Warnings from US researchers about genetically engineered viruses at China’s bat lab were raised years before the Covid-19 pandemic, but were ignored or censored.
Newly obtained records show how an NIH official raised serious concerns about the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s plan to engineer Ebola strains in 2017.
The lab – where the FBI believes Covid leaked from – was found to have a ‘serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate’.
The unnamed official, from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which was run by Anthony Fauci at the time, was instructed to erase the safety failures in her report to avoid angering China.
And this was not the first time concerns over engineered viruses was dismissed.
A year prior US energy officials warned the NIAID of the dangers of genetically engineered and altered pathogens. However, longtime head of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, called the claims ‘science fiction.’
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Francis Collins, director of National Institutes of Health in 2009. Collins said warnings of dangerous genetically engineered viruses were ‘science fiction’
Dr Anthony Fauci (speaking to DailyMail.com in July 2023) said he still believed Covid emerged naturally despite mounting indirect evidence of a lab accident
Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology,the lab believed to be the origin of Covid-19
In 2017, the NIAID official visited the lab in Wuhan. That year, China was establishing its first biosafety level 4 lab at the WIV in hopes to study some of the world’s most lethal pathogens with funding from France, Canada and the US’s National Institutes of Health.
The US was indirectly funding the WIV research through grants awarded to EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), a controversial research group at the center of the Covid lab leak theory, which then sent money to the WIV.
The NIAID official later wrote in emails to her superiors she was alarmed after learning the WIV researchers were planning on studying Ebola.
However, because China prohibited importing the lethal virus, the team was going to use a technique called reverse genetics to engineer it in their lab.
While preparing her official report on the lab tour to be submitted to the US embassy in Beijing, the NIAID employee sent emails to colleagues about her worries of divulging the Ebola detail.
In the emails, obtained by Vanity Fair, she wrote: ‘I don’t want the information particularly using reverse genetics to create viruses to get out,’ which she believed would impair the collaboration between NIAID and the WIV.
She added: ‘I was shocked to hear what [the WIV technician] said [about reverse engineering Ebola]. I also worry the reaction of people in Washington when they read this.
‘I don’t feel comfortable for broader audience within the government circle. It could be very sensitive.’
F. Gray Handley, then NIAID’s associate director for international research affairs, responded to the email agreeing with the official. His response included: ‘As we discussed. Delete that comment.’
Shi Zhengli – dubbed the ‘Bat Lady’ or ‘Bat Woman’ for her work on bat coronaviruses – investigated the possibility Covid could have emerged from her lab back in 2020, according to colleagues
Between 2015 and 2023, at least seven US entities supplied NIH grant money to labs in China performing animal experiments, totaling $3,306,061
In a communication from the embassy later that month in response to the report, it said WIV scientists noted the ‘serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate’ the lab.
However, it did not include information NIAID employees apparently found most worrisome.
While the concept of engineering Ebola isn’t considered particularly out of the ordinary, because of the shortcomings of the WIV lab, the NIAID official feared its plans to reverse engineer the virus would cause alarm, she revealed recently to congressional investigators.
An NIH spokesperson told Vanity Fair the NIAID official ‘took appropriate steps to ensure that officials at NIAID, HHS, and US Embassy Beijing were aware of the technician’s comment [regarding Ebola research] via her report on the visit.’
However, the spokesperson was unable to provide evidence the report describing the Ebola remarks was shared with the embassy.
Fears regarding the engineering of a lethal virus are not without merit.
In 2016, the Department of Energy issued a threat assessment over the sale of, and research on, genetically engineered biological samples and viruses and added genomic editing to its list of potential weapons of mass destruction.
In a meeting in October of that year, the DOE presented a comprehensive proposal to monitor the sale of genetic components and better detect evidence of genetic engineering in order to prevent foreign entities from using the technique for malicious purposes.
According to an attendee at the meeting, longtime head of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins dismissed risks posited by officials as ‘science fiction,’ adding: ‘You got this out of a movie. This reads like a movie script.’
Despite evidence the WIV lab was not equipped to handle dangerous pathogens, it continued to receive international support, including from the NIAID through grant money sent to EcoHealth Alliance to help fund the WIV’s coronavirus research.
And concerns about WIV and its coronavirus research continued to be voiced.
In the years and months leading up to the pandemic, officials at DOE and NIH frequently clashed over collaborating with foreign scientific entities.
Energy officials warned the NIH about the national security risks posed by gene editing and the possibility it could be used by hostile countries, including China, Vanity Fair’s investigation revealed.
Just months before the pandemic began in 2019, DOE officials issued its most dramatic and specific warning to NIAID about the research the health agency was helping to fund at the Chinese lab.
Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told an adviser to Dr Anthony Fauci the coronavirus research the US was contributing to at the WIV was at risk of being misused for military purposes.
Brouillette told NIAID it should rethink its partnerships with Chinese government scientists.
A NIAID spokesperson told Vanity Fair the agency is ‘not aware of this interaction.’
The WIV is at the center of the controversary surrounding the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report about the pandemic’s origins.
It showed the DOE and FBI believe the pandemic originated in the lab. The National Intelligence Council, as well as four other government agencies, believe the virus jumped from an animal to humans and two others, including the CIA, say there isn’t enough evidence to support one theory over another.