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FTR#1188 The Oswald Institute of Virology, Part 7: Covid-19 and The American Deep State

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FTR #1188 This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

Intro­duc­tion: This pro­gram con­tin­ues our series ana­lyz­ing the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy as hav­ing been set up to take the fall for the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, which–in our con­sid­ered opinion–is a covert oper­a­tion by the U.S. as part of the full-court press against Chi­na.

As the “Lab Leak Hypoth­e­sis” of the pan­demic’s ori­gins moves toward becom­ing a main­streamed pro­pa­gan­da theme,  we note that:

  1. Antho­ny Fau­ci him­self set forth the “lab leak” sce­nario in his 2012 endorse­ment of a mora­to­ri­um on gain-of-func­tion manip­u­la­tions, set­ting the intel­lec­tu­al stage for the “gam­ing” of just such a sce­nario. In FTR#1187, we not­ed that Fau­ci’s NIH NIAID was among the insti­tu­tions that presided over Eco­Health Alliance’s fund­ing of exper­i­men­ta­tion on bat-borne coro­n­avirus­es at the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy. ” . . . . In 2012, Dr. Antho­ny Fau­ci, who leads NIH’s Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases, came out in sup­port of a mora­to­ri­um on such research, pos­ing a hypo­thet­i­cal sce­nario involv­ing a poor­ly trained sci­en­tist in a poor­ly reg­u­lat­ed lab: ‘In an unlike­ly but con­ceiv­able turn of events, what if that sci­en­tist becomes infect­ed with the virus, which leads to an out­break and ulti­mate­ly trig­gers a pan­dem­ic?’ Fau­ci wrote. . . .”
  2. USAID’s PREDICT project trained many of the sci­en­tists at the WIV.  From the stand­point of covert oper­a­tions, this would afford the oppor­tu­ni­ty to place one or more oper­a­tives inside that appar­ent­ly tar­get­ed insti­tu­tion: [USAID is a State Depart­ment sub­sidiary that is one of the largest fun­ders of  the Eco­Health Alliance and a fre­quent cov­er for CIA activ­i­ty.] ” . . . . . . . . Many of the sci­en­tists at the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy have been trained by the U.S. government’s PREDICT project. . . .”
  3. The jour­nal­is­tic gen­er­a­tion of the lab-leak the­o­ry comes, in part, from Michael R. Gor­don, who has a his­to­ry of gen­er­at­ing dubi­ous jour­nal­ism to sup­port the plans of the nation­al secu­ri­ty estab­lish­ment. Gor­don: ” . . . . was the same man who, along with Judith Miller, wrote the Sep­tem­ber 8, 2002 arti­cle false­ly assert­ing that Iraqi Pres­i­dent Sad­dam Hus­sein was seek­ing to build a nuclear weapon. . . The claim was a lie, fun­neled to the Times by the office of US Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney. . . On May 26, 2004, the Times pub­lished a let­ter from its edi­tors enti­tled ‘FROM THE EDITORS; The Times and Iraq,’ ‘acknowl­edg­ing that the Times repeat­ed­ly ‘fell for mis­in­for­ma­tion.’ . . . The let­ter notes: ‘But we have found a num­ber of instances of cov­er­age that was not as rig­or­ous as it should have been... On Sept. 8, 2002, the lead arti­cle of the paper was head­lined ‘U.S. Says Hus­sein Inten­si­fied Quest for A‑Bomb Parts.’ That report con­cerned the alu­minum tubes that the admin­is­tra­tion adver­tised insis­tent­ly as com­po­nents for the man­u­fac­ture of nuclear weapons fuel. … it should have been pre­sent­ed more cau­tious­ly . . . .”
  4. Gor­don: ” . . . . On April 20, 2014 . . . co-authored an arti­cle enti­tled ‘Pho­tos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Rus­sia,’ which claimed to iden­ti­fy masked men oper­at­ing in east­ern Ukraine in oppo­si­tion to the US-backed coup regime as active-duty Russ­ian sol­diers. . . .Four days lat­er, the Times Pub­lic Edi­tor was again com­pelled to retract the claims in Gordon’s report­ing, call­ing them ‘dis­cred­it­ed.’ . . .”
  5. New York Times right-wing colum­nist Ross Douthat has high­light­ed the pro­pa­gan­da sig­nif­i­cance of pin­ning the “Lab Leak The­o­ry” on Chi­na: ” . . . . to the extent that the Unit­ed States is engaged in a con­flict of pro­pa­gan­da and soft pow­er with the regime in Bei­jing, there’s a pret­ty big dif­fer­ence between a world where the Chi­nese regime can say, We weren’t respon­si­ble for Covid but we crushed the virus and the West did not, because we’re strong and they’re deca­dent, and a world where this was basi­cal­ly their Cher­nobyl except their incom­pe­tence and cov­er-up sick­ened not just one of their own cities but also the entire globe. . . .”
  6. Pom­peo State Depart­ment offi­cials pur­su­ing the lab-leak hypoth­e­sis were told to cov­er it up lest it shed light on U.S. gov­ern­ment fund­ing of research at the “Oswald Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy!”: ” . . . . In one State Depart­ment meet­ing, offi­cials seek­ing to demand trans­paren­cy from the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment say they were explic­it­ly told by col­leagues not to explore the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virology’s gain-of-func­tion research, because it would bring unwel­come atten­tion to U.S. gov­ern­ment fund­ing of it. . . . .In an inter­nal memo obtained by Van­i­ty Fair, Thomas DiNan­no, for­mer act­ing assis­tant sec­re­tary of the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Con­trol, Ver­i­fi­ca­tion, and Com­pli­ance, wrote that. . .  staff from two bureaus . . . “warned” lead­ers with­in his bureau ‘not to pur­sue an inves­ti­ga­tion into the ori­gin of COVID-19’ because it would ‘open a can of worms’ if it con­tin­ued.’ . . . . As the group probed the lab-leak sce­nario, among oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties, its mem­bers were repeat­ed­ly advised not to open a ‘Pandora’s box,’ said four for­mer State Depart­ment offi­cials inter­viewed by Van­i­ty Fair. . . .”
  7. Set­ting the ortho­doxy in ear­ly 2020 with a Lancet arti­cle rul­ing out a lab­o­ra­to­ry ori­gin for the virus was Peter Daszak, with approval from Ralph Bar­ic: ” . . . . It soon emerged, based on emails obtained by a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion group called U.S. Right to Know, that Daszak had not only signed but orga­nized the influ­en­tial Lancet state­ment, with the inten­tion of con­ceal­ing his role and cre­at­ing the impres­sion of sci­en­tif­ic una­nim­i­ty. . . .”
  8. ” . . . . In late March, for­mer Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol direc­tor Robert Red­field received death threats from fel­low sci­en­tists after telling CNN that he believed COVID-19 had orig­i­nat­ed in a lab. . . . ”

