If, a few years ago, or even a few weeks ago, you had Googled “Defense Threat Reduction Agency,” or DTRA, you would have stumbled upon a few anodyne entries offering mostly neutral descriptions of what this little-known arm of the Pentagon does. It coordinates global efforts to deter the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
Google it now, though, especially via a “news” search, and you’ll discover that the DTRA is apparently at the vortex of a sinister U.S.-led effort to supply Ukraine with biological weapons. I mean, Tucker Carlson suspects as much. And of course, so does Vladimir Putin, which is why Carlson (and others) parrot it.
This has been the claim on Russian television news since around the time Russia invaded Ukraine. Rumors have been whipping around on the pro-Putin American right and to some extent the equivalent left. But it’s the right that matters more, of course, because the right has a cable “news” network that reaches millions of people a day.
So it was just a rumor. Then, last Thursday, Victoria Nuland of the State Department was testifying before the Senate and was asked by Republican Senator Marco Rubio whether Ukraine had chemical or biological weapons. Her answer was, to be sure, imprecise and infelicitous: Ukraine, she said, has biological “research facilities,” and she said the United States was concerned lest those facilities fall into Russian hands.
OK. The first thing to say is that, while Carlson and others, such as Glenn Greenwald, treated this like an earth-shaking admission, the presence of these facilities has been no secret. The DTRA has personnel and facilities around the world, including in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine. For that matter, it also has a presence in Tblisi, Georgia, and in three other capitals in the Caucasus, and even in Moscow itself, which means that if the U.S. is corrupting Ukraine and supplying it with biological weapons, then it’s logically doing the same to Russia.
The reason the DTRA has these facilities all over the former Soviet Union is that after it collapsed, everything from nuclear weapons to various viruses like swine flu were dispersed across the former SSRs. A “research facility” can be a lot of different things. Carlson makes it sound nefarious, as if the presence of the facilities means Ukraine is going to use these deadly weapons any day now. But in fact, the DTRA facility in Kyiv is there to monitor the existence of various forms of weapons of mass destruction and things like dangerous viruses and pathogens, and to try to contain them and keep them from getting into the wrong hands—hence Nuland’s concern.
When Ebola spread in West Africa in 2015, it was the DTRA that provided mobile diagnostic labs and personal protective equipment. In Jordan from 2009 to 2017, the DTRA helped the Jordanian Army secure its borders with Syria and Iraq against the illicit traffic in weapons of mass destruction. In 2018, after an episode of particular derring-do, Trump Secretary of Defense James Mattis awarded DTRA team members a Medal of Valor. But to Carlson, all that is propaganda. The truth is what Putin and Russian TV say: that Nuland’s sloppy wording confirms that Ukraine has biological weapons, which it’s about to use against Russian troops. I’ll quote from Carlson fully here so you can see exactly how he takes what Nuland says and turns it into something she definitely did not say:
Does Ukraine have biological weapons? Ugh, Ukraine has biological research facilities. What? You mean secret bio labs like the secret bio labs that Ukraine definitely doesn’t have? Ukraine has those? Yes, it does. And not only does Ukraine have secret bio labs, Toria Nuland said, whatever they’re doing in those labs is so dangerous and so scary that she is ‘quite concerned’ that the so-called research material inside those bio labs might fall into the hands of Russian forces.
Try not to use profanity on the air to describe our reaction. Our jaws dropped, let’s leave it there. Under oath in an open committee hearing, Toria Nuland just confirmed that the Russian disinformation they’ve been telling us for days is a lie and a conspiracy theory and crazy and immoral to believe is, in fact, totally and completely true.
All the U.S. fact-checking organizations have pounced, notably Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler, who gave Carlson the full four Pinocchios. Kessler even noted that back in 2020, China, trying to answer allegations emanating from the U.S. about the origins of the coronavirus, made these allegations about U.S.-funded labs spreading biological weapons. The Trump administration denied the claims.
We’re not at war with Russia, thank goodness, so these favorable glosses on Putin’s propaganda don’t rise to the level of meeting the constitutional and legal definition of treason. But what should we call it morally when Americans take the side of a thuggish dictator who invaded a country—for the third time in the last decade, let’s remember—that had done nothing to him?
Taking sides is what matters now. Ukraine was hardly a perfect country. It wasn’t an especially well-functioning democracy. Freedom House ranked it as only “partly free.” Corruption was rife. Yes, there were and still are some fascists in the military and in some positions of public office (the same can be said, incidentally, of the United States of America, and probably of most countries). Three weeks ago, Volodymyr Zelenskiy was a bumbling television personality who was in over his head, with the dismal poll numbers to prove it.
None of that matters. What matters is that Putin started a war. He is killing innocent people and bombing hospital maternity wards (another incident that some pro-Putin rightists and leftists dispute). He is trying to erase a sovereign nation from the face of the earth. And the lies keep getting more brazen, which is what dictators do. Last Friday, Putin and his Belarusian stooge Alexander Lukashenko actually argued that Ukraine started the war and said: “Our consciences are clear.”
Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, through Carlson and some others, has at least a dappling of Ukrainian blood on his hands. He’s one of the most malignant human beings of the last half-century, but at least he used to wrap himself in the American flag, however hypocritically. Now he is allowing his network to advance the cause of global authoritarianism against democracy. That old saying about patriotism being the last refuge of scoundrels needs a rethink for the age of Putin, Murdoch, and Carlson.