Where did the lab leak theory come from? Who first promoted the idea and why? The answer to this question is surprising – and may be the key to unlocking the mystery of the origin of COVID-19.
The first known mention of the idea that the coronavirus may have originated in a Chinese lab appeared on January 9th 2020 in a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA). This was just days after the virus had first entered public consciousness, and at the time, no deaths had yet been reported and few people were worrying about the virus – including, it seems, the Chinese, who were claiming it wasn’t even clear whether it was spreading between humans.
Seemingly unhappy about the lack of alarm, RFA ran a comment from Ren Ruihong, former head of the medical assistance department at the Chinese Red Cross, who said she was confident it was spreading between humans. She also asserted it was a “new type of mutant coronavirus”, and immediately, without pausing for breath, raised the possibility it was a result of a Chinese biological attack on Hong Kong using a virus developed in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Bear in mind this was before a single person had been reported as dying from the virus, and no solid evidence was presented for the claim. It is the first time the WIV and the idea of a lab origin of the virus are mentioned in the media. The report then implies the WIV is hiding its involvement – though the basis for this insinuation is tenuous, to say the least.
Ren said. “They haven’t made public the genetic sequence, because it is highly contagious. From what I can tell, the patients caught it from other people. I have thought that all along.”
She said the lack of fatalities didn’t indicate that the virus was less deadly than SARS, just that antiviral medications have improved in the past 10 years or so.
Ren said she also regarded the relatively high number of infections in Hong Kong with suspicion, given that there had been no reports of cases anywhere in between the two cities, in the southern province of Guangdong, for example.
“Genetic engineering technology has gotten to such a point now, and Wuhan is home to a viral research center that is under the aegis of the China Academy of Sciences, which is the highest level of research facility in China,” she said.
Repeated calls to various numbers listed for the Wuhan Institute of Virology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences rang unanswered.
However, an employee who identified herself as a senior engineer said she knew nothing about the virus.
“Sorry, I… I don’t know about this,” the employee said.
Over the following two weeks RFA pushed hard on the idea of a Chinese biowarfare lab origin, and its reporting was picked up by the Washington Times on January 24th, which quoted Dany Shoham, an “Israeli biological warfare expert”.
The deadly animal virus epidemic spreading globally may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory linked to China’s covert biological weapons programme, according to an Israeli biological warfare expert.
Radio Free Asia this week rebroadcast a local Wuhan television report from 2015 showing China’s most advanced virus research laboratory known [as] the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Radio Free Asia reported.
The laboratory is the only declared site in China capable of working with deadly viruses.
Dany Shoham, a former Israeli military intelligence officer who has studied Chinese biowarfare, said the institute is linked to Beijing’s covert biological weapons programme.
“Certain laboratories in the institute have probably been engaged, in terms of research and development, in Chinese [biological weapons], at least collaterally, yet not as a principal facility of the Chinese [biological weapons] alignment,” Mr. Shoham told the Washington Times.
Why did Radio Free Asia and the Washington Times introduce and promote the idea of Covid as a Chinese bioweapon? RFA appears to have done so in order to counter the Chinese lack of concern about the virus, hence the heading: “Experts Cast Doubts on Chinese Official Claims Around ‘New’ Wuhan Coronavirus.” The Washington Times report indicates at one point it is in response to rumours “circulating on the Chinese Internet claiming the virus is part of a U.S. conspiracy to spread germ weapons”, citing an unnamed “U.S. official”.
One ominous sign, said a U.S. official, is that false rumours since the outbreak began several weeks ago have begun circulating on the Chinese Internet claiming the virus is part of a U.S. conspiracy to spread germ weapons.
That could indicate China is preparing propaganda outlets to counter future charges the new virus escaped from one of Wuhan’s civilian or defence research laboratories.
Why is the report anticipating “future charges” of a lab leak – particularly when it is in the process of making such charges?
The words of the anonymous U.S. official appear to state the Chinese rumours began “several weeks ago”, right back at the beginning of January or end of December; however, oddly, the article was soon updated to delete the words “since the outbreak began several weeks ago”, for reasons that are unclear.
In any case, the really strange thing about these “rumours circulating on the Chinese Internet” is that no evidence of them has ever been produced or found. Indeed, all the places you might expect to mention them do not. For instance, in February 2021 the DFRLab of the Atlantic Council published a lengthy document in conjunction with the Associated Press summarising all the “false rumours” and “hoaxes” regarding the origins of Covid. Its large research team scoured the internet for all rumours connected with Covid origins – yet the section on China doesn’t mention anything about these alleged January rumours of U.S bioweapons.
Another example is Larry Romanoff, an activist who writes on various ‘conspiracy theories’ and who has lived in China for many years. His columns in early 2020 on the Global Research website attacking the American position were tweeted out by senior Chinese figures, but he never mentions anything about these alleged early rumours on the “Chinese Internet”, which he surely would have done.
