Where did COVID Come From?
We rely on the scientific community as a context for almost every public policy decision. People who want to influence policy know this, and they don't just lobby Congress, they also buy scientists, scientific reporting, and placement in prominent journals. Most scientists are honest, but they have to survive in a world where funding is tighter than it should be. It's not surprising that some of them succumb and publish what powerful and corrupt institutions want them to.
The question of a laboratory origin for COVID is politically explosive, so we expect a heavy hand restraining the science establishment. Those of us seeking an honest answer, who have a little expertise, a little horse sense, and a lot of patience, are left to sift through information, misinformation, and disinformation in a politicized environment.
My personal opinion is that I don't like having to wonder if global pandemics have been created, accidentally or otherwise, by my own government. Bioweapon research is extensive in several countries, but dominated by the US. The disclosed US budget is over $10 billion per year, and who knows what the black budget is. There is no legitimate purpose for this "research", and it is illegal. No bioweapon can ever attack "enemies" without unacceptable risk of infecting "friends". Over time, it is virtually certain that there will be leaks with horrific consequence. Lyme disease is a case in point.
Regardless of whether COVID19 came from a lab, we the people must demand disclosure of this secret "research", and demand an end to the American bioweapons program in its entirety.
I know of no coalition organized to this end. We'll have to start one.
Two useful books to get into this subject:
Bitten: The secret history of Lyme disease and biological weapons
Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control
And here's an interview by Dr Francis Boyle describing the big picture. Boyle is a professor of international law at University of Illinois with a history in both government and academia working on the limitation of biological weapons. In this interview he says:
- The US program in biological weapons was jumpstarted after WW II by giving a new home to Japanese and German scientists who had been doing horrific human experimentation.
- These programs continue to this day, at Merck, U of NC, U of Texas, Harvard, NIH and elsewhere.
- Anthony Fauci and NIAID have also been sponsors of bioweapons research, specifically relating to making coronaviruses more lethal. American bioweapons labs are sharing knowledge and specimens with foreign labs, including the high- security (BSL-4) Chinese installation at Wuhan.
- Boyle ties the January firing of Charles Lieber, the Chair of Harvard's Chemistry Dept, to an undisclosed scandal involving the Wuhan research facility.
- Boyle believes that the origin of COVID was a Chinese-American research project, and that the proximate cause was an accidental release from the Wuhan facility.
Whoever knowingly develops, produces, stockpiles, transfers, acquires, retains, or possesses any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system for use as a weapon, or knowingly assists a foreign state or any organization to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both.
-- The Bioweapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, authored and promoted by Prof Francis Boyle
Where did COVID come from?
I don't pretend to know the answer, and based on publicly-available information, I don't think it is knowable. But there is a coherent story that can be pieced together, and I am writing this mini-series because I have not before seen all these pieces in one place. There is good evidence that the SARS-CoV2 virus originated in the United States, and suggestive evidence that it came from a bioweapons lab. In Part I, I'll cover genetic evidence. Give me another day or two to digest material about evolutionary and other evidence that COVID emerged in the US before China.
The official story is that the origin of the epidemic was the "wet market" where meat and some wild livestock is sold to consumers in Wuhan. This hypothesis was challenged by an article in Lancet, summarized here in Science Magazine. The authors interviewed the first 41 known patients in Wuhan, who were assumed to have contracted COVID concurrently from "patient zero". For 28 of them, there were links to the Market, either personal or through a family member, but for 13 of them, no links to the Market could be identified. In this neighborhood of Wuhan, most people did shop at the Market, so the authors were more impressed with the 13 who had no link, and suggested that 28 out of 41 could have been consistent with a random sample of people from that neighborhood.
Other sources claim that all 41 had links to the nearby Oriental Hotel, a short walk from the Market, and that Patient Zero was an American soldier/cyclist named Maatja Benassi...but this takes us ahead of our story.
Is it plausible that the SARS-CoV2 mutated directly from a virus that infected local bats? For this question, I am dependent on evolutionary geneticists for an opinion, and there is a divergence of opinion on the scientific literature. Geneticists who say evidence points to a laboratory origin are typically cautious, but they make these points:
- The genome has at least 4 gain-of-function mutations (if they are mutations) compared to the ancestor bat virus. Gain-of-function mutations are rare compared to loss-of-function, and usually the virus makes its leap when there is one gain-of-function.
