Leading Bioterror Official Says A Science "Cabal" Is Misdirecting America About A Wuhan Lab Accident: "It's like denial and deception."
ROBERT KADLEC: DICHRON INTERVIEW
16 minute read
Four years after the COVID outbreak began sometime in 2019 in Wuhan, China, we still don’t know how it started. Knowing how this virus began infecting humans can help prevent the next pandemic.
However, evidence pointing to a lab accident continues to accumulate. The investigative nonprofit U.S. Right to Know released new emails that found virologists collaborating with the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance had sought to mislead the Department of Defense about potential research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This is just the latest example of scientific malfeasance.
Much of the continued controversy concerns dangerous “gain-of-function” virus research, federal funding for which accelerated after various biodefense bills became law following 9/11 and the 2001 anthrax attacks. Enter, Dr. Robert Kadlec.
For over 30 years, Dr. Kadlec has worked to counter biological weapons for an alphabet soup of various agencies—JSOC, DOD, CIA, DHS, UN. During several tours on the Hill, he also helped to write most of the critical legislation that now undergirds America’s biodefense infrastructure. When the COVID outbreak began, Dr. Kadlec ran ASPR, which is in charge of the country’s medical and public health preparedness. He then left that position to run a Senate committee that released an interim report on the pandemic’s origin that became a controversial exclusive by ProPublica/Vanity Fair, with a 2700 word editor’s note later added.
Operating mostly in the background, Kadlec has now emerged from the bureaucracy to assert that federal scientists and the virologists they funded have misdirected the public and helped to cover up evidence that the pandemic began in a Wuhan lab—a lab funded with American money.
These researchers’ motives seem clear: protect reputations, protect federal grants.
From his home office in the DC area, where he’s lived for the last 25 years, Kadlec spoke to me over the last several months to warn that another pandemic is coming and scientists have helped cover up how this one began. “It looks like an information operation to me.” Kadlec said. “It’s directing people away. And these guys did it by a variety of means.”
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The DisInformation Chronicle is a community-supported publication. To receive new posts and support this work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
THACKER: It’s been four years since this pandemic started and we know another is coming.
KADLEC: There's a guarantee for the next one. There’s a couple every century.
THACKER: We have fire investigators that inspect a building to understand why it burned down to prevent future fires. But when you look at all the scientists’ emails that have been coming out, especially in the last six months, they seem uninterested in understanding.
It’s a cover-up.
KADLEC: Cover-up is one way to look at it; it seems to be a colossal misdirection.
If you look back to February 2020, there wasn’t a consensus about how the pandemic began, but there was clearly a strong opinion that this could have been a laboratory incident.
You had a number of people argue that there was something suspicious. When you read that Kristian Andersen email that the virus was inconsistent with expectations from an evolutionary theory…It's basically saying, “Look, guys, I think this could be engineered.”
THACKER: Kristian Andersen is the Scripps researcher at the center of this. Andersen then goes on to author this piece in Nature Medicine that does a 180 on what he said in private. And then we have the email Fauci sent to memorialize the February 1, 2020, phone call with all these virologists, including Andersen. Were you on that call?
THACKER: Regarding that call, Fauci writes that there were mutations in the virus that would be most unusual to have evolved naturally in the bats and that virologists were suspicious that this mutation was intentionally inserted.
Fauci then adds that virologists’ suspicion was heightened by the fact that scientists in Wuhan are known to have been working on gain-of-function experiments to see how bat viruses adapt to infect humans. And the outbreak originated in Wuhan.
Now all this stuff Fauci writes at the time, explaining what scientists thought, later became a “conspiracy theory” when anyone else brought it up.
KADLEC: Right. You got it.
I wanted the National Academies to look at the genetic sequence, to truncate some of the more wild speculation out there. And the answer that we got back in February 2020 is that the National Academies needed more information.
That is a very different conversation than the people who were talking with Fauci and who were very explicit about what their concerns are.
THACKER: You’re on that February 1 email that Fauci wrote. And when we spoke before, you didn’t remember reading it. So I emailed it to you, and you were like, “Wow. This really explains things.”
KADLEC: Yeah. It is a “Wow.” After you sent it to me, I called a guy I worked with on the Hill—two of them actually—and I sent it to them. “Did you guys see this?”
One of them could recall it, because he’s working on the subcommittee investigating the pandemic’s origin. It would have been nice to know this. But at the time, I was the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). So figuring out how the pandemic started wasn’t in my wheelhouse.
I was focused on countermeasures, preserving hospital systems, and distributing PPE—what little we had.
