Rash of “Lab Leak” Articles Precedes Wuhan Intelligence Declassification

From the Sunday Times “Insight” team [1], a couple of weeks ago:

Investigators who scrutinised top-secret intercepted communications and scientific research believe Chinese scientists were running a covert project of dangerous experiments, which caused a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and started the Covid-19 outbreak.

The US investigators say one of the reasons there is no published information on the work is because it was done in collaboration with researchers from the Chinese military, which was funding it and which, they say, was pursuing bioweapons.

The Sunday Times has reviewed hundreds of documents, including previously confidential reports, internal memos, scientific papers and email correspondence that has been obtained through sources or by freedom of information campaigners in the three years since the pandemic started. We also interviewed the US State Department investigators — including experts on China, emerging pandemic threats, and biowarfare — who conducted the first significant US inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak.

An image caption with the article adds that “Covid-19 is widely believed to have originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology”, as if this is now the consensus view.

Oddly, the “investigators” are never named, although the article contains commentary from the likes of lab leak proponents such as Richard Ebright, who appears to have guided the authors through the material. Particularly conspicuous by his absence from the story is David Asher, who led the Trump-era State Department investigation into Covid origins referred to above; some details of this previously entered the public domain in 2021, such as a Mail on Sunday piece headlined “‘A Lab Leak isn’t 100% Certain but it Seems to be the Only Logical Source of Covid’: Washington Expert Who Led Inquiry into the Cause of the Virus Reveals Three Wuhan Lab Scientists Fell Ill in November 2019” [2]. This reappears in the Sunday Times article:

They found evidence that researchers working on these experiments were taken to hospital with Covid-like symptoms in November 2019 — a month before the West became aware of the pandemic — and one of their relatives died.

An investigator said: “We were rock-solid confident that this was likely Covid-19 because they were working on advanced coronavirus research in the laboratory. They’re trained biologists in their thirties and forties. Thirty-five-year-old scientists don’t get very sick with influenza.”

On Twitter, the links back to Asher were noted by Angela Rasmussen and Flo Débarre, as part of long threads critiquing the article. As judged by Rasmussen:

This “investigation” is actually just rehashing documents from the US government, including this citation-free “fact sheet” that Mike Pompeo’s state department rushed out during his last week in office.

That fact-sheet, she adds, was probably written by Asher. She and Débarre also draw attention to a 2021 critique of Asher and his investigation written by Christopher Ashley Ford, a former State Department Assistant Secretary.

A couple of days after the Sunday Times article, the New York Post reported further details about the alleged sick lab workers:

Scientists conducting research on novel coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were the first humans to contract COVID-19, according to a new report.

“Patients zero” included Ben Hu, Ping Yu and Yan Zhu — scientists researching SARS-like viruses at the institute, according to an investigation by journalists Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi [3] published on the Substack newsletter Public.

The three scientists were researching “gain-of-function” experiments with the virus — which increases its infectiousness and makes pathogens stronger in order to better understand their dangers — when they became sick in the fall of 2019, multiple US government officials reportedly told the journalists.

This was then followed with an opinion piece a week later from Marty Makary headed “10 reasons we KNOW that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Lab”, which rehashed some lab leaks “greatest hits”, oblivious to nuance or subsequent critiques.

So why were all these talking points suddenly being pushed into prominence just now? The most obvious context, as noted by Rasmussen and Peter Jacobs last week, is that US Director of National Intelligence was due to declassify intelligence assessments pertaining to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and that the release was likely to be underwhelming as regards support for “lab leak” narratives.

And so it has come to pass – as described by Reuters:

U.S. intelligence agencies found no direct evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic stemmed from an incident at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, a report declassified on Friday said.

The four-page report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said the U.S. intelligence community still could not rule out the possibility that the virus came from a laboratory, however, and had not been able to discover the origins of the pandemic.

