Leaked Department of Defense Documents Show Anthony Fauci and EcoHealth Alliance’s Peter Daszak Cannot Be Trusted on Dangerous Virus Research
Why do science writers keep aligning with sources caught lying to them and the American public about the COVID19 pandemic?
8 minute read
Newly leaked Defense Department documents made public by the research group DRASTIC further erode the vanishing credibility of the National Institute of Health’s Anthony Fauci and pandemic researcher Peter Daszak regarding their claims about gain-of-function studies at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Released last week, the documents show that Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance nonprofit submitted a research proposal in 2018 to the U.S. military research agency DARPA to collect bat viruses and then create and study chimeric versions—making the viruses more transmissible or virulent.
Describing the viruses he was collecting from bat caves, Daszak wrote in the proposal, “These viruses are a clear and present danger to our military and to global health security because of their circulation and evolution in bats and periodic spillover into humans.”
But a DARPA official rejected the proposal and added that the EcoHealth Alliance would need a gain-of-function “risk mitigation plan” if DARPA later funded part of the research that involved making chimeric viruses. Despite this protest from DARPA, Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance was already creating gain-of-function chimeric viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, without a risk mitigation plan, through a grant funded by Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Details of the EcoHealth Alliance’s NIH grant were made public earlier this month, following a freedom of information lawsuit filed by The Intercept.
In testimony earlier this year before Congress, Fauci denied funding gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), while Daszak has called attempts to make his grants public the work of “conspiracy-theory outlets and politically motivated organizations.”
After reviewing both Daszak’s DARPA proposal and the studies Daszak was conducting through an NIH grant, Shannon Murray, a staff scientist at US Right to Know, said they describe similar gain-of-function experiments. “Some of the same experimental platforms flagged by DARPA as being gain-of-function and dual use research were those performed in the bat coronavirus emergence grant funded by [NIH] for 6 years,” said Murray.
The new DARPA documents also undermine previous statements by Peter Daszak, who has collaborated for around 15 years with virologist Shi Zhengli, funding her research at the WIV, and some of her salary, through U.S. federal subcontracts. Shortly after the pandemic started, Daszak shot down suggestions that SARS-CoV-2 could have first infected people through a leak at Shi Zhengli’s lab by orchestrating a letter published in The Lancet that labeled such discussions a “conspiracy theory.”
As reported by the New York Times, Daszak has also called it a conspiracy theory to suggest that Shi Zhengli worked with live bats at the WIV:
On Dec. 10, Peter Daszak, who organized The Lancet letter denouncing the questioning of Covid-19’s natural origins and was announced as a member of the W.H.O. origins investigation committee last fall, insisted it was a conspiracy theory to suggest that there were live bats in labs he had collaborated with for 15 years. “That’s not how this science works,” he wrote in a tweet he later deleted. “We collect bat samples, send them to the lab. We RELEASE bats where we catch them!”
But evidence to the contrary has accumulated. An assistant researcher told a reporter that Dr. Shi took on the role of feeding the bats when students were away. Another news report in 2018 said a team led by one of her doctoral trainees “collected a full rack of swabs and bagged a dozen live bats for further testing back at the lab.” The Chinese Academy of Sciences website has listed the Wuhan institute as having at least a dozen cages for bats, and in 2018 the institute applied for a patent for a bat cage. Dr. Shi has talked about monitoring antibodies in bats over time — which would not be done in a cave. Recently, another video surfaced that reportedly showed live bats in the institute.
Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Daszak changed his claims. “I wouldn’t be surprised if,” he said, “like many other virology labs, they were trying to set up a bat colony.”
The newly leaked 2018 proposal Daszak submitted to DARPA makes clear why he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Shi Zhengli had a bat colony at the WIV: Daszak promised the Department of Defense that bats would be studied there.
On a separate page of the DARPA proposal, Daszak wrote that the Wuhan Institute of Virology would capture and house 20 adult bats.
New documents spotlight dishonest narratives
“There is a paradigm shift between what we were told before and what we now know was happening,” said Gilles Demaneuf, a member of DRASTIC, which stands for Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19. DRASTIC’s release of the DARPA documents bolsters their credibility as accomplished investigators who’ve uncovered evidence that the pandemic may have stared in a Wuhan lab. Their work has been previously highlighted in Vanity Fair, Newsweek, an investigative documentary by the UK’s Channel 4, as well as many articles in peer-reviewed journals.
“If you look at the narratives we were told,” Demaneuf said, “some of them were obviously not true.”
