COVID-19 Origins: Investigating a “Complex and Grave Situation” Inside a Wuhan Lab

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  s  •  one month ago  •  1 comments

COVID-19 Origins: Investigating a “Complex and Grave Situation” Inside a Wuhan Lab
The Wuhan lab at the center of suspicions about the pandemic’s onset was far more troubled than known, documents unearthed by a Senate team reveal.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Toy Reid has always had a gift for languages — one that would carry him far from what he calls his “very blue-collar” roots in Greenville, South Carolina. In high school, Spanish came easily. At nearby Furman University, where he became the first person in his family to attend college, he studied Japanese. Then, “clueless but curious,” as he puts it, he channeled his fascination with the Dalai Lama into a master’s degree in East Asian philosophy and religion at Harvard. Along the way, he picked up Khmer, the national language of Cambodia, and achieved fluency in Chinese.


But it was his career as a China specialist for the Rand Corporation and as a political officer in East Asia for the U.S. State Department that taught him how to interpret a notoriously opaque language: the “party speak” practiced by Chinese Communist officials.


Party speak is “its own lexicon,” explains Reid, now 44 years old. Even a native Mandarin speaker “can’t really follow it,” he says. “It’s not meant to be easily understood. It’s almost like a secret language of Chinese officialdom. When they’re talking about anything potentially embarrassing, they speak of it in innuendo and hushed tones, and there’s a certain acceptable way to allude to something.”

For 15 months, Reid loaned this unusual skill to a nine-person team dedicated to investigating the mystery of COVID-19’s origins. Commissioned by   Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. , the team examined voluminous evidence, most of it open source but some classified, and weighed the major credible theories for how the novel coronavirus first made the leap to humans. An interim report, released on Thursday by the minority oversight staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP),   concludes that the COVID-19 pandemic was “more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident.”

As part of his investigation, Reid took an approach that was artful in its simplicity. Working out of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington and a family home in Florida, he used a virtual private network, or VPN, to access dispatches archived on the website of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). These dispatches remain on the internet, but their meaning can’t be unlocked by just anyone. Using his hard-earned expertise, Reid believes he unearthed secrets that were hiding in plain sight.

Ever since the Chinese city of Wuhan was identified as ground zero for the COVID-19 pandemic, a contingent of scientists have suspected that the virus could have leaked from one of the WIV’s complex of laboratories. The WIV is, after all, the venue for some of China’s riskiest coronavirus research. Scientists there have mixed components of different coronaviruses and created new strains, in an effort to predict the risks of human infection and to develop vaccines and treatments. Critics argue that creating viruses that don’t exist in nature runs the risk of unleashing them.

The WIV has two campuses and performed coronavirus research on both. Its older Xiaohongshan campus is just 8 miles from the crowded seafood market where COVID-19 first burst into public view. Its newer Zhengdian campus, about 18 miles to the south, is home to the institute’s most prestigious laboratory, a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) facility, designed to enable safe research on the world’s most lethal pathogens. The WIV triumphantly announced its completion in February 2015, and it was cleared to begin full research by early 2018.

Like many scientific institutes in China, the WIV is state-run and funded. The research carried out there must advance the goals of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As one way to ensure compliance, the CCP operates 16 party branches inside of the WIV, where members including scientists meet regularly and demonstrate their loyalty.

Week after week, scientists from those branches chronicled their party-building exploits in reports uploaded to the WIV’s website. These dispatches, intended for watchful higher-ups, generally consist of upbeat recitations of recruitment efforts and meeting summaries that emphasize the fulfillment of Beijing’s political goals. “The headlines and initial paragraphs seem completely innocuous,” Reid says. “If you didn’t take a close look, you’d probably think there’s nothing in here.”

But much like imperfect propaganda, the dispatches hold glimmers of real life: tension among colleagues, abuse from bosses, reprimands from party superiors. The grievances are often couched in a narrative of heroism — a focus on problems overcome and challenges met, against daunting odds.

As Reid burrowed into the party branch dispatches, he became riveted by the unfolding picture. They described intense pressure to produce scientific breakthroughs that would elevate China’s standing on the world stage, despite a dire lack of essential resources. Even at the BSL-4 lab, they   repeatedly   lamented the problem of “ the three ‘nos’ : no equipment and technology standards, no design and construction teams, and no experience operating or maintaining [a lab of this caliber].”

And then, in the fall of 2019, the dispatches took a darker turn. They referenced inhumane working conditions and “hidden safety dangers.” On Nov. 12 of that year, a dispatch by party branch members at the BSL-4 laboratory appeared to   reference   a biosecurity breach.


once you have opened the stored test tubes, it is just as if having opened Pandora’s Box. These viruses come without a shadow and leave without a trace. Although [we have] various preventive and protective measures, it is nevertheless necessary for lab personnel to operate very cautiously to avoid operational errors that give rise to dangers. Every time this has happened, the members of the Zhengdian Lab [BSL4] Party Branch have always run to the frontline, and they have taken real action to mobilize and motivate other research personnel.

