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”.

One Response

  1. But hasn’t it been admitted the some of the gain of function research in (one of?) the Wuhan lab(s) was funded by the US?

    And whether the research was funded by the US, CCP, or just some Biden associate, the researchers that created, then accidentally or deliberately, released it would say that?

    Wouldn’t they!

    As would their funders!!

    As would their associates!!!

    Including their mouthpieces and other apologists!!!!

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