This article has been updated.
The chairmen of two US select committees are calling for action over a whistleblower’s allegations that six Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysts were given a “significant monetary incentive” to change their stated viewpoint about the possible origin of Covid-19.
In a letter to the CIA director, William Burns, the chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, Brad Wenstrup, and the chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Mike Turner, state that a “multi-decade, senior-level, current Agency officer” has come forward to provide information to the committees about the CIA’s investigation into the origin of Covid-19.
Wenstrup and Turner write that, according to the whistleblower, the CIA assigned seven officers to a Covid Discovery Team that consisted of multi-disciplinary and experienced officers with significant scientific expertise.
“According to the whistleblower, at the end of its review, six of the seven members of the Team believed the intelligence and science were sufficient to make a low confidence assessment that Covid-19 originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, China,” Wenstrup and Turner write.
“The seventh member of the Team, who also happened to be the most senior, was the lone officer to believe Covid-19 originated through zoonosis.”
According to Wenstrup and Turner, the whistleblower “further contends that to come to the eventual public determination of uncertainty, the other six members were given a significant monetary incentive to change their position”.
The two congressmen say that the allegations, “from a seemingly credible source”, require the two committees to conduct further oversight of how the CIA handled its internal investigation into the origins of Covid-19.
They have requested that documents and other information about the iterations of the Covid Discovery Team be provided to them “as soon as possible, but no later than September 26, 2023”.
They say this information should include “all documents and communications between or among members of all iterations of the Covid Discovery Team(s) and employees or contractors of other federal government agencies, including but not limited to the U.S. Department of State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (to include the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), and the U.S. Department of Energy regarding the origins of COVID-19” along with “all documents and communications regarding the pay history, to include the awarding of any type of financial or performance-based incentive/financial bonus to members of all iterations of the Covid Discovery Team(s)”.
Wenstrup and Turner said that, should the required information not be produced “in an expeditious and satisfactory manner”, Burns should expect the committee (or committees) to use its (or their) additional tools and authorities “to satisfy our legislative and oversight requirements”.
In a separate letter to former CIA chief operating officer Andrew Makridis, transmitted by email, Wenstrup and Turner state that Makridis played a central role in the formation of the CIA-led Covid Discovery Team(s) and in the “eventual conclusion that the CIA was ‘unable to determine’ the origins of Covid-19”.
Wenstrup and Turner have requested that, to assist the committees with their investigations, Makridis participate in a voluntary, transcribed interview on September 26, 2023.
The UK Daily Mail’s US political reporter Morgan Phillips quoted the CIA’s director of public affairs, Tammy Kupperman Thorp, as saying: “At CIA we are committed to the highest standards of analytic rigour, integrity, and objectivity. We do not pay analysts to reach specific conclusions. We take these allegations extremely seriously and are looking into them. We will keep our Congressional oversight committees appropriately informed.”
In June this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in the US belatedly released a 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 enactment of the new legislation came after a congressional hearing on March 8 about the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic and a report on February 26 in The Wall Street Journal stating the US Department of Energy had concluded, with “low confidence”, that SARS-CoV-2 had most likely leaked from a laboratory.
Also, on February 28, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Christopher Wray, said the Covid pandemic was probably the result of a lab leak in China.
The 2023 COVID-19 Origin Act 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 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 also states: “We continue to have no indication that the WIV’s pre-pandemic research holdings included SARS-CoV-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.”
There are references in the report to biosafety concerns at the WIV’s high-containment laboratories.
The report also 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.
The investigative research group 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.”
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 this year, in an article written by Michael Shellenberger, Matt Taibbi, and Alex Gutentag, who said their information came from unnamed sources within the US government.
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 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”.
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 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.
Brad Wenstrup, along with chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Cathy McMorris Rodgers; chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Morgan Griffith; chair of the Subcommittee on Health Brett Guthrie; and chair of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability James Comer have written to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Xavier Becerra, urging compliance with previous requests for information relating to the possible origin of Covid-19.
“If HHS does not meet the stated deadlines, the Chairs will be forced to consider the use of subpoenas to obtain the requested COVID-19 origins information,” the committee chairs said.
Wenstrup, McMorris Rodgers, Griffith; Guthrie, and Comer have requested the timely delivery of a host of documents and communications and have asked that ten people testify in voluntary, transcribed interviews. These include the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, Peter Daszak; the former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Francis Collins; former chief of staff at the National institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases (NIAID) Greg Folkers; former associate director for international affairs at the NIAID Gary Handley; and acting director of the NIH Lawrence Tabak.
“This letter consolidates our previous requests regarding the origins of COVID-19 and, as a further accommodation to the Department, tables some requests, adds significant topic specificity, scopes down the time frame of our previous requests, and prioritises requests most important to the Committees. Considering these significant accommodations, we expect full and timely compliance with each request,” the five wrote to Becerra.
“If the Department fails to meet any of the prescribed deadlines, the Committees will be forced to consider the use of the compulsory process.”
The information requested in the letter to Becerra includes all documents and communications “regarding, referring to, or relating to the February 1, 2020, teleconference or any subsequent telephone call, conference, or meeting regarding the origins of COVID-19”, and all documents and communications “regarding the drafting, publication, and critical reception of ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’ published in Nature Magazine on March 17, 2020”.
Wenstrup, McMorris Rodgers, Griffith, Guthrie, and Comer also want to see all coronavirus-based research proposals “that included any work to be conducted or supported by individuals or institutions in China or Southeast Asia submitted by applicants or reviewed by NIH or NIAID between January 1, 2018 and January 1, 2020, that NIH or NIAID declined, denied, or otherwise did not fund”.
They have also requested all documents and communications between and among NIH, NIAID, and/or HHS employees regarding the Wuhan Institute of Virology from January 1, 2014, to the present day.
The five committee chairs have also written to Daszak, Folkers, and Handley, who were informed that, if they declined to testify voluntarily, the Committees would then be “forced to consider the use of the compulsory process”.
The committee chairs say that the renewed request for Daszak’s testimony was “critical to the investigation into the potential use of American taxpayer funds to conduct dangerous gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.
On September 26 Brad Wenstrup wrote to the inspector general of the HHS, Christi A. Grimm, stating that information gathered by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic suggested that former director of the NIAID Anthony Fauci was escorted into CIA Headquarters – without a record of entry – “and participated in the analysis to ‘influence’ the CIA’s review”.
The members of the select subcommittee have requested documents and other information about Fauci’s movements and ask that this information be delivered to them “as soon as possible but no later than October 10, 2023”.
The committee members have also requested that Grimm make Special Agent Brett Rowland available for a voluntary transcribed interview at a date to be determined.
Wenstrup wrote that information regarding Fauci’s specific movements throughout the pandemic was “reasonable and hardly intrusive”, especially considering that he was no longer employed by the federal government and was no longer a protectee of the inspector general. The subcommittee was not requesting any information regarding Fauci’s current movements, he added.
The information requested includes “all documents and communications between or among employees or contractors of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and employees or contractors of the CIA regarding the admittance or entry of Dr. Anthony Fauci into any CIA owned, operated, or occupied building, including but not limited to the George Bush Center of Intelligence”.
Wenstrup said in a press release: “Dr. Fauci’s questionable presence at the CIA, coupled with recently uncovered evidence that he, Dr. Fauci, “prompted” the drafting of ‘Proximal Origin’ – the infamous paper that was used to attempt to “disprove” the lab leak theory – lends credence to heightened concerns about the promotion of a false Covid-19 origins narrative by multiple federal government agencies.”
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