KADLEC: So I’m on the email, but I don’t remember seeing it.
But these virologists say that this virus is kind of wacky. Eventually, Eddie Holmes becomes the biggest sellout, and he seems to have gone to the other side of this for some reason.
He's been out there with Mike Worobey, trying to make the case that this virus couldn’t come from a lab.
After this February 1, 2020 phone call, these virologists start putting together three papers that counter what they said privately. One paper appears in The Lancet, on February 19th. This is just 18 days after the call, and it states the possibility of a lab accident is a conspiracy theory. Guess who signs that Lancet piece? Jeremy Farrar, who put together that February 1st call with the virologists that Fauci emailed about.
A week after that, there’s a paper in Emerging Microbes and Infections that says the same thing—conspiracy theory. And we find out that Ralph Baric helped to secretly ghostwrite it, along with Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
I contacted the journal publisher, but they still haven’t done anything.
Three weeks after that, Kristian Andersen, Ian Lipkin and Eddie Holmes publish their Nature Medicine “Proximal Origins” paper that argues a lab accident was not plausible. And we now have emails showing that Fauci and Jeremy Farrar were helping to push that paper through.
How do we get three papers bubble up into the academic literature, within six weeks, that all come to the complete opposite conclusion of what virologists privately speculated on February 1?
KADLEC: I'd like to know, too.
Because of our previous conversation, I’ve started going through thousands of emails. A paper came out in 2015 in Nature, and they put out two corrections on it. It’s a Ralph Baric and Shi Zhengli paper.
This is a paper funded by Fauci’s institute at the NIH, and the corrigendum adds that there was also funding from USAID, the PREDICT program.
What is going on with all this funding and this editor’s note? There seems to have been a lot of jiving by people.
But to your point, how do we go from a phone call with “Well, this just doesn't look right” to the opposite. “There's no possible way it could be a lab.”
And I wish I could explain that. I was trying to get the National Academies to comment and they did that.
Fauci got this other group, with Jeremy Farrar, and his buddies. And this group privately says they have concerns, and then publicly say there's no way a lab accident could happen.
That's the chain of events.
THACKER: The publishers at Nature are trying to grab people by the nose with this editor’s note and guide them down this narrative pathway. Why are you now out saying that Fauci misled us?
KADLEC: He's a real operator, man. I'm not saying that he misled us, but somehow we went from one story to the other.
The cabal seems to be Jeremy Farrar, Francis Collins and Fauci.
They seem to be the center of what was going on. Then you have these researchers, Kristian Anderson, Robert Garry and the others being included. Mike Worobey wasn't part of these conversations, but he became a public mouthpiece for a lot of this.
I'm very suspect of what happened.
As much as you would like to think Fauci is behind this, I think Collins may be the guy. By the way, Collins is still working in the White House. Still an advisor to the President.
THACKER: You’ve told me that Fauci has one of the largest egos you have ever encountered.
KADLEC: He has a vested interest in his reputation and that of his institute. And they're inseparable.
I mean, the guy's been around for 40 years.
When we were investigating what happened for the Senate HELP Committee, we could not link what we believe happened in Wuhan directly to NIH funding. But as you pointed, when you talk about a lab—the money, science, data, and techniques—those are all fungible.
THACKER: I worked as a lab tech at Emory University. You’ve got a bunch of grants and you just kind of figure out which equipment or supplies you charge something to. It’s not like there’s some auditor coming behind me when I was ordering something.
KADLEC: But I think what was driven here was reputational risk to NIH and to the two people that both advocated—Fauci and Collins—for unfettered, scientific research, meaning gain-of-function research.
NIH funded gain-of-function research may have resulted in this accident.
THACKER: You can see that nobody from the CDC was on that February 1, 2020 call. Yet CDC was being criticized for not being involved in trying to figure out what was going on with the pandemic.
KADLEC: It really has little to do with NIH and CDC. This goes back to my historic work in the Bush administration. There was this idea that, between the intelligence community and the scientific community, there had to be someone who would take the responsibility for leading efforts to conduct attribution.
THACKER: What does attribution mean?
KADLEC: It means who done it. Who did it come from?
If I remember correctly, it ultimately fell to the Department of State. But what science do they know, or the intelligence community?
There were people somewhat reluctant to commit Health and Human Services, including NIH and CDC, to do this because they needed to be looked at as a white hat. Keep them away from this.
So who's in charge? It was muddled in this case.
It defaulted to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which oversees the intelligence agencies. And the scientists who were advising them were conflicted.
