Sunday, Oct 17, 2021

NIH Director Steps Down Amid Growing Scandal About Covid-19 Origins

As government documents implicating the NIH in the funding of dangerous “gain-of-function” experiments in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) surfaced in recent weeks, NIH director Francis Collins abruptly announced his resignation.

Collins had earlier testified before Congress that his agency had never funded the controversial experiments in which scientists modify a virus or pathogen to make it more transmissible, infectious or lethal to humans.

NIAID director Anthony Fauci, too, has testified under oath, under heated questioning in Congress, that federal agencies did not fund gain-of-function research.

Both men appear honest and convincing. But records obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by the group DRASTIC, a team of scientists investigating the origins of Covid -19, have exposed their pronouncements as false.

Among the documents are records of federal grants for gain-of-function research that were channeled to the Wuhan Lab by NIH, as well as progress reports that outlined the exact experiments carried out with the help of the NIH grants.

Richard Ebright, molecular biologist and professor at Rutgers University, said these documents “make it clear that assertions by Collins and Fauci, that the NIH did not support gain-of-function research at WIV are untruthful.”

Speaking to Newsweek, Ebright said that multiple sections of the grant proposals and particularly, the grant progress reports of 2014, make it undeniable that the grants funded gain-of-function research of concern in Wuhan.

To make his point, Ebright cited a number of passages in the progress reports.

“Two especially noteworthy sections are page 28 and Figure 35 of the Year Four Progress Report on the first five-year grant term, as well as page 3, Figure 6, of the proposal for a second five-year grant term,” he noted.

Ebright said these sections of the documents show that NIH grants supported the construction of mutant SARS-related coronaviruses that involved blending different types together. The result was a lab-generated virus that could infect human cells in a more virulent way.

The scientist added that at least three of the lab-generated viruses “exhibited viral loads in humanized mice ten to one hundred times higher than the original virus.” (“Humanized mice” have been genetically engrafted so that their immune systems mimic those of people.)

Gain-of-Function Research with Coronaviruses Was Ongoing

Further disclosures from the FOIA documents show that scientists at the Wuhan lab were routinely doing gain-of-function research, manipulating viruses to make them transmissible among humans and more dangerous.

One 2018 grant proposal included in the FOIA documents released to DRASTIC described plans by a team of American and Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology to create a novel coronavirus “not found in nature.”

EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based agency led by British-born Peter Daszak and funded in part by Dr. Anthony Fauci’s agency, submitted the proposal to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Telegraph of London reported.

“We will compile sequence/RNA data from a panel of closely related strains and compare full length genomes,” says the application.

“Consensus candidate genomes will be synthesized commercially, using established techniques and genome-length RNA…to recover recombinant viruses,” states the proposal.

A WHO officer who reviewed the grant application confirmed that the documents indicate the researchers intended to create a coronavirus (“synthesized commercially”) that closely resembled the natural viruses from which it was derived, the Telegraph said.

“They would then synthesize the viral genome from the computer sequence, thus creating a virus genome that did not exist in nature but looks ‘natural …” the WHO source related. Human engineering would thus not be detected.

The next step would be to insert the lab-designed RNA into a cell and when it replicated, recover the virus from it. This process creates a virus that has never existed in nature, with a new ‘backbone’ that appears very similar to the natural backbones of viruses that occur in nature,” the WHO scientist explained.

A 2017 scientific paper co-authored by Chinese researcher Shi Zhengli, who was in charge of the WIV’s coronavirus research, explains in detail how such an experiment was already carried out prior to the grant proposal, as it was not uncommon to conduct research and write a grant proposal for it later.

The paper describes how the Chinese scientist “took two bat coronavirus genes — spike genes — and combined them with a SARS-related backbone to create new viruses that are not found in nature.”

The 2017 paper also noted that Shi received funding from the NIH through EcoHealth Alliance, which had received more than $15.2 million from the NIH over the years, $3.74 million of which was directed toward bat coronavirus research.

