The raging debate over where the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus originated gained more velocity with the revelation that the Department of Energy (DOE) concluded the COVID-19 pandemic more than likely did start with a lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. The DOE conclusions were first reported in The Wall Street Journal in late February. However, in December 2022, Liberty Nation noted the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence had earlier issued a report reaching the same conclusion.
Outbreak Linked to Lab-Leak FBI Says
After the WSJ revelation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray revealed that the agency also came to believe the lab leak explanation. In a Fox News interview, Wray explained:
“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan…Here you are talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab…I will just make the observation that the Chinese government, it seems to me, has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here, the work that we’re doing, the work that our US government and close foreign partners are doing. And that’s unfortunate for everybody.”
The US Department of Defense (DOD) engages in bioresearch to counter potential bioweapons. But what happens when competing views exist on the evolution of a potential bioweapon? Is it good policy for researchers to choose one explanation early in the research and foreclose opportunities to explore other options? Of course not. That would put US national security at great risk. But that is effectively what the US government and others did. Closed minds asserted COVID-19 occurred naturally or through zoonosis – a jump from animals to humans – and that the ‘science’ was settled.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Some said, wait, not so fast. There is a good case for the SARS-CoV-2 virus being man-made in a laboratory and accidentally leaked out into the population. As far back as January 2020, a group of virologists at the highly respected Scripps Research Institute found evidence of the lab-leak hypothesis. Shortly after the gene sequence mapping for SARS-CoV-2 was published, scientists had an opportunity to look at the structure and potential origin of the coronavirus.
Leading US Virology Institute Convinced Virus Leaked from Lab
Scripps Research Institute virologists were unanimous in their evaluation: “The virus didn’t come from nature and may instead have escaped from a lab,” wrote Nicholas Wade for the City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Furthermore, in 2021, “According to an unclassified summary, four members of the US intelligence community say with low confidence that the virus was initially transmitted from an animal to a human,” the Associated Press reported, opening the door to the possibility a lab was responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak. “A fifth intelligence agency believes with moderate confidence that the first human infection was linked to a lab.”
Scripps Institute sent its findings to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). But, as we know, Fauci’s rigid script contained a different narrative. Since the NIAID controls significant funding for research in the US, the lab-leak idea was summarily criticized and dismissed as a “crackpot theory.” As Helen Raleigh, writing in The Federalist, put it, “Fauci did more to shut down the debate about the lab leak theory than anyone else because of the powerful positions he held.” The claim that COVID-19 emerged from a naturally occurring process was beyond debate, full stop.
However, US virology, epidemiology, and immunology investigators exploring human-designed pathogens would have been a valuable line of research. Whether a pathogen was designed and developed or emerged in nature through randomly occurring mutations might inform how a researcher would develop vaccines or other remedies. And yet, with the near-maniacal adherence to the “occurred naturally” mantra, officials labeled those who advanced the lab-origin theory as “conspiracy theorists.” In some progressive fringe quarters, such views were even labeled racist.
But the more important and frightening result was that whatever nuanced, tailored exploration of the coronavirus might have resulted from the man-made theory was quashed. Is that what Americans want to happen in research to counter bioweapons? No. Most likely, people would want the government to identify the worst-case possibility and study that. Purposeful tailoring of pathogens would fall into that category.
The lessons Congress and the Biden administration should take away from the COVID-19 experience are that China is the guilty party – not scientists whose views differed from NIAID’s or those of other government bureaucracies. Additionally, scientific research must consider with equal vigor all lines of investigation, not just those supporting a convenient political narrative adopted to avoid offending a geopolitical adversary. Lastly, when some government executives tell the public it’s “settled science,” Americans have the right – one could even say the responsibility – to question the established narrative.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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