The Wuhan lab leak theory reappraised
Bipartisan investigations are a rarity in Washington, D.C. The constituencies likely to be affected or to suffer collateral damage are usually enough to derail them from gaining momentum. Affix the term "disinformation" to the claim in need of investigation, and the chances of a genuine inquiry plummet from hardly ever to "forget about it." Such is the current trajectory of the need to explore the origin of COVID-19.
We now know that intelligence officials and top diplomats studied the issue in the spring of 2020 and concluded that the virus "most likely" came from a lab. In keeping with their history of suppressing any news that could be damaging to the regime, the Chinese have stridently opposed entertaining the question. We also know from public records that many of the world's top scientists, including those from our nation's own health agencies, went to extremes to prevent the question from being asked early on in the pandemic, with help from media and tech firms. These damning revelations took nearly two years to emerge, and the same forces that suppressed the information early on have responded by ignoring them.
Conflict-free academic analysis has similarly been a slow-moving process. Those knowledgeable enough about the science and willing to face the ire of officials who control the government funding levers have been few and far between. This is what makes a recent article by economist Jeffrey Sachs and professor of molecular pharmacology and therapeutics Dr. Neil Harrison an important development. The good news: "[T]here are troves of untapped evidence potentially available right here in the United States that have not yet been investigated." If true, this would overcome one of the biggest hurdles to date: the Chinese government's resistance to participating in any review.
There is already enough evidence to show that the lab leak is a credible theory. For example, Sachs's and Harrison's article points out a number of coincidences that seem too strange to explain away under the zoonosis theory. SARS-CoV-2 has a sequence of eight amino acids on its spike protein that are exactly identical to an amino acid sequence vital for human lung function. The closest bats in the wild that carry similar coronaviruses are at least 1,000 miles away from Wuhan, where the first outbreak of the pandemic occurred. Meanwhile, in 2014, Baric, EHA, and WIV received a grant from NIAID to enhance the infectiousness of bat-based coronaviruses. This needs to be investigated, and Baric, EHA, and NIAID need to be forced to testify.
This is not all the evidence that leans toward a lab leak as the source of COVID-19. There was also a report in the Wall Street Journal that found that three workers at the WIV were hospitalized for COVID-like symptoms in Nov. 2019, approximately one month before the first reported case in the region. Further, geospatial analysis shows that around this same time, a large number of people went to hospitals close to the WIV. And there is the fact that accidental infections in labs have caused several previous virus outbreaks in China and elsewhere, including a 2004 SARS outbreak in Beijing that infected nine people, killing one.
The additional evidence that Sachs and Harrison believe exists can be found in more than a half-dozen institutions in the United States, if only these institutions would make it public. The list is a collection of what were once the most trusted public health institutions in the country and a handful of their biggest university partners. Of course, records from EcoHealth Alliance, led by Peter Daszak, would also be essential to any thorough investigation.
Daszak was a leader in the Lancet letter that called the lab leak theory a conspiracy theory, despite the fact that he had a tremendous conflict of interest, having given a sub-grant of $600,000 to the WIV to work on coronavirus research. Indeed, Daszak's participation in both the World Health Organization and the Lancet's separate investigations into COVID's origins embody the type of conflicts of interest that have proven so hard for independent inquiries to escape thus far.
What is abundantly clear is that this issue deserves the attention of the media and policymakers of both parties. My organization, the Center to Advance Security in America, has filed several FOIA requests seeking information that would assist in putting this puzzle together. But fully accessing this trove of information inside our federal agencies will likely require a bipartisan act of Congress.
Adam Turner is the director of the Center to Advance Security in America.
Image: Ureem 2805.