In the last few days, new and crucial evidence has emerged with respect to the Lab Leak theory of COVID-19 origin. I am no friend of Nicholas Wade, who was science editor of the New York Times from 1990 to 1996 and who, as I recall, made some disparaging remarks about the OPV theory at the end of the Royal Society meeting. But I would acknowledge that he has wide experience as a science writer and a good nose for a story. And five days ago he published a barn-storming article headed “The Story of the Decade”, which blew the COVID origins story wide open. Published on-line in the City Journal, its sub-title was “New documents strengthen – perhaps conclusively – the lab-leak hypothesis of Covid-19’s origins.”https://www.city-journal.org/article/new-documents-bolster-lab-leak-hypothesis
Initially I decided not to post on this story, fully expecting it to be picked up within a day or two by the mainstream media. However, for some reason this has not happened. This may be because the COVID origins story has got lost amongst the many powerful stories being filed from places such as Gaza, Yemen, the Syrian/Jordanian border and Ukraine, combined with important domestic stories from the US and UK.
But the fact that the story has been ignored by the mainstream media does not mean that it is not one of huge importance. For in reality the latest revelations mark a quantum leap forward for the plausibility of the lab leak theory.
The story starts with a judicious FOIA investigation by Emily Kopp, who for many months has been following the origins story for the on-line site “U.S. Right To Know”, whose strap-line is “Investigating truth and transparency for public health”. Her FOIA requests finally produced some vital new documents, and on January 18 she posted a feature titled “US Scientists proposed to make viruses with unique features of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan”. For Emily Kopp’s article, see:
And for the latest FOIA documents, see the following, though be aware that they total over 1,400 pages:
The new documents relate to a $14 million research proposal called DEFUSE which the President of EcoHealth Alliance, Peter Daszak, submitted to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, in 2018. The proposal also involved the University of North Carolina virologist Ralph Baric, who is an expert in the genetic manipulation of sections of virus such as spike proteins. The DEFUSE proposal involved Gain Of Function (GOF) research, and the genetic manipulation of freshly discovered bat coronaviruses. At one point the FOIA documents reveal that the grant applicants described the viruses to be studied in the grant as posing “a clear-and-present danger of a new SARS-like pandemic”.
What the latest FOIA documents also provide, in my opinion, is the previously missing link in the chain of evidence. As explained by Emily Kopp, they show that the scientists behind the DEFUSE proposal “sought to insert furin cleavage sites at the S1/S2 junction of the spike protein; to assemble synthetic viruses in six segments; to identify coronaviruses up to 25% different from SARS [which caused the first, much smaller, human coronavirus epidemic in 2003]; and to select for receptor binding domains adept at infecting human receptors.” Kopp adds: “The genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused COVID-19, matches the viruses described in the research proposal.” Indeed, the six segments of the genome were of almost exactly the same length, an outcome which would only be expected in one in a million instances if the virus had originated naturally.
Moreover, these viral manipulations comprised exactly the sort of genetic engineering work that three eminent viral researchers (Valentin Bruttel, Alex Washburne and Antonius VanDongen) had forecast, back in 2022, as the pattern that would be revealed if the virus turned out to have had a synthetic or artificial origin.
DARPA apparently rejected the proposal, believing it to be too dangerous (which is exactly what Baric himself concluded, although it is not clear how many of the experiments he had already carried out before he released this mea culpa statement). But Wade surmises that maybe the Chinese, realising the potential importance of this research, sought local funding in order to carry it out, but without telling their former US collaborators. In fact, this is one small element that Wade and Kopp appear to have missed, for it has been reported by the Sunday Times Insight team that by 2017 at latest the Wuhan lab of Professor Shi Zhengli was already collaborating with the Chinese military, some of whose members were allegedly interested in the potential use of such artificial viruses as bioweapons, and in the development of vaccines against these viruses. [See my previous blog of June 14, 2023: “Covid-19 origins: If it was a lab leak, was it caused by biowarfare research?”] This would seem to provide a ready answer to the question of who might have provided the funds to proceed with the extended GOF research proposed in the DEFUSE programme. It would also help explain China’s intransigent stance on refusing to allow further investigation into COVID’s origins.