The Lancet Declaration Silences Debate

Richard Ebright was among the 16 experts from around the world, including prominent scientists at prestigious research institutes, who collectively penned a letter to the British science journal, Lancet, calling for another look at the evidence that the pandemic began with a lab leak.

In February 2020, the Lancet had published a declaration signed by 27 scientists expressing “solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China.  We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin,” the letter stated.

At that point, it was too early to know how the virus originated and a knee-jerk rejection of a reasonable theory made no sense. Yet the declaration went on to say that scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” and ended with a rallying call for readers to stand with Chinese colleagues on the frontline of fighting the disease.

As devoid of evidence and logic as it was, the Lancet statement effectively ended the debate over Covid-19’s origins almost before it began. “The proclamation drew a line in the sand that intimidated people. To challenge it put you morally out of bounds,” one scientist told Vanity Fair.

Indicative of the toxic atmosphere surrounding the lab-leak theory, Dr. Robert Redfield, former director of the CDC, told the magazine he received death threats from fellow scientists after telling them he thought the virus likely escaped from a lab.

“I was threatened and ostracized because I proposed another hypothesis. I expected it from politicians. I didn’t expect it from science,” he said.

Then came the revelation based on emails obtained by a Freedom of Information group called U.S. Right To Know, that the Lancet statement had been orchestrated behind the scenes by Peter Daszak, the head of EcoHealth Alliance which allocates funding from the NIH.

Daszak had over the years distributed tens of millions in government grants to facilities conducting gain-of-function research, among them the Wuhan institute.

The Most Dangerous Game

Daszak’s motive for wanting to kill all speculation that the pandemic began with a lab leak is obvious. If the SARS-Cov2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Daszak would be potentially culpable.

For 20 years, mostly beneath the public’s radar, he and other virologists had been playing a dangerous game. In their laboratories they routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature.

They insisted they could do so safely, and that by staying a step ahead of nature, they could predict and prevent public outbreaks caused by the cross-over of viruses from an animal host to people.

Experts say they were courting disaster.

Any minor lab accident could torpedo the entire mission and wreak utter havoc; a dropped flask, a needle prick, a mouse bite, a poorly labeled bottle, an overtired researcher forgetting some aspect of safety protocol—the list of possibilities is endless.

If SARS2 had indeed escaped from such a laboratory experiment, severe repercussions could be expected. Public outrage would be brutal and unforgiving, and would affect virologists everywhere. “It would shatter the scientific edifice top to bottom,” one scientist said.

But proponents insisted on pursuing this most dangerous game.

The Scheme Backfires

Daszak had organized the influential Lancet statement with the intention of concealing his role and creating the impression of a scientific consensus behind the rejection of the lab-leak theory.

Under the subject line, “No need for you to sign the statement,” he wrote to two scientists, including Dr. Ralph Baric, who had collaborated with Chinese researcher Shi Zhengli on the gain-of-function study that created a coronavirus capable of infecting human cells.

“You, me and him should not sign this statement, so it has some distance from us…We’ll then put it out in a way that doesn’t link it back to our collaboration so we maximize an independent voice.”

Baric agreed, writing back, “Otherwise it looks self-serving and we lose impact.”

The statement ended with a false declaration asserting “no competing interests.”  Two months after the statement was published, Daszak emailed Fauci to thank him for having his back, for publicly supporting the theory that coronavirus naturally jumped from animals to humans and did not leak from the WIV.

Fauci of course, not only had Daszak’s back but his own and that of his boss, NIH director Collins.

When the scheme eventually backfired, Daszak was disgraced. A group of international scientists and health experts last week called for EcoHealth Alliance to remove Daszak as president, in the wake of disclosures about his ties to the Wuhan lab where the Covid-19 pandemic may have originated.

The letter — which was also sent to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci — accused Daszak of having “concealed several extreme situations of conflict of interest, withheld critical information and misled public opinion by expressing falsehoods,” the New York Post reported

The letter also accused Daszak of lying when he claimed that the Wuhan lab did not keep live bats on the premises, when recently uncovered footage from 2017 shows bats in cages at the facility. The document further alleges that Daszak made “unfounded claims” about why virus samples and sequences held by WIV were taken offline — making them inaccessible to outside researchers.