As for the three alleged “sick workers”, there is some suspicion that their identifications were simply pulled from online scientific papers published in English. Further, one of those named has now come forward to Science Insider with a denial:

A scientist at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) who has recently faced media allegations that he was the first person with COVID-19 and his research on coronaviruses sparked the pandemic strongly denies that he was ill in late 2019 or that his work had any link to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, a newly released U.S. report of declassified information on COVID-19’s origin… “My colleagues and I tested for SARS-CoV-2 antibody in early March 2020 and we were all negative.”

…Hu is an appealing suspect for lab-leak proponents because he was a lead author on a 2017 paper in PLOS Pathogens describing an experiment that created chimeric viruses by combining genes for surface proteins from bat coronaviruses that would not grow in cultures with the genome of one that did.

In contrast to the regular stream of repetitive “lab leak” media sensations, scientific work building the case that SARS-CoV-2 is natural and that it spread to humans in ways that have nothing to do with a lab escape receives far less attention. It seems to me that it is “lab leakers”, rather than sceptical scientists, who have enjoyed the patronage of a compliant media, in large part relying on the mystique of “intelligence” (in one case the Daily Telegraph even wheeled out a former head of MI6 to as substitute peer review for a paper that had failed to pass muster). However, as Rasmussen points out:

The reason why [there is] no clarity on origins thanks to this declassified report is that this has always been a scientific question rather than an intelligence question.


1. One of the more memorable chapters of Nick Davies’ 2008 book Flat Earth News chronicles the decline of the Sunday Times “Insight” team:

The desperate quest for suitable scoops without suitable resources… produced a string of stories which were simply fictitious. There was a joke in the office: “Our stories are more manufactured than retail.” Journalists on other newspapers who were used to following up Sunday Times exclusives simply stopped bothering. It became a Fleet Street cliché to talk about the stories on the Sunday Times which “stood up on Sunday and fell down by Monday”. I know Whitehall press officers now who rank the paper above even the cheapest red-top tabloid as a source of fabricated stories.

2. This was a year after the Mail on Sunday ran a number of lab leak stories (a period during which lab leakers now claim that their theories were being suppressed and derided unfairly as conspiracy theories).

3. Shellenberger also has “multiple sources” who have told him that the US “has 12 or more alien spacecraft”.

Richard Fairbrass Claims Vaccine Holocaust Tweet was a Hack

A statement from novelty pop musician turned conspiracy influencer Richard Fairbrass:

Right Said Fred would like to issue the following statement ‘Some may be aware that the tweet below is currently circulating on Twitter and has incited negative attention towards us. We would like to state that this tweet was never posted by Richard and we believe his account has been infiltrated and compromised, not for the first time. We both come from Jewish heritage and find any intimation of antisemitism abhorrent. We regret any offence this tweet may have cause.

The Tweet being disavowed posted an image of the concrete and wire fence line at Auschwitz-Birkenau, above which was written:

“No need for gas chambers when vaccines will do the job slowly and quietly and nobody will even know it’s a holocaust”

The quote is unattributed despite the quotation marks.

The original Tweet was immediately derided as an obvious example of Holocaust trivialisation; Fairbrass’s apparent acknowledgement that as such it carries “an intimation” of antisemitism is in contrast to the position of disgraced MP Andrew Bridgen, who has defended comparing Covid vaccination with the Holocaust on the grounds that an Israeli academic agrees with him. Bridgen is currently suing Matt Hancock for libel after Hancock called the comparison antisemitic.

The original Tweet appeared at 12.25 on 4 June. Fairbrass was active on Twitter in the hours afterwards, including interacting with other users on other subjects. It’s not clear when the Tweet was taken down, but the statement claiming a hack was not published until more than 24 hours later. It is very difficult to understand why it took so long, and the hacker’s motives remain unclear – the Tweet came under particular criticism, but it was not anomalous. For instance, in January Fairbrass defended Bridgen’s Holocaust comparision, calling Sajid Javid an “ill informed wanker” for criticising him; there are other examples from the same period, at least one of which has now been deleted after coming under renewed attention.