In addition, the rumours claim has never been repeated by any intelligence sources; this was the only time it was made.
Why then did RFA introduce the lab-engineered virus narrative, even before the first death? Why was it trying to ratchet up alarm? And why did the unnamed U.S. official claim to be responding to Chinese rumours that turned out not to exist?
The plot thickens when you realise that Radio Free Asia is a U.S.-Government-funded media outlet that is essentially a CIA front, once named by the New York Times as a key part in the agency’s “worldwide propaganda network”. As Whitney Webb pointed out right back in January 2020, though RFA is no longer run directly by the CIA, it is managed by the Government-funded Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which answers directly to the Secretary of State – who, at the outset of the pandemic was Mike Pompeo, whose previous job was as CIA Director.
This means we can see that the Covid lab origin narrative originated with the U.S. Government’s security services, and did so very early, prior to the first death, as part of a deliberate effort to increase alarm in China and elsewhere. It was also designed to counter the anticipated claims, which had not yet been made (though the anonymous U.S. official falsely claimed they had been), that the virus was a U.S. biological attack.
That the U.S. Government would be the source of the lab origin theory is no doubt surprising to many people, given that within weeks the same theory would be dismissed by Government officials as a ‘conspiracy theory’ and forcibly suppressed. In its place, official U.S. channels would endorse the wet market natural origin theory and seek to close down further debate and investigation. So what’s going on?
Here’s one possible explanation, which makes sense of all the known facts – though is admittedly highly disturbing. It may not be correct, but I confess I cannot currently think of a better one. Perhaps someone else can.
The explanation is that the Chinese lab origin narrative was put out by U.S. intelligence in early January as a cover story. A cover story for what? For a U.S. biological attack on China. As a cover story for an attack, it serves four key purposes. First, it preempts allegations of a U.S. attack (and indeed the anonymous U.S. official falsely claimed these had already been made). Second, it anticipates the need to explain the non-natural origin of the virus, which would be expected to be discovered, as a natural origin manifests differently to a non-natural origin – a natural origin should have animal reservoirs, early genetic diversity and evidence of adaptation to humans, which are lacking for SARS-CoV-2. Third, it spreads alarm in China – one of the purposes of the attack. And fourth, it justifies the U.S. and other countries activating biodefence protocols to defend themselves from any blowback – which we know is exactly what they did, and that they treated it as a matter of national security, not public health.
The idea that the U.S. might deliberately release a virus in China might seem far-fetched to some. However, it’s well known that the Pentagon intensified its research into bat-borne viruses in the years approaching the pandemic. Though it said this was solely for defensive purposes given the supposed risk of bats being used as “bioweapons”, scientists have previously warned, in the journal Science, that another supposedly defensive Pentagon programme, DARPA’s “Insect Allies” programme, appeared really to be aimed at creating and delivering a “new class of biological weapon” and that it revealed “an intention to develop a means of delivery of HEGAAs for offensive purposes”. In addition, the Iranian Government was so convinced that its early COVID-19 outbreak in February 2020, which killed a significant number of its senior leaders, was due to a U.S. biological attack that it lodged a formal complaint with the UN. Such allegations don’t prove anything of course. But together these concerns do suggest that such an attack is not outside the realm of possibility and should at least be considered as an explanation for the origin of the virus.
But if the lab leak was the intended cover story, why was it shortly afterwards suppressed as a ‘conspiracy theory’? It is a matter of public record that this occurred largely due to the efforts of Anthony Fauci, Jeremy Farrar and other Western scientists, who organised a scientific cover-up of evidence that might implicate their complicity in the gain-of-function research that they suspected may have created the virus. Did they know about the attack? There’s no evidence they did. Which means they would also have been in the dark about the intended cover story. Indeed, one of the conspirators, Christian Drosten, in one of the disclosed emails directly asks the group where the “conspiracy theory” of a lab origin has come from. Farrar and Fauci, for their part, appear to be genuinely exploring the origin questions in their emails (while clearly aiming for a particular answer).
The fears of this group of scientists about being implicated in the creation of the virus led them to organise a highly effective effort to dismiss and suppress the lab origin theory. This intervention greatly complexified the cover story, with the result that the output from the U.S. intelligence community (IC) became confused and inconsistent. In what follows I enumerate the six main interventions of the U.S. intelligence community during the pandemic and suggest what likely lay behind them. They are:
- The November 2019 secret intelligence report claiming to show a large respiratory outbreak in Wuhan that was used to brief the U.S. Government, NATO and Israel. Importantly, the alleged evidence for this outbreak has never been produced, and what evidence there is suggests that in reality there was no detectable outbreak in Wuhan in November 2019, meaning the report appears to have been largely a work of fiction.
