The Biden administration is stonewalling efforts to get to the bottom of the origins of the pandemic that has been blamed for the loss of over 1.1 million American lives.
Pursuant to the unanimously enacted COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023, the administration is required to provide Congress with detailed, declassified information on specific research activities of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, especially the institute’s coronavirus experiments on behalf of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and incidents of early illness among the institute’s researchers. But the administration hasn’t complied with the law as written and has only released a portion of the information that it has.
Anticipating such obstruction, on June 14, Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., the act’s authors, strongly reminded President Joe Biden that the law requires the administration to “declassify any and all information” relating to these issues.
“The act does not allow for redactions based on your administration’s view of ‘national security’ broadly defined, as you claimed in your signing statement,” the senators wrote to the president. “Rather, the act only provides for much narrower redactions to protect intelligence sources and methods. Your administration should comply with the law as written and not undermine clear congressional intent to provide as much transparency to the American people as possible.”
Team Biden missed the June 18 deadline and then released an underwhelming declassified report after hours on Friday, June 23—the standard “Friday-Night Dump,” a well-honed Washington ploy to evade media and congressional notice at the end of the weekly news cycle.
In their follow-up June 27 letter to Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, Hawley and Braun noted that the Biden administration’s response was a “paltry” five pages of information, plus a cover page and a glossary of terms. “Obviously,” they declared, “the U.S. government is in possession of more information than that. This half-baked effort falls woefully short of the statutory requirements and undermines congressional intent.”
The senators also told Haines that if she failed to provide the legally required information, “we would welcome your testimony before Congress on this matter so you may answer questions under oath. The American people deserve to know the truth about China’s role in the origins of COVID-19.”
Regardless of how Haines or other administration officials respond, Congress must probe deeper and secure the underlying documents and individual testimony of federal officials under oath, either publicly, if appropriate, or in executive session.
Section 3 of the act requires disclosure of information on work the Wuhan Institute of Virology performed with the People’s Liberation Army. The Biden administration’s thin report confirms that the institute had teams of researchers focused on coronaviruses: “Both teams separately used transgenic mouse models to better understand how the viruses infect humans as well as related vaccine and therapeutics research” (Page 4).
However, the report also claims that while the work between 2017 and 2019 was designed to “enhance China’s knowledge of pathogens,” including coronaviruses, the report says that none of these “could plausibly be a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 [the COVID-19 virus].”
The report also says that the intelligence community has no information that any “genetic engineering work” involved SARS-CoV-2 or a “close progenitor” of SARS-CoV-2 or any “backbone virus” that is “closely related enough to have been the source of the pandemic” (Page 4). The report does note, however, that “some of the WIV’s [Wuhan Institute of Virology’s] genetic engineering projects on coronaviruses involved techniques that could make it difficult to detect intentional changes” (Page 5).
The report also confirms a widely known problem at the Wuhan lab: “Some WIV researchers probably did not use adequate biosafety precautions at least some of the time prior to the pandemic in handling SARS-like coronaviruses, increasing the risk of accidental exposure to viruses” (Page 5).
The timing of COVID-19’s onset and earliest infection among Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers is a crucial piece of the pandemic puzzle. That is why Section 3 of the act also requires disclosure of the researchers’ names, symptoms, role at the institute, their involvement with coronavirus research, and records of hospitalization.
The Biden administration report does meet these statutory requirements. It does not contain the names of any of the researchers and only states that they experienced COVID-19-like symptoms in the “Fall of 2019.” The administration’s key declaration on this point is that “some of their symptoms were consistent with but not diagnostic of COVID-19” (Page 6)—an obvious issue for a deeper probe.
The report also says that American intelligence has “no indications” that any of these researchers were hospitalized with COVID-19-like symptoms. Moreover, the report notes that Dr. Shi Zhengli (known as the “Bat Woman”), the lead coronavirus researcher at Wuhan, said that her lab employees’ samples “all tested negative” for COVID-19 antibodies (Page 6).
Since Jan. 3, 2020, as The Heritage Foundation noted, Communist Chinese officials forbade the release of any COVID-19-related information without government approval. Congress, therefore, obviously has no business taking such an assertion seriously, even if it is repeated in an official American intelligence report. (The Daily Signal is the news and commentary outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
The issue of patient identification is a crucial point of inquiry. The Biden administration report fails to provide legally required identifications. But independent journalists Michael Shellenberger, Matt Taibbi, and Alex Gutentag have already published the names of “patients zero”: Ben Hu, Yu Ping, and Yan Zhu.
Among the journalists’ sources is an unnamed federal official who insists, with “100 Percent” certainty, that their patient identification is correct. Among others, Congress must question this unnamed government official, perhaps in executive session.
While acknowledging the plausibility of either a natural or a laboratory origin for COVID-19, the Biden administration report reconfirms the division within the American intelligence community over the issue.
Particularly troublesome is the failure of the Central Intelligence Agency to make an assessment of the lab leak theory. In contrast to the Department of Energy and the FBI, which have assessed the probability of a lab leak, the CIA still claims that it has gathered insufficient information to provide Congress with a formal assessment of the pandemic’s origins.
That stance is entirely unjustifiable, and the consequences are intolerable. Congressional investigators must compel Haines and other members of the intelligence community to testify under oath to find the true answers on the origins of COVID-19.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal