Reconsidering Some Things I Wrote About Theranos Last Year

This essay is a lightly-edited compilation of some Twitter threads that I posted in March / April of 2019, right after Alex Gibney’s documentary “The Inventor,” on the Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos bankruptcy was released. If you can remember 2019, you’ll know that this was a hot topic for about two weeks, before completely vanishing from our collective awareness. The story was told in such a way, about a pretty but eccentric girl scamming a bunch of horny old billionaires, that made us all treat it as just celebrity trash and burn out on it immediately never want to think about it past its expiration date.

Back when I first made these posts I had about 8 twitter followers, and I wiped the account a few weeks later. But since then, I think some of the questions that I brought up here seem worth considering again.

Theranos was a germ-warfare Manhattan project hiding in plain sight. Elizabeth Holmes is a patsy. Stop focusing on her and look at everyone involved in the project and it’s pretty obvious what was going on there. Now that the Alex Gibney documentary “The Inventor” is out, Theranos and really Elizabeth Holmes is what we’re going to talk about for the next week or two. A problem with the whole drop-and-binge style of releasing shows / movies is that if you’re not an insider with access to previews, it’s hard to come up with a thorough critical response to the show before people have moved on and stopped talking about it. It’s very easy to come up with a hot take about Elizabeth Holmes being a weirdo but to follow up on Gibney’s conclusions? To even half-thoroughly research his conclusions and his omissions and try to write something coherent about it in the 10 days before people move on?
In my own case ADD means that I’m basically not going to get past obsessively reading patents and old Enron emails and sketching out a few dozens sentences on Theranos and Holmes before the moment has passed.

If the CIA had a prototype “psychic technology” in 1980 they would have put it into production and it would have changed our world profoundly. People like to believe that the CIA spent tens of millions of dollars researching psychic powers back in the 1970s and 1980s because they like to believe that psychic powers exist and they’re probably comforted by the idea that the CIA are just nerdy goofballs with too much money.

In the age of High Paranormal Woo-Woo (1977–1983) what were the prototype game-changing technologies that were still top secret and in development? Image recognition. Big Data. Fiber optics. GPS. Drones. Realtime gathering and processing of data across an entire economy. All technologies which have been put into production to profound effect.

In 1980 telling somebody they could type an address into a computer and get a detailed overhead photo of that location, anywhere on Earth, was magic. Think of the infrastructure that goes into that. How do you get the photos back from outer space? How big of a warehouse do you need to store a photograph of every building on the planet? How do you copy and send the photographs to every person who asks for them?

But all of this is mundane tech now and because it’s mundane if somebody says “type an address into a computer and see a photo” we have a mundane response: “Google Maps.” Not “magic psychic UFO computer brain.” We have context for the infrastructure, so the user experience is mundane and expected, even if we can’t really understand how all of that infrastructure is providing the user experience.

So what’s going on in Theranos that seems “magic” because the infrastructure that produces that outcome is so outside of our mundane experience. It’s not the instant blood test because they never succeeded in building that tech.
What they built was mostly tech for moving around viable pathogens inside of tiny blood samples.

There’s one Remote Viewing project (SRI #1291) that I’ve found that covers both blood sample analysis and terrain image processing in its sub projects.
The terrain-mapping one was actually run by Jacques Vallee and it’s about trying to use computers to classify geographic features (water, forest, farm, industrial, etc) of “psychic images” that the “remote viewers” have produced.

That’s why I used the Google Earth example. In 1980 it would have seemed outlandish to even have a mile-high stack of satellite photos of an entire continent that you would want to process (how do you retrieve the film from orbit?). Computer or no computer the task would have seemed magical, but it’s mundane today.

There’s also an experiment in that same project about using psychic powers to make somebody’s blood boil.

Okay technically it’s about psychically preventing red blood cell rupture (hemolysis) in diluted blood and involved using a magnetometer to measure the rate of cell rupture. So maybe it’s just about measuring whether a person can be exposed to high magnetic fields without their blood cells rupturing. Or maybe it was just about seeing if your magnetometer was sensitive enough to detect the movement of hemoglobin inside a person’s body. It’s an odd collection of experiments all done under the rubric of “Enhanced Human Performance Investigation.”

Alex Gibney scrupulously avoids the many CIA / Skull & Bones connections to Theranos, even though they’re all over that movie (including in his own family) but the military connections of the Theranos board are unavoidable. Hence the focus on Holmes’ uncanny voice and bad hair. Bill Perry was a common thread between Theranos and 1970s woo-woo tech via his time at ESL — spy satellites and imaging systems masquerading as psychic powers. So maybe there’s a common thread of research between SRI 1291 and something Theranos was building.

Honest question: what’s harder — landing on the Moon, or faking the Moon landing and getting everyone involved to keep the secret for 50 years?
What’s the easier scam? Tricking a dozen senior military / intelligence commanders into paying you a billion dollars for bullshit, or getting a dozen senior military / intelligence commanders together to realize a billion dollar plan while pretending to be bullshitting? We’re really supposed to believe Elizabeth Holmes conned the Joint Chiefs and they just shrugged and moved on because they were embarrassed by it?

Enron (where Holmes’ dad was a VP) wasn’t a ponzi scheme, and it wasn’t a failure. Enron was a vehicle that leveraged law, financial speculation and energy infrastructure to turn working-class equity, in the form of pensions and infrastructure, into speculative liquidity. It fully succeeded in its mission. Enron didn’t “lose” $65 billion dollars in its bankruptcy. That wealth wasn’t destroyed. It was stolen, from workers in California and India and elsewhere, and laundered via the trading floor to members of the ruling class who were in on the scheme.

