone cases of dengue fever in Europe since the 1920s, transmitted by mosquitoes living inside those countries, which means that the mosquito is getting closer and closer. In 2013, there was a dengue outbreak on the Portuguese island of Madeira with more than 1,000 cases.

“Aedes aegypti is essentially democratic. It doesn’t differentiate between the rich and poor,” says the biologist Norbert Becker, who has written several books about mosquitoes and spent the last 40 years fighting the insects on the upper Rhine River out of his office in Speyer. When he began his work in the summer of 1976, some people only left their homes in neoprene suits because they otherwise couldn’t stand the mosquito plague.

Becker smiles. “It used to be,” he says, “that the mosquitoes were just bothersome. Today, they are becoming increasingly dangerous.”

Researchers have verified the presence of five new mosquito species in Germany in the last 20 years, including two relatives of the Aedes aegypti that are capable of transmitting the same diseases: Aedes japonicas and the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus.

‘Just a Question of Time’

Aedes albopictus, which likely came to Europe via Genoa, perhaps in a ship loaded with old tires that sailed in from America, was first identified in Germany at a highway rest stop near Weil am Rhein. In 2013, Becker counted six egg deposit sites. In 2014, he found 15 and by August of last year, 20.

In March, Becker then made an alarming discovery: Never before had an Aedes mosquito been discovered in Germany that early in the year. That could only mean one thing: The mosquito had apparently survived the German winter.

Becker leans back. “Essentially,” he says, “it was just a question of time.”

Becker has recently become part of a commission of experts that advises state governments, health ministries, city administrations and health authorities on what to do should the Asian tiger mosquito make an appearance.

Germany, it would seem, isn’t prepared for the mosquito. It isn’t enough to merely spray a few liters of insecticide in the area surrounding an egg deposit site. Aedes eggs can survive for an entire year without water. They are, if you will, violent, largely invisible sleeper cells and it doesn’t take much to activate them. A couple of warm days, a bit of water — the kinds of things that aren’t unusual in Rio de Janeiro, even in August.

Becker has dedicated four decades of research to the mosquito. He admires the creatures so much that he gave his daughter Daniela the middle name Aedes. In English, the word means ne’er-do-well.



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