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June 29, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

Former intel officials pan DNI report on virus that says origin in wild rather than government lab

By Bill Gertz
Former intelligence officials are criticizing the declassified report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that continues to promote the theory that the COVID-19 pandemic likely emerged naturally from a wild animal host and is not linked to a government research laboratory in Wuhan, China.

The report, made public by DNI Avril Haines on June 23, was written by an analyst with the National Intelligence Council.

The report concludes that the council and four other U.S. intelligence agencies “assess that the initial human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most likely was caused by natural exposure to an infected animal that carried SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor.”

Two other agencies, the Energy Department intelligence office and the FBI, say they believe the evidence most likely suggests COVID-19 originated from a “laboratory-associated incident,” the report said.

The CIA, the lead civilian U.S. intelligence agency, said it could not determine the origin of the COVID pandemic because the two theories — lab leak and animal origin — rely on “significant assumptions or face challenges with conflicting reporting,” the report states.

As for the Chinese military-linked Wuhan Institute of Virology, the DNI report states that despite several workers coming down with illnesses similar to COVID in the fall of 2019, intelligence agencies do not believe the illnesses point to a laboratory-origin disease outbreak.

The intelligence community “continues to assess that this information neither supports nor refutes either hypothesis of the pandemic’s origins because the researchers’ symptoms could have been caused by a number of diseases and some of the symptoms were not consistent with COVID-19,” the report said.

China‘s government has sharply denounced the lab-leak hypothesis, and critics who say the virus began from an infected wild animal market in Wuhan point to the joint World Health Organization-China investigative report published in 2021.

The report states that “more than 80,000 wildlife, livestock and poultry samples were collected from 31 provinces in China and no positive result was identified for SARS-CoV-2 antibody or nucleic acid before and after the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in China.”

“Through extensive testing of animal products in the Huanan market, no evidence of animal infections was found,” the report said.

Dany Shoham, a former military intelligence officer with the Israeli Defense Forces who studied China’s biological weapons programs, said the DNI report appears to be deliberately agnostic regarding the virus’s origin, and appeared designed to support the Biden administration’s new policy of engagement and lowered tensions toward China.

Now a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel, Mr. Shoham was one of the first experts in January 2020 to raise the suggestion that the pandemic virus may have emerged from a laboratory leak in Wuhan, whether accidentally or deliberately. Scientific opinion is sharply divided, but so far no animal host has been credibly identified as a possible source for the coronavirus that would go on to kill millions around the world.

“An animal — other than laboratory animals — hosting a virus that could be regarded as the direct progenitor of the pandemic virus was not found, and likely does not exist,” he told Inside the Ring.

Published findings concerning the potential emergence from non-laboratory animals are fragmentary, while other findings concerning infected lab animals in the Wuhan Institute of Virology “are considerably more sound,” he said.

Also, improperly handled lab animals infected with the virus may have been the source of both indoor or outdoor COVID contagion, he said.

Mr. Shoham said a previous, non-research-related accidental laboratory leak took place at the WIV in August 2019, and led the laboratory to erase critical virological data.

“The concealed viruses could well include unfamiliar intermediate strains ranging genomically between the South China mine-isolated viruses, and the initial pandemic virus,” he said.

Mr. Shoham also said he believes the Wuhan researchers were also engaged in genetically engineering human-oriented virus strains created through untraceable “gain-of-function” lab work.

“A wealth of additional indirect evidence leads to the conclusion that an accidental lab leak was a most plausible scenario,” he said.

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence director, said the DNI report appears to be little more than a compilation of assessments from other intelligence agencies.

“Taxpayers really have to ask themselves why so many millions are being spent on salaries of so-called senior intelligence executives who provide no value-added information to such an important topic,” Capt. Fanell said.

“Besides adding no new information, the DNI appears more interested in equity than in facts. The report provides no facts that support the ‘wet market’ theory other than what was reported in Chinese Communist Party propaganda media outlets.”

Redacted classification markings in the DNI report appear to have been an effort by ODNI staff to “magically make this previously highly classified report as unclassified,” he said.

