This is part 3 of the 3-part series on the Theranos scandal. Part 1 contrasted the standard media narrative about Theranos with a more realistic interpretation of the conspiracy (yes, it was a conspiracy, that’s not disputed – the only question remaining is who was behind it. Part 2 examines the probable agenda that spawned Theranos and connects it to today’s public health events. Here we’ll focus on most important part of this story and the very reason why I believe it’s worth telling. A video report covering all three parts is at this link.
So, some of the most powerful men in the world decided to pool their influence, connections and resources to create the technology that would allow them to manage and control global response to pandemics. What they envisioned turned out to be a fantasy, but this did not hold them back, which suggests that their agenda was intended as a grand deception from the get-go. Still, they did not hesitate to press on: with all the power and resources at their disposal, they thought they could pull it off, by hook or by crook. They recruited their front-woman and in 2003 the venture launched. For years it made steady progress and by 2010, with Walgreens and Safeway deals shaping up, it started to break into the mainstream.
Elizabeth Holmes began making guest appearances on many prominent TV news shows and her face was on the cover of numerous high-circulation magazines. President Barack Obama appointed her as US Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship and Harvard Medical School added her to the board of fellows. The awards and accolades from prestigious institutions across the United States multiplied and the success story seemed unassailable: proof positive that there was no limit to what our kingmakers could accomplish when they set out to do it.
But even with Holmes’ star in its zenith, a handful of her employees could not keep quiet and no amount of wealth or power in the world could expunge the rot at the core of Theranos. After that fateful dinner meeting between Tyler Shultz, Erika Cheung and Tyler’s grandfather George Shultz, the powerful men behind Theranos resolved to defend their creation. They aggressively stepped up the campaign of surveillance and intimidation to silence any potential whistleblowers. Incidentally, that is another reason why Theranos preferred to rely on young and inexperienced employees: they are far more vulnerable to intimidation than real experts with established reputations in the industry.
The campaign was entrusted to David Boies’ law firm and it was extremely aggressive: as John Carreyrou testified, after 20 years at the Wall Street Journal and extensive experience with intimidation and threats, he had “never experienced anything of that magnitude. I mean, it’s not even close.” The pressure was such that one of Theranos long-term employees could not endure it. In 2013, Ian Gibbons, who had worked at Theranos since 2005 and led their chemistry team, was subpoenaed to testify in a court case brought against Theranos by Richard Fuisz. Mr. Gibbons was notified by Theranos that he’d be involved in the case. After a call from Elizabeth Holmes demanding that he come and meet her before testifying, Ian Gibbons took his own life instead.
How Theranos unravelled
Theranos was brought down essentially by five people: Erika Cheung, Tyler Shultz, Ian Gibbons’s widow, Richard Fuisz and Wall Street Journal’s reporter John Carreyrou. The events that led to its unravelling slowly escalated from the patent dispute between Richard Fuisz and Theranos. Recall, Dr. Fuisz was a friend of the Holmeses. He was also a medical doctor and an inventor who built up and sold his own company. It was Dr. Fuisz, in fact who flagged the case to John Carreyrou and shared his findings with him. In spite of the fact that by 2014, the powerful guardians of Theranos already had all of these individuals under tight surveillance, they did not succumb to the pressure and refused to be silenced. As Carreyrou explained, “They couldn’t in good conscience continue to not say anything. They felt the need to speak up. And they felt that lives were in danger and that the longer this went on, the worse it would get.”
Thus, on the one side of this saga was the resolute force of deep state actors, powerful lawyers and ultra-wealthy investors determined to preserve and protect their creation by any means necessary. On the other side, you had a handful of ordinary people, armed with truth and compelled by their conscience to speak it in spite of fear, intimidation and seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them. Even John Carreyrou’s boss, the powerful media magnate Rupert Murdoch was one of the largest investors in Theranos and there was a good chance that his story would be killed. But for some mysterious reason, Murdoch, who had only recently invested $125 million into Theranos, refused to kill Carreyrou’s story even though Holmes had twice implored him personally to do that. Murdoch, who was otherwise not above interfering in his publications’ editorial decisions nevertheless refused to interfere, saying that he had confidence in his journalists and editors to make the right decisions. And they did: on 15 October 2015, the Wall Street Journal ran Carreyrou’s article titled, “Hot Startup Theranos Has Struggled With Its Blood-Test Technology” which triggered an irreversible unravelling of Theranos fraudulent venture that all the money, power and influence in the world could neither arrest nor reverse.