The most serious accusation in the scientists’ letter states that Daszak failed to publicly disclose that EcoHealth Alliance had applied in 2018 to receive a grant from the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that would have funded a project creating “creating novel chimeric viruses that are optimized to infect humans, and could unleash untold havoc.”

“Whatever Peter Daszak’s motivation, failing to disclose the 2018 DARPA application and its proposal to genetically engineer furin cleavage sites into bat coronaviruses … while repeatedly calling anyone raising questions about a possible lab incident a ‘conspiracy theorist,’ is a significant violation of ethics and public trust,” said Jamie Metzl, one of the letter’s signatories, who serves on the WHO’s advisory committee on human genome editing.

Gain-of-Function Divided Science Community For Years 

A foreign concept to many laymen, the ethics of gain-of-function research had stirred fierce controversy among scientists for years. Things came to a head in 2011, when Ron Fouchier, a researcher at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, announced that he had genetically altered the Avian (bird) flu strain to make it transmissible among ferrets, who are genetically closer to humans than mice.

Fouchier declared that he’d produced “probably one of the most dangerous viruses you could make,” plunging the scientific community in heated debate over the experiment’s alarming ramifications.

The experiments demonstrated a degree of enhanced transmissibility that was unprecedented. In the ensuing brouhaha, scientists fiercely debated the risks and benefits of such research. Those in favor claimed it could help prevent pandemics, by highlighting potential risks and accelerating vaccine development.

Critics argued that creating pathogens that didn’t exist in nature ran the risk of unleashing them and causing a pandemic. What was the point, they asked, of hunting for exotic diseases in the wild, shipping them back to laboratories, and wiring their genomes to prove how dangerous to human life they might become? How could this not be problematic from a moral and ethical standpoint?

Pressure from critics and activists in the Obama administration brought about a temporary pause on funding gain-of-function research, especially when it involved potential pandemic pathogens.

But five months before the moratorium was announced, NIH-affiliated Eco-Health under Daszak secured a NIAID grant of roughly $3.7 million, which it allocated to various labs engaged in collecting bat samples and performing gain-of-function experiments, including China’s WIV.

NIH Circumvents Moratorium on Gain-of-Function Research

EcoHealth Alliance, in its proposal to the NIH, acknowledged the risks involved would pose “the highest risk of exposure to SARS among staff,” who once infected, would carry it out of the lab.

The NIH gave them the money anyway – something Dr. Anthony Fauci was forced to admit when testifying before Congress in May this year.  EcoHealth Alliance then gave $599,000 of the money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Instead of the grant being halted under the moratorium, friends in high places succeeded in pushing it through.

By 2018, writes Vanity Fair, EcoHealth Alliance was pulling in up to $15 million a year in grant money from an array of federal agencies, including the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to 990 tax exemption forms it filed in New York.

Wuhan researcher, Shi Zhengli, nicknamed the “bat lady,” listed U.S. government grant support of more than $1.2 million on her curriculum vitae: $665,000 from the NIH between 2014 and 2019; and $559,500 over the same period from USAID.

Collins and Fauci have repeatedly denied that the research constituted ‘gain-of-function’ research, although Collins recently admitted in an interview with talk show host Hugh Hewitt that the Chinese may have used the funds for a nefarious purpose.

Bombshell Admission

In the bombshell admission, he acknowledged the NIH “had no control over what [the Chinese] did with the funds.”  Collins gave no sign that he was fazed by this fact. Excerpts taken from an interview with Collins by talk show host Hugh Hewitt demonstrate the bizarre mindset.

Hugh Hewit: Dr. Collins, let me raise the question of EcoHealth Alliance. I’m a general counsel of two federal agencies in the past. I know how this stuff works. When you give a grant, the money ends up going to the Wuhan Institute of Virology through the EcoHealth Alliance. You’re inevitably supporting all the research of any grantee. Now there were two five-year grants. Doesn’t that put the federal government in the position of having supported WIV’s [research]?

