- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2022

A scientist who once worked at the U.S. nongovernmental organization involved in risky virus research in China says he believes the COVID-19 pandemic began as the result of a leak from a controversial Wuhan laboratory.

Andrew Huff, an infectious disease epidemiologist and former vice president at the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, said in an interview that the group was engaged in “gain-of-function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the years before the COVID-19 virus first emerged from the Chinese city in late 2019. He said he is convinced that the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic was manufactured at the institute’s laboratory and leaked out.

“I suspected that this was a lab leak from Day One, and as time went on, the information gaps that I had were filled,” Mr. Huff said.

As for the other leading theory on the origin of the virus — that it emerged naturally and was transferred to humans from an infected animal — Mr. Huff said there is no evidence.

“The scientific evidence [for a laboratory leak], it’s overwhelming,” he said. “There’s no evidence of natural emergence because, based on all the scientific papers that have been published, it’s all data that was censored or curated and handed to us by the Chinese.”

Chinese officials have staunchly denied that the Wuhan lab was involved intentionally or accidentally in the creation of the coronavirus, and officials at EcoHealth Alliance have denied their former employee’s charges. U.S. intelligence agencies are divided and say they can’t determine, based on the information Beijing has released, whether the virus was man-made or emerged naturally.

Mr. Huff argues in his new book, “The Truth About Wuhan: How I Uncovered the Biggest Lie in History,” that the international scientific community and some in the U.S. government covered up the virus outbreak partly to protect virologists’ ability to conduct more gain-of-function research. Scientists use gain-of-function to create more potent and infectious virus strains artificially in the lab so they can study how to defeat them.

Mr. Huff said EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak, one of the first to dismiss the lab-leak theory, worked secretly with the CIA from 2015 to provide information his organization gathered in its international activities, including at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The author is a former senior scientist at EcoHealth and a combat veteran of the Iraq War who also conducted pandemic research at Sandia National Laboratories. He once held a top-secret clearance. Mr. Huff left Sandia in 2014 and joined EcoHealth Alliance under Mr. Daszak.

Mr. Huff said Mr. Daszak is “the man I would later realize was directly responsible for our greatest modern pandemic.”

He left EcoHealth two years later. The New York-based nongovernmental organization sought to portray its work as protecting wildlife and the environment, but Mr. Huff contended that little of the group’s work related to saving animals.

“While EcoHealth Alliance was receiving millions of dollars from U.S. government agencies to conduct global biosurveillance, none or very little of the work resulted in reducing the burden of disease or improving ecological health,” he said. “This was the snake oil Dr. Daszak was selling to billionaires, global governments, academics, and to conservationists.”

Mr. Daszak did not respond to an email request for comment.

A spokeswoman for EcoHealth Alliance, Majelia Ampadu, referred questions to the alliance’s statement last week on the release of Mr. Huff’s book.

“Mr. Huff is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts,” said the statement, adding that it was “not true” that EcoHealth Alliance was involved in gain-of-function research to create SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

As for EcoHealth Alliance’s work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the statement said Mr. Huff never worked at the institute and therefore “cannot be trusted.”

“Mr. Huff makes a number of other speculations and allegations about the nature of the collaboration between EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Given that he never worked at or with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, his assertions along these lines cannot be trusted.

“Mr. Huff argues that the origin of COVID-19 is definitely due to a lab leak, yet he provides no scientific evidence to support his case. To the contrary, the emerging consensus, based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence, is that COVID-19 originated through zoonotic spillover.”

CIA links

Asked about EcoHealth Alliance’s work with the CIA, Mr. Huff said Mr. Daszak told him he was approached by the U.S. intelligence agency and asked to cooperate. Later, EcoHealth made a funding proposal with the CIA-backed venture capital firm In-Q-Tel.

Mr. Huff said he helped produce briefing slides for a presentation to In-Q-Tel that said EcoHealth would “hunt for viruses … and then do humanized mice gain-of-function work.”

Mr. Daszak is a leading advocate of the theory that the virus emerged naturally. He took part in a World Health Organization review in China that concluded there was little evidence the virus leaked from the laboratory.

The WHO later backtracked from the initial conclusion of natural origin and said a lab leak of the virus was possible. It called on Chinese officials to be more forthcoming with independent international analysts.

Mr. Huff dismissed his former employer’s criticisms as laughable and said he welcomes scrutiny of the facts presented in the book. He said he hopes the House under Republican control in the next Congress will investigate the origin of the virus.

The book is an insider account that contains many details of EcoHealth Alliance activities in China.

Mr. Huff reveals that Ralph Baric, an epidemiologist and specialist in coronaviruses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was a “gain-of-function collaborator” with EcoHealth Alliance.

Mr. Baric supplied details on how to conduct gain-of-function research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s director, Shi Zhengli, who has been dubbed the “Bat Woman of Wuhan” for her extensive efforts to make bat coronaviruses more infectious to humans.

