Discover more from Public
Top Scientists Misled Congress About Covid Origins, Newly Released Emails And Messages Show
Top advisor to Anthony Fauci still thought a lab leak was possible in April 2020, one month after claiming publicly that it wasn’t
Last week, two of the top scientific advisors to Anthony Fauci testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, which is investigating the origins of Covid-19.
Bob Garry told members of Congress that the novel coronavirus had emerged in nature and not from a lab.
His colleague, Kristian Andersen, denounced Republicans for spreading a “conspiracy theory” that he and Garry had worked with Fauci in early 2020 to produce disinformation about Covid’s origin in the form of a March 17, 2020 Nature Medicine paper, “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2.”
That paper dismissed the lab leak theory and has been viewed nearly six million times since its publication.
Andersen, a professor at Scripps Research, acknowledged that some earlier, heavily-publicized emails between him, his colleagues and Fauci had shown that they had previously considered the lab leak hypothesis as a serious possibility.
But, Andersen told Congress, after he and his co-authors had carefully considered the evidence, they concluded that “culturing” in different cells or animal species in a lab, which can make a virus more infectious and well-adapted for humans and other animal species, had not occurred, and that the virus had spilled over from wildlife to humans.
“By the time we published our final version of Proximal Origin,” Andersen explained in his written testimony, “I no longer believed that a ‘culturing’ scenario was plausible.”
Andersen emphasized to Congress that this wasn’t because Fauci, National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins, or anyone in the White House or Intelligence Community had asked him to. The reason was simply that he and his colleagues were practicing science.
“As is almost always the case in science,” explained Andersen, “this change in belief was not based on a single piece of evidence, but a combination of many factors, including additional data, analyses, learning more about coronaviruses, and discussions with colleagues and collaborators.”
But now, Public and Racket have obtained hundreds of previously unreleased email and Slack direct messages which cover the period when Andersen and his colleagues collaborated to write “Proximal Origin.”
Those communications paint a starkly different picture from the one Andersen and Garry presented to Congress last week. They show that Andersen and his colleagues clearly thought it was indeed possible not only that the virus that causes Covid-19 had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but specifically that it had been cultured in the laboratory.
Crucially, these new documents make clear that pressure from “higher ups” — not “additional data, analyses, learning more about coronaviruses, and discussions with colleagues and collaborators” — led Andersen, Garry, and two of their coauthors to abandon the lab leak theory as implausible.
What’s more, the messages reveal that Andersen still suspected that a lab leak was possible in mid-April, a month after Nature Medicine officially published “Proximal Origin,” and two months after the authors published a preprint.
“I’m still not fully convinced that no culture was involved,” Andersen wrote to his co-authors on April 16. “We also can't fully rule out engineering (for basic research).”
If the paper’s authors weren’t fully convinced that no culturing was possible, why did they rule out “any type of laboratory-based scenario” in their paper?
On April 16, NIH Director Francis Collins emailed Fauci. “I hoped the Nature Medicine article [‘Proximal Origin’] on the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 would settle this… Wondering if there is something NIH can do to help put down this very destructive conspiracy.” By “very destructive conspiracy,” Collins was referring to an accidental lab leak, not a bioweapon or deliberate release.
The next day, April 17, Fauci described the “Proximal Origin” paper at a White House press briefing and said it came from a “group of highly qualified evolutionary virologists,” adding that he did not have their names and without disclosing that he had suggested writing the paper.
Now, the newly released messages show another case of the scientists manipulating a reporter, New York Times science journalist, Donald McNeil. Rather than honestly and openly answering his questions, they misdirected him through deceptive language.
Late last month, Congress released emails showing another senior advisor to Fauci talking about using his private Gmail account in order to avoid investigators in the future using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Congressional subpoena to obtain his emails.
The newly released messages show Andersen attempting to similarly evade public scrutiny. “We should all just stay on Slack, that’s what we should do — and not use email,” wrote Andersen.
If the consensus opinion of the scientists across dozens of their initial emails and messages had to be summarized in a single phrase, it would be the name of the Slack channel: “project-wuhan_engineering.” The name showed just how probable they felt it was that the virus came from a lab.
Then, on February 6, something strange happened. Andersen changed the name of the Slack channel from “project-wuhan_engineering” to “project-wuhan_pangolin.” For three years, some proponents of the natural spillover theory have claimed that pangolins could be an intermediate link in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
Wrote Andersen on February 1, 2020, “I think the main thing still in my mind is that the lab escape version of this is so friggin' likely to have happened because they were already doing this type of work and the molecular data is fully consistent with that scenario.” A few days later, he and the other authors were searching for a plausible intermediate host such as a pangolin that would allow them to refute the theory.
The new Slacks and emails present overwhelming evidence that the paper’s co-authors were not simply following the data, but actively sought to discredit the lab leak, conceal information, deceive journalists, and mislead the public. The question now is why.
From “Project-Wuhan_Engineering” to “Project-Wuhan_Pangolin”
Only a tiny fraction of the communications between Andersen and his coauthors has been reported upon before now. Drawing on the newly released messages, Public has cataloged nearly 60 clear statements by Andersen and his colleagues expressing their belief that a lab leak, and the bioengineering of viruses, were the origin of Covid-19 between January 31 and February 28, 2020. Of those statements, only around a half-dozen have been previously reported upon.
In early February, Andersen and the other “Proximal Origin” authors agreed that the features they observed in SARS-CoV-2 exhibited exactly the steps they would have taken if they themselves had decided to engineer an infectious SARS-like coronavirus. The virus’ characteristics were “exactly what was expected by engineering,” wrote Edward Holmes on Slack on February 1.
