The Claim and Our Verdict
- The claim: A Facebook post claims that the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) released a report last year predicting an outbreak of monkeypox would occur on May 15, 2022.
- The NTI report is about the results of a tabletop exercise using monkeypox as an example conducted in 2021. The exercise simulated a scenario where monkeypox virus was released in a terrorist attack on May 15, 2022, followed by an outbreak in a fictional country called ‘Brinia’ and spread around the world within 18 months. It did not predict that the monkeypox outbreak would occur in May 2022.
- In a statement earlier, NTI said, “The fact that several countries are currently experiencing an outbreak of monkeypox is purely a coincidence.”
- NTI conducted similar tabletop exercises in 2019 and 2020 using pneumonic plague and influenza virus as examples.
- Our verdict: The report published by the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative did not predict monkeypox outbreak. It is a tabletop exercise conducted in 2021.
A Facebook post published May 21, 2022 claims that the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) released a report last year predicting an outbreak of monkeypox would occur on May 15, 2022. The traditional Chinese-language post translates as: “The NTI agency of the United States ‘accurately predicted’ in March last year that the monkeypox epidemic would occur on May 15 this year.” The post also shared an image. The traditional Chinese-language text superimposed on the image translates as: “The U.S. NTI predicted in March 2021 that monkeypox would spread widely on May 15 this year. The report predicted that 3.2 billion people would be infected worldwide by Dec. 1, 2023, and the death toll could reach more than 270 million.” The post attached a link to the purported report.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since May 13, 2022, 12 member states that are not endemic for monkeypox virus have reported cases of monkeypox to WHO, and relevant epidemiological investigations are ongoing.
According to the information provided by Centre for Health Protection of Hong Kong, monkeypox is a zoonotic disease caused by monkeypox virus. The virus was first discovered in laboratory monkeys in 1958, and hence the disease was named “monkeypox.” The world’s first human case of monkeypox infection was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, monkeypox outbreaks have mostly occurred in Central and West Africa.
According to the NTI’s official website, the organization is a non-profit and non-partisan global security organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., dedicated to reducing nuclear energy and biological threats imperiling humanity.
As of the publication of this report, the Facebook post had been deleted. As of the time when the post was archived, it had been shared 88 times, and had received 22 comments and 107 likes or reactions. Similar posts have also been found circulating on social media.
An article was published Nov. 23, 2021 by NTI, titled “Strengthening Global Systems to Prevent and Respond to High-Consequence Biological Threats.” A report was attached to the article, namely, “Strengthening Global Systems to Prevent and Respond to High-Consequence Biological Threats: Results from the 2021 Tabletop Exercise Conducted in Partnership with the Munich Security Conference” (henceforth, the NTI report). This NTI report is identical to the one attached to the Facebook post. The image in the Facebook post is a capture of page 10 of the NTI report.
The NTI report stated on page six, “In March 2021, the Nuclear Threat Initiative partnered with the Munich Security Conference to conduct a tabletop exercise on reducing high-consequence biological threats. Conducted virtually, the exercise examined gaps in national and international biosecurity and pandemic preparedness architectures and explored opportunities to improve capabilities to prevent and respond to high-consequence biological events … The exercise scenario portrayed a deadly, global pandemic involving an unusual strain of monkeypox virus that emerged in the fictional nation of Brinia and spread globally over 18 months. Ultimately, the exercise scenario revealed that the initial outbreak was caused by a terrorist attack using a pathogen engineered in a laboratory.” In the schedule of the exercise, May 15, 2022 was the date of the terrorist attack. Therefore, the claim that “the ‘accurate prediction’ of the monkeypox epidemic that would occur on May 15 this year” is actually the date of virus outbreak in the exercise. According to the NTI report, the tabletop exercise was based on a virtual scenario of “monkeypox outbreak” as an example to discuss the world’s ability to respond to crisis events. It was not a prediction that the monkeypox outbreak would occur in May this year.
The purpose of a tabletop exercise is to use virtual situations and policy strategies to deduce follow-up development of an event in advance, so as to enhance the ability to deal with the event. A tabletop exercise is commonly used in military and commercial fields.
On May 24, 2022, NTI published a statement on its website, titled “NTI Statement and FAQ Regarding NTI-Munich Security Conference 2021 Tabletop Exercise on Reducing High-Consequence Biological Threats.” The statement said, “Following the recent detection of monkeypox cases across multiple countries, NTI’s report on the exercise has appeared in a number of social media outlets, noting that the associated fictional scenario featured a monkeypox outbreak with a start date that roughly coincides with the current, ongoing outbreak. Some social media activity has included disinformation about our exercise, and we would like to set the record straight.”
NTI also clarified, “The fact that several countries are currently experiencing an outbreak of monkeypox is purely a coincidence…The risks posed by monkeypox have been well documented for years by multiple public health authorities; the information in our fictional scenario is not new. For example, according to the World Health Organization, Nigeria has been experiencing a monkeypox outbreak since 2017 with 218 cases. In 2021, monkeypox cases were also identified in the United Kingdom and the United States.”
Therefore, the claim comes from results of a tabletop exercise using monkeypox as an example. The exercise was conducted in 2021 by the Washington-based organization Nuclear Threat Initiative. It is not a prediction of the monkeypox outbreak in May this year.
The report published by the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative did not predict monkeypox outbreak. The report is a tabletop exercise conducted in 2021.
- Facebook, post, May 21, 2022.
- World Health Organization, “Multi-country monkeypox outbreak in non-endemic countries,” May 21, 2022.
- Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection, “Monkeypox.”
- Nuclear Threat Initiative, official website
- Facebook, post, May 22, 2022.
- Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Strengthening Global Systems to Prevent and Respond to High-Consequence Biological Threats,” Nov. 23, 2021.
- Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Strengthening Global Systems to Prevent and Respond to High-Consequence Biological Threats: Results from the 2021 Tabletop Exercise Conducted in Partnership with the Munich Security Conference,” November 2021.
- Nuclear Threat Initiative, “NTI Statement and FAQ Regarding NTI-Munich Security Conference 2021 Tabletop Exercise on Reducing High-Consequence Biological Threats,” May 24, 2022.
- Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Tabletop Exercise for Senior Global Leaders on International Response to Deliberate Biological Events,” Feb. 14, 2019.
- Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Preventing Global Catastrophic Biological Risks,” Feb. 14-16, 2020.