Mr. Huff wrote that Mr. Baric and 16 other scientists wrote a medical journal article, “SARS-like WIVI-CoV Poised for Human Emergence,” that highlights the potential for dangerous laboratory leaks causing disease outbreaks in humans. In the article, the authors stated they were using, designing and constructing “chimeric,” or laboratory-built, viruses to determine whether they would replicate in human airway cultures.

Mr. Huff said EcoHealth Alliance conducted virus sample collection as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development program known as Predict and its Emerging Pandemic Threats project. The program failed to predict the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic and was a $210 million “fraud,” he said.

China concerns

The scientist said he opposed EcoHealth Alliance’s work in China.

“I was concerned that the Chinese would steal our intellectual property, deceive our organization, or lie directly or by omission, which are well-documented behaviors of the Chinese government and the companies and scientific organizations that are controlled by their government and the Communist Party,” he stated.

China was successful in steering the international scientific community into accepting its view that the virus came from a wild animal infected by a bat and that the virus was later somehow transferred to a human, he said. Researchers have focused on the Wuhan live-animal market as a potential source for the transmission.

One of the “smoking guns” for the laboratory production of the COVID-19 virus is that a number of genetic sequences “were genetically engineered and patented by doctors” who worked on them as part of gain-of-function research. A wild strain of the coronavirus would never contain such sequences, Mr. Huff said.

“That alone tells you that this likely came out of a laboratory,” he said.

No host animal that triggered the pandemic has been identified, he added.

The failure of scientists studying the origin of the virus has been to focus on virology rather than epidemiology, he said.

“That’s not the U.S. government handbook on how to handle these situations,” Mr. Huff said. “They use epidemiology, or epidemic intelligence officers and criminal epidemiologic investigators, and I happen to be one.”

Mr. Huff compared the search for the cause of the pandemic to studies that linked smoking to lung cancer.

“The old saying in epidemiology is ‘guilt by association,’” he said. “That’s how we proved that smoking causes lung cancer. There were no studies that said, ‘Oh, you know, you could get into the minutiae.’ And that’s actually what the tobacco industry tried to do to discredit the epidemiology, actually.”

Mr. Huff said Mr. Daszak set up a journal called EcoHealth to control the scientific narratives on the group’s research.

“Once Peter was able to gain control of the emerging infectious disease narrative and simultaneously held seats on powerful review boards, he could help direct the sea of government funding to people and projects that supported his scientific narrative,” Mr. Huff said. “This behavior has the net effect of silencing dissenting opinions and prioritizing work that supports his agenda.”

Growing doubts

The former EcoHealth scientist is among a growing number of specialists and investigators who have come forth with information disputing the natural emergence theory and pointing to emergence from a laboratory.

A report by Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this year concluded that the COVID-19 virus most likely began in the Wuhan laboratory, not from a wild animal. The report said the origin of the virus remains unknown because the Chinese government refuses to disclose all it knows about the outbreak.

“Nearly three years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, substantial evidence demonstrating that the COVID-19 pandemic was the result of a research-related incident has emerged,” the interim report by the minority staff concludes.

China’s communist regime has repeatedly denied that the virus leaked from the Wuhan institute. Instead, Chinese official media have blamed the United States for the disease outbreak.

The Senate report said there is “still no evidence of an animal infected with SARS-CoV-2, or a closely related virus, before the first publicly reported human COVID-19 cases in Wuhan in December 2019,” the report said. It was highly suggestive that the virus broke out in the city that was the site of the country’s most advanced coronavirus research.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is “an epicenter of advanced coronavirus research that was designed to predict and prevent future pandemics by collecting, characterizing and experimenting on ‘high-risk’ coronavirus with the potential to spill over into humans,” the report noted.

EcoHealth Alliance made grant proposals to the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for conducting genetic experiments that made coronaviruses “high risk” for zoonotic spillover into animals and humans.

In August 2021, Marine Corps Maj. Joseph Murphy with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency stated in a memorandum to the Pentagon inspector general that based on his research, the virus was the result of work performed by EcoHealth Alliance, NIH and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“SARS-CoV-2 is an American-created recombinant bat vaccine, or its precursor virus,” Maj. Murphy stated in the Aug. 13, 2021, memo. “It was created by an EcoHealth Alliance program at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), as suggested by the reporting surrounding the lab-leak hypothesis.”

The EcoHealth Alliance denial cited former NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins’ statement in October 2021, which read in part: “Analysis of published genomic data and other documents from the grantee demonstrate that the naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not possibly have caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false.”

During the last days of the Trump administration, the State Department released a fact sheet that said the Wuhan institute conducted research on RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the lab in January 2020 as 96% similar to COVID-19. The fact sheet said the institute was engaged in military research for the People’s Liberation Army.

Mr. Huff said he was aware that the Wuhan institute was a Chinese bioweapons laboratory and that he had been aware of that since 2010.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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