1.  Antho­ny Fau­ci him­self set forth the “lab leak” sce­nario in his 2012 endorse­ment of a mora­to­ri­um on gain-of-func­tion manip­u­la­tions, set­ting the intel­lec­tu­al stage for the “gam­ing” of just such a sce­nario. In FTR#1187, we not­ed that Fau­ci’s NIH NIAID was among the insti­tu­tions that presided over Eco­Health Alliance’s fund­ing of exper­i­men­ta­tion on bat-borne coro­n­avirus­es at the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy.

“To the Bat Cave: In Search of Covid’s Ori­gins, Sci­en­tists Reignite Polar­iz­ing Debate on Wuhan ‘Lab        Leak’” by Arthur Allen; KHN; 05/19/2021

. . . . In 2012, Dr. Antho­ny Fau­ci, who leads NIH’s Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases, came out in sup­port of a mora­to­ri­um on such research, pos­ing a hypo­thet­i­cal sce­nario involv­ing a poor­ly trained sci­en­tist in a poor­ly reg­u­lat­ed lab: “In an unlike­ly but con­ceiv­able turn of events, what if that sci­en­tist becomes infect­ed with the virus, which leads to an out­break and ulti­mate­ly trig­gers a pan­dem­ic?” Fau­ci wrote.

In 2017, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment lift­ed its pause on such exper­i­ments but has since required some be approved by a fed­er­al board. . . .

2.  USAID’s PREDICT project trained many of the sci­en­tists at the WIV.  From the stand­point of covert oper­a­tions, this would afford the oppor­tu­ni­ty to place one or more oper­a­tives inside that appar­ent­ly tar­get­ed insti­tu­tion: [USAID is a State Depart­ment sub­sidiary that is one of the largest fun­ders of  the Eco­Health Alliance and a fre­quent cov­er for CIA activ­i­ty.]

