The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

North Korea says U.S. created the Ebola outbreak

A North Korean flag flutters in the propaganda village of Gijungdong as seen from a South Korean military check point of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas on November 12, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JEJUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Despite the 8,000 or so miles that separate the country from its West African epicenter, North Korea had one of the most dramatic reactions to this year's Ebola outbreak. Borders were closed to tourists, and any arrivals to the country were forced into a 21-day mandatory quarantine; the few North Korean citizens who were allowed to leave had that privilege rescinded.

Now, North Korea may have revealed the logic behind the panic: Top Pyongyang officials appear to believe that this Ebola outbreak began as a biological weapon created by the United States.

In an article published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) last week, Hong Sun Gwang, vice president of North Korea's State Sanitary Inspection Board, asserted that the United States -- "kingpin of human rights abusers in the world" -- was behind the spread of Ebola. The article said that "an aide to ex-U.S. President Reagan" had "disclosed in an article that the United States developed a progenitor of Ebola virus at bio-weapon institutes built in West African countries for the purpose of launching a biological warfare."

While only his last name is included in the KCNA story, that former aide appears to be Paul Craig Roberts, an economist now better known for his sometimes controversial views. In October, Roberts published a blog post titled "Is The US Government The Master Criminal Of Our Time?" which, rather than drawing from his time working in government, cited writings published online about Ebola by two academics working in America: Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois and Cyril Broderick, who teaches at Delaware State University.

Boyle, a law professor, has said that he believes the latest strain of Ebola is man-made and must have escaped from a U.S.-run laboratory in Sierra Leone and that it is now part of a coverup. “I think the people at the top know," Boyle told the Daily Telegraph. "Probably Obama too.”

Broderick, who was born in Liberia, published an article in a major Liberian newspaper that suggested a similar scenario while drawing on a number of conspiracy theory Web sites as sources.

While such theories have gained some traction online, they remain fringe, and Broderick's employer has distanced itself from them. “Dr. Broderick’s comments have nothing to do with any research that is taking place at Delaware State University,” Carlos Holmes, a spokesman for the school, told The Post. “I’m not sure Dr. Broderick is doing research in this area. He’s a plant scientist, and there’s no research like that relating with pathogens and viruses taking place in Delaware State University.”

North Korean officials may sincerely believe these theories, but there is also another element at play here. Since early 2014, Pyongyang has been fighting back against a United Nations report on North Korean human rights abuses, which concluded that the country's abuses were “without any parallel in the contemporary world.”

In return, North Korea has repeatedly underscored problems in America's domestic and foreign policy in a bid to deflect the criticism: KCNA's article last week cited not only Ebola but also the police shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

"The facts clearly show that the U.S. is the worst tundra of human rights to be condemned by the world people," KCNA concluded. It argued that the United States should face a human rights tribunal.