Do Politicians Ignore NIH Ties with Wuhan Lab to Protect Biodefense "Contract Racket"?
Follow the money: lucrative lobbying gigs and billions in government biodefense contracts help NIH's Anthony Fauci redirect focus away from US grants for virus research.
9 minute read
CORRECTION: An earlier version stated that a researcher emailed the NIH in June of 2022 to disclose the focus of a Senate interim report on the pandemic’s beginning. That email was actually sent a year prior, in June of 2021. Text has been changed to correct that fact.
An email made public by the National Institutes of Health casts doubt on the credibility of a ProPublica/Vanity Fair investigation based on an interim report released by Republican staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP). That Senate interim report concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic was “more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident” pointing direct blame at China’s lack of transparency for preventing more definitive conclusions.
Democrats have labeled as “partisan” all evidence tying virus research in Wuhan, China to grants from Anthony Fauci and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Senate staff stripped this evidence from their interim report, which concluded, “The lack of transparency and collaboration from government and public health officials in the People’s Republic of China with respect to the origins of SARS-CoV-2 prevents reaching a more definitive conclusion.”
The interim report was a whitewash, I was told, and purposely did not look at NIH funding for gain-of-function research and the involvement of Anthony Fauci. Some congressional staff now speculate that scientific evidence of US involvement in dangerous virus research is being ignored by Members of Congress to protect jobs and contracts in the US biodefense industry, a lucrative career for former politicans and their staff.
The final report remains in limbo, although I was told that it will look at NIH funding for research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which staff working on the final report calculate to be at least $400,000.
Shortly before Christmas, I received a call from a former congressional investigator who asked if I had read the interim report, and I replied that I had skimmed it. The person then explained that I should look for the words “gain-of-function,” “National Institutes of Health,” and “Anthony Fauci.”
When I then read the report and did key word searches, I discovered the former congressional investigator was right: There was no mention of Anthony Fauci nor gain-function research, and only passing references to the National Institutes of Health. But why? The reason, the person said, was obvious.
“You can’t trash the agency you need for lobbying contacts and contracts with, right?” explained the former congressional investigator, who describes the multi-billion dollar biodefense system as a “contract racket”, with taxpayers funding grants and contracts for virologists to find viruses hidden throughout the world; bring them back to labs for research, including gain-of-function studies that make viruses more deadly; and then partner with biomedical companies and Big pharma to create profitable therapeutics and vaccines.
“Look, I don’t care if you want to go cash in,” the former congressional investigator said, “but don’t do it at the expense of the American public.”
I then spoke with two experts who helped advise Senate staff on the interim report. One said that Senator Burr made the decision to remove any mention of the gain-of-function research funded by the NIH. The other said that Senator Burr’s staffer, Robert Kadlec, had done so. Regardless, the interim report, published in late October, was rushed to get out ahead of the coming midterms, when Republicans were expected to win the Senate and begin asking aggressive questions about the NIH’s funding for gain-of-function virus research.
Both ProPublica’s investigation and the Senate findings were immediately criticized by scientists and China experts for weaknesses in the story, such as questionable Chinese translations by an American who is not a native Chinese speaker. ProPublica later made several corrections, and Editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg released a lengthy 2,700 word note addressing the controversy.
But several congressional staff and experts say both the Senate interim report and ProPublica misled people by omitting critical information. Led by staffer Kadlec, the Senate’s interim report was written to redirect the public’s gaze away from Anthony Fauci and dangerous gain-of-function research supported by the NIH, and to focus attention solely on research in Wuhan, China. A few weeks after ProPublica posted their editor’s note, several congressional staff and Senators held a meeting with Kadlec and asked for the full report and materials he had gathered.
“This is not a story about Kadlec using some reporter at ProPublica to push a narrative,” said a Senate staffer who did not wish to be named without getting clearance to speak to the media. “This is about Kadlec, because he’s always getting away with stuff.”
“It was a complete whitewash and really screwed over the other senators,” explained the former congressional investigator.
In an interview, Kadlec said that he has been working since October to finish the full report and ensure all the references are correct. Senator Rand Paul’s staffer Christina Salazar has been given an early copy. “We have eliminated a lot of spurious information,” Kadlec told me. “We have bulked up some other things that would be a source of great interest when it's released, should Senator Paul decide to do that.”
But during a Senate hearing last Thursday, Senator Paul complained that the HELP Committee has prevented him from bringing the report over to the Homeland Security Committee where he is now Ranking Member. Senator Paul’s staff did not reply to a request for comment.
“I was surprised the released report omitted discussion of US actions, including the role of USAID, NIH, and EcoHealth Alliance in funding research on SARS-related coronaviruses in Wuhan,” said Richard Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University and long-time critic of gain-of-function studies.
Senator Burr’s staff interviewed Ebright several times to go over details such as the NIH’s funding of gain-of-function research, grants provide to the EcoHealth Alliance, and NIH funding for research in Wuhan. He added that these topics were central to the report, until sometime during the summer, when Democrats apparently decided that Kadlec and the Republicans would have full control.
A second expert briefed Senate staff and emailed them evidence of a lab accident coverup by Peter Daszak, of the NIH-funded EcoHealth Alliance, as well as Kristian Andersen, an NIH-funded researcher at the Scripps Institute.
“I also was surprised the released report omitted discussion of actions of former NIAID Director Fauci and former NIH Director [Francis] Collins, who repeatedly violated federal policies by funding gain-of-function research.”
Kadlec said that the report could be better if the NIH would comply with requests, adding that Fauci has done outstanding work for the country, even though he failed to cooperate with the committee, as did Francis Collins. He added that both Fauci and Collins seem more concerned that evidence pointing to a lab accident might create impediments for doing unfettered science in the future.
“His behavior is more incriminating than anything we found,” Kadlec said of Fauci. “Fauci’s organization did not do appropriate due diligence on the EcoHealth Alliance grant,” Kadlec added.
A new career?
Senator Burr has long been a strong proponent of biodefense spending. He helped to usher through 2006 legislation that created Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) which funds research and procurement of bioterrorism countermeasures, including the stockpiling of vaccines and pandemic treatments. Citing the pandemic, Burr introduced legislation last year that established ARPA-H to support billions more spending on pandemic preparedness.
“One of the greatest successes to come out of the pandemic was the federal government’s partnership with the private sector to deliver life-saving vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics with unprecedented speed,” Burr said in a statement when introducing the ARPA-H bill.
When the interim report was released, Burr’s counterpart was HELP Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, who maintains strong ties to the biodefense lobby industry. The Seattle Times published an investigation during Murray’s 2010 reelection that found her former staff-turned-lobbyists help fund her Senate races while winning millions in contracts for their clients.
Direct evidence that Senate HELP staff would not look at US funding ties to research in China appeared in recent weeks. In an email sent almost two years ago in the summer of 2021, University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) virologist James Le Duc informed the NIH’s Hugh Auchincloss that Robert Kadlec had asked him to be a senior advisor on the committee’s report.
“I don’t have a formal terms of reference for the study, but was told that it is strictly fact-finding and will not attempt to draw conclusions regarding the origin, will not focus on NIH funded activities, and will not specifically address the merits of gain-of function-studies,” Le Duc emailed Auchincloss during June of 2021. Since Fauci’s retirement last year, Auchincloss has replaced Fauci as the acting director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
Le Duc seems an odd choice to advise Senate staff on a fact-finding report. In early 2020, the Department of Education opened an investigation of UTMB’s research grants with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other Chinese institutions.
The year before Le Duc notified Auchincloss that the committee’s report would not focus on the NIH, LeDuc emailed researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and asked them to edit a briefing he was preparing for congressional staff in the pandemic’s early months.
“Please review carefully and make any changes that you would like,” Le Duc wrote to Shi Zhengli and other researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Le Duc retired from UTMB, but the Houston Chronicle reported this summer that his lab had a legal agreement with the Wuhan Institute of Virology that allowed Chinese scientists to destroy “secret files” regarding their institutions’ research collaboration.
“I told Bob [Kadlec] I would be happy to help,” Le Duc reported to Auchincloss last June. “I consider it an honor to be asked to contribute to the narrative…”
ProPublica’s investigation parroted the interim report’s findings and featured LeDuc as a central character in the Senate’s work. However, ProPublica failed to mention Le Duc’s agreement to destroy Chinese documents and that Le Duc had asked Chinese scientists to edit his congressional briefing.
When I ran this past Kadlec, he said that once he learned about LeDuc’s history, he pushed LeDuc to the side so that he was not a core member of the Senate team. “So just kind of politely, you know, kept him in contact, because we could still ask him some specific questions, but he didn't have full insight into the proceedings.”
The latest incident with LeDuc involves an investigation I published back in December on an intelligence report marked “UNCLASSIFIED/FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”. That intelligence report described U.S. scientists who had briefed high-ranking State Department officials to downplay the possibility of a Chinese lab accident.
The State Department will not release the names of those scientists, but two congressional sources now tell me that one of those scientists misdirecting the State Department was James Le Duc.
Kadlec said he will finish the report’s key reference document and leave the Senate within a week. The report, he said, is a “really deep analysis” and he hopes that Senator Paul can make use of it and that people will demand that the report become a matter of public record. “We tried to write a very serious document that comports with something that you'd read, like for the Challenger accident,” Kadlec said.
“We did very good work, and yet we can’t get anyone willing to put the report out there,” he said, adding that if it remains secret, “It’ll shame everybody.”
President Biden’s budget this year included an historic $88.2 billion request for mandatory pandemic and biodefense funding spread across five years. Senator Burr retired last November and became a lobbyist for DLA Piper on biodefense and biomedicine, taking with him two of his staffers from the HELP Committee who worked on BARDA and other biodefense matters.
“It’s the perfect crime,” explained the former congressional staffer, who contacted me last December. “Remove the cops, then create a bank.”
“Then rob it.”
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Unfortunately, a racket describes much of government expenditures and interaction with industry, not just Pharma.
These bloated sewer rats abound in the dark, keep shining the light