 “Trump admin pulls NIH grant for coro­n­avirus research over ties to Wuhan lab at heart of con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries” by Conor Finnegan; ABC News; 05/01/2020

. . . . Many of the sci­en­tists at the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy have been trained by the U.S. government’s PREDICT project. . . .

3.New York Times right-wing colum­nist Ross Douthat has high­light­ed the pro­pa­gan­da sig­nif­i­cance of pin­ning the “Lab Leak The­o­ry” on Chi­na:

“Why The Lab-Leak The­o­ry Mat­ters” by Ross Douthat; The New York Times; 5/29/2021.

. . . . But if we could find out the truth, and it turned out that the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy real­ly was the epi­cen­ter of a once-in-a-cen­tu­ry pan­dem­ic, the rev­e­la­tion would itself be a major polit­i­cal and sci­en­tif­ic event.

First, to the extent that the Unit­ed States is engaged in a con­flict of pro­pa­gan­da and soft pow­er with the regime in Bei­jing, there’s a pret­ty big dif­fer­ence between a world where the Chi­nese regime can say, We weren’t respon­si­ble for Covid but we crushed the virus and the West did not, because we’re strong and they’re deca­dent, and a world where this was basi­cal­ly their Cher­nobyl except their incom­pe­tence and cov­er-up sick­ened not just one of their own cities but also the entire globe. . . .

4. A key jour­nal­is­tic flog­ger of the lab-leak the­o­ry has a track record:

  • The jour­nal­is­tic gen­er­a­tion of the lab-leak the­o­ry comes, in part, from Michael R. Gor­don, who has a his­to­ry of gen­er­at­ing dubi­ous jour­nal­ism to sup­port the plans of the nation­al secu­ri­ty estab­lish­ment. Gor­don: ” . . . . was the same man who, along with Judith Miller, wrote the Sep­tem­ber 8, 2002 arti­cle false­ly assert­ing that Iraqi Pres­i­dent Sad­dam Hus­sein was seek­ing to build a nuclear weapon. . . The claim was a lie, fun­neled to the Times by the office of US Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney. . . On May 26, 2004, the Times pub­lished a let­ter from its edi­tors enti­tled ‘FROM THE EDITORS; The Times and Iraq,’ ‘acknowl­edg­ing that the Times repeat­ed­ly ‘fell for mis­in­for­ma­tion.’ . . . The let­ter notes: ‘But we have found a num­ber of instances of cov­er­age that was not as rig­or­ous as it should have been... On Sept. 8, 2002, the lead arti­cle of the paper was head­lined ‘U.S. Says Hus­sein Inten­si­fied Quest for A‑Bomb Parts.’ That report con­cerned the alu­minum tubes that the admin­is­tra­tion adver­tised insis­tent­ly as com­po­nents for the man­u­fac­ture of nuclear weapons fuel. … it should have been pre­sent­ed more cau­tious­ly . . . .”
  • Gor­don: ” . . . . On April 20, 2014 . . . co-authored an arti­cle enti­tled ‘Pho­tos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Rus­sia,’ which claimed to iden­ti­fy masked men oper­at­ing in east­ern Ukraine in oppo­si­tion to the US-backed coup regime as active-duty Russ­ian sol­diers. . . .Four days lat­er, the Times Pub­lic Edi­tor was again com­pelled to retract the claims in Gordon’s report­ing, call­ing them ‘dis­cred­it­ed.’ . . .”

“Author of Wall Street Jour­nal ‘Wuhan Lab’ Sto­ry Wrote Lies about ‘Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion’” by Andre Damon; World Social­ist Web Site; 6/1/2021.

On May 23, the Wall Street Jour­nal pub­lished an arti­cle titled “Intel­li­gence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Lab Fuels Debate on Covid-19 Ori­gin.” Cit­ing unnamed “cur­rent and for­mer offi­cials,” it claimed that researchers at the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy “went to hos­pi­tal in Novem­ber 2019, short­ly before con­firmed out­break” of COVID-19.

Two days lat­er, on May 25, Health and Human Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Xavier Becer­ra, speak­ing at the Unit­ed Nations World Health Assem­bly, demand­ed a “trans­par­ent” inves­ti­ga­tion into the ori­gins of COVID-19.

