This article has been updated.
The president of the EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), Peter Daszak, yesterday (Tuesday) gave a voluntary, transcribed interview that was requested by five members of the US Congress who are investigating the origin of SARS-CoV-2. He testified for nine and a half hours.
The interview was requested by the chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, Brad Wenstrup; 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.
The five committee chairs, who are all from the Republican Party, said in a statement on September 14 this year that their 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”.
They requested that Daszak provide them with a host of documents and records of communications in advance of Tuesday’s interview.
The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic is bipartisan, but no members of Congress from the Democratic Party attended the interview.
Daszak has been under the spotlight since early on in the Covid-19 pandemic. There were serious concerns about his presence in the World Health Organisation team that went to Wuhan in January/February 2021.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US has given the EHA millions of dollars in funding to conduct research in collaboration with scientists at the WIV.
Daszak led the Lancet Covid-19 Commission’s task force that was set up to investigate the origins of SARS-CoV-2, but, in June 2021, it was announced that he was recused from commission work on the origins of the pandemic.
In his testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability on March 6 this year, the chairman of the Lancet Covid-19 Commission, Jeffrey Sachs, said that NIH leaders, including Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci, kept gain-of-function research hidden from the Congress and the public and repeatedly misled the Congress and the public about the subject.
Sachs added: “They did not properly disclose the NIH work that supported dangerous genetic manipulation of SARS-related coronaviruses.”
He made reference to the project entitled ‘DEFUSE’ (Defusing the Threat of Bat-Borne Coronaviruses) proposed by the EHA.
The EHA requested a grant to fund research that would have involved injecting deadly chimeric bat coronaviruses into humanised mice.
Sachs said: “The grant proposal was not funded by DARPA, but the research may have been, and quite possibly was, carried out using other resources.
“They did not disclose the DARPA proposal and its possible relevance to the origin of SARS-CoV-2. In fact, the public learned of the DARPA proposal only through a leak.”
In September 2021 an international group of ten scientists and health experts called on the board of the EHA to remove Daszak as the organisation’s president.
Cuts in funding for gain-of-function research
In what has been referred to as a “happy coincidence”, members of the US House of Representatives yesterday voted unanimously in favour of an amendment cutting all NIH funding for gain-of-function experiments with potential pandemic pathogens and one that prohibits NIH funding for two active grants to the EHA, including a grant that funded gain-of-function experiments at the WIV in China and one funding virus hunting and animal experiments in other countries.
The amendments are to the bill number H.R 5894, which makes appropriations for the departments of labour, health and human services, education, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2024.
The amendment put forward by Representative Paul Gosar prohibits funding for the NIH grant R01AI110964 ‘Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence’ and the Cooperative Agreement U01AI151797 ‘Understanding Risk of Zoonotic Virus Emergence in EID [emerging infectious diseases] Hotspots of Southeast Asia’.
The amendment prohibiting funds from being made available to conduct or support gain-of-function research was brought to the House by Representative Thomas Massie and Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
Massie said: “Statistically, there’s no way you’re going to predict what the next natural virus is going to be. What you will do, though, in the process of this research, is create a cookbook, a blueprint, for the next pandemic.”
He said that gain-of-function research created new health threats, “health threats that, through 10,000 years of evolution, may never come into existence, but, in ten days of research, could come into existence in a lab; threats that don’t exist in nature.”
Miller-Meeks said: “For decades, scientists have been warning that research with potential pandemic pathogens could cause an outbreak.
“From 2014 to 2017 we had paused funding for gain-of-function research after a series of lab accidents and due to fear of a lab-caused pandemic. However, Dr Fauci and others recommended that the prohibition be removed and, unfortunately, our worst fears came true.”
Miller-Meeks said that, among many others, the FBI, the US Department of Energy, and a majority of Americans now believed that the Covid-19 pandemic was caused by NIH-funded gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses that was being carried out in a laboratory in Wuhan.
She said that, during a Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic hearing, former commander of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the current head of the federal committee that oversees gain of function and biosecurity, Gerald Parker, testified to Congress that gain-of-function research with potential pandemic pathogens had not contributed significantly to biodefence and that its benefits had been exaggerated.
The House also voted unanimously in favour of an amendment put forward by Congressman August Pfluger that decreases the amount of money appropriated to the NIH’s Office of the Director by $3,748,715 “to redress the amount of federal funds the NIH awarded EcoHealth Alliance, Inc. to conduct gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.
In an answer to a question on X (formerly Twitter) the senior vice-president of advocacy and public policy at the White Coat Waste Project, Justin Goodman, posted: “It’s a happy coincidence 🙂 Been working with Congress on these for weeks, and months in some cases.”
Daszak had jubilantly publicised the EHA’s new US$2.28 million grant that was awarded by the NIAID earlier this year.
The reissuing of the grant for the project ‘Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence’ led to a storm of protest, not least from those who have been calling for an end to gain-of-function research and Daszak’s resignation as president of the EHA.
The ‘renewal grant’ accorded EcoHealth Alliance US$576,290 up to April 30, 2024, and $US568,370 for each of the three subsequent years up to April 30, 2027, so a total US$2,281,400.