“Again, American taxpayers must wonder why so many millions are being spent for such poor performance,” Capt. Fanell said.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said many forces in the United States have renewed speculation about the COVID virus origin, again pointing to the joint World Health Organization-China mission that concluded the laboratory origin theory was ruled “extremely unlikely.”

“Certain parties should stop rehashing the ‘lab leak’ narrative, stop smearing China and stop politicizing origins-tracing,” Mr. Liu told Inside the Ring.

Ken deGraffenreid, a former deputy national counterintelligence executive, singled out the CIA for its failure to provide a definitive conclusion.

“This is the CIA again claiming to be the oracle of everything,” he said. “But the CIA, despite having a large number of employees, is not a place with a lot of expertise in these things. They say they are, but they’re not.”

Mr. deGraffenreid, who was also White House National Security Council intelligence director in the Reagan administration, said despite evidence in the 1970s linking the Soviet Union to the use of toxin weapons in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, the CIA rejected the findings, mainly based on a political bias among analysts to support Moscow.

“We had conclusive proof the Soviets were doing that, but the CIA said it wasn’t toxin weapons but bee droppings,” he said. “They have no expertise and are bureaucrats, mainly skilled at waging bureaucratic warfare.”

A State Department fact sheet published in 2005 stated that the U.S. government “officially found that toxin weapons had been used in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan.”

Document reveals Chinese order to destroy early virus samples
Chinese health authorities ordered the destruction of the first samples of the virus that causes COVID-19 collected early in the disease outbreak, according to a Chinese government document.

The lack of early samples of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID, hampered early efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The missing samples were also cited by U.S. intelligence agencies as one reason it has been so difficult to identify the origin of the pandemic.

The Jan. 3, 2020 internal document, sent from China’s National Health Commission, ordered all national laboratories involved in studying the virus to refrain from sharing samples or publishing information about the virus without government permission.

The document was obtained from the State Department by U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit investigative public health research and journalism group, through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Any Chinese lab that held samples of the virus behind what it said was the “Wuhan pneumonia” was directed to share them with designated institutions, or to destroy the samples “on the spot.” The order warned that people and institutions that failed to comply would face harsh treatment.

“No institution or individual may release any relevant information to the outside world without authorization,” the document states.

In addition, according to the document, scientists were not allowed to communicate with the public regarding their research findings on the virus without government approval.

The destruction of early virus samples and Chinese government’s refusal to share information regarding its virus research have prevented a complete understanding of the pandemic and is needed by health experts to prevent future pandemics.

NDAA amendment would kill Navy drag queen program
Rep. Jim Banks is claiming victory in efforts to halt the Navy’s controversial “digital ambassador program” that included an active-duty sailor dressed in drag in a campaign to recruit new personnel.

The House Armed Services Committee last week passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act draft bill sponsored by the Indiana Republican addressing the controversy. The House version of the bill now says Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro must halt all activities of the digital ambassador program and notify Congress of all sailors named as ambassadors under the program.

Mr. Banks said in a statement that after he uncovered the program, the Navy denied that a sailor known as “Harpy Daniels” was linked to the program. The service later acknowledged that the sailor was part of the program aimed at boosting naval recruitment.

As reported in this space May 4, the drag queen is self-described gay sailor Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley, who announced in November on social media that he was part of the Navy outreach program to encourage more young people to enlist.

Mr. Banks, who chairs the House Armed Services’ military personnel subcommittee, last month sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin opposing the use of drag queens for recruitment.

“Secretary Austin claimed that the Biden [Department of Defense] does not support drag shows. If he was testifying honestly then he has an obligation to discipline the officials who decided that sexually explicit content should be featured in the Navy’s Digital Ambassador program,” Mr. Banks said in the letter.

“There’s no doubt that Biden appointees are behind the Pentagon’s hard-left turn and Republicans on the Armed Services Committee will continue to question Secretary Austin about the divisive and woke insanity that’s helped drive recruitment to a historic low.”

Mr. Austin said at a committee hearing in March that “drag shows are not something that the Department of Defense supports or funds.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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