Too good to check: Top Chinese defector gave feds info on Wuhan Institute of Virology and COVID's origins

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

This is an inch thin but way too sexy not to blog, especially on a slow news day.

The rumor, and all it is is a rumor, is that the top spycatcher in China’s Ministry of State Security flew the coop with his daughter back in February, departing from Hong Kong and arriving in the United States. If that’s true, notes the Daily Beast, he’d be the highest-ranking Chinese defector since the CCP came to power.

And he allegedly arrived bearing information about the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Chinese-language anti-communist media and Twitter are abuzz this week with rumors that a vice minister of State Security, Dong Jingwei defected in mid-February, flying from Hong Kong to the United States with his daughter, Dong Yang.

Dong Jingwei supposedly gave the U.S. information about the Wuhan Institute of Virology that changed the stance of the Biden Administration concerning the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic

Dong’s defection was raised by Chinese officials last March at the Sino-American summit in Alaska, according to Dr. Han Lianchao, a former Chinese foreign ministry official, before defecting after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. In a Wednesday tweet, Han, citing an unnamed source, alleged that China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and Communist Party foreign affairs boss Yang Jiechi demanded that the Americans return Dong, and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken refused.

As it happens, our cousins at Red State published a post two weeks ago flagging a report from Adam Housley claiming that “U.S. intelligence has a Chinese defector with Wuhan info.” Housley’s sources told him that China is trying to cover up a lab leak by producing variants of the virus whose genome will point towards a bat origin. Author Jennifer Van Laar added this in an update:

Sources tell RedState the defector has been with the DIA for three months and that he has provided an extensive, technically detailed debrief to US officials. In DIA’s assessment, the information provided by the defector is legitimate. Sources say the level of confidence in the defector’s information is what has led to a sudden crisis of confidence in Dr. Anthony Fauci, adding that U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) personnel detailed to DIA have corroborated very technical details of information provided by the defector.

The three-month timeline would line up with a defection in mid-February or early March.

There are obvious reasons for skepticism here, though, starting with the fact that a variety of experts told the Beast that rumors of major defections are nothing new. They swirl all the time. No less than a half dozen experts on Chinese intel told the publication they’d heard nothing about Dong Jingwei, whose months-long absence in China would have been noticed by observers by now, one would think. The fact that the rumors are mainly circulating among enemies of the communist regime also doesn’t lend confidence.

Beyond that, would a spy-catcher be in position to know what went on at the Wuhan Institute of Virology with SARS-CoV-2? How the Chinese government operates is inscrutable to some degree even to experts so maybe something like a lab leak would have fallen within his portfolio. His job was counterintelligence, after all; hiding what happened at the lab from western intel sources might have fallen to him, in which case, yeah, he’d be in a position to know. Alternately, he might be in a position to know simply by dint of his high-ranking position and closeness to Xi Jinping. As a member of the inner circle, certain secrets would be shared even if it wasn’t his responsibility to act on them.

But it’s also possible that he knows nothing or not much beyond what we already know. One expert told the Beast that a single top defection wouldn’t be a gamechanger with respect to our knowledge of China.

Something else. The Beast says that Dong’s information allegedly “changed the stance of the Biden Administration,” but has their stance actually changed? Biden ordered a review by U.S. intelligence of the lab-leak theory with findings to be presented by late summer, but that seemed to be a response to spiking public interest. Scientists and other experts who suspect that the virus leaked from the lab finally spoke up in May, shattering the conspiracy of silence around the theory that persisted during the final year of Trump’s term. It’s possible that Team Biden has inside info from a Chinese defector that’s made them newly credulous about a lab leak, but Occam’s Razor suggests that they’re merely responding to the shift in the scientific consensus and resulting public clamor.

And there’s no evidence of “a sudden crisis of confidence in Dr. Anthony Fauci” inside the administration. There’s a crisis of confidence in Fauci among the public since it emerged that his agency had indirectly funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but if there’s any evidence that the feds’ faith in him has been shaken by some secret information obtained from a defector I’ve missed it. Why would Dong have any damaging information on Fauci, anyway? The sort of thing that might plausibly ruin his reputation within the federal bureaucracy would be if some insider showed that Fauci suspected a lab leak all along and actively suppressed evidence of it. The only thing Dong could conceivably do to hurt him would be to show that the WIV was engaged in gain-of-function research and that Fauci knew about it. But how would he have known what Fauci knew?

As a little extra reading this afternoon, enjoy this NPR interview with Katherine Eban, the author of the bombshell Vanity Fair piece published last week that added new circumstantial evidence to the case for a lab leak. This detail from Eban’s reporting has gotten short shrift amid some of the other revelations in her story:

Now, when it comes to the question of the lab leak, there is another reason why these questions have not receded, and that is because China has not been transparent in allowing access to certain aspects of the Wuhan Institute of Virology Research. So as an example of that, this critical database that contains about 22,000 viral samples was taken offline several months before the official outbreak of the pandemic and has not been restored. That is the institute’s inventory of all the samples that they had in their files, essentially. It’s like the filing cabinet of virus sequences. So that is offline…

When Peter Daszak was later questioned, did the [WHO investigative] team ask, you know, to see this database? – he said, oh, no, we didn’t need to ask because we essentially know what’s in that database – no need. And Shi Zhengli, the main researcher, told us that due to hacking attempts, the database was taken offline, and that’s perfectly reasonable. You know, in light of 3.5 million deaths worldwide from COVID-19, you know, it’s a sort of strange attitude to take that this is all perfectly fine to be run on an honor system and there doesn’t need to be any independent corroboration of this.

A core problem with the lab-leak theory is that no one’s been able to show that the WIV had SARS-CoV-2 or a virus very similar to it in its viral database. The closest known relative is the bat virus that was discovered in a cave there in 2012, RaTG13, which is 96 percent similar — but that’s not all that similar from a genomic standpoint. I’ve read more than one virologist say that it would take decades of evolution to get from RaTG13 to SARS-CoV-2, a process scientists just don’t have the knowledge or tools to accelerate. It can’t be that the coronavirus that causes COVID was derived from the 2012 virus.

But it could be that it was derived from some other virus at the WIV. We’d be able to tell if the database were accessible, but it was taken offline three months before the pandemic began according to Eban’s reporting. Why? Why would hackers be targeting it before COVID emerged? The timing seems like a strange coincidence. And why wouldn’t Peter Daszak, who funded the WIV with U.S. taxpayer money via his group EcoHealth Alliance, have been more insistent about reviewing the database? It’d be nice if the people looking for answers here, Daszak and Fauci etc, didn’t have obvious conflicts of interest steering them away from concluding that a lab leak was responsible.