State Department officials are arguing over laboratory leak theory

In the last few days of the Trump administration, the State Department was embroiled in a heated debate about China’s role in the origin of the coronavirus, which is now spreading in public view.

in a Open the envelope On Thursday, Christopher Ford, the former assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation, spoke to the media that he intervened to prevent the US government from “embraging and discrediting” itself by accusing China of deliberately creating the coronavirus—though not. The evidence points to that situation.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Ford said that his colleagues are pushing to include allegations of China’s violation of the International Biological Weapons Convention in the State Department’s report to Congress, which may trigger a diplomatic crisis with one of the major global leaders in the United States. Competitors.

It is very unusual for a former senior State Department official to publish a personal description of the recent internal dispute. However, Ford’s open letter coincides with a heated debate about the so-called laboratory leak hypothesis that caused the emergence of the COVID-19 virus. The most extreme version of this theory suggests that Chinese scientists designed SARS-CoV-2 as a biological weapon.

Purchase his account to e-mail Put in this Public area By reporting Fox News with Vanity Fair, Ford’s Medium post detailed his relationship with David Asher, the State Department contractor responsible for investigating the origin of the coronavirus, and Thomas DiNanno, the former acting director of the Department’s Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Bureau. ) Increasingly tense relationship (AVC). According to a report by Vanity Fair, Asher and Dinano believe that Ford has promoted a preconceived conclusion that the virus has a natural origin.

Ford said in a media post that Dinano hinted that the focus of the investigation was “allegedly making China a virus in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention.” He added: “They seem to think that COVID-19 is a biological weapon (BW) effort that has gone wrong — or maybe even a BW agent deliberately released into the world.”

“They obviously solved this problem from the perspective of biological weapons,” Ford told BuzzFeed News. “If you disprove whether there is evidence to support the discovery of biological weapons against the coronavirus, they will feel uneasy, but they seem to be trying to establish a case.”

Ford also told BuzzFeed News that Asher and DiNanno wanted to include China’s claims of violating the Biological Weapons Convention. annual report The State Department prepares for Congress.This report authorized by U.S. law details the Compliance with international agreements On arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament.

“Their legal arguments sound weak to me. They never provide actual evidence [bioweapons] Work,” Ford said, adding that his colleagues also argued that China should have been found to have violated the Biological Weapons Convention for failing to fully answer questions about the COVID-19 crisis.

Ford also claimed in the open letter that military historian and Chinese policy expert Miles Yu told DiNanno that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wanted to keep the department’s biological weapons experts and intelligence community away from the department’s investigations. Enter the origin of the coronavirus. Since the spring of 2020, Donald Trump and Pompeo Claim to have evidence The virus came from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

Yu denied that Pompeo had tried to prevent experts from reviewing the investigation. Yu told BuzzFeed News via email: “AVC’s investigation is by no means a rogue and silent operation-it works with our National Science Laboratory, world-renowned serious but dissenting scientists, and several key agencies in the intelligence community. “Chris Ford is making up a narrative that is contrary to the facts to cover up his extreme hostility to any valuable science-based investigations supported and encouraged by Secretary Pompeo.”

Asher also disputed Ford’s statement. “When I arrived, Ford did not conduct an investigation. I was shocked and set out to try to find out that China might violate [Biological Weapons Convention]. Work that should continue in AVC,” he said in an email.

DiNanno did not answer BuzzFeed News’ questions, but instead directed us to his account in the Vanity Fair article.

Since late March, the debate about the origin of the virus has intensified. WHO-China Report Come empty-handed But it is “extremely impossible” to judge a laboratory leak.This prompted the United States and 13 other governments to issue a statement Call for “transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence.”

On May 26, President Joe Biden Revealed that he had ordered A 90-day intelligence review explored two scenarios: whether the coronavirus was naturally transmitted from animals to humans or was released in a laboratory accident. In a conversation with senior Chinese officials on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken Suppress China Allow WHO experts to conduct more research on the origin of the coronavirus.