THACKER: What's their conflict? I wrote about several of these scientists running to the State Department, promoting the Nature Medicine “Proximal Origins” paper to get the department to say, “Welp. No lab accident.”
Kristian Andersen and Robert Garry later admitted to being part of this effort.
KADLEC: They got funding from NIH to do gain-of-function research, some of it with the Chinese.
There's an inherent problem when you go to a small pool of real experts, and they've all been doing this kind of work, and some of them actually have been working with the Chinese.
THACKER: Right. We think that something bad happened in a Chinese lab, and researchers who work with that lab are telling everyone that everything is fine. One of those people was Eddie Holmes, I found out.
I was just glancing through the authors of the Nature Medicine “Proximal Origins” paper to see who they were, a couple years back. I looked up Eddie Holmes’ CV and saw he was a guest professor at the Chinese CDC in Beijing, but hadn’t disclosed that in the Nature Medicine paper.
So I tweeted this out.
I then sent Holmes an email asking him to explain. He said he wasn’t affiliated with the Chinese CDC, and then edited his CV. I then got this weird email from some PR guy in Australia asking me to take down my tweet. Here’s the archived version of Holmes’ CV.
Was Eddie Holmes interviewed by the intelligence community?
KADLEC: I don't know that for a fact. But I'm sure they talked to a variety of people.
THACKER: There was a Chinese researcher doing COVID vaccine research, when the pandemic started.
KADLEC: One of the first people to issue a patent for a vaccine against COVID-19 was a People’s Liberation Army professor who was a vaccinologist. When you look at the patent and what he published on that COVID vaccine, you quickly realized that he had to start very early. In order to submit the patent with mouse data, he had to start working with the COVID virus around November, or as early as October.
We think the outbreak occurred—which is late October, November—and he's doing animal studies with mice, likely at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. He published a paper in collaboration with the WIV in November of 2019. Lo and behold, this outbreak happens in Wuhan.
THACKER: Why did you think Collins tried to stop you from working with the National Academies?
KADLEC: He just called me, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” Collins, you know, has a fairly large ego. But also, he felt like the National Academies was the sole domain of the NIH.
I had to remind him, that I was paying the Academies to do work for me under pandemic preparedness.
THACKER: They do contract work for government agencies. They don’t belong to anyone.
KADLEC: We were trying to organize an effort to look at what the genetic sequence showed in January 2020, to tamp down some of the reckless rhetoric—this is a bioweapon. You had a variety of people saying this.
It was just creating a very difficult environment when we were trying to get the U.S. and Chinese National Academies to agree to share COVID samples.
The National Academies said, “We'll need more information.” And we thought that would smooth things over. Collins felt like I was out of my lane to do that.
So we decided the letter to National Academies would not come from me, not from him, but from the science advisor at the White House. And that's what happened.
He’s a smart guy, smarter than I’ll be. But he’s the loudest voice in the room. And that loud voice continues, as is evident from emails that you probably reviewed. Whatever happened in all this, he was part of it.
THACKER: But we know what happened. By February 1st, NIH knew that Fauci was funding research in Wuhan through EcoHealth Alliance; that there was gain-of-function studies going on in Wuhan. They knew that these virologists thought the virus looked terrible—not natural. And then eight days later on February 9th, Fauci goes on Newt Gingrich’s podcast and calls it a conspiracy theory to say that it could have come from a lab.
KADLEC: Well, that's the point. If anything, Fauci had information that probably said the other way.
I'm just trying to establish what really happened. Was this really from a lab? And you can't make a cogent, convincing argument that it came naturally from an animal. What they were trying to do is make the argument that it’s zoonotic, and there's no evidence to support that.
The evidence I have is from George Gao, the guy who was the director of the Chinese CDC, who published serially that this virus was not from the market.
THACKER: Why do some scientists keep pushing this wet market theory?
KADLEC: Well, it's a red herring, no pun intended.
You know, even the Chinese relented from it.
Credible scientists in the United States, including Mike Worobey…There was just a paper, on hold for over a year, that Gao wrote with a whole bunch of Chinese authors. They just said there is no evidence that this came from an animal in that market.
THACKER: So why do these scientists in the States keep pushing this whole idea that it started in that market?
KADLEC: It looks like an information operation to me. That's what, that's how I view this. This is incredible.
THACKER: What's an information operation?
KADLEC: Misdirection. It's like denial and deception.