- The January 2020 introduction and promotion of the Chinese lab origin story, as set out above.
- The early April 2020 media briefings from unnamed intelligence sources about the November intelligence reports noted in (1) above. These briefings were particularly odd because by that point the main origin story being pushed by official U.S. channels was the wet market theory, which this information contradicted because it implied a large outbreak (an “out of control” epidemic and “cataclysmic event”) well before the wet market outbreak in December.
- The late April and early May 2020 public endorsement by the U.S. intelligence community of the wet market natural origin theory. This contradicted both the early April anonymous media briefings mentioned in (3) above and the lab origin story in (2), while at the same time embarrassing Mike Pompeo and President Trump who were at the time strongly pushing the lab leak theory.
- The August 2021 declassified intelligence report on Covid origins, which gave a somewhat mixed picture of how the intelligence community assessed the lab leak theory. What the report was sure to make clear on the first page, however, is that the virus was “not developed as a biological weapon” and it was “not genetically engineered”. The report says that a small number of IC elements thought the virus might have escaped from a lab (though as a natural, not engineered, virus); in particular the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), which was responsible for the November 2019 secret intelligence report and (presumably) the April 2020 anonymous media briefings, endorsed this theory with “moderate confidence”. Note that by this point the lab leak theory was back in play following the WHO origins investigation in February 2021.
- The October 2022 Senate minority report, which for the first time set out the evidence in favour an engineered virus and a lab leak. U.S. biodefence bigwig Robert Kadlec was behind this report and it notably did not mention the November 2019 U.S. intelligence report, which appears to have been entirely ‘forgotten’ (indeed, it has never been officially acknowledged). It also made no reference to the United States’ considerable involvement in bat coronavirus research in the years prior to the pandemic. We should also note that the evidence presented in the report of an alleged safety breach at the WIV in November 2019 was all assembled retrospectively – there is no suggestion that such evidence was known at the time, and the report makes clear that all its information comes from publicly available sources, stating: “This report has reviewed open source, publicly available information relevant to the origins of the virus.”
Here’s what I suggest was really going on with these often curious and clashing IC interventions.
The November 2019 secret intelligence report (1) was intended to forewarn the U.S. Government and its allies of the potential need for epidemic countermeasures given the risk of blowback from the attack. While blowback was probably not expected (after all, SARS and MERS never troubled Europe and America), it was obviously a risk. Note that those responsible for the November 2019 report had to know there wasn’t really any evidence of an outbreak in Wuhan at that time, and thus that their report was based on fabrication. This appears to implicate the NCMI, which produced the report, in the attack.
The early April 2020 anonymous media briefings (3) about the November 2019 intelligence reports were most likely an attempt by the intelligence community (or, rather, the NCMI) to point out that they did try to warn everyone about the virus and the need to prepare. This would explain why they went ahead with the anonymous briefings despite, by that point, those briefings contradicting the new ‘official narrative’ that the virus came from the wet market.
The official endorsement by the intelligence community in late April and early May 2020 of the wet market theory (4) would then have occurred because of a switch amongst most of the intelligence community to the narrative created and endorsed by Anthony Fauci, Jeremy Farrar etc. Those in the IC not involved in the attack (likely the vast majority) had probably figured out what was going on, i.e., the lab leak theory was a cover story put out by reckless colleagues, and would be very aware of the terrible fallout should the truth become known. Hence also the suppression around this time within the U.S. Government of all Covid origins investigations, which a senior Government official said would only “open a can of worms“.
This tension between IC elements then continued with the 2021 declassified intelligence report (5), with most of the IC claiming not to know anything, but the NCMI still believing the lab leak was the best cover story and wanting it back in play.
By the time of the October 2022 Senate report (6) the natural origin theory was clearly collapsing. This report then represents an effort by some within the intelligence community to bring back the lab leak as the cover story, while directing all attention to China and the WIV and away from the U.S.
How plausible is all this? It certainly fits the evidence, though perhaps there is another, more innocent way of explaining it all.
However, those who would like to exclude the possibility of a U.S. biological attack – and indeed, I would like to exclude this – need to answer at least two key questions:
1. Why was the U.S. concerned about and following an outbreak in Wuhan in November 2019 which all the available evidence shows was not detectable at the time? Why did the U.S. falsely claim there was a signal of a large, worrying outbreak and brief allies about it?
2. Why did U.S. security services begin spreading rumours about the virus being engineered in China at the beginning of January, even before the first death had been reported, when they had no evidence of this (at least, they have never explained how they knew it) and no one else was worried about it, and based on the false claim that rumours were already being spread in China about a U.S. bioweapon?
Let’s be honest: it’s not looking good.
Dr. Will Jones is the Editor of Britain’s Daily Sceptic.