The next day, on May 26, US Pres­i­dent Joe Biden called on the “Intel­li­gence Com­mu­ni­ty” to inves­ti­gate whether COVID-19 arose “from a lab­o­ra­to­ry acci­dent” and “report back to me in 90 days.”

Media reports by NBC, CNN, and the New York Times fol­lowed. All of them claimed that the Biden Administration’s actions were trig­gered by the “new evi­dence” pre­sent­ed in the Wall Street Jour­nal arti­cle. With­in 24 hours of pub­li­ca­tion of the Journal’s report, all of these pub­li­ca­tions declared that the Wuhan Lab con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry was “cred­i­ble.”

But the arti­cle pub­lished by the Wall Street Journal—beyond being total­ly unsub­stan­ti­at­ed and pre­sent­ing noth­ing fun­da­men­tal­ly new in terms of “intelligence”—is pre­sent­ed by a lead author who hap­pens to have helped fab­ri­cate the most lethal lie of the 21st cen­tu­ry.

The lead author of the Jour­nal piece, Michael R. Gor­don, was the same man who, along with Judith Miller, wrote the Sep­tem­ber 8, 2002 arti­cle false­ly assert­ing that Iraqi Pres­i­dent Sad­dam Hus­sein was seek­ing to build a nuclear weapon.

That arti­cle, enti­tled “U.S. says Hus­sein inten­si­fies quest for a‑bomb parts,” claimed that “In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thou­sands of spe­cial­ly designed alu­minum tubes, which Amer­i­can offi­cials believe were intend­ed as com­po­nents of cen­trifuges to enrich ura­ni­um.”

The claim was a lie, fun­neled to the Times by the office of US Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney.

On April 20, 2014, Gor­don co-authored an arti­cle enti­tled “Pho­tos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Rus­sia,” which claimed to iden­ti­fy masked men oper­at­ing in east­ern Ukraine in oppo­si­tion to the US-backed coup regime as active-duty Russ­ian sol­diers.

Gor­don wrote,

Now, pho­tographs and descrip­tions from east­ern Ukraine endorsed by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion on Sun­day sug­gest that many of the green men are indeed Russ­ian mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence forces — equipped in the same fash­ion as Russ­ian spe­cial oper­a­tions troops involved in annex­ing the Crimea region in Feb­ru­ary.

Four days lat­er, the Times Pub­lic edi­tor was again com­pelled to retract the claims in Gordon’s report­ing, call­ing them “dis­cred­it­ed.”

The Times led its print edi­tion Mon­day with an arti­cle based in part on pho­tographs that the State Depart­ment said were evi­dence of Russ­ian mil­i­tary pres­ence in pop­u­lar upris­ings in Ukraine. The head­line read: “Pho­tos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Rus­sia.”

More recent­ly, some of those grainy pho­tographs have been dis­cred­it­ed. The Times has pub­lished a sec­ond arti­cle back­ing off from the orig­i­nal and air­ing ques­tions about what the pho­tographs are said to depict, but hard­ly address­ing how the news­pa­per may have been mis­led.

It all feels rather famil­iar – the rushed pub­li­ca­tion of some­thing excit­ing, often based on an exec­u­tive branch leak. And then, after­ward, with a kind of “morn­ing after” feel­ing, here comes a more sober, less promi­nent­ly dis­played fol­low-up sto­ry, to deal with objec­tions while not clar­i­fy­ing much of any­thing …

And the reporter Robert Par­ry (for­mer­ly of Newsweek and The Asso­ci­at­ed Press) on Consortiumnews.com sees a pat­tern in Times arti­cles, often based on admin­is­tra­tion leaks, that “draw hard con­clu­sions from very murky evi­dence while ignor­ing or brush­ing aside alter­na­tive expla­na­tions.” . . . . 