One controlled demolition after another and we’re asking over and over why does our stuff keep getting blown up.

Was Theranos really a failure? Who actually lost money? What was destroyed? They weren’t really a Ponzi scheme like the one Bernie Madoff ran. They weren’t out to fleece thousands of small investors out of their savings, or raid the pension funds of public teachers unions. Most health VC’s who had doctors on the board passed on investing in Theranos, as did most tech VC’s. Much of the money came from personal contributions from prominent, wealthy Republicans.

To my knowledge, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has been relatively quiet about the company that stole $100 million dollars from Murdoch. So did they actually get something in return for this money? Or was this money actually given as a donation, knowing it was for a “good cause?” Think about the cultural-front foundations that were bankrolled by patriotic capitalists like Junkie Fleischmann back in the 1950s.

Imagine what kind of hell the Waltons would raise if Wal Mart employees demanded concessions that would have lowered their personal income by 150 million dollars. Now why aren’t they raising that same hell to get their money back from Theranos?

Betsy Devos put in 100 million dollars. The Waltons put in 150 million dollars. Rupert Murdoch put in 125 million dollars. These are personal contributions, not money budgeted from corporate revenue. That Betsy Devos isn’t sending her brother’s mercenaries to get her 100 million dollars back is maybe a tell that she actually feels that was money well spent?

This bankruptcy wasn’t a natural disaster, like a hurricane hitting a city and damaging infrastructure, destroying homes, putting people out of work to the point that it would take 9 billion dollars to rebuild. When people hear “Theranos Lost 9 Billion Dollars” they think of it like the company destroyed 9 billion dollars in capital. But how much capital was really lost? It’s not like Theranos built a bunch of high-rise buildings worth 9 billion dollars and then burned them down. All of the workers got paid, and they worked consistently for years, mostly in isolation from each other, mostly doing work that they considered legitimate science.

What startup spends a decade in stealth mode? Theranos wasn’t a new company. They were founded in 2005, around the same time as Facebook, and before Twitter. They lasted for 12 years before they collapsed, and never developed a product beyond the prototype stage. Google turned 12 in 2011 and Facebook in 2016, both having transformed the world. Twitter isn’t even 12. These are brands that everyone knows and products that billions of people use. The Theranos investors (again who were mostly oligarchs connected to Bush / Cheney) were happy to just let their hundreds of millions of dollars sit and generate no returns for over a decade. At the 12 year point, a successful startup will have “exited” — either an IPO or an acquisition, so the investors can take their profits. If a startup flounders for a few years, the investors will pull the plug or force a “pivot” — move to a different business model. Meanwhile this company stumbled around trying to make a prototype, and getting no further than a plastic box with an iPad bolted to the front of it that showed an animated gif of the Theranos logo.

So, if nothing got destroyed, and the investors felt that they were not ripped off, how did the money get spent? Was 900 million dollars really wasted on a 12-year farce to hack an already-available commercial blood test machine? Did hundreds of qualified scientists really participate in such a farce for over a decade?

What’s easier — faking the moon landing and getting everyone to keep the secret, or just actually building a working moon rocket? What’s harder to get away with? Hiding a bioweapons lab in the middle of Palo Alto, or ripping off the guys who took down Allende, Saddam and the USSR?

What were the patents for? Do they add up to anything? Was something being built whose purpose was too secret to reveal, but whose footprint was so large or pervasive that it had to be built in the open, in the heart of Silicon Valley?Holmes and her cofounder Ramesh Balwani kept the operating units of the company separated and bullied employees who asked too many questions about what they were working on. They knew the Edison machine was a farce but many of the scientists were doing legitimate R&D work and filing patents.

A good disguise covers your intentions by letting you pass by unnoticed. A bad disguise covers your intentions by throwing observers off balance and making them second-guess themselves. Distractingly bad disguises are a tradecraft specialty. The harder you stare at it, the further it recedes from you, and soon enough your just looking into the blind spot at the center of your field of vision.

Appendix — A Refresher On Everyone Who Was Involved with Theranos and Somehow Connected to the US Military / Intelligence Apparatus.

Theranos Board included: Henry Kissinger, James Mattis, George Shultz (Secretary of State when the USSR was destroyed) Bill Perry, former spy satellite manufacturer (founder of Electronic Systems Labs) and Secretary of Defense under Clinton, when the USSR was plundered.

The “whistleblowing” source was Shultz’s grandson, who was on the team for the faked Edison machine.

Elizabeth Holmes great grandfather, the “entrepreneur” who inspired her was Julius “Junkie” Fleishchmann, (Fleischmann’s Yeast) a major funder of the CIA’s Congress of Cultural Freedom program. Her father was a VP at Enron who reported to Jeff Skilling. Gibney fails to mention this despite having directed the canonical Enron documentary, “The Smartest Guys In the Room.”

Elizabeth Holmes neighbor / childhood psychiatrist Richard Fuisz, was a CIA agent who helped privatize the Soviet Union . His son invented suboxone, which like think about Dark Alliance or the Opium Wars for a minute.

Gibney’s own family is related by marriage to George Plimpton, whose Paris Review was a major Congress For Cultural Freedom project. In other words, Holmes’ great grandfather paid for covert work that Gibney’s family did back in the 1950s.

What kind of project would require that these people specifically, get together, and lie about why they’re doing it? What binds all of these people together is the destruction and plunder of the Soviet Union.

What would be the next step after that?

As a post-post script, here’s a Twitter thread where I follow up on Theranos patents in light of how they would be applicable to a forever-lockdown / vaccine-passport society:



I only came here to pawn books and pull weeds. And I’m all out of books.

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M Mabeuf

I only came here to pawn books and pull weeds. And I’m all out of books.