Examining America's Culpability for COVID | Opinion

Early in the pandemic, Chinese authorities blamed COVID-19 on a pangolin in a Wuhan wet market, claiming the virus was transmitted from bats to an intermediate host animal to humans. They have yet to produce a pangolin infected with the virus. Lying to the world is nothing new for the communist government. But Western governments, journalists and scientists, not to mention American research institutions and social media companies, were, with few exceptions, willing dupes.

Now the same groups are engaged in a concerted campaign to blame COVID-19 on an accidental lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But this new theory simply transfers a slim line of information from one silo to another, and its proponents rigorously refuse to ask tough but necessary questions.

The first dots to connect are the coordination, money and cooperation between American institutions and the Wuhan Institute. University of North Carolina researchers established a partnership with the institute years ago. Along with Wuhan virologist Dr. Shi Zhengli, they reported as early as 2015 that they had succeeded in transferring spike proteins from a bat virus to a SARS virus and significantly increased the virus's pathogenicity. This is the "gain of function" research some American government and research scientists wanted to conduct without the full knowledge of other U.S. government institutions.

What about the money? Zhengli's 2015 study, titled "A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence" and published in Nature, reported funding from the NIH, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the EcoHealth Alliance. It also included a note in its acknowledgements:

Experiments with the full-length and chimeric SHC014 recombinant viruses were initiated and performed before the [gain of function] research funding pause and have since been reviewed and approved for continued study by the NIH. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

There was indeed a pause in NIH funding for gain-of-function research beginning in 2014. But by 2015, this grant had been "reviewed and approved for continued study." In 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded $6.5 million to EcoHealth Alliance, another funder of the Wuhan research. Just last year, the president of EcoHealth Alliance orchestrated the scientists' letter that insisted on the natural origins of COVID-19, closing down independent discussion of the origins and leading Facebook and Twitter to ban dissenting scientists.

The U.S. likely participated in this research because some virologists believed it would bring future value in dealing with dangerous viruses such as MERS and SARS. But the Wuhan laboratory is not only engaged in purely scientific research; it is part of a network of Chinese institutions working on biological warfare.

COVID vaccine
A man receives a dose of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 at the Ankara City Hospital, in Ankara, Turkey, on June 7, 2021. Adem ALTAN / AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Li-Meng Yan, who defected from Hong Kong, argues that COVID-19 was developed by China for biowarfare purposes and that the source of the virus was not guano in a bat cave in a copper mine in Yunnan, as Chinese authorities have asserted. Instead, she claims what she terms the Zhoushan virus, either ZC45 or ZXC21, was manipulated in a number of Chinese laboratories, including Wuhan. The Zhoushan variant was identified by the People's Liberation Army and scientists across China were put to work on adapting it for biowarfare.

The virus from Wuhan appears synthetic—that is, it does not resemble anything in nature. And it is a killer, as proven by what the world has experienced since late 2019. In the U.S., 597,000 people have died from COVID and 33 million have been infected; worldwide, a staggering 3.7 million have died (so far) and 173 million infected. In fact, these numbers may be an undercount of the ravages caused by the virus.

The evidence points to the uncomfortable conclusion that elements of the U.S. government were working on and supporting a human killer virus.

But there's one more question investigators need to ask: Could COVID-19 have been developed as a biowarfare agent?

Widespread COVID infections could provide China with strategic advantages. For example, early in 2020, sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt visited Vietnam. At least 1,200 of them got COVID and the vital aircraft carrier was laid up in Guam for weeks. If China were preparing an invasion of Taiwan, it would make sense to do everything possible to paralyze the U.S. fleet, which China regards as its nemesis.

Although China signed the Biological Warfare Convention in 1984 and claims that it complies, there is significant evidence that it maintains and supports a strong biowarfare capability.

The U.S. has a vested interest in supporting the lab leak thesis and the argument that the Yunnan Copper Mine was the initial source for COVID-19. The theory that important research was going on, but the leak was an unfortunate accident, absolves American politicians and elite institutions. But if the virus was part of a biowarfare program, the U.S. has a big problem—because it would mean we spent years and millions of dollars supporting a Chinese military program in the Wuhan lab.

Honest scientists and journalists have to consider American culpability.

Stephen Bryen is the founder and first director of the Defense Technology Security Administration at the Pentagon. Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center and Editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.