Biden administration: Previous administration's 'fact sheet' about Wuhan lab is factual

Monday, Josh Rogin wrote a piece for Politico about the ongoing questions about the Wuhan laboratory that some have suggested is possible point of origin for COVID-19. Some unnamed officials have told Rogin that the lab was doing “gain-of-function” research with coronaviruses “on a much larger scale than was publicly disclosed.” Some officials even believe China’s work with mice that have genetically altered lung tissue which makes it more similar to humans, were part of the experiments being carried out before the outbreak.

Today, Rogin has another piece at the Washington Post about what the Biden administration has and hasn’t confirmed from a “fact sheet” on the topic issued by the outgoing Trump administration. If you’ve forgotten, here’s a bit of what that document said:

The virus could have emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, spreading in a pattern consistent with a natural epidemic. Alternatively, a laboratory accident could resemble a natural outbreak if the initial exposure included only a few individuals and was compounded by asymptomatic infection…

  • The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses. This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was “zero infection” among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses…
  • The WIV has a published record of conducting “gain-of-function” research to engineer chimeric viruses. But the WIV has not been transparent or consistent about its record of studying viruses most similar to the COVID-19 virus, including “RaTG13,” which it sampled from a cave in Yunnan Province in 2013 after several miners died of SARS-like illness…
  • Despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military. The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.

Rogin reports the Biden administration has now looked over that fact sheet and says it doesn’t have any issue with the facts themselves, only in how they were connected to make a case for the lab leak theory.

After reviewing the Trump administration’s underlying evidence, none of which has been released publicly, the Biden State Department determined that some of the facts in the Jan. 15 statement are supported by either U.S. government information or public sources, a senior State Department official told me. But that doesn’t mean the Biden team is endorsing Trump’s or Pottinger’s assertion that the lab was probably involved.

“There wasn’t significant or meaningful disagreement regarding the information presented in the fact sheet,” the senior State Department official said. “No one is disputing the information, the fact that these data points exist, the fact that they are accurate. Where there was some discomfort was that [the Trump administration] put spin on the ball.”…

“From the start, the fact sheet was a State Department messaging document, rather than some sort of complete accounting or intelligence-driven analytic product,” the official said. “There was certainly not consensus [inside the U.S. government] on the still unproven theory that this emerged from the lab.”

Very interesting. As you can see from the excerpt above, the fact sheet never said there was consensus about a lab leak. It said “a laboratory accident could resemble a natural outbreak” and then pointed to some reasons the lab leak might be a credible alternative. The fact that people at the lab were ill and that the lab’s leading researcher denied it seems pretty significant but I agree it’s not enough.

But as the Washington Post editorial board said over the weekend, it’s time to give this theory a serious look. And a serious look is not what we’re getting from the WHO team that just visited China. Some of those scientists had made up their minds before they arrived and their guided tour of Wuhan and the evidence gave us nothing but what China wanted us to see.

Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean a lab leak is what happened. It may not have. But the coincidence of the outbreak happening where this lab was doing gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses is too much to ignore. Ruling this out is going to require, at a minimum, some firm information to support the natural transmission theory and at this point we really don’t have that. All we know is that the virus didn’t first spread to humans in the wet market and that none of the animals tested at the market last January had the virus. And of course we also know China has been dragging its feet on this investigation for a year and trying to blame the outbreak on other countries including the U.S. You really can’t help but wonder why they seem so desperate to point fingers elsewhere.