State Dept. officials investigating gain-of-function research thought pushback 'smelled like a cover-up'

Both Ed and Allahpundit have written this morning about elements of the new Vanity Fair piece on the lab leak theory but there’s even more in the piece that deserves attention. Ed’s piece touched on the pushback within our own government to investigating the lab leak theory but I was particularly struck by this one vignette which took place last December as State Department officials were gathering to discuss the upcoming WHO-sponsored visit to Wuhan.

The conversation in the room eventually came around to what the Department should say in public about the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The question was particularly sensitive because there was classified intelligence showing that “WIV researchers conducting gain-of-function experiments on coronavirus samples had fallen ill in the autumn of 2019.” And that’s when attendees were told not to touch on the gain-of-function research angle by the person who’d help end a moratorium on such research in 2017:

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.

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.”

Notice that VF has four sources for this, so there’s really no doubt that it happened. Later in the story we learn that the State Dept. investigators were being opposed by Park’s boss Christopher Ford who felt the State Dept. team was trying to reach a pre-determined outcome about the lab leak to suit the Trump administration. The suspicions on both sides of this divide eventually resulted in dueling memos with Ford arguing there was a “lack of data” to support the lab leak. Thomas DiNanno’s five-page response memo claimed Ford’s summary of the discussion had been “inaccurate and misleading.”

Eventually, the WHO team made the trip to Wuhan and spent one afternoon at the Wuhan Institute of Virology:

On January 14, 2021, Daszak and 12 other international experts arrived in Wuhan to join 17 Chinese experts and an entourage of government minders. They spent two weeks of the monthlong mission quarantined in their hotel rooms. The remaining two-week inquiry was more propaganda than probe, complete with a visit to an exhibit extolling President Xi’s leadership. The team saw almost no raw data, only the Chinese government analysis of it.

They paid one visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where they met with Shi Zhengli, as recounted in an annex to the mission report. One obvious demand would have been access to the WIV’s database of some 22,000 virus samples and sequences, which had been taken offline. At an event convened by a London organization on March 10, Daszak was asked whether the group had made such a request. He said there was no need: Shi Zhengli had stated that the WIV took down the database due to hacking attempts during the pandemic. “Absolutely reasonable,” Daszak said. “And we did not ask to see the data…. As you know, a lot of this work has been conducted with EcoHealth Alliance…. We do basically know what’s in those databases. There is no evidence of viruses closer to SARS-CoV-2 than RaTG13 in those databases, simple as that.”

In fact, the database had been taken offline on September 12, 2019, three months before the official start of the pandemic, a detail uncovered by Gilles Demaneuf and two of his DRASTIC colleagues.

Dr. Shi was clearly lying about when and why the database was taken down. You can start to piece together an interesting timeline based on all of this information.

  • In the summer of 2019, researchers at the WIV were creating mice with humanized lungs for experiments with undisclosed coronaviruses.
  • In September 2019 the online database of viruses kept at the WIV was taken down (which Dr. Shi would later lie about).
  • In November 2019 several researchers at the WIV became sick with a respiratory illness.
  • In December 2019 the first cases of COVID-19 are identified.

It’s all circumstantial evidence but it’s hard to look at this sequence of events and not conclude that a lot more questions need to be asked and answered about what was going on at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.