The US State Department received two cables from US Embassy officials in 2018 warning of inadequate safety at a Wuhan, China biolab conducting ‘risky studies’ on bat coronaviruses, according to the Washington Post, which notes that the cables have “fueled discussions inside the U.S. government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus.”
A US delegation led by Jamison Fouss, the consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health took the unusual step of repeatedly visiting the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) – which had become China’s first laboratory to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety (BSL-4) in 2015. The last of the visits, which occurred on March 27, 2018, was documented on WIV’s website and subsequently scrubbed (archive).
US officials were so concerned by what they saw that they warned of a potential pandemic stemming from the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses.
What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic. –Washington Post
“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” reads a January, 2018 cable drafted by two officials from the embassy’s environment, science and health sections who met with scientists from the WIV.
Interestingly, the Chinese researchers were receiving assistance from the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch and other U.S. organizations, however the Chinese had requested additional help. Consequently, the cables warned that the US should give the WIV additional support because of how dangerous the research on bat coronaviruses was.
As the cable noted, the U.S. visitors met with Shi Zhengli, the head of the research project, who had been publishing studies related to bat coronaviruses for many years. In November 2017, just before the U.S. officials’ visit, Shi’s team had published research showing that horseshoe bats they had collected from a cave in Yunnan province were very likely from the same bat population that spawned the SARS coronavirus in 2003.
“Most importantly,” the cable warns, “the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”
According to the report, the bat coronavirus research was aimed at preventing the next SARS-like pandemic “by anticipating how it might emerge,” however according to the report “even in 2015, other scientists questioned whether Shi’s team was taking unnecessary risks.”
In October 2014, the U.S. government had imposed a moratorium on funding of any research that makes a virus more deadly or contagious, known as “gain-of-function” experiments.
WaPo is careful to note that ‘many‘ have said there’s no evidence that COVID-19 was engineered, and that concensus is that it came from animals, “that is not the same as saying it didn’t come from a lab, which spent years testing bat coronaviruses in animals,” according to Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at UC Berkeley.
“The cable tells us that there have long been concerns about the possibility of the threat to public health that came from this lab’s research, if it was not being adequately conducted and protected,” he said.
Meanwhile, similar concerns remain about the nearby Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention Lab – a level 2 biosecurity facility, while the Chinese government refuses to say whether either lab was involved.
Notably, the Wuhan CDC is located roughly 900 feet from the wet market which accounted for roughly half of the new COVID-19 cases late last year.
That said, the report notes that the wet market didn’t sell bats – and the first known patient had no known connection to the market. That said, there’s nothing to say that an employee from the Chinese CDC didn’t accidentally infect themselves and go shopping for meat during the virus’s well known asymptomatic incubation period.
According to WaPo, citing sources familiar with the cables, the US embassy wanted to sound an alarm about the grave safety concerns at the WIV lab, “especially regarding its work with bat coronaviruses.”
“The cable was a warning shot,” said one US official. “They were begging people to pay attention to what was going on.”
Next, WaPo moves on to the ‘blame the Trump admin’ phase of the report, noting that “no extra assistance to the labs was provided by the US government in response to the cables” which “began to circulate again inside the administration over the past two months as officials debated whether the lab could be the origin of the pandemic and what the implications would be for the U.S. pandemic response and relations with China.”
Inside the Trump administration, many national security officials have long suspected either the WIV or the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention lab was the source of the novel coronavirus outbreak. According to the New York Times, the intelligence community has provided no evidence to confirm this. But one senior administration official told me that the cables provide one more piece of evidence to support the possibility that the pandemic is the result of a lab accident in Wuhan.
Of note, the Obama administration ‘paused’ funding to the WIV, which was lifted a year into Trump’s presidency according to the National Review.
“The idea that is was just a totally natural occurrence is circumstantial. The evidence it leaked from the lab is circumstantial. Right now, the ledger on the side of it leaking from the lab is packed with bullet points and there’s almost nothing on the other side,” said one WaPo source.
Meanwhile, the CCP has put a complete lockdown on information related to the origins of the virus – refusing to provide US experts with samples collected from the earliest cases, and quickly shutting down the Shanghai lab which published COVID-19’s genome on January 11th for “rectification.”
As WaPo notes, “Several of the doctors and journalists who reported on the spread early on have disappeared.”
On Feb. 14, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a new biosecurity law to be accelerated. On Wednesday, CNN reported the Chinese government has placed severe restrictions requiring approval before any research institution publishes anything on the origin of the novel coronavirus.
And now – considering the source of the report, the bat’s out of the bag and the official narrative has been set – which we were called conspiracy theorists for positing three months ago.