The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in the US has belatedly released a ten-page document, entitled ‘Potential Links Between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Origin of the COVID-19 Pandemic’, that isn’t compliant with the requirements of the 2023 COVID-19 Origin Act.
The Act, which was signed into law by the US president Joe Biden on March 20 this year, requires the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, to declassify information relating to the origin of Covid-19.
The legislation specifically refers to the declassification of all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and the origin of Covid-19, activities performed by the WIV “with or on behalf of the People’s Liberation Army”, coronavirus research or other related activities performed at the WIV prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, and all information about the researchers at the WIV who fell ill in autumn 2019.
Under the Act, the required information should have been provided within 90 days of the legislation’s enactment. There should only be “such redactions as the Director determines necessary to protect sources and methods”, the legislation states.
The US Senate voted unanimously to pass the bill on March 1 and, on March 10, the House of Representatives approved the bill with 419 votes in favour. Sixteen representatives didn’t vote.
The document released by the ODNI on June 23, five days after the June 18 deadline, is just ten pages long. The first page is the cover sheet, the second page is the table of contents, the third page is the ‘Executive Summary’ and the last three pages are definitions.
The ODNI states in the document: “This report does not address the merits of the two most likely pandemic origins hypotheses, nor does it explore other biological facilities in Wuhan other than the WIV.”
It adds: “All agencies continue to assess that both a natural and laboratory-associated origin remain plausible hypotheses to explain the first human infection.”
The ODNI says there is a classified annex to the report that includes information “that was necessary to exclude from the unclassified portion of this report in order to protect sources and methods”.
It says the information contained in the annex “is consistent with the unclassified assessments contained in this report”.
The ODNI states in its report: “We continue to have no indication that the WIV’s pre-pandemic research holdings included SARSCoV-2 or a close progenitor, nor any direct evidence that a specific research-related incident occurred involving WIV personnel before the pandemic that could have caused the COVID pandemic.”
Richard H. Ebright, a microbiologist working at Rutgers University, who is a member of the leadership team at the NGO Biosafety Now, tweeted this about the ODNI report: “Five days late and a dollar short. Not, even remotely, responsive to or compliant with the law.”
The executive director of the investigative research group U.S. Right to Know, Gary Ruskin, tweeted that the ODNI had not produced what was legally required. “Congress should instruct ODNI to obey the law, or if necessary, compel it to do so,” Ruskin said.
Emily Kopp and Karolina Corin from U.S. Right to Know wrote: “The brief does not appear to include new intelligence, but rather select details about intelligence that the U.S. government has had for more than two years.
“The brief appears to fall short of the law which called for the intelligence community to ‘declassify and make available to the public as much information as possible about the origin of COVID-19’.”
Kopp and Corin detail what is absent from the ODNI report. They point, for example, to the report’s failure to mention the “enormous database of SARS-related viruses hosted by the Wuhan Institute of Virology that became hard to access in September 2019 and was ultimately taken offline”.
Another omission, Kopp and Corin note, is the leaked grant proposal submitted by the EcoHealth Alliance to the Pentagon “that shows that they planned to perform exactly the kinds of gain-of-function experiments that could lead to the synthesis of SARS-CoV-2”. (See the Changing Times article of September 22, 2021.)
Kopp and Corin also say that any mention of the American connections to some of the WIV’s coronavirus work at the centre of speculation about the lab origin hypothesis is “conspicuously absent” from the ODNI report.
They also note that “a lot of information relevant to the intelligence community’s assessment appears to be missing”.
The ODNI report states the following:
The report does mention the analysis at the WIV of samples taken from pangolins and talks about biosafety concerns at the WIV’s high-containment laboratories.
The report states that, since 2019, “some WIV researchers analysed pangolin samples to better understand disease outbreaks in these animals”.
It adds the following:
There has been much reporting on, and discussion about, claims that three researchers at the WIV who were conducting coronavirus research – Ben Hu, Yu Ping, and Yan Zhu – were among the first people to be infected with SARS-CoV-2.
The first report giving the researchers’ names was published in Public on June 13, in an article written by Michael Shellenberger, Matt Taibbi, and Alex Gutentag, who said their information came from unnamed sources within the US government.
Shellenberger said today (June 24) that, by not revealing the names of the WIV scientists who fell ill in November 2019, President Biden was in violation of the law he signed.
“And multiple sources within the US government told both Public and The Wall Street Journal that the names of the researchers who fell ill were Ben Hu, Yu Ping, and Yan Zhu, and that they were the first three people to contract COVID-19,” Shellenberger tweeted.
Hu is quoted in a Science article, published on June 23, as stating in an email: “The recent news about so-called ‘patient zero’ in WIV are absolutely rumors and ridiculous.”
Jon Cohen quotes Hu as saying: “I did not get sick in autumn 2019, and did not have COVID-19-like symptoms at that time.
“My colleagues and I tested for SARS-CoV-2 antibody in early March 2020 and we were all negative.”
Cohen further writes that Yu Ping emailed Science stating the following: “In autumn 2019, I was neither sick nor had any symptoms related to COVID-19.”
The ODNI report states: “Several WIV researchers were ill in Fall 2019 with symptoms; some of their symptoms were consistent with but not diagnostic of COVID-19.”
It continues: “The IC [intelligence community] continues to assess that this information neither supports nor refutes either hypothesis of the pandemic’s origins because the researchers’ symptoms could have been caused by a number of diseases and some of the symptoms were not consistent with COVID-19.”
The report confirms that WIV personnel collaborated on “biosafety and biosecurity projects” with scientists associated with the Chinese military.
This contradicts statements made by senior researcher at the WIV Shi Zhengli.
Shi Zhengli said on March 23, 2021, that the US government was incorrect in stating that the WIV engages in classified projects with the Chinese military.
She made the comment in response to senior fellow at The Atlantic Council Jamie Metzl during a seminar hosted by Rutgers University.
Metzl asked Shi Zhengli whether she had knowledge of all of the research that was being done by everyone at the WIV and all of the viruses in the full repository there.
He asked her whether, to her knowledge, the US government’s claims that classified military research was being carried out at the WIV were correct, and if so, did she have full awareness of, and access to, all aspects of this research.
Shi Zhengli replied: “From my knowledge, all our research work is open, is transparent. At the beginning of Covid-19, we heard the rumours that claimed that in our laboratory we have some project … with the army … but this is not correct.”
Metzl told the Daily Caller News Foundation after the seminar that Shi Zhengli’s credibility would be destroyed if the US government could prove that the WIV was indeed collaborating with the Chinese military.
He said that since the Chinese government’s assertion that Covid-19 did not leak from the WIV rested almost entirely on Shi Zhengli’s credibility, the lab leak hypothesis would come to be seen as the most credible hypothesis if the US government produced receipts.
U.S. Right to Know has obtained a State Department cable that it says alleges evidence of connections between China’s biotechnology sector and the People’s Liberation Army, including “cyber evidence” of “PLA shadow labs at WIV”, the PLA’s involvement with the construction of the lab and subsequent presence there, and “WIV personnel with possible PLA ties”.
The ODNI report says: “We assess that some scientists at the WIV have genetically engineered coronaviruses using common laboratory practices.”
It adds that the intelligence community has no information indicating that any WIV genetic engineering work involved SARS-CoV-2, a close progenitor, or a backbone virus that was closely related enough to have been the source of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It says, however: “Scientists at the WIV have created chimeras, or combinations, of SARS-like coronaviruses through genetic engineering, attempted to clone other unrelated infectious viruses, and used reverse genetic cloning techniques on SARS like coronaviruses.”
The ODNI says that some of the WIV’s genetic engineering projects on coronaviruses “involved techniques that could make it difficult to detect intentional changes”.
It states: “A 2017 dissertation by a WIV student showed that reverse genetic cloning techniques – which are standard techniques used in advanced molecular laboratories – left no traces of genetic modification of SARS-like coronaviruses.”
Republican Senator Mike Braun, who put forward the 2023 COVID-19 Origin Bill with Senator Josh Hawley, tweeted that the new ODNI report was “totally insufficient”:
The COVID-19 Origin Act calls for a full declassification, not Cliffs Notes to cover for Dr. Fauci and protect China.
— Senator Mike Braun (@SenatorBraun) June 24, 2023
The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Mike Turner, and chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Brad Wenstrup issued a statement about the ODNI report. They said: “While we appreciate the report from ODNI, the corroboration of all available evidence along with further investigation into the origins of COVID-19 must continue.”
In an interview, Wenstrup described the ODNI document as a “very deficient report”.
Alina Chan, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and co-author of the book ‘VIRAL: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19′ tweeted: “It’s getting very difficult to believe that the government is not trying to hide what they know about #OriginOfCovid when you see a report like this that contains none of the requested info.”
On June 26, senators Braun and Hawley wrote to Avril Haines demanding that she provide “a new, complete report including any and all information pertaining to the origins of COVID-19, within seven days”.
Braun and Hawley described the report released by the ODNI on June 23 as a “half-baked effort” that, the senators say, “falls woefully short of the statutory requirements and undermines congressional intent”.
They invited Haines to try again. “Within seven business days, provide to Congress documentation that fully complies with the letter of the law to disclose ‘any and all information’ related to the origins of COVID-19 and a lab leak with minimal redactions,” they wrote.
“If you fail to do so, we would welcome your testimony before Congress on this matter so you may answer questions under oath. The American people deserve to know the truth about China’s role in the origins of COVID-19.”
The senators added: “On March 20, President Biden signed the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023, which we introduced in the Senate to help get to the truth about China and COVID-19. That law required the Director of National Intelligence to ‘declassify any and all information’ relating to links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of COVID-19. It also required that you ‘submit to Congress’ all of this information ‘not later than 90 days’ after the law’s enactment.
“You failed to comply with both requirements. The deadline was June 18, 2023. Well past the statutory deadline, your office published a declassified report after business hours on June 23. And the report itself was a paltry five pages of information, plus a cover page and appendix. Obviously, the U.S. government is in possession of more information than that.”
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