The Biden State Department confirmed that the work being conducted by an office that was looking into the origins of COVID-19 and that helped produce a fact sheet on the Wuhan Institute of Virology has ended — though it denies the current administration shut the investigation down.
“There has been incorrect reporting that the Biden-Harris Administration shut down an investigation by the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control and Verification and Compliance into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. That reporting is incorrect,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told the Washington Examiner. “In February and March of 2021, the team’s findings were briefed to AVC and Policy Planning policy staff in the new administration. With the report delivered, the work was ended. The contract continues, focused on other, arms control related work related to AVC’s portfolio.”
The State Department did not respond to questions about whether the State Department team agreed that their COVID-19 origins work should've been finished.
The news of the State Department effort ending was quickly followed by President Joe Biden calling upon the intelligence community to “redouble” its efforts to investigate COVID-19's origins.
Though a 2021 report produced following a joint study by China and scientists organized under the auspices of the World Health Organization said a jump from animals to humans was most likely, Trump officials, Republican leaders, and numerous scientists have pointed to the possibility of an escape from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. A declassified State Department fact sheet, produced with the help of the team that has now been shut down, laid out in mid-January key details about sick workers at the lab and secretive Chinese military collaboration and gain-of-function research there, though it did not specifically conclude that COVID-19 escaped from there.
David Asher, who spearheaded the State Department task force, told Fox News on Wednesday he doesn’t “know why the Biden team would doubt an effort to carry out a fair and accurate investigation into a subject that increasing numbers of leading scientists are now also calling to study” and argued that “we don’t know for certain what happened in Wuhan, but we had every reason to investigate and ask questions.”
“At the State Department in the last months of the last administration, we didn’t draw or assert any conclusions, but we worked successfully to reveal certain facts and raise significant questions about the clear plausibility of a lab leak origin,” Asher said. “This was a global public service, and it is good that experts and journalists are increasingly turning their own attention to the issue, albeit belatedly.”
Asher claimed that some people at the State Department “were deliberately playing down possible links to China’s biological weapons program.”
He added: “As the State Department's Jan. 15 statement said, and as additional disclosures and expert analyses of the last few months have underscored, there is probable cause for deep suspicion.”
CNN, which broke the story Tuesday night, said a State Department spokesperson told them, “Even though this discrete project has concluded, the State Department continues to work with the interagency to look into the COVID origins issue.”
The outlet said the Biden spokesperson added: “It appears we do not understand the emergence of Covid-19 any better than we did 6-9 months ago.”
A State Department fact sheet released in January contended that Wuhan lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar)” and that the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.”
“The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses,” the State Department fact sheet said, adding that the Wuhan lab “has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.”
Matthew Pottinger, Trump’s deputy national security adviser, said in February: “If you weigh the circumstantial evidence, the ledger on the side of an explanation that says that this resulted from some kind of human error, it far outweighs the side of the scale that says this was some natural outbreak.” Pottinger said the fact sheet was “carefully crafted so as not to overstate the case that it was making.”
“All relevant parts of the Department continue to work with the interagency on this matter,” Price told the Washington Examiner. “The world continues to have serious questions about the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its origins within the Peoples Republic of China.”
Asher spoke at a Hudson Institute panel event in March, in which he shed further light on the State Department effort.
He argued then that the Wuhan lab was involved in a “military-funded program,” which he speculated may have been involved in “bio offense” research. Asher said that “biology is an area where it’s totally consistent for the Chinese to be doing this type of activity.”
The State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance concluded in April that China has “engaged in activities with dual-use applications, which raise concerns regarding its compliance with Article I of the Biological Weapons Convention” and that “the United States does not have sufficient information to determine whether China eliminated its assessed historical biological warfare program, as required under Article II of the Convention.”
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