A bombshell report from The Washington Post on Tuesday revealed that U.S. officials sounded the alarm about the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) back in 2018 over safety concerns as the lab researched coronaviruses from bats.
“In January 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing took the unusual step of repeatedly sending U.S. science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which had in 2015 become China’s first laboratory to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety (known as BSL-4),” The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reported Tuesday. “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.”
“The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help,” The Post added. “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.”
The January 2018 cable stated that the U.S. officials who had repeatedly visited the lab “noted the new lab ha[d] a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”
“Most importantly, the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus,” the cable continued. “This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”
The report noted that there is no proof and no one credible is suggesting that the coronavirus was “engineered,” but that is not the same thing as saying that it did not come from a lab. The lab was researching coronaviruses from bats and it appears as though there is a possibility that it escaped the lab.
“There are similar concerns about the nearby Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention lab, which operates at biosecurity level 2, a level significantly less secure than the level-4 standard claimed by the Wuhan Insititute of Virology lab, said [Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley],” the Post added. “That’s important because the Chinese government still refuses to answer basic questions about the origin of the novel coronavirus while suppressing any attempts to examine whether either lab was involved.”
A U.S. official told the Post that the cables were “a warning shot” and that the U.S. officials who visited the lab “were begging people to pay attention to what was going on.”
The Post noted that “many national security officials” in the Trump administration suspect that the coronavirus escaped one of the two aforementioned labs, which are both located very close in proximity to the wet market that the outbreak had been tied to. U.S. officials had also noticed problems at the WIV in 2014 and 2015.
“The idea that it was just a totally natural occurrence is circumstantial,” a U.S. official told The Post. “The evidence it leaked from the lab is circumstantial. Right now, the ledger on the side of it leaking from the lab is packed with bullet points and there’s almost nothing on the other side.”
The Post noted that the timeline of events that unfolded in China, along with factual realities on the ground in Wuhan, do not add credence to the notion that the coronavirus came from a wet market.
The Post points to the fact that one of the first patients who was identified as reportedly having the virus did not have any connection to the wet market “nor did more than one-third of the cases in the first large cluster.”
The Post also added an important fact to this entire story: The market did not sell bats.
General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the report during a press conference on Tuesday, saying, “It should be no surprise that we have taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that.”
“And I would just say at this point it’s inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural,” Milley continued. “But we don’t know for certain.”
In a tweet, Rogin responded to Milley’s remarks, writing, “There’s a gap in the intel. That’s largely because the Chinese government has censored and suppressed all evidence related to the lab. Also, many senior officials disagree with Milley and believe the lab origin is much more likely than the seafood market story.”
There’s a gap in the intel. That’s largely because the Chinese government has censored and suppressed all evidence related to the lab. Also, many senior officials disagree with Milley and believe the lab origin is much more likely than the seafood market story. https://t.co/gbt2cvVqvA
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) April 14, 2020