5. Next, we begin analy­sis of a very impor­tant, albeit slant­ed Van­i­ty Fair arti­cle:

  1. Pom­peo State Depart­ment offi­cials pur­su­ing the lab-leak hypoth­e­sis were told to cov­er it up lest it shed light on U.S. gov­ern­ment fund­ing of research at the “Oswald Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy!”: ” . . . . In one State Depart­ment meet­ing, offi­cials seek­ing to demand trans­paren­cy from the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment say they were explic­it­ly told by col­leagues not to explore the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virology’s gain-of-func­tion research, because it would bring unwel­come atten­tion to U.S. gov­ern­ment fund­ing of it. . . . . In an inter­nal memo obtained by Van­i­ty Fair, Thomas DiNan­no, for­mer act­ing assis­tant sec­re­tary of the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Con­trol, Ver­i­fi­ca­tion, and Com­pli­ance, wrote that. . .  staff from two bureaus . . . “warned” lead­ers with­in his bureau ‘not to pur­sue an inves­ti­ga­tion into the ori­gin of COVID-19’ because it would ‘open a can of worms’ if it con­tin­ued.’ . . . . As the group probed the lab-leak sce­nario, among oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties, its mem­bers were repeat­ed­ly advised not to open a ‘Pandora’s box,’ said four for­mer State Depart­ment offi­cials inter­viewed by Van­i­ty Fair. . . .”
  2. Set­ting the ortho­doxy in ear­ly 2020 with a Lancet arti­cle rul­ing out a lab­o­ra­to­ry ori­gin for the virus was Peter Daszak, with approval from Ralph Bar­ic: ” . . . . It soon emerged, based on emails obtained by a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion group called U.S. Right to Know, that Daszak had not only signed but orga­nized the influ­en­tial Lancet state­ment, with the inten­tion of con­ceal­ing his role and cre­at­ing the impres­sion of sci­en­tif­ic una­nim­i­ty. . . .”
  3. ” . . . . In late March, for­mer Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol direc­tor Robert Red­field received death threats from fel­low sci­en­tists after telling CNN that he believed COVID-19 had orig­i­nat­ed in a lab. . . . ”

“The Lab-Leak The­o­ry: Inside the Fight to Uncov­er Covid-19’s Ori­gins” by Kather­ine Eban; Van­i­ty Fair; 6/3/2021.

. . . . At times, it seemed the only oth­er peo­ple enter­tain­ing the lab-leak the­o­ry were crack­pots or polit­i­cal hacks hop­ing to wield COVID-19 as a cud­gel against Chi­na. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­mer polit­i­cal advis­er Steve Ban­non, for instance, joined forces with an exiled Chi­nese bil­lion­aire named Guo Wen­gui to fuel claims that Chi­na had devel­oped the dis­ease as a bioweapon and pur­pose­ful­ly unleashed it on the world. As proof, they parad­ed a Hong Kong sci­en­tist around right-wing media out­lets until her man­i­fest lack of exper­tise doomed the cha­rade. . . .

. . . . On Feb­ru­ary 19, 2020, The Lancet, among the most respect­ed and influ­en­tial med­ical jour­nals in the world, pub­lished a state­ment that round­ly reject­ed the lab-leak hypoth­e­sis, effec­tive­ly cast­ing it as a xeno­pho­bic cousin to cli­mate change denial­ism and anti-vaxxism. Signed by 27 sci­en­tists, the state­ment expressed “sol­i­dar­i­ty with all sci­en­tists and health pro­fes­sion­als in Chi­na” and assert­ed: “We stand togeth­er to strong­ly con­demn con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries sug­gest­ing that COVID-19 does not have a nat­ur­al ori­gin.”

The Lancet state­ment effec­tive­ly end­ed the debate over COVID-19’s ori­gins before it began. To Gilles Dema­neuf, fol­low­ing along from the side­lines, it was as if it had been “nailed to the church doors,” estab­lish­ing the nat­ur­al ori­gin the­o­ry as ortho­doxy. “Every­one had to fol­low it. Every­one was intim­i­dat­ed. That set the tone.” . . . . 

. . . . It soon emerged, based on emails obtained by a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion group called U.S. Right to Know, that Daszak had not only signed but orga­nized the influ­en­tial Lancet state­ment, with the inten­tion of con­ceal­ing his role and cre­at­ing the impres­sion of sci­en­tif­ic una­nim­i­ty.

Under the sub­ject line, “No need for you to sign the “State­ment” Ralph!!,” he wrote to two sci­en­tists, includ­ing UNC’s Dr. Ralph Bar­ic, who had col­lab­o­rat­ed with Shi Zhengli on the gain-of-func­tion study that cre­at­ed a coro­n­avirus capa­ble of infect­ing human cells: “you, me and him should not sign this state­ment, so it has some dis­tance from us and there­fore doesn’t work in a coun­ter­pro­duc­tive way.” Daszak added, “We’ll then put it out in a way that doesn’t link it back to our col­lab­o­ra­tion so we max­i­mize an inde­pen­dent voice.”