Leading scientists also recently called for more in-depth investigations into the origin of COVID-19, Writing in “Science” magazine In the WHO-China study, “the two theories are not considered in a balanced manner.”

Ford is a conservative Hawks’ record Regarding the threat China poses to the United States. The reason that triggered his open letter is that, in his view, his former colleague mistakenly described him as a natural objection to the idea that the coronavirus might be an escape from the laboratory.

“I am strong Supported Investigating the “lab leak” hypothesis, this is obviously a real possibility,” Ford wrote in his media post. “But I’m not just talking about this now. I also said it at the time. a lot of. “

The laboratory leak hypothesis is not a single unified theory, but around The origin of COVID-19.

Given Slipped history In the virology laboratory all around the worldDue to China’s lack of complete transparency, many scientists admit that the possibility that the virus was collected from wild animals and accidentally released from the Wuhan laboratory cannot be ruled out. Global attention is focused on the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), where a team led by Shi Zhengli cataloged potentially dangerous coronaviruses found in bats.

A more detailed version of the theory assumes that scientists at WIV or other laboratories in the city engage in well-intentioned but risky “gain-of-function” experiments to genetically modify bat coronaviruses to study changes that make it more susceptible to infection.

Suspicion fell on the stone, because she had earlier Cooperate in related experiments Run by Ralph Baric, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Baric’s team spliced ​​the spike protein from one of Shi’s bat coronaviruses into another coronavirus that has been adapted to infect mice.

Since the study was published in 2015, Shi has consistently denied any similar functional gain experiments have been conducted. But the confidentiality surrounding WIV and other laboratory research means that speculation about this possibility continues.

The most extreme idea, regarded by most experts as a conspiracy theory, is the Chinese military scientist Deliberately designed SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is used as a biological weapon.

In his Medium post, Ford accused Dinano of “procrastinating” in getting the intelligence community and scientific experts to review the biological weapons statement. But on January 7 this year, an online conference attended by scientists, including Baric and Stanford University microbiologist David Relman. repeatedly debate It is believed that the laboratory leakage theory is worthy of thorough investigation, and the State Council convenes to review the evidence.

They learned from Steven Quay, CEO of biopharmaceutical company Atossa Therapeutics, that he conducted a statistical analysis, claiming “Beyond reasonable doubt”SARS-CoV-2 originated from the laboratory. According to Vanity FairQuay’s speech was criticized by Barrick, who pointed out that his calculations ignored a large number of bat coronaviruses unknown to the scientific community.

In the meeting summary that Ford sent to colleagues at the State Department the next day, He wrote,”[H]Statistical analysis is weakened by the fact that we basically have no data to support key model inputs. Crucially, we do not have data on the vast majority of bat coronaviruses that exist in the wild. “Ford left the State Department on the same day after announcing his intention to step down.

Dinano later Responded“In contrast, we don’t need to know every bat coronavirus genome to understand the possibility of zoonotic diseases. [natural] Originated with the laboratory. We only need to reliably estimate the number of bat coronaviruses and include it in the weight of our current knowledge of bat coronaviruses. “

Baric and Relman did not respond to requests for comment.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, Quay was his Statistical Analysis, Saying that it has been viewed more than 160,000 times online. “My work has not received substantial criticism,” he said. “My feeling about this meeting is that they try to simply fire me as much as possible so that they can write the report and continue to do other things.”

On January 15, Pompeo’s State Department issued a “Fact Sheet“Regarding WIV’s activities, the event criticized China’s secrecy on COVID-19.

Instead, it stated that based on intelligence reports, the U.S. government “has reason to believe that several researchers within WIV fell ill before the first confirmed outbreak in the fall of 2019, with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and common cases. Season. Sexual diseases.”

The fact sheet also reiterated the United States’ long-standing concern about the transparency of China’s past biological weapons research: “For many years, the United States has publicly expressed concerns about China’s past biological weapons work. Beijing has neither recorded nor clearly eliminated it, despite its clear ” Obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.” It also said that since 2017, WIV has cooperated on confidential research on behalf of the Chinese military.

But the statement did not claim that SARS-CoV-2 was a product of China’s biological weapons research.

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