It’s directing people away. And these guys did it by a variety of means. The one that's most egregious in my mind is what Worobey did, to claim that the seafood market was the epicenter of the outbreak. In one preprint, he made a whole bunch of assertions, a whole big fanfare in the public domain that he had proof that this pandemic was from the animal market. Well, of course, the press picked that up.
THACKER: The New York Times ran with the preprints. I pointed out in UnHerd that somebody is paying Worobey, and Beijing’s top health official has dismissed Worobey’s claims that the pandemic started in a market.
But hey, narrative.
KADLEC: And yet, when the paper came out, those assertions were removed.
THACKER: Don’t you think it’s odd that the people funding these virologists—the ones who keep popping up saying “no lab accident!”—are Jeremy Farrar, who was at Wellcome Trust, and Anthony Fauci?
KADLEC: Well, there you go. The motivation seems to be obvious, right? It’s reputational risk and institutional risk to these funders.
Now, Fauci is trying to walk some of this back. Collins is in the catbird seat.
THACKER: He’s up there advising the President.
KADLEC: He's influencing now at the highest level.
THACKER: You were the top bioterrorism guy at Health and Human Services, when the pandemic started. You had direct access to Matthew Pottinger at the National Security Council, right?
KADLEC: Not directly. I gained access over time. But in January, you know, I'm an assistant secretary. He was a deputy, above me.
THACKER: But you were at a lot of the White House briefings and the President says, “This thing came from a lab.” Didn’t you think, “Whoa. What's going on here?”
KADLEC: Well, yes. But my whole focus was “How do we manage this event? How do we mitigate the virus? How do we save people lives?” I wasn’t thinking, “Who done it?”
That only happened after the Trump administration, when I went to the Hill and I was tasked to figure out the virus’s origin. So, then my role changed, and my focus and interests changed.
I'm going to be very direct with you, when the pandemic started, we had nothing. We had no diagnostics, no therapeutics, no vaccines. And little, little PPE, as we were going into a buzzsaw.
THACKER: You went to the Hill and put out a Senate report late last year. Why is there no discussion in that report of obvious issues about gain-of-function studies? Anthony Fauci's name does not appear in that report. The entire report just concludes that China is not being transparent. We had NIH grants going to Wuhan. Documents showed that federal money was paying Wuhan scientists.
KADLEC: It's a fair question, right? I'm not doubting the question. I was in the minority, working for the Republicans and this was supposed to be bipartisan. When we pressed to get the information from the NIH, we didn't get it. The Dems didn't support the request, so it was a minority request, and the administration ignored it.
THACKER: Was that a mistake to not make that more of an issue? Jeffrey Sachs ran the COVID commission for The Lancet and said, “Why are we asking the Chinese to be transparent? We can get a lot of answers right here in America. We're asking the Chinese to be transparent and we're not being transparent in America.”
It’s a Michael Jackson song—Man in the Mirror.
KADLEC: I do not doubt what you're saying. But the practical reality is this: We asked, we begged, we pleaded, and we didn't get anything. That gets to the role of Congress and oversight. I talked to a couple of staffers working on this in the House right now. It's been like extracting teeth.
If you go through the emails that the NIH has released by freedom of information requests, they’re all heavily redacted. They're just being jerks about this. To your point, is there a cover-up? I think you're digging in the right direction.
It seems to be a big misdirection, for sure. And you could argue that is a cover-up.
My direction for the Senate report was asking, “Did this come from an animal or did it come from a lab?” I can honestly say there's no evidence to support this virus came from an animal. And there's a lot of evidence to support this came from a lab.
Do I think that the Chinese were in cahoots with the NIH? No. The Chinese were misdirecting us. But their misdirection was so ham handed and easy to see through.
THACKER: And the NIH?
KADLEC: That is much more nuanced, much more sophisticated, but still an insidious kind of event. People in science decided, “This is bad for business, bad for research, bad for grants, bad for everybody.”
THACKER: Several people have gone on the record, former President Trump, the former CIA Director, the former Director National Intelligence, former CDC Director…and at some point they all say, “I got to be careful that I don't talk about what's in the classified. But when you look inside the classified, all the classified is pointing to a lab accident.”
I’ve also had people tell me this in private, during interviews. Where they pause for a moment and say, “Okay, I have to be careful. I can’t say anything about what’s still classified.”
You’ve got a top secret clearance. You’ve not gone through the classified yourself?
KADLEC: I didn't have access to get on JWICS, which is the terminal that allows you to search classified material. I was at the Senate HELP committee, even though I had a clearance, but you have to have a need to know and access to that kind of terminal. When I was on the Senate Intelligence Committee, I had access to classified material that I could search for, but not on Senate HELP.