The EHA’s previous grant for the same project, which began in 2014, was cancelled in April 2020 because of concerns about the collaborative laboratory research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology that was approved for funding under the grant.
In July 2020 the NIH, which is the NIAID’s umbrella organisation, withdrew its termination of the grant, but suspended all activities related to the funding pending the EHA taking certain actions to address NIH concerns.
The deputy director for extramural research at the NIH, Michael Lauer, wrote in a letter to the EHA: “We have concerns that WIV has not satisfied safety requirements under the award, and that EcoHealth Alliance has not satisfied its obligations to monitor the activities of its subrecipient to ensure compliance.”
Lauer also highlighted the fact that the EHA had not reported any subawards in the Federal Subaward Reporting System.
In August 2022 the NIH revised its decision, terminating only the WIV subcontract. Lauer wrote to the EHA stating that the NIH was terminating the subaward from the EHA to the WIV “due to material non-compliance with terms and conditions of award that cannot be remedied by specific award conditions”.
The NGO Biosafety Now posted the following on X today:
Please sign and share our petition to ban dangerous gain of function research!
Link – https://t.co/kSZlBHm8XK
— Biosafety Now! (@BiosafetyNow) November 15, 2023
More interviews scheduled
Other voluntary, transcribed interviews requested by Wenstrup, McMorris Rodgers, Griffith, Guthrie, and Comer are scheduled to take place later this month and in December. They include interviews with the former director of the NIH, Francis Collins; former chief of staff at the NIAID Greg Folkers; former associate director for international affairs at the NIAID Gary Handley; and acting director of the NIH Lawrence Tabak
The five committee chairs have requested transcribed interviews with ten people in total, including Daszak.
Congressmen call for action over alleged CIA ‘monetary incentive’
Wenstrup and the chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Mike Turner, have meanwhile called 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 sent to the CIA director, William Burns on September 12 this year, Wenstrup and 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 wrote 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 wrote.
“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 said that the allegations, “from a seemingly credible source”, required the two committees to conduct further oversight of how the CIA handled its internal investigation into the origins of Covid-19.
Daszak accused of withholding information and misleading public opinion
In September 2021 an international group of ten scientists and health experts called on the EHA board to remove Peter Daszak as the organisation’s president.
Daszak “concealed several extreme situations of conflict of interest, withheld critical information, and misled public opinion by expressing falsehoods”, the ten experts said.
They wrote in a letter sent to the chair of the EHA, Nancye Green, and vice-chair Carlota Vollhardt that the EHA’s role in the investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic had become increasingly controversial and was attracting much attention.
The letter was also sent to the director of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Xavier Becerra, to Francis Collins, and to the then director of the NIAID, Anthony Fauci, who has himself come under fire about the NIH’s funding of research conducted by the EHA.
The authors allege that Daszak failed to publicly disclose that the EHA had applied in March 2018 to receive a grant from the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that would have funded a project “creating novel chimeric viruses that are optimised to infect humans and that could unleash unknown and untold havoc”.
The DEFUSE project would have included experiments with MERS-CoV “which is far more deadly than SARS-CoV-2”, the letter’s authors wrote.
The proposal, which was made to the DARPA under the umbrella of the PREventing EMerging Pathogenic Threats (PREEMPT) programme, misrepresented gain-of-function research, and was “incredibly sloppy” with regard to biosafety, dual use research of concern (DURC), and ethical, legal, and societal issues (ELSI), they added.
“Planning to make three to six GoF human-optimised virus constructs per year under the DEFUSE grant proposal is shocking enough on its own. To do so with such disdain for biosafety, DURC or ELSI is a professional failure of the highest level and should be enough to conclude that Dr Daszak has gone a step too far, and is putting his colleagues and human lives in danger,” they wrote.
The letter’s authors say Daszak made “unfounded claims” about why Wuhan Institute of Virology data about viruses were taken offline, making them inaccessible to outside researchers.
“Dr Daszak has made many conflicting claims about the WIV databases of virus samples and sequences (all now offline), and then proceeded to convince the WHO team not to look into the issue,” the group wrote. “He described these databases as an ‘Excel spreadsheet’ when actually these are 16 databases with 600 GBs of data …
“He further justified their unavailability since September 2019 by repeating the unfounded claims that they were taken offline to protect them from hackers during the pandemic because of hacking attacks.”
The letter’s authors also say Daszak “wrongly claimed” that there were no live bats kept on the WIV premises.
On December 10, 2020, Daszak tweeted that there were no live or dead bats in the Wuhan labs.
Daszak’s claim is disproved in a promotional video made to celebrate the construction of the WIV BSL4 laboratory in 2018 that clearly shows bats in their cages. The WIV has also filed patents for new designs for bat cages.
The House adjourned without a final vote on bill H.R. 5894. The Republicans couldn’t muster sufficient votes to pass the legislation.
Representatives passed a two-tiered stopgap spending measure (a continuing resolution) that extends federal funding at current spending levels without major cuts and would keep some agencies funded into January and others into February.
The Senate passed the continuing resolution, which now goes to President Biden for signature.
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