Daszak was clearly an enthusiastic supporter of extending the viral work, and went to great lengths to encourage its progress which, according to Wade, “included deceiving the Defense Department into thinking the bulk of the research would be done by Baric in the United States”. By contrast, Wade writes that Daszak had “planned…to have much of the work undertaken by Shi’s team in Wuhan”. In partial explanation, Wade writes that “Daszak is a research manager, not a virologist, and perhaps did not fully understand the consequences of this decision.” Increasingly, Daszak comes across as a naive and Tiggerish enthusiast, a man who fails to think through the potential impact of his actions.
The consequences were doubly dramatic because (quite apart from the reported involvement of the military) Shi, unlike Baric, believed that this extension to the COVID research could be carried out in a lab with BioSafety Level 2 (BSL2) protection, such as the headquarters building of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), 8 miles south of downtown Wuhan. Previously members of the natural origin lobby have insisted that the epidemic could not have had an artificial source in Wuhan, because the new WIV laboratory with maximum (BSL4) biosafety containment (where they presumed that the COVID research had been staged) lay some 20 miles to the south of central Wuhan, where they insisted that the epidemic had started around the wet market in December 2019. But as reported in my blog of June 14, 2023, a much larger cluster of early cases appears around the WIV HQ than around the wet market. This suggests that the repeated insistence of Michael Worobey that there was an early epicentre of COVID-19 infection at the Wuhan wet market is in fact a red herring, one which has no relevance to the origins of the disease. What Worobey and other supporters of natural origin, such as Eddie Holmes and Andrew Rambaut, fail to acknowledge is that there may have been an initial outbreak in November 2019 among staff at the WIV headquarters, which means that the outbreak starting in December 2019 at the wet market would have been merely a secondary outbreak. The important information is that Shi’s team appear to have been actively pursuing their genetic manipulations into coronaviruses in 2018 and 2019 at the WIV HQ building, which had only BSL2 containment.
Several observers believe that this latest evidence represents a smoking gun. For instance the eminent science writer Matt Ridley, co-author of “Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19”, concludes that it is now “Game over” for the COVID origins debate. Nicholas Wade reports that Ridley believes that “every suspicious feature of SARS2 is explained by the methods called for in the DEFUSE documents”.
The last section of Nicholas Wade’s article is worth reprinting in full. It begins by summarising the latest evidence: He writes: “SARS2 possesses a furin cleavage site, found in none of the other 871 known members of its viral family, so it cannot have gained such a site [naturally,] through the ordinary evolutionary swaps of genetic material within a family. The DEFUSE proposal called for inserting one. As is now known, the DEFUSE procedure was to assemble the viral genome from six DNA sections, which would account for the even spacing of the restriction enzyme recognition sites in SARS2. Despite intensive search, no precursors for SARS2 have been found in the natural world. Given the 2018 date of the DEFUSE proposal, the researchers in Wuhan could have synthesized the virus by 2019, accounting perfectly for the otherwise unexplained timing of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as its place of origin. It all fits.”
But it is Wade’s concluding analysis which is most telling. He goes on: “Both Beijing and Washington have covered up information about the origin of SARS2. Washington’s obfuscation has been aided by the puzzling inability of its 17 intelligence agencies to discover documents in the U.S. government’s own possession, and by a mainstream press too opinionated and ignorant of science to understand the story of the decade. U.S. responsibility lies in having allowed two senior health-research officials, Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins, to promote gain-of-function research (enhancing natural viruses) for years without adequate safety oversight or scientific consensus.”
“Though Washington may be complicit, the bulk of the blame for the pandemic surely rests with Beijing. No one but China is responsible for regulating the safety of virology research at Wuhan. Chinese researchers apparently chose to race ahead with a project that DARPA, perhaps because of the manifest risks, had refused to fund. When the virus escaped its lax containment, if that is indeed what happened, the Chinese government did everything possible to bury the truth.”
“But that truth is enciphered in a place where, once decoded, no one can hide it: the genetic structure of the SARS2 virus itself.”
Chapeaux to Ms Kopp and Mr Wade, as our Francophile American friends are wont to say.
Posted by Edward Hooper, January 30, 2024.