The Senate Intel Committee didn't want anything to do with this.
THACKER: Why not?
KADLEC: I'd like to understand that. I think they saw this as some kind of Trump campaign hangover. It’s not. Retrospectively, there’s a basis that Trump was right.
THACKER: Why were Democrats not interested? All these scientists, including Collins and Fauci have at one point said that we need to understand how the pandemic started to prevent the next one.
But then they don’t want to look. It’s a circle jerk.
KADLEC: The point you're making is legitimate. Senator Patty Murray, was the Committee Chair of HELP, and she supported a bipartisan investigation. After about a year, all her people that were assigned to this investigation took jobs in the Biden administration.
So there was all this rhetoric. And when it came time to doing the work….
THACKER: They wanted to be bipartisan until you needed Patty Murray's signature—as the Committee Chair—on the demand letters. And then they just didn't want to do it.
THACKER: Why not, “Let's figure out how this thing happened”? Why just look at China, though?
KADLEC: That was the bipartisan agreement, that was negotiated between the two parties. But for the committee report, we were trying to understand what the Chinese were doing and if that could have resulted in this outbreak.
THACKER: You’re in direct contact with Congressman Wenstrup who is running the investigation in the House. Where is that going, because it seems to be going really slow. And he’s now going to retire.
KADLEC: In my conversations with Wenstrup, he's going to run through the tape, and see how far he can get. We'll see. He's committed 110%.
THACKER: How much do you think Fauci was messing around inside the intelligence community? I know he was having direct meetings with Anthony Ruggerio who worked on biodefense issues at the National Security Council.
KADLEC: Yep. I had meetings with Ruggerio too. This was early in the outbreak.
But some of this was just putting together a budget and money to deal with the pandemic. I know there's some scuttlebutt that Fauci had direct meetings with some of the intelligence agencies. But I have no personal insider knowledge of that. Just what I read and hear.
But Fauci was the guy, both in the Trump administration and along with Francis Collins, who transcended the two administrations.
THACKER: I've had two people tell me that you have said or hinted that Fauci directly misled you.
KADLEC: Well, what do I say? In the course of events, I was not considered a peer of Fauci. I was not considered a peer of Robert Redfield, who ran the CDC. I was not considered a peer of Deborah Birx, who ran the coronavirus response.
And I was not included sometimes because I'm an independent kind of guy. So when I was “the guy in charge at HHS” it wasn’t like these people reported to me. There was not a collegial environment.
I got excluded at times.
Somehow, I was not good enough or not smart enough or not…except that I served in the White House as a special assistant to president. I advised presidents on these factors, and had more operational experience in managing events than any of those folks.
I don't think I was in a position where Fauci could misguide me, because I was never part of that conversation.
THACKER: You’ve seen the email trail that Fauci helped to put together the Nature Medicine “Proximal Origins” paper. And then there's that White House briefing after the paper was published, where President Trump is asked, “Did this thing start in a lab or not?”
And President Trump steps aside and Fauci comes up to the podium and starts talking about the “Proximal Origins” paper he helped put together, without disclosing that he helped put it together.
Fauci did this right under the nose of the President.
KADLEC: That paper now seems to be at variance with what those who drafted that paper wrote in private. Their private views were very different than the public view. What was the intent of that?
Broadly, the scientific community wasn't very friendly to Donald Trump. I have my own personal issues with the guy. But that doesn't mean that you would misdirect or otherwise say things that weren't factual.
In retrospect, that seems to be more likely the case, than not. This seems to be coming into sharper focus, based on our conversations and me looking back into these emails.
What these virologists were writing privately is not the same with what they came out with publicly.
THACKER: When I was in the Senate investigating the NIH, Elias Zerhouni did not ignore my letters. I had him come to the Senate Finance Committee to brief Senator Grassley on what he was going to do to clean up the conflicts of interest problems and their grants. You dealt with Fauci, you've dealt with Collins before.
You went to the Senate, and they're not responding to your letters?
KADLEC: Senator Burr had a number of private conversations with Collins and Fauci. They were willing to talk to him, but not staff. We could listen in, but it was not some unfettered discussion. And I know Fauci.
He's a smart guy. Fauci was working directly for the President and we were in the minority and Democrats were in the majority. He knew that we couldn’t make him respond.
I’m sure Democrats would prefer to forget about this, anything about the pandemic, about how it started. They may have been misdirected also.
Scientists who have clear bias and conflicts have been advising people who are in charge and that continues today.
The DisInformation Chronicle is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.