Who was behind the lab leak cover-up? I asked this question on Saturday, noting that the cover-up began, not at the Fauci teleconference on February 1st 2020, as is usually supposed – after that meeting Fauci wrote to his Government colleagues to say he was initiating a neutral investigation to see “where that leads” – but at the February 3rd teleconference convened by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).
“The experts informed us that additional genomic sequence data from geographically- and temporally-diverse viral samples are needed to determine the origin and evolution of the virus,” the National Academy Presidents wrote.
The initial draft circulated following the teleconference had stated: “The initial views of the experts is [sic] that the available genomic data are consistent with natural evolution and that there is currently no evidence that the virus was engineered to spread more quickly among humans.” But this strong statement was gone from the final version.
It appears that the anti-lab-origin language was shot down by some of the scientists in the group, who were much more open to the possibility. Dr. Trevor Bedford in particular said in his feedback that there was a “lot” of evidence favouring a lab origin. “I wouldn’t mention binding sites here. If you start weighing evidence there’s a lot to consider for both scenarios,” he wrote.
The erasure of anti-lab-origin statements from the final letter indicates that this meeting as such was not the source of the lab leak cover-up. Equally, there were people involved in that meeting who plainly did want to suppress any discussion of the possibility.
Most notably, shortly after the teleconference, one participant, EcoHealth Alliance Director Peter Daszak, emailed another, Ralph Baric, the U.S. virologist who had collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology on coronavirus gain-of-function work, to begin to organise the infamous Lancet statement, published February 19th, that condemned “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin”.
Was it the failure to carry the day with the NASEM letter that led Daszak and Baric to initiate the Lancet statement? Or would they have done that anyway? It’s hard to say. But either way it becomes clear who in that meeting was most desirous of pushing this agenda forward.
Based on these backroom goings-on, it would appear that the cover-up wasn’t ordered by anyone as such. Rather, it seems to have been driven by some well-connected scientists like Peter Daszak and Ralph Baric who were personally connected to the scientific work at the centre of suspicions. Others not directly implicated went along with the suppression to varying degrees, some of their statements differing in public and private.
Kristian Andersen is a particularly fascinating case study. The Scripps microbiology professor’s worry that the new virus looked engineered was what had brought about the Fauci teleconference in the first place. He got in touch with Farrar, who got in touch with Fauci, leading Fauci to ask Farrar to convene the group. Eddie Holmes, one of the group, later said they excluded Baric from this group because they wanted a “proper investigation”. “We decided not to invite Ralph Baric just because he was too close to the WIV. … We wanted to make it a proper investigation.” During their discussions Fauci told Andersen that if he thought it came from a lab he should write a paper. Andersen drafted Proximal Origin and included the possibility of a lab origin (albeit via serial passage rather than direct engineering, which Andersen was dismissive of) and submitted it to Nature; Fauci, Collins and Farrar notably all signed off on this paper. When it was rejected by Nature (courtesy of an unnamed reviewer who seems to have been of the Daszak and Baric persuasion) for not rejecting lab origin firmly enough, Andersen robustly defended the inclusion of the possibility. Yet he then wrote it out of the final version published in Nature Medicine, and since then has not publicly defended a lab origin, though privately emails have shown his suspicions continued at least for several more months. Nonetheless, by 2022 he was putting his name to studies claiming (spuriously) to show “dispositive” evidence that the Huanan wet market was the source of the (natural) outbreak.
Farrar is another intriguing case. Initially writing that he was “50-50” between natural and lab origin, at around the same point in mid-February he managed to both sign off on the first version of Proximal Origin, which allowed for a lab origin, and sign the Lancet letter condemning a non-natural origin as a conspiracy theory! 50-50 indeed.
The Lancet statement and ‘de-labbed’ Proximal Origin then became the go-to basis on which the suppression of all lab-origin talk was justified.
There’s no sign, then, that the cover-up was a directive from the top, at least not originally. Rather there was a well-connected group of conflicted and implicated scientists who carried off an extraordinarily successful effort to convince others that there is nothing to see here, and even if there is we should ignore it for the greater good – to avoid “great potential harm to science and international harmony”, as NIH Director Francis Collins put it. This, it is worth adding, was despite, not because of, the efforts of U.S. security services to promote a lab origin from January 2020 onwards, probably as a way of implicating China, raising public alarm and justifying emergency measures.
This doesn’t excuse those who conspired in the cover-up of course. It doesn’t mean that none of them are guilty; to the contrary, it means they all are.
Stop Press: Sign the petition to retract Proximal Origin.