In January 2022, Fairbrass and his brother Fred Fairbrass said they had “got it wrong” after promoting a livestream hosted by neo-Nazi Mark Collett; more recently, however,  Richard Fairbrass’s output has included supporting Paul Golding’s complaint about a Muslim reciting the adhan outside the Royal Albert Hall as part of an iftar event, and posting a Ukrainian flag with the words “Fuck Ukraine” superimposed over it. None of this damaged their standing within the populist milieu: just last month they appeared on GB News live from Bournemouth, where they were shown larking around with Nigel Farage. It seems that someone, though, judged their more recent Holocaust Tweet to be a more serious matter.

The Mystery of Mike Veale’s Delayed Gross Misconduct Inquiry

From the Press Association:

‘Stonewalling’ claim as misconduct inquiry delayed into former police boss

A Home Office minister has been accused of “stonewalling” in response to frustrations surrounding a delayed gross misconduct inquiry into a former chief constable. Lord Sharpe of Epsom was tackled over the investigation into Mike Veale which is yet to start despite being announced in August 2021.

Veale was Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police during Operation Conifer, an expensive investigation into whether former Prime Minister Edward Heath, who had died a decade before in 2005, had committed sexual offences. No evidence was found, but Heath’s reputation was tarnished by sensationalising leaks to the Mail on Sunday. Those leaks were very likely channelled through Andrew Bridgen MP, who although always a buffoon was not at that time publicly associated with the belligerent conspiracy theorising that he has embraced since being disgraced in court. Veale went on to become Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, although he didn’t last long and Bridgen then recommended him as an advisor to Rupert Matthews, the UFO-enthusiast Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire; Veale soon afterwards resigned from that role due to negative media coverage. (1)

Delays over Veale’s misconduct inquiry have been lamented for months; on 6 February BBC News ran a piece headlined “Probe into ex Cleveland chief constable Mike Veale should be ‘speeded up'”, which was followed on 21 March with “Mike Veale: Ex-Wiltshire police chief ‘not taken to task’” from the Salisbury Journal. According to the latter,

In cryptic remarks, Tory frontbencher Lord Sharpe of Epsom told peers there were reasons for the postponement, but he was unable to reveal what they were.

Lord Sharpe was responding to a question from Lord Debben (better-known as John Gummer), but the fuller exchange was initiated by Lord Lexden (Alistair B. Cooke), the official historian of the Conservative Party.

The matter also features in the latest issue of Private Eye magazine (1599, p. 13, “Called to Ordure” column). The magazine compares Lord Lexden to a “mild-mannered detective quietly persisting until he nabs his villain”, and describes him variously as “mouselike” and as having “tradmark Monsieur Poirot courtesy”. It also quotes his contribution to a Lords debate on 3 May on restoring public confidence in the police, where he stated

It is unconscionable that one of the Crown’s First Ministers should pass into history with even a faint suspicion of wrongdoing because no one in authority today will do anything to help wipe it out… For me personally, Operation Conifer showed how hard it had become in Britain today to feel full confidence in our police.

Operation Conifer was distinct from the Metropolitan Police’s disastrous Operation Midland, but there were overlaps and it is reasonable to judge that the Met’s pursuit of sensational allegations against “VIPs” set an example. Shortly after the end of Operation Conifer, one of Veale’s first media interviews was with none other than Mark Watts of Exaro, the alternative media outfit that first brought Carl Beech to police attention. However, it seems that these overlaps are now being used to explain away details specific to Operation Conifer. Here’s Lord Sharpe in the same debate:

On Operation Conifer, I really have heard what my noble friends in particular have said on this matter. One thing that I feel I must say is that, even though the accusations laid against some of the people who were investigated turned out to be those of a fantasist, that fantasist was given political cover and there was political pressure involved here; we should not forget that fact.

As noted in Private Eye, this is a reference to Tom Watson MP, who advocated on behalf of Beech and other accusers and liaised with the Metropolitan Police. However, it’s not clear that his influence extended into Wiltshire.


1. One person who claims to have had contact with both Andrew Bridgen and Mike Veale is retired police officer turned anti-Satanic Ritual Abuse obsessive Jon Wedger, although he’s the only source for this (see here for Bridgen and here for Veale).