By Alexa Lardieri, Deputy US Health Editor Dailymail.Com
21:06 November 21, 2023, updated 23:01 November 21, 2023
- Energy officials raised concerns with NIH over Wuhan collaborations
- They warned that research at the WIV risked being used for military purposes.
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Warnings from US researchers about genetically engineered viruses in China’s bat lab came years before the Covid-19 pandemic but were ignored or censored.
Newly obtained records show how an NIH official expressed serious concerns about the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s plan to modify Ebola strains in 2017.
The lab – where the FBI believes Covid leaked from – was found to suffer from a “severe shortage of properly trained technicians and investigators needed to operate safely”.
The anonymous official, from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, led at the time by Anthony Fauci, was tasked with erasing security flaws in her report to avoid angering China.
And it wasn’t the first time concerns about man-made viruses were dismissed.
A year earlier, U.S. energy officials warned the NIAID of the dangers of genetically engineered and engineered pathogens. However, Francis Collins, longtime director of the National Institutes of Health, called the claims “science fiction.”
In 2017, the NIAID official visited the Wuhan laboratory. That year, China established its first Biosafety Level 4 laboratory at the WIV in hopes of studying some of the world’s deadliest pathogens, with funding from France, Canada and the National Institutes of Health the United States.
The United States indirectly funded WIV research through grants to EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), a controversial research group at the center of the Covid lab leak theory, which then sent money to WIV.
The NIAID official later wrote in emails to her superiors that she was alarmed after learning that WIV researchers were planning to study Ebola.
However, as China banned the importation of the deadly virus, the team was going to use a technique called reverse genetics to engineer it in their laboratory.
While preparing her official report on the lab visit to submit to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the NIAID employee sent emails to colleagues expressing concerns about the disclosure of laboratory details. Ebola.
In the emails obtained by Vanity Fair, she wrote: “I do not want information that uses reverse genetics to create viruses to be released,” which she said would harm collaboration between the NIAID and the WIV.
She added: “I was shocked to hear what (the WIV technician) said (about reverse engineering Ebola). I also worry about how people in Washington will react when they read this.
“I don’t feel comfortable in front of a wider audience within the government circle. This could be very sensitive.
F. Gray Handley, then NIAID associate director for international research affairs, responded to the email in agreement with the official. His response included: “As we discussed. Delete this comment.
In an embassy communication later that month responding to the report, WIV scientists noted the “severe shortage of properly trained technicians and investigators needed to operate the laboratory safely.”
However, it did not contain the information that NIAID employees apparently seemed most concerned about.
Although the Ebola engineering concept is not considered particularly unusual, due to the WIV lab’s shortcomings, the NIAID official worried that her plans to reverse engineer the virus would cause alarm, she said. she recently revealed to congressional investigators.
An NIH spokesperson told Vanity Fair that the NIAID official “took appropriate steps to ensure that officials at NIAID, HHS and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing were aware of the technician’s comment (regarding Ebola research) via his report on the visit.
However, the spokesperson was unable to provide proof that the report describing the Ebola remarks had been shared with the embassy.
Fears about creating a deadly virus are not unfounded.
In 2016, the Department of Energy released a threat assessment related to the sale and research of biological samples and genetically modified viruses and added genome editing to its list of potential weapons of mass destruction .
At 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 to prevent foreign entities from using the technique for malicious purposes.
According to one meeting attendee, Francis Collins, longtime director of the National Institutes of Health, called the risks presented by officials “science fiction,” adding, “You took this from a movie.” It sounds like a movie script.
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Despite evidence that the WIV lab was not equipped to handle dangerous pathogens, it continued to receive international support, including from the NIAID, via a grant sent to EcoHealth Alliance to help fund research of the WIV on coronaviruses.
And concerns about WIV and its coronavirus research continued to be raised.
In the years and months leading up to the pandemic, DOE and NIH officials frequently clashed over collaboration with foreign scientific entities.
Energy officials warned the NIH of the national security risks posed by gene editing and the possibility that it could be used by hostile countries, including China, the Vanity Fair investigation found.
Just months before the pandemic began in 2019, DOE officials issued the most dramatic and specific warning to NIAID regarding research the health agency was helping fund at the Chinese lab.
Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told an adviser to Dr. Anthony Fauci that the coronavirus research the U.S. was contributing to at WIV was at risk of being used for military purposes.
Brouillette told NIAID it should rethink its partnerships with Chinese government scientists.
An NIAID spokesperson told Vanity Fair that the agency “was not aware of this interaction.”
The WIV is at the center of the controversy surrounding the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report on the origins of the pandemic.
This showed that the DOE and FBI believed the pandemic originated in the lab. The National Intelligence Council, along with four other government agencies, believe the virus jumped from an animal to humans and two others, including the CIA, say there is not enough evidence to support a theory rather than another.