NIH Director Collins: Well, when we give a grant, Hugh, it has terms attached to it that [specify] what the grantee is supposed to be doing with those funds. And we require annual reports…. And we trust the grantee to be honest and not deceptive. The grant funds that went to Wuhan were specifically aimed to try to categorize viruses that they could isolate from bats in Chinese caves. And we had no control over what else they were doing with those funds.

Hewitt: I don’t know why we would ever trust the Chinese Communist Party, Dr. Collins. And I wouldn’t trust their scientists because they don’t have freedom of science. A wrong move and they’ll end up in a gulag in Xinjiang.

Collins: Well, Hugh, again, we have had prior to SARS-COVID-2 as a terrible pandemic, two other episodes of very serious coronaviruses that emerged apparently from bats in China. We at the NIH have to think about what the next risk is going to be. Remember, thousands of people died from SARS. Do we really want to just sort of say well, we can’t investigate that, because it involves China, and they have some political issues that we’re a bit uncomfortable with? I don’t think that would be responsible.

Hewitt: Doctor, it’s not that we have political issues with a government that we’re “a bit uncomfortable with.”  China is a totalitarian state that executes people, suppressed Hong Kong and runs prison camps, and a gulag –which we have called a policy of genocide. Maybe we wouldn’t be here with American money going to the WIV if oversight had gone effectively deep into the NIH policies. Does it make sense to you why my expertise would say gosh, no, we’re never giving money to the Chinese Communist government –ever?

Collins: I think when the dust all settles, a reasonable person will say we were doing what NIH should do to try to protect the public against a terrible outbreak.

Hewitt: The question then becomes is there any regime that NIH would not fund? Would you give money to North Korea? They’ve got bats in North Korea as well. Would you send them money?

Collins: Probably not. Again, Hugh, I think you’re demonizing the Wuhan Institute of Virology as if it’s pure and simple an instrument of the Chinese Communist Party. There are scientists working in that institute who are amongst the best in the world…I don’t think we should just basically say well, because they’re in that country, they’re evil. I think you’re going too far with that one.

Hewitt: I don’t think the scientists are evil, Dr. I think they are coerced. There is not a free actor in all of China.

GOP Senators Call Out NIH For Deleting Covid Data

Collins’ willingness to give the Chinese a free pass came under scrutiny last month when Senator Grassley and a group of Republican senators again demanded that the NIH provide answers to reports that vital Covid-19 data was deleted from a key government database, at the request of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official.

In a follow-up letter to NIH Director Francis Collins, Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Roger Marshall of Kansas, said the NIH had failed to answer the Senators’ original questions fully and completely, and failed to provide the records requested.

The lawmakers in their initial letter in June cited a WSJ article that reported that Chinese researchers “directed” the NIH “to delete gene sequences of early COVID-19 cases from a key scientific database,” called the NIH Sequence Read Archive.

Astoundingly, the NIH complied. The WSJ article elaborated that the deleted data includes Covid-19 genomic sequences from viral samples collected in Wuhan in January and February 2020 from hospital patients.

The senators reiterated their request, more sharply worded this time, that Collins provide a list of explanations focused on the Chinese deletion requests, particularly identifying who at NIH has authority to delete such data.

 

*****

The Telltale ‘Furin Cleavage Site’

Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and professor at Rutgers University, told Newsweek that from the very first reports of a novel bat-related coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, it took him “a nanosecond” to consider a link to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Although direct evidence of an accidental mishap, or intentional sabotage was not apparent, a closer look at the molecular features of the virus under a microscope reinforced his belief that the virus had been engineered, heightening the chances of a lab-leak.

The anomalous presence of the “furin cleavage site” on the spike protein—a complex enzyme in the region of the spike protein never found in SARS or any SARS-like bat virus—was one factor that persuaded Ebright as well as many scientists, that the virus was man-made.

The cleavage site refers to chemically sensitive region of the spike protein that would react in the presence of an enzyme called furin, which is a type of protein found everywhere within the human body, but especially in the lungs.

“When the spike senses human furin, it shudders, chemically speaking, and the enzyme opens the protein, commencing the tiny morbid ballet whereby the virus burns a hole in a host cell’s outer membrane and finds its way inside,” explains an article in New York Magazine.

But there is even more powerful evidence for the lab-leak theory, say the authors of the Wall Street Journal article: “If the novel coronavirus were engineered by scientists pursuing gain-of-function research, there would logically be no instances of community infection until the virus escaped from the laboratory.

The WHO investigation analyzed the stored virus samples in Wuhan and surrounding regions from the timeframe preceding the pandemic. They found zero pre-pandemic infections, the WSJ op-ed affirms.

“Where did Covid-19 come from? The answer can be found in the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself. To get to the truth, we need only unleash the power of science,” the article urged.

 

*****

Who Else’s Days Are Numbered?

With Collins resigning and Daszak disgraced, people are eyeing the possibility that NIAID director Anthony Fauci may be facing some of the same pressure. But in a recent appearance on Fox News, Collins denied that his resignation after 12 years was related to the accusations regarding gain-of-function research, which he continued to glibly deny.

“Doctor,” Fox News host Neil Cavuto asked Collins, “did the timing of this have anything to do with the heat and pressure that both you and Dr. Fauci have encountered over what you knew, when you knew it, about the source of the coronavirus in this Wuhan lab and whether, deliberately or inadvertently, your funding helped provide that?”

“No, it didn’t, Neil,” Collins responded. “Of course, people are always sort of looking for some kind of cause and effect here. I want to absolutely assure you and anybody else listening that it had nothing to do with my decision. And I also want to say that that our funding of that research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology was a million miles away in terms of the genome of the virus that we’re talking about.”

He added, “I wish the Chinese would come clean and reveal their lab records and hospital records of people that got sick in November 2019. They don’t seem willing to do that.”

Is it any wonder the Chinese won’t cooperate? They’ve been in the drivers’ seat the entire time, getting lucrative grants with few strings attached, making the rules, setting the terms and running the show. What do they have to gain by having the world scrutinize any part of their operation?

Investigative reporter Laura Logan notes there’s another reason Collins and the U.S. government have never pushed the Chinese for full disclosure: The Chinese will simply turn around and demand an investigation of the Americans. “They’ll say we Americans might have started the pandemic. And they’ll be playing their strongest card that way. Because the truth is, Americans did have a hand in this.”

“Fauci’s involvement in gain-of-function did not begin in 2014,” Logan elaborated in a Fox News appearance. “Americans need to understand this goes way back to 2002 when corona viruses were originally not transmissible to human beings…Dr. Fauci was funding gain-of-function long before he farmed it out to China. It was being carried out in North Carolina’s University of Chapel Hill. But it was deemed too dangerous, so Congress banned it and Fauci pushed it abroad to China.

“The Chinese’s best defense is to point their finger at America because we really did get our hands dirty with this,” Logan said.

‘Opening a Can of Worms’

Support for Logan’s perspective comes from a months’ long Vanity Fair investigation, interviews with more than 40 people, and a review of hundreds of pages of U.S. government documents,” the magazine said.

“It found that conflicts of interest, stemming in part from large government grants supporting controversial virology research, hampered the U.S. investigation into COVID-19’s origin at every step.”

In one State Department meeting, the magazine editors said, officials seeking to demand transparency from the Chinese government say they were explicitly told by colleagues not to explore the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s gain-of-function research, because it would bring unwelcome attention to U.S. government funding of it.

In an internal memo obtained by Vanity Fair, Thomas DiNanno, former acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, wrote that staff from two bureaus, his own and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, “warned” leaders within his bureau “not to pursue an investigation into the origin of Covid-19.”

Why not? Because, he was told, it would “‘open a can of worms if it continued.”

 

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