Reid studied the words intently. Was this a reference to past accidents? An admission of an ongoing crisis? A general recognition of hazardous practices? Or all of the above? Reading between the lines, Reid concluded, “They are almost saying they know Beijing is about to come down and scream at them.”

And that, in fact, is exactly what happened next, according to a meeting summary uploaded nine days later.

The dozens of pages of WIV dispatches that Reid unearthed, particularly those from November 2019, helped shape the conclusion of the interim report. Working out of a small, windowless room in the Hart building that they nicknamed “the Bat Cave,” the researchers cross-referenced Reid’s analysis with myriad clues, from procurement notices and patent filings to records of ongoing scientific experiments at the WIV. As their investigation grew, so did a timeline that unfolded across the walls like a giant checkerboard.

Ever since the Chinese city of Wuhan was identified as ground zero for the COVID-19 pandemic, a contingent of scientists have suspected that the virus could have leaked from one of the WIV’s complex of laboratories. The WIV is, after all, the venue for some of China’s riskiest coronavirus research. Scientists there have mixed components of different coronaviruses and created new strains, in an effort to predict the risks of human infection and to develop vaccines and treatments. Critics argue that creating viruses that don’t exist in nature runs the risk of unleashing them.

The WIV has two campuses and performed coronavirus research on both. Its older Xiaohongshan campus is just 8 miles from the crowded seafood market where COVID-19 first burst into public view. Its newer Zhengdian campus, about 18 miles to the south, is home to the institute’s most prestigious laboratory, a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) facility, designed to enable safe research on the world’s most lethal pathogens. The WIV triumphantly announced its completion in February 2015, and it was cleared to begin full research by early 2018.

Like many scientific institutes in China, the WIV is state-run and funded. The research carried out there must advance the goals of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As one way to ensure compliance, the CCP operates 16 party branches inside of the WIV, where members including scientists meet regularly and demonstrate their loyalty.

Week after week, scientists from those branches chronicled their party-building exploits in reports uploaded to the WIV’s website. These dispatches, intended for watchful higher-ups, generally consist of upbeat recitations of recruitment efforts and meeting summaries that emphasize the fulfillment of Beijing’s political goals. “The headlines and initial paragraphs seem completely innocuous,” Reid says. “If you didn’t take a close look, you’d probably think there’s nothing in here.”

But much like imperfect propaganda, the dispatches hold glimmers of real life: tension among colleagues, abuse from bosses, reprimands from party superiors. The grievances are often couched in a narrative of heroism — a focus on problems overcome and challenges met, against daunting odds.

As Reid burrowed into the party branch dispatches, he became riveted by the unfolding picture. They described intense pressure to produce scientific breakthroughs that would elevate China’s standing on the world stage, despite a dire lack of essential resources. Even at the BSL-4 lab, they   repeatedly   lamented the problem of “ the three ‘nos’ : no equipment and technology standards, no design and construction teams, and no experience operating or maintaining [a lab of this caliber].”

And then, in the fall of 2019, the dispatches took a darker turn. They referenced inhumane working conditions and “hidden safety dangers.” On Nov. 12 of that year, a dispatch by party branch members at the BSL-4 laboratory appeared to   reference   a biosecurity breach.


once you have opened the stored test tubes, it is just as if having opened Pandora’s Box. These viruses come without a shadow and leave without a trace. Although [we have] various preventive and protective measures, it is nevertheless necessary for lab personnel to operate very cautiously to avoid operational errors that give rise to dangers. Every time this has happened, the members of the Zhengdian Lab [BSL4] Party Branch have always run to the frontline, and they have taken real action to mobilize and motivate other research personnel.

Reid studied the words intently. Was this a reference to past accidents? An admission of an ongoing crisis? A general recognition of hazardous practices? Or all of the above? Reading between the lines, Reid concluded, “They are almost saying they know Beijing is about to come down and scream at them.”

And that, in fact, is exactly what happened next, according to a meeting summary uploaded nine days later.

The dozens of pages of WIV dispatches that Reid unearthed, particularly those from November 2019, helped shape the conclusion of the interim report. Working out of a small, windowless room in the Hart building that they nicknamed “the Bat Cave,” the researchers cross-referenced Reid’s analysis with myriad clues, from procurement notices and patent filings to records of ongoing scientific experiments at the WIV. As their investigation grew, so did a timeline that unfolded across the walls like a giant checkerboard.


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Sean Treacy
Professor Expert
1  seeder  Sean Treacy    one month ago

This is excellent journalism, months in the making.

Thanks to China stonewalling the investigation into the origins of Covid, the argument for a lab leak has always been circumstantial (with the stonewalling and evidence destruction circumstantial evidence itself ) and this provides even more, demonstrating a biosecurity breach in November 2019 that the scientists knew would lead to heavy governmental scrutiny. 

 
 

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