How Congress Can Investigate the Pandemic Origins Cover-up
Researchers and the National Institutes of Health gamed the science. Follow the documents, follow the money.
9 minute read
For three and a half years, I ran investigations for the United States Senate looking into corruption in science and medicine. The New York Times published multiple stories about my work on the dangers of the diabetes drug Avandia, as well as an investigation I began for the Senate after I discovered a Walter Reed doctor falsified a medical study.
But among the numerous inquires I led, few were as complex as my examination of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and secret corporate payments made to physicians. This sprawling investigation of NIH grants ran for years, generating coverage across the country, including in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, Bloomberg, Dallas Morning News, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Science Magazine, CBS Evening News, and NPR.
As Nature Magazine reported, my investigation into biomedicine disrupted the lives of several top researchers in America, causing one Institute leader to step down, and forcing the NIH to reform regulations on conflicts of interest.
None of this happened overnight.
It took years of systematic work, demand letters for documents sent to dozens of universities, meetings with the NIH Director to discuss these documents, and intense interviews with witnesses accompanied by their overpriced lawyers. Having reported on the pandemic, which many suspect started in a virus lab in Wuhan, I see many of the same problems I dealt with as a Senate Investigator: researchers hiding extensive conflicts of interest and scientists publishing studies that lack integrity and transparency.
Scientists keep saying “follow the science” but scientists gamed the science. Just like tobacco did decades ago, pandemic researchers contrived studies to bamboozle the public. Specifically, virologists have been caught orchestrating three peer-reviewed papers to silence critics and mislead people about NIH virus research and studies at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Do not follow the science. Follow the documents, follow the money.
I have already briefed several congressional investigators and committee staff, and I’m now making this strategy for investigating the NIH public. Congressional investigators can get to the bottom of how this pandemic happened, but they must gather evidence in a systematic fashion:
Release documents the NIH is hiding from reporters;
Investigate criminal misuse of “government resources and position” by virologists at the USAID and their contractors;
Demand documents and financial records held by university virologists funded by the NIH.
First, some background explaining how scientists gamed the science, and the need to follow the documents, follow the money.
Follow the documents, follow the money
Documents show that virologists seeded science journals with papers to fool the public and media into believing a lab accident was a “conspiracy theory.” Follow the documents, follow the money.
Feb 19, 2020 – Scientists published a statement in The Lancet that claimed a possible lab accident is a “conspiracy theory.” However, emails show that Peter Daszak of the NIH-funded nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance orchestrated the paper but did not disclose his financial ties to Chinese researcher Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Other authors on the paper signed with university titles, instead of disclosing their affiliations with the EcoHealth Alliance. These undisclosed financial ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Daszak’s lack of transparency forced The Lancet to shut down their commission looking into the pandemic’s origin.
Feb 26, 2020 – Virologists published a commentary in “Emerging Microbes & Infections” that claimed it was a conspiracy theory to speculate the pandemic started in a lab. However, emails show the essay was partially ghostwritten by Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Ralph Baric, a virologist with the University of North Carolina, who works on gain-of-function virus studies.
In one example, documents show that, after submitting comments in track changes, Baric emailed the authors that he wanted to hide his contribution to the paper. “[D]on’t want to be cited in as having commented prior to submission.”
March 17, 2020 – Scientists published a paper in Nature Medicine that concluded a lab accident was not “plausible.” Weeks prior, the paper’s lead author, Kristian Andersen of Scripps, emailed Anthony Fauci and NIH leader Francis Collins a draft of the paper thanking them for their “advice and leadership” on the paper. Andersen also invited them to comment and offer suggestions. Neither Fauci nor Collins are mentioned in the final published version. Both Collins and Fauci then promoted the paper as evidence of independent science.
This paper trail points to a cover-up. Here’s how Congress can investigate what really happened.
Release documents the NIH is hiding from reporters
Congress must demand that the NIH turn over unredacted versions of all documents requested by media outlets, and then publish those documents so that people can see what the NIH is hiding from the press and public.
Several media outlets have sued the NIH to force compliance with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. When judges demanded that the NIH comply with the law, the agency released heavily redacted documents to the Washington Post, Buzzfeed, The Intercept, and other outlets. In one example, The NIH sent The Intercept 292 fully redacted pages related to virus research in Wuhan.
In other examples, Buzzfeed sued the government in 2021 to get access to documents about Anthony Fauci. Buzzfeed’s story notes that the released documents “represent just a portion of what was requested, and they are filled with redactions, making them an incomplete record of the time period and Fauci’s correspondence.” A 2021 Washington Post article also reported on documents regarding Fauci that the government had heavily redacted.
A recent article in Tablet reported that the NIH heavily redacted emails they released to the media regarding a call between the NIH’s Anthony Fauci and virologists. On the call and in the emails, Fauci discussed with virologists a paper they later published in Nature Medicine and that dismissed the possibility of a lab accident.
Investigate criminal misuse of “government resources and position” by virologists at the USAID and their contractors
Documents point to misuse of government resources and position by virologists at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Congress must demand answers from both the agency and the inspector general. According to emails made public, USAID virologist Dennis Carroll oversaw a program called PREDICT and helped redirect hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch an organization called the Global Virome Project. After Carroll retired from USAID, the Global Virome Project then appointed him to their board.
USAID has refused to look into the matter, but USAID’s General Counsel has released guidance that states employees violate the law when favoring organizations that later employ them. Here’s one passage:
Specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 208 (a criminal statute) and the Standards of Conduct, 5 C.F.R. § 2635.601, prohibit a Federal employee from participating “personally and substantially” on official matters that will have a “direct and predictable” effect on the financial interests of an entity with whom the employee is negotiating or has any arrangement with concerning future employment.
Emails also find that Carroll helped to fundraise for the Global Virome Project while at USAID. The Justice Department says that this violates the law:
An employee engaging in fundraising in his personal capacity is also prohibited from using his official title, position or authority. In addition, he cannot solicit funds or other support from a subordinate or from any person that has business with his component.
Below is Carroll’s email helping to solicit funds for the Global Virome Project which he then joined after retirement.
The exact amount of funds that Carroll diverted from USAID’s pandemic program to set up the Global Virome Project remains unclear. But in a release of documents, the nonprofit US Right to Know published a spreadsheet showing that $270,969 in USAID PREDICT funds were diverted. However, other internal emails show USAID PREDICT contractors discussing Global Virome Project funds that were earmarked for Columbia University as well as $341,000 designated for a Global Virome Project benefit cost analysis study.
Members of the USAID PREDICT team scheduled a January 2020 conference call to discuss the Global Virome Project benefit cost analysis. People listed for the conference call included Gavin Yamey and Monica Roberson of Duke University, as well as Dean Jamison of the University of Washington, Stephen S. Morse of Columbia, and Colin Boyle of the University of California at San Francisco.
Individuals found in emails to have involved themselves in the diversion of funds and creation of the Global Virome Project should be sent letters demanding internal communications and any records of financial payments. These people include:
Dennis Carroll at USAID, now with the Global Virome Project
Chris Chrisman at USAID
Jonna Mazet at UC Davis and the Global Virome Project
Mary Radford at UC Davis
Eddie Rubin at Metabiota
Nathan Wolfe at Metabiota
Ben Oppenheim at Metabiota
Peter Daszak at EcoHealth Alliance and the Global Virome Project
Stephen S. Morse at Columbia
Gavin Yamey at Duke University
Dean Jamison at the University of Washington
Colin Boyle at the University of California at San Francisco
Demand documents and financial records held by university virologists funded by the NIH
Congress must get the bottom of what virologists and officials at the NIH knew and when they knew it. Direct demands sent to the NIH will be blocked by officials inside the White House Counsel’s office who will be handling all congressional requests. In prior incidents, this has required Congress to sue the White House, a process that can drag on for years. However, Congress can get answers from government contractors and NIH-funded scientists involved in virus research, as well as their many online messengers.
Shortly after the pandemic began, an NIH official emailed Fauci on Jan. 27, 2020 to notify him that he had been funding coronavirus research in China for the last five years. This money was routed through the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit run by Peter Daszak.
Since that first email, virologists funded by the NIH have orchestrated a PR campaign to point away from the lab in Wuhan as the possible beginning of the pandemic. Scripps researcher Kristian Andersen worked with Fauci, for example, on his Nature Medicine paper.
Congressional researchers must demand internal documents from university-based researchers and private contractors. However, this must be done in a smart way.
1) Letters must be addressed to university presidents, not the researchers themselves. Make the institution accountable for their employee’s behavior.
2) All correspondence and document production by academic centers and nonprofits must be signed by their attorney. Scientists lie, but lawyers know that if they lie or withhold information from Congress, they risk losing their license.
3) Researchers have been caught conducting official correspondence by private email. Congress must demand that institution lawyers search scientists’ private emails for official correspondence.
4) All targets for congressional investigation should first be served subpoenas. After the documents have been reviewed, they should be deposed by congressional investigators. Only then should Congress hold hearings. Too often Congress rushes straight to hearings and TV cameras.
Virologists have been colluding to hide evidence of a possible lab accident in Wuhan and dangerous gain-of-function studies for several years. Congress is behind the 8-ball but can catch up if they conduct a disciplined, systematic investigation to gather evidence—meaning documents, communications, and financial records.
Letters should demand all documents and communications, beginning in the summer of 2019, with various search terms that could include the following:
“EcoHealth Alliance” OR “Eco-Health Alliance” OR @ecohealthalliance.org
“Dual Use Research of Concern” OR “DURC”
“gain of function” or “gain-of-function” or GOF
“Wuhan Institute of Virology” OR WIV OR @wh.iov.cn
“lab leak” OR “lab accident”
Metabiota or @metabiota.com
Anthony Fauci OR email@example.com
Hugh Auchincloss @niaid.nih.gov
Shi Zheng-Li OR Shi Zhengli OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Fang Li OR email@example.com
Peter Daszak OR firstname.lastname@example.org
William Karesh OR Billy Karesh OR email@example.com
George Gao OR firstname.lastname@example.org
“Pei-Yong Shi” OR “Peiyong Shi” OR email@example.com
Linfa Wang OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Christian Bréchot OR email@example.com
Ian Lipkin OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Christian Bréchot OR email@example.com
James Le Duc OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas Ingelsby OR email@example.com
Alan Barrett OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Ralph Baric OR email@example.com
Jonna Mazet OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Nathan Wolfe OR email@example.com
Eddy Rubin OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Dennis Carroll (formerly USAID)
Cara Chrisman OR email@example.com
Below are researchers who should receive letters for document production and then be deposed under oath. These are researchers either directly involved in gain-of-function virus research or who have acted as third-party messengers online to redirect the public from asking questions about a possible lab accident.
Kristian Andersen at Scripps Research Institute
Robert F. Garry at the University of Tulane
Ralph Baric at University of North Carolina
Linfa Wang at Duke University in Singapore
Dennis Carroll of USAID, now with the Global Virome Project
Chris Chrisman of USAID
Jonna Mazet of UC Davis and the Global Virome Project
Mary Radford of UC Davis
Michael Worobey at the University of Arizona
Alan Barret at University of Texas Medical Branch
Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance
William Karesh of EcoHealth Alliance
Nathan Wolfe at Metabiota
Eddy Rubin at Metabiota
Ian Lipkin at Columbia Univeristy
James Le Duc at University of Texas Medical Branch
Thomas Ingelsby at Johns Hopkins University
Stephen Goldstein at University of Utah
Peter Hotez at Baylor
I have helped several congressional committees in the past send demand letters or launch investigations—both House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans. However, I provided that advice confidentially. This is the first time I’ve made such a strategy public.
Staff should also consult Congressional Research Service (CRS) and read the updated manual on congressional oversight written by Mort Rosenberg, the former guru of congressional investigations at CRS.
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Mr. Thacker, it looks like an excellent framework to be followed. Thank you for the work you put into this.
I might add a prodding comment. To understand that it is always worse than you imagined at the start.
Early on in this mess, I started sensing something was different about this virus. I read a great book by Elaine Dewar called The Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 years. It was about the lab leak. She, of course was getting slammed for writing it. Just before March 2020, two Chinese lab workers from Wuhan were fired from the gain of function lab in Winnipeg. The press raised questions but it got buried because of the pandemic. Elaine went into it in her book. Where there’s disorienting misinformation there’s a cover-up. I believe.