This article was originally published by Jon Militimore at The Foundation for Economic Education.
Even the FBI now concludes the Covid-19 pandemic likely stemmed from a lab incident in Wuhan, China. Here’s why that matters.
More than three years after the Covid-19 outbreak, the world is still reeling from the virus and the global response to it.
Some 6.8 million people have already died from the virus, according to official statistics, including an estimated 1.1 million Americans. Each day the toll climbs higher; globally, more than 10,000 people die each week.
A bevy of government assessments now indicate that the likely source of the virus was not a wet market, but the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which for years has dabbled in the creation of chimeric coronaviruses.
Last Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US Department of Energy had concluded the Wuhan lab was likely the origin of the pandemic. Days later the FBI chimed in, declaring that “the Bureau has assessed that the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic likely originated from a lab incident in Wuhan, China.”
If true, it’s not hyperbole to say this would be the greatest scandal of the century.
As the Washington Post reported nearly two years ago, State Department cables had previously warned of safety issues at the WIV, where researchers were studying bat coronaviruses. The cables were sent after science diplomats made a January 2018 visit to the Wuhan lab on behalf of the US embassy in Beijing. What the officials found at the lab, which in 2015 had become China’s first facility to achieve the maximum level of international bioresearch safety, shocked them.
“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,” wrote Post journalist Josh Rogin. “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.”
Despite these concerns, US dollars continued to flow to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
As the BBC noted in 2021, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), an agency headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, awarded $3.7 million in 2014 to an organization—US-based EcoHealth Alliance—that funded and worked directly with the Wuhan lab to “look into possible coronaviruses from bats.” Some of these experiments appear to have involved “gain-of-function,” a risky form of research that the US government had banned funding for in October 2014 that involves genetically altering an organism to enhance its biological functions.
Though Fauci repeatedly denied that gain-of-function research took place, others point to two academic papers by the Chinese institute itself—one from 2015 and one from 2017—that detail how researchers developed new coronaviruses that did not previously exist.
“The research in both papers was gain-of-function research,” Dr. Richard Ebright of Rutgers University told the BBC.
The lab leak has the potential to be one of the biggest scandals in history. In their Frankenstein-like hubris, governments conducted dangerous research that may have inadvertently killed millions of people, and also triggered a global recession.
The scandal does not end there, however.
While the US government’s involvement in the Wuhan lab leak scandal may have been inadvertent, its attempt to avoid potential responsibility and conceal the truth is now apparent.
From the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci—the same Dr. Fauci whose agency awarded a $3.7 million grant to EcoHealth Alliance, which funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan lab—became the leading voice denying the possibility that Covid-19 could have emerged from the WIV.
It was “molecularly impossible” for viruses at Wuhan to have mutated into the current viral strain, he claimed in October 2021. In April the previous year he called the lab-leak-theory “a shiny object that will go away soon,” later noting that the virus’ “mutations” were “totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.” In May 2020, he told National Geographic that “everything . . . strongly indicates” that the virus “evolved in nature,” calling the lab-leak theory a “circular argument.”
Scientists are of course entitled to their opinions, but there are two big problems that accompany Fauci’s public statements.
The first problem is that while these statements were being issued publicly, a different conversation was taking place privately, The New York Times noted Tuesday.
“…in 2020, many of those scientists who would become the most stalwart critics of the lab-leak theory privately acknowledged that the origins of the pandemic were very much up for debate,” writes David Wallace-Wells, “and that a laboratory leak was a perfectly plausible — perhaps even the most likely — explanation for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan a few months earlier.”
We know this because a series of emails obtained by BuzzFeed through FOIA requests show that some of the world’s top virologists initially believed that the lab-leak hypothesis was at least as plausible as natural evolution theory. Specifically, the virologist and natural biologist Kristian Andersen described the new virus as “inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.” In another email, Jeremy Farrar, the incoming head scientist of the World Health Organization, summarized the perspectives of scientists who concluded the “accidental release theory” was the likeliest scenario—“70:30” or “60:40” in favor. (Farrar put the odds at 50-50.)
These views were not made public, however. And following a Feb. 1 conference call arranged by Fauci, scientists published a paper in Nature expressing their belief that the most likely scenario was that the virus naturally evolved on its own.
“Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” the scientists, including the initially skeptical Andersen, emphatically noted.
How these scientists became so certain that the virus evolved naturally—a scenario that now appears to be highly unlikely—is unclear. But what followed is even more troubling.
By the spring of 2020, government agencies had circled the wagons. The office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement noting that a “scientific consensus” had emerged that “the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.” News agencies quickly began to label the lab-leak hypothesis as “debunked bunkum.”
The news agencies needed little prodding. Indeed, even before the DNI’s statement was released, while scientists themselves were privately debating the origins of the virus in earnest, news organizations were describing the lab-leak hypothesis as “a fringe theory” and a “conspiracy theory.”
Efforts to suppress the view that the virus was manmade were ratcheted up further when social media companies began to censor users who speculated that the virus may have been manmade. In February 2021, Facebook—likely at the behest of government officials—began to flag as “misleading” claims suggesting that Covid may have been manufactured.
The notion that the virus may have emerged from the Wuhan lab was widely treated as a crackpot theory invented by tinfoil hat wearers—largely thanks to a massive propaganda campaign orchestrated by the government behind the scenes.
Yet the dots back to Wuhan were too conspicuous to ignore, and a breakthrough came in June 2021 when Jon Stewart appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, expressing his belief that the pandemic “was more than likely caused by science.”
Colbert: “Do you mean there’s a chance this was created in a lab?”
Stewart: A chance? Oh my God.
Colbert: If there’s evidence I’d love to hear it.
Stewart: (mockingly) There’s a respiratory coronavirus overtaking Wuhan, China. What do we do? Oh, you know who we could ask? The Wuhan respiratory coronavirus lab. The disease is the same name as the lab! That’s just a little too weird, don’t ya think?
Stewart didn’t need to offer scientific evidence to support his theory. His point likely wasn’t to prove that the lab-leak theory was true, but to point out that the theory wasn’t crazy.
Last week on his show “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” Stewart reflected on the blowback he received following his appearance on Colbert’s show nearly two years ago, which included charges of racism and accusations that he’d joined “the alt-right.”
“It’s not about certainty,” Stewart said. “The larger problem with all of this is the inability to discuss things that are within the realm of possibility without falling into absolutes and litmus-testing each other for our political allegiances as it arose from that.”
We don’t yet know for certain the origins of Covid-19. Many questions remain unanswered.
Still, it’s now clear the most likely scenario is that the Covid-19 pandemic was caused by a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was conducting risky experiments on chimeric coronaviruses at an insecure facility—with financial support from the US government.
To make matters worse, officials in the US government—chief among them Dr. Anthony Fauci—for nearly two years orchestrated a campaign to dismiss the possibility that the virus might have been hatched at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“Fauci peddled an illusion of scientific consensus to corporate media on lab leak as conspiracy,” Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine, economics, and health policy at Stanford University, recently observed on Twitter. “They accepted his word as gospel. Why?”
It’s an important question.
Few in government or media seemed to consider that Fauci might have incentive to obfuscate the truth since his own agency had funded a health organization with direct ties to and funding for the research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that may have caused a global pandemic, killing millions.
“I’m a Fauci groupie,” MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace gushed, speaking for many.
Wallace and many others would have been well served to heed the advice of the late historian Paul Johnson, who warned we should beware of intellectuals and avoid giving them power.
“One of the principal lessons of our tragic century, which has seen so many millions of innocent lives sacrificed in schemes to improve the lot of humanity, is—beware intellectuals,” wrote Johnson in Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky. “Not merely should they be kept away from the levers of power, they should also be objects of particular suspicion when they seek to offer collective advice.”
Johnson didn’t issue this warning about intellectuals because they are inherently bad people. What he saw was the problem identified by the Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek: that intellectuals are often empowered with vast collective decision-making rights by the state, which believes they possess knowledge they don’t actually have.
“If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible,” wrote Hayek.
“The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.”
Americans ignored these warnings, and the results were catastrophic.
It now appears likely that the US government was funding the very research that caused the global Covid-19 pandemic—and spent a year and a half trying to conceal it. If true, it would represent two of the biggest scandals in modern history.
The question is, will anyone even be held accountable? History suggests that’s unlikely.