Bar­ic agreed, writ­ing back, “Oth­er­wise it looks self-serv­ing and we lose impact.” . . . .

. . . . A months long Van­i­ty Fair inves­ti­ga­tion, inter­views with more than 40 peo­ple, and a review of hun­dreds of pages of U.S. gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments, includ­ing inter­nal mem­os, meet­ing min­utes, and email cor­re­spon­dence, found that con­flicts of inter­est, stem­ming in part from large gov­ern­ment grants sup­port­ing con­tro­ver­sial virol­o­gy research, ham­pered the U.S. inves­ti­ga­tion into COVID-19’s ori­gin at every step.In one State Depart­ment meet­ing, offi­cials seek­ing to demand trans­paren­cy from the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment say they were explic­it­ly told by col­leagues not to explore the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virology’s gain-of-func­tion research, because it would bring unwel­come atten­tion to U.S. gov­ern­ment fund­ing of it.

In an inter­nal memo obtained by Van­i­ty Fair, Thomas DiNan­no, for­mer act­ing assis­tant sec­re­tary of the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Con­trol, Ver­i­fi­ca­tion, and Com­pli­ance, wrote that staff from two bureaus, his own and the Bureau of Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, “warned” lead­ers with­in his bureau “not to pur­sue an inves­ti­ga­tion into the ori­gin of COVID-19” because it would “‘open a can of worms’ if it con­tin­ued.” . . . . 

. . . . But for most of the past year, the lab-leak sce­nario was treat­ed not sim­ply as unlike­ly or even inac­cu­rate but as moral­ly out-of-bounds. In late March, for­mer Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol direc­tor Robert Red­field received death threats from fel­low sci­en­tists after telling CNN that he believed COVID-19 had orig­i­nat­ed in a lab. . . . 

. . . . In the words of David Fei­th, for­mer deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of state in the East Asia bureau, “The sto­ry of why parts of the U.S. gov­ern­ment were not as curi­ous as many of us think they should have been is a huge­ly impor­tant one.” . . . .

. . . . By then, Matthew Pot­tinger had approved a COVID-19 ori­gins team, run by the NSC direc­torate that over­saw issues relat­ed to weapons of mass destruc­tion. A long­time Asia expert and for­mer jour­nal­ist, Pot­tinger pur­pose­ful­ly kept the team small, because there were so many peo­ple with­in the gov­ern­ment “whol­ly dis­count­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a lab leak, who were pre­dis­posed that it was impos­si­ble,” said Pot­tinger. In addi­tion, many lead­ing experts had either received or approved fund­ing for gain-of-func­tion research. Their “con­flict­ed” sta­tus, said Pot­tinger, “played a pro­found role in mud­dy­ing the waters and con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing the shot at hav­ing an impar­tial inquiry.”  . . . . 

. . . . Believ­ing they had uncov­ered impor­tant evi­dence in favor of the lab-leak hypoth­e­sis, the NSC inves­ti­ga­tors began reach­ing out to oth­er agen­cies. That’s when the ham­mer came down. “We were dis­missed,” said Antho­ny Rug­giero, the NSC’s senior direc­tor for coun­ter­pro­lif­er­a­tion and biode­fense. “The response was very neg­a­tive.” . . . .

. . . . By the sum­mer of 2020, Gilles Dema­neuf was spend­ing up to four hours a day research­ing the ori­gins of COVID-19, join­ing Zoom meet­ings before dawn with Euro­pean col­lab­o­ra­tors and not sleep­ing much. He began to receive anony­mous calls and notice strange activ­i­ty on his com­put­er, which he attrib­uted to Chi­nese gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance. “We are being mon­i­tored for sure,” he says. He moved his work to the encrypt­ed plat­forms Sig­nal and Pro­ton­Mail. . . .

. . . . As offi­cials at the meet­ing dis­cussed what they could share with the pub­lic, they were advised by Christo­pher Park, the direc­tor of the State Department’s Bio­log­i­cal Pol­i­cy Staff in the Bureau of Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, not to say any­thing that would point to the U.S. government’s own role in gain-of-func­tion research, accord­ing to doc­u­men­ta­tion of the meet­ing obtained by Van­i­ty Fair.