Today Elizabeth Holmes is defending herself against fraud charges in court, but we should not expect much from that case: she will maintain the fiction that Theranos was her own brainchild and protect the real powers behind the venture. In return, she’ll be protected as well: at the end of the process, plus the appeals, she’ll probably receive only a light sentence. Her character is already being actively refurbished in the media: she is now often being portrayed as a victim of the ruthless, aggressive Silicon Valley culture and the male-dominated business environment where as a woman, she had to be that much more ruthless and aggressive to succeed, etc. The person who will most likely take the fall will be her former lover and partner in crime, “Sunny” Balwani, possibly the only expendable culprit in the whole saga.
The 6 good lessons of the Theranos saga
The spectacular rise and equally spectacular fall of Theranos holds a few lessons that are particularly relevant in today’s world.
- Do not be intimidated by great power: insofar as large, ambitious agendas are based on lies and deception, they are very fragile and have a limited shelf life even if they are pursued by the world’s most powerful people with nearly inexhaustible resources. To succeed, they must mobilize the creative energies of many people, and if there is no consensus that the agenda is desirable and useful to society, this is difficult to do and it can’t be entirely solved with monetary incentives. As we’ve seen in this case, to implement a nefarious plan, the power players must rely on pliable people who can be easily coerced and intimidated. But such people lack authority and can’t command respect from others and their ability to lead will fall short. If your agenda can’t mobilize the brightest and the best, its success will depend on the leadership qualities of mediocrities motivated by fear and money: not a winning proposition.
- A handful of courageous, principled individuals committed to justice and truth can defeat even the most powerful networks – even if for a time they may seem invincible.
- Do not be too impressed with their “technology”: when they try to impress you with super-advanced, game changing technologies, artificial intelligence, etc. – they’re usually trying to hypnotize us into submission and voluntary compliance. I’ve spent many years working extensively in AI development and I can tell you this: such systems are very difficult to put together, they’re always limited in what they can do, they’re fragile and they are very high-maintenance. Most of the time, they also work about as well as Theranos miniature analyzers. “Most of the time,” here is not a mere figure of speech – complex software projects fail to achieve their objectives at least 90% of the time.
- They are stupid! I’ve spent a good deal of time watching, reading and listening to speeches, interviews and various statements of many individuals in the highest echelons of power today. The more I listened, the more I had a very strong impression that these people aren’t very bright. It seems to me that they have trouble distinguishing between their delusions of omnipotence from what’s actually achievable in the real world. Theranos was xactly an example of this, but there have been other examples of mega-projects that never stood a chance. The story that keeps repeating itself is the myth of Icarus who went flying too close to the sun and ended up crashing back to the ground. But the stupid, it seems, they never learn.
- Resistance is never futile: power plays take time to unravel and for a while they may seem intimidating and invincible. Being courageous and principled may seem stupid. But if you are in that situation, you are not alone and in ways you can’t predict, some confluence of events will redeem you along with all the unknown, unseen brave souls whose powers are multiplying the longer they stand their ground. Never surrender!
- Truth is important: often it takes effort to uncover the truth and courage to speak it. But truth is the light that will guide us to freedom. As Gandhi said, there’s no god higher than the truth.
It is time for us to shake off the pessimism. Embrace all those qualities that will turn you into the best possible version of yourself: integrity, courage and respect for truth. Reject fear, disbelieve the hollow myths about the so-called elites: that they are smart, that they’re sophisticated, well-organized, that their power is irresistible and that they are invincible. Their track record of flops and failures is very long and equally impressive.
Recall, some twenty years ago they launched the Project for the New American Century – a program for total US hegemony over the rest of the world. For all the power and hubris of their unipolar moment, in only 20 years the whole thing has achieved nothing but a humiliating failure. Their power is hollow, it is a fiction projected to daze us into submission. But if we reject that fiction, their power will deflate like a punctured balloon. Let us reject fear and focus our creative energies on shaping a future we would want for our children and their children to enjoy in freedom, abundance and happiness which is ours and their birthright.
Of course, there are thousands more who must be held accountable. The agenda they’re running today reeks of desperation; it is impossibly ambitious and again pursued by pliable, compromised mediocrities and yes-men. Yet again their Icarus flew too close to the sun. The wax is melting as you read these lines and soon he’ll be crashing to the ground. The only reason they have been able to keep doing this is because we let them: after all the crimes, assassinations, wars and false-flag operations, they were able to withdraw with impunity, regroup and concoct a brand new hare-brained scheme. Each one of these mega-projects caused inestimable damage to society, but it hasn’t dampened their delusional ambitions to play gods.
We must finally break these cycles and I’m afraid that the only way to break them will be if we insist that they face justice, which should include the mother of all civil forfeitures: full, 100% expropriation of assets, which should be redistributed to all who have sustained damage from the actions these parasites sponsored. After that, they should be given the opportunity to live as they preach: own nothing and be happy!
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