One narrative that has now fallen is Fauci’s denial that the NIH’s funding of EcoHealth Alliance for research with chimeric viruses does not quality as gain-of-function—meaning a virus was made more transmissible and virulent (i.e. deadly).
In the 2018 call for research submissions, DARPA made clear that grantees would have to comply with current federal rules on gain-of-function research.
DARPA therefore expects that proposers to this program understand and will comply with various government guidance regarding potential gain-of-function research of concern (GOFROC)8 and dual use research of concern (DURC).
8. Gain-of-Function Research (GOFROC) refers to studies with the potential to generate pathogens with pandemic potential exhibiting high transmissibility and high virulence.
In the proposal to DARPA, Daszak attempted to get around gain-of-function rules by stating that their work with chimeric viruses was “exempt” and was not “subject to P3CO.” P3CO is the process for assessing the risk of gain-of-function pathogen research and stands for Potential Pandemic Pathogen and Care and Oversight Framework.
But DARPA disagreed that Daszak’s proposed research was exempt from oversight governing gain-of-function (GoF) research—sometimes called Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC). In the rejection letter, a DARPA official noted:
Given the team’s approach does potentially involve GoF/DURC research (they aim to synthesize spike glycoproteins that may bind to human cell receptors and insert them into SARSs-CoV backbones to assess capacity to cause SARS-like disease), if selected for funding an appropriate DURC risk mitigation plan should be incorporated into contracting language that includes a responsible communications plan.
However, even as DARPA asked for a mitigation plan for gain-of-function research, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance was already creating SARS chimeras with a grant from Fauci’s NIH.
“The researchers generated new chimeric viruses for which there were no known vaccines or therapies, which replicated more and caused more harm, with a potential to infect humans,” added US Right to Know’s Shannon Murray, pointing to another page of Daszak’s NIH grant where he described their gain-of-function studies.
Science writers for Peter Daszak!
Daszak’s NIH bat research grant made national news last year, when the federal government terminated it. At the time, media outlets characterized the NIH grant as funding for fieldwork to study bats in order to stop future pandemics. None reported that the grant funded gain-of-function studies. As NPR reported:
The China bat research project was funded entirely through the NIH grant, says Daszak. “So with the funding terminated, we won't be able to do this work. The fieldwork will not carry on.”
That poses a threat to U.S. national security and public health, he says. “Once this pandemic is over, we know of hundreds of other coronaviruses that we've found evidence of in China that are waiting to emerge,” says Daszak. “We are now going to be unable to know about the risk of that, which puts us completely at risk of the next pandemic.”
At Science Magazine, Meredith Wadman and Jon Cohen went with quotes from credulous experts who charged that the NIH may have violated the law by canceling the grant. Daszak told them, “I can't imagine that a grant titled ‘Understanding the risk of bat coronavirus emergence' could in any way be a danger to public health. I would expect it to be entirely the opposite.”
Science Magazine also quoted support for Daszak from Dennis Carroll at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), without disclosing that the agency was funding Daszak:
Others fear the project has become a casualty of an overtly political attempt by the Trump administration to shift attention away from its own troubled response to the pandemic and blame China. “There's a culture of attacking really critical science for cheap political gain,” says Dennis Carroll, who recently retired as director of the emerging threats division of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Another conflict of interest not reported by Science Magazine: Dennis Carroll and Peter Daszak serve together on the board of the Global Virome Project. Carroll and Daszak announced the project’s beginning in 2018 with an essay published in—what a surprise—Science Magazine.
Nature Magazine likewise rushed to Daszak’s defense, describing the canceled grant as research “which involves collecting faeces and other samples from bats, and blood samples from people at risk of infection from bat-origin viruses.”
Nature also provided a platform for Daszak to lash out at journalists and nonprofits trying to expose his studies:
Conspiracy-theory outlets and politically motivated organizations have made Freedom of Information Act requests on our grants and all of our letters and e-mails to the NIH. We don’t think it’s fair that we should have to reveal everything we do. When you submit a grant, you put in all your best ideas. We don’t want to hand those over to conspiracy theorists for them to publish and ruin and make a mockery of.
Daszak told Nature that the canceling of the NIH grant was “heinous” while his colleague Shi Zhengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology called it “outrageous.”
However, what the public likely finds heinous and outrageous is that so many science writers wrote misleading articles that defended Peter Daszak and the NIH, instead of doing a minimum amount of journalism and holding both to account.