Only two oth­er labs in the world, in Galve­ston, Texas and Chapel Hill, North Car­oli­na, were doing sim­i­lar research. “It’s not a dozen cities,” Dr. Richard Ebright said. “It’s three places.” 

Some of the atten­dees were “absolute­ly floored,” said an offi­cial famil­iar with the pro­ceed­ings. That some­one in the U.S. gov­ern­ment could “make an argu­ment that is so naked­ly against trans­paren­cy, in light of the unfold­ing cat­a­stro­phe, was…shocking and dis­turb­ing.”

Park, who in 2017 had been involved in lift­ing a U.S. gov­ern­ment mora­to­ri­um on fund­ing for gain-of-func­tion research, was not the only offi­cial to warn the State Depart­ment inves­ti­ga­tors against dig­ging in sen­si­tive places. As the group probed the lab-leak sce­nario, among oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties, its mem­bers were repeat­ed­ly advised not to open a “Pandora’s box,” said four for­mer State Depart­ment offi­cials inter­viewed by Van­i­ty Fair. The admo­ni­tions “smelled like a cov­er-up,” said Thomas DiNan­no, “and I wasn’t going to be part of it.” . . . . 

. . . . In the first year of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, the mora­to­ri­um was lift­ed and replaced with a review sys­tem called the HHS P3CO Frame­work (for Poten­tial Pan­dem­ic Pathogen Care and Over­sight). It put the onus for ensur­ing the safe­ty of any such research on the fed­er­al depart­ment or agency fund­ing it. This left the review process shroud­ed in secre­cy. “The names of review­ers are not released, and the details of the exper­i­ments to be con­sid­ered are large­ly secret,” said the Har­vard epi­demi­ol­o­gist Dr. Marc Lip­sitch, whose advo­ca­cy against gain-of-func­tion research helped prompt the mora­to­ri­um. (An NIH spokesper­son told Van­i­ty Fair that “infor­ma­tion about indi­vid­ual unfund­ed appli­ca­tions is not pub­lic to pre­serve con­fi­den­tial­i­ty and pro­tect sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion, pre­lim­i­nary data, and intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty.”)

Inside the NIH, which fund­ed such research, the P3CO frame­work was large­ly met with shrugs and eye rolls, said a long­time agency offi­cial: “If you ban gain-of-func­tion research, you ban all of virol­o­gy.” He added, “Ever since the mora­to­ri­um, everyone’s gone wink-wink and just done gain-of-func­tion research any­way.” . . . .

. . . . By the sum­mer of 2020, the State Department’s COVID-19 ori­gins inves­ti­ga­tion had gone cold. Offi­cials in the Bureau of Arms Con­trol, Ver­i­fi­ca­tion, and Com­pli­ance went back to their nor­mal work: sur­veilling the world for bio­log­i­cal threats. “We weren’t look­ing for Wuhan,” said Thomas DiNan­no. That fall, the State Depart­ment team got a tip from a for­eign source: Key infor­ma­tion was like­ly sit­ting in the U.S. intel­li­gence community’s own files, unan­a­lyzed. In Novem­ber, that lead turned up clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion that was “absolute­ly arrest­ing and shock­ing,” said a for­mer State Depart­ment offi­cial. Three researchers at the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy, all con­nect­ed with gain-of-func­tion research on coro­n­avirus­es, had fall­en ill in Novem­ber 2019 and appeared to have vis­it­ed the hos­pi­tal with symp­toms sim­i­lar to COVID-19, three gov­ern­ment offi­cials told Van­i­ty Fair.

While it is not clear what had sick­ened them, “these were not the jan­i­tors,” said the for­mer State Depart­ment offi­cial. “They were active researchers. The dates were among the absolute most arrest­ing part of the pic­ture, because they are smack where they would be if this was the ori­gin.” The reac­tion inside the State Depart­ment was, “Holy shit,” one for­mer senior offi­cial recalled. “We should prob­a­bly tell our boss­es.” The inves­ti­ga­tion roared back to life.