- About a fourth of the genome looks nothing like a coronavirus, and must have arrived via genetic recombination. The recombined part bears a resemblance to HIV. Viral genome recombinations do occur in nature, but this one is particularly hard to explain, since HIV is a fragile virus that can't survive outside human blood. How would it get into a bat virus?
- COVID has some pathological effects never before seen in a coronavirus, including attack on the GI tract and on artery walls. There are some reports that the virus's lethality comes from its attack on hemoglobin, the red blood molecule that carries oxygen around the body.
The claim that the four insertions look suspiciously like HIV is shaky, but the fact that there are four gain-of-function changes from the bat virus remains unexplained.
The SARS-CoV2 genome contains a short sequence that was identified by James Lyons-Weiler in January as part of an artificial system called pShuttle SN, used in laboratory experiments to transfer genetic material. The claim was rebutted by Chinese scientists here. The rebuttal paper claims that the part of the pShuttle gene found in the new Coronavirus is actually the natural part, not the man-made part. Dr Lyons has withdrawn the claim in light of this new evidence.
Against these detailed and cautiously-worded analyses, there is one prominent article in Nature Medicine that claims to "irrefutably" rule out a laboratory origin. Their basis for saying this is
- That computations suggest that the virus's surface proteins are not ideal
for binding to a human enzyme called ACE2, and that if the virus were
designed in a lab, the designers would certainly have found the ideal
solution, and used that instead.
- That the backbone of the virus contains a piece that looks like a pangolin virus,
and the pangolin virus genome wasn't published until very recently, so lab
scientists could not have used it.
(The pangolin is a rare, endangered species of armored anteater. It looks a bit like an armadillo.)
- I am not as talented as reading the minds of scientists in bioweapons labs as Dr Andersen. I don't know whether they were using computer-designed genes or merely evolving the virus in a petri dish. I don't know what compromises and constraints they faced in attempting to design an organism that is viable in a variety of environments. But I probably wouldn't expect them to have published their results in open journals.
- The authors didn't consider the possibility that bioweapons laboratories operate in a classified environment and don't publish their results; or (call me paranoid) I suspect that they know this damn well but are dismissing the possibility of a connection to bioweapons labs for political reasons.
I'm always suspicious when scientists use words like "irrefutably" and "definitive". But, more objectively, I would point out that none of the four bullet points above were refuted or even considered in the Nature Medicine paper.
There is also a statement in Lancet signed by 27 researchers which was prominently echoed in Science Magazine that "strongly condemns rumors and conspiracy theories", without refuting any of the geneticists' claims. They cite dozens of papers that they say support a natural origin, but, reviewing these papers, I find that they rather assume a natural origin. In fact several of the papers note difficulties with this hypothesis.
My personal perspective inclines me to think the Lancet statement is politically motivated. I find it suspicious that prominent scientific publications have seen fit to deny claims that COVID had a laboratory origin, but none have refuted the considered details of those claims.
The US Military has been studying Coronaviruses as bioweapons
It is undisputed that the US has an extensive bioweapons "research" program, and that modifying Coronaviruses to make them more dangerous is part of their program of work.
Here is the first person testimony of Judy Mikovits, who claims she worked in the 1990s at Ft Detrick, an Army biology lab in Maryland. Part of her job was to weaponize coronaviruses. This work was ongoing and controversial as late as 2015. President Obama approved and extended the programs. Three years ago, Nature reported that "the SARS virus has escaped from high level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times". Only in China? Also in 2017, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested from CDC information about leaks from similar research facilities in the US, and they got back a 503-page document with all specifics redacted.
I find it suspicious that the debate over whether COVID came from a laboratory is being avoided with ad hominem attacks, blanket denials, and straw man arguments. I'm impressed that the people who are supporting a laboratory origin have promptly corrected their misstatements, while I see no such willingness on the other side.
The totality of evidence for the hypothesis is not conclusive. The most compelling evidence I see is
- The virus gained several new abilities on emerging from bats. Usually, we would expect just one.
- Closely related to this, the genome shows four RNA segments that differ substantially from the bat ancestor where, again, we would expect just one.
- Genetic analysis indicates that the divergence from bats happened decades ago, and yet the disease only appeared in humans recently.
- The timing of Dr Lieber's firing from Harvard and the fact that he had a contract at the Wuhan bioweapons lab seems an odd coincidence.
- I take Francis Boyle's testimony quite seriously. He's a career expert in biological warfare.
In Part 2, I hope to tell the story of how an American bioweapon might have emerged in central China.