An intel­li­gence ana­lyst work­ing with David Ash­er sift­ed through clas­si­fied chan­nels and turned up a report that out­lined why the lab-leak hypoth­e­sis was plau­si­ble. It had been writ­ten in May by researchers at the Lawrence Liv­er­more Nation­al Lab­o­ra­to­ry, which per­forms nation­al secu­ri­ty research for the Depart­ment of Ener­gy. But it appeared to have been buried with­in the clas­si­fied col­lec­tions sys­tem.

Now the offi­cials were begin­ning to sus­pect that some­one was actu­al­ly hid­ing mate­ri­als sup­port­ive of a lab-leak expla­na­tion. “Why did my con­trac­tor have to pore through doc­u­ments?” DiNan­no won­dered. Their sus­pi­cion inten­si­fied when Depart­ment of Ener­gy offi­cials over­see­ing the Lawrence Liv­er­more lab unsuc­cess­ful­ly tried to block the State Depart­ment inves­ti­ga­tors from talk­ing to the report’s authors.

Their frus­tra­tion crest­ed in Decem­ber, when they final­ly briefed Chris Ford, act­ing under­sec­re­tary for Arms Con­trol and Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty. He seemed so hos­tile to their probe that they viewed him as a blink­ered func­tionary bent on white­wash­ing China’s malfea­sance. But Ford, who had years of expe­ri­ence in nuclear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, had long been a Chi­na hawk. Ford told Van­i­ty Fair that he saw his job as pro­tect­ing the integri­ty of any inquiry into COVID-19’s ori­gins that fell under his purview. Going with “stuff that makes us look like the crack­pot brigade” would back­fire, he believed.

There was anoth­er rea­son for his hos­til­i­ty. He’d already heard about the inves­ti­ga­tion from inter­a­gency col­leagues, rather than from the team itself, and the secre­cy left him with a “spidey sense” that the process was a form of “creepy free­lanc­ing.” He won­dered: Had some­one launched an unac­count­able inves­ti­ga­tion with the goal of achiev­ing a desired result?

He was not the only one with con­cerns. As one senior gov­ern­ment offi­cial with knowl­edge of the State Department’s inves­ti­ga­tion said, “They were writ­ing this for cer­tain cus­tomers in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. We asked for the report­ing behind the state­ments that were made. It took for­ev­er. Then you’d read the report, it would have this ref­er­ence to a tweet and a date. It was not some­thing you could go back and find.”

After lis­ten­ing to the inves­ti­ga­tors’ find­ings, a tech­ni­cal expert in one of the State Department’s bioweapons offices “thought they were bonkers,” Ford recalled.

The State Depart­ment team, for its part, believed that Ford was the one try­ing to impose a pre­con­ceived con­clu­sion: that COVID-19 had a nat­ur­al ori­gin. A week lat­er, one of them attend­ed the meet­ing where Christo­pher Park, who worked under Ford, advised those present not to draw atten­tion to U.S. fund­ing of gain-of-func­tion research. . . .

. . . . The state­ment with­stood “aggres­sive sus­pi­cion,” as one for­mer State Depart­ment offi­cial said, and the Biden admin­is­tra­tion has not walked it back. “I was very pleased to see Pompeo’s state­ment come through,” said Chris Ford, who per­son­al­ly signed off on a draft of the fact sheet before leav­ing the State Depart­ment. “I was so relieved that they were using real report­ing that had been vet­ted and cleared.” . . . .

Inside the U.S. gov­ern­ment, mean­while, the lab-leak hypoth­e­sis had sur­vived the tran­si­tion from Trump to Biden. On April 15, Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence Avril Haines told the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee that two “plau­si­ble the­o­ries” were being weighed: a lab acci­dent or nat­ur­al emer­gence. . . .

. . . . Chi­na obvi­ous­ly bears respon­si­bil­i­ty for stonewalling inves­ti­ga­tors. Whether it did so out of sheer author­i­tar­i­an habit or because it had a lab leak to hide is, and may always be, unknown.

The Unit­ed States deserves a healthy share of blame as well. Thanks to their unprece­dent­ed track record of men­dac­i­ty and race-bait­ing, Trump and his allies had less than zero cred­i­bil­i­ty. And the prac­tice of fund­ing risky research via cutouts like Eco­Health Alliance enmeshed lead­ing virol­o­gists in con­flicts of inter­est at the exact moment their exper­tise was most des­per­ate­ly need­ed.

 

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