A key piece of evidence that the virus may have been engineered is the “furin cleavage site” on the “spike protein.” The special feature allows SARS-CoV-2 to bind to human receptor sites, making the virus highly infectious.
In reference to it, Holmes said, “Bob [Garry] said the insertion was the 1st thing he would add.”
“Yeah,” agreed Andersen, “the furin site would be the first thing to add for sure.”
Garry explained how easy it would be to engineer the virus. “Transmitting a bat virus like RatG13 in HeLa cells and then asking your graduate student to insert a furin site…” he wrote. “It’s not crackpot to suggest this could have happened given the GoF [gain of function] research [which increases infectiousness] we know is happening.”
“Bottom line,” said Andersen on February 2, “is that we can’t prove whether this is natural or escape.”
The newly revealed messages also show the scientists were specifically concerned with highly controversial research in the lab of a virologist named Shi Zhengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology to make SARS-like coronaviruses to make them more infectious.
Public and Racket were the first to report last month that senior officials in the US government are “100%” confident that the first three people in the world to get sick with Covid-19 worked in Shi’s lab.
Referring to papers published by Shi’s team, and others, Andersen wrote on February 2, “The main concern coming up reading through all these papers is the kind of stuff that is being done — getting MERS-like viruses to infect humans, getting SARS-like viruses to cause disease in mice and infect humans, etc. There's a strong focus on the spike protein for all that work.”
But then, three days later, on February 5, Andersen’s attitude changed radically.
In Congress, Andersen claimed he had changed his mind based on the scientific evidence that an intermediary animal host, such as a pangolin, was possible.
But their internal communications indicate otherwise.
On February 3, the group began casually searching for an intermediate animal species to support a natural spillover hypothesis. At first, they discussed the ferret. Were they working with the best available science? Perhaps not. Gary at one point shared the Wikipedia page of the Chinese ferret-badger.
Two days later, Andersen shared pangolin viral sequences, began framing natural origin as the pre-conceived conclusion of their paper, and renamed the Slack channel. He thought the pangolin sequences might be the missing link they were desperately looking for.
But the pangolin sequences didn’t get them very far. On February 12, four days before the authors published their pre-print, Andersen confessed on Slack: “For all I know, people could have infected the pangolin, not the other way.”
But in Proximal Origin, Andersen and his colleagues wrote something much more definitive: “The presence in pangolins of an RBD [receptor binding domain] very similar to that of SARS-CoV-2 means that we can infer this was also probably in the virus that jumped to humans” [emphasis added].
Then, on February 18, two days after the pre-print publication of “Proximal Origin,” Andersen once again admitted, “Clearly none of these pangolin sequences was the source though.” And then once again, on February 20, Andersen emphasized. “Unfortunately the pangolins don’t help clarify the story.”
Andersen’s colleague, Garry, agreed. “Pangolin seq give no def answer,” he wrote on Slack on February 22.
Unable to credibly identify ferrets or pangolins as intermediate hosts, the scientists continued to privately admit that they could not rule out a lab leak.
On April 16, two months after the publication of the “Proximal Origin” preprint, Andersen shared cell culturing papers from Shi’s lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on Slack. He noted that Shi’s work was “the main reason I have been so concerned about the ‘culture’ scenario.”
Cell culturing is a method through which viruses can be passed multiple times through cells in order to render them more infectious, essentially re-creating the natural selection process in a lab. This method falls within the “laboratory-based scenarios” that the highly-cited “Proximal Origin” paper claimed to rule out.
Just one week later, on Twitter, though, Holmes disparaged “lab escape conspiracy theories.” Privately, the scientists were still asking questions, but publicly they were sticking to the narrative.
Behaviors Suggesting A Cover-Up
What happened in the days preceding February 5, when Andersen changed the name of the “Proximal Origin” team’s Slack channel from “project-wuhan_engineering” to “project-wuhan_pangolin”?
One clue comes from what has already been reported: Andersen and his co-authors had a February 1 conference call with Fauci and Collins who used the opportunity to “prompt” them to write the “Proximal Origin” paper.
The new messages reveal an additional clue. On February 3, Andersen attended a meeting arranged by Fauci at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the august science advisory organization created by Congress in 1863 to be scrupulously independent and above politics.
The Academy meeting on February 3 occurred directly before Andersen, and others changed their tune for plainly non-scientific and apparently political reasons. Other attendees at the February 3 meeting included Collins and representatives from the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
One of the new messages shows that Andersen was anxious about his association with the Academy. “One main problem I have too,” he wrote on February 19, is that my name is on e.g., the NASEM letter and other 'official' things looking at this - so I need to be able to deflect potential future enquiries that could directly involve/name me.”
The context for Andersen writing that message was a discussion with his colleagues about how to misdirect a New York Times reporter, Don McNeil, who was asking tough questions about whether Covid-19 may have come from a lab.
On February 6, Rambaut shared an email from McNeil with the Slack channel. Rambaut’s copied text of McNeil’s email stated, “I'm trying to check out a rumor that an editor got from a government source — that the US government is trying to seriously investigate the possibility that the nCoV came out of the Wuhan Virus Laboratory rather than out of a wet market.”
Rather than answer honestly, Rambaut and the other authors began working to misdirect McNeil. Their discussions seemed more characteristic of a political spin operation than a good-faith attempt to inform the public. “I am thinking of just replying and saying that ‘I see nothing in the genome that would make me believe it has been genetically manipulated in a lab.’”
“It would be prudent to continue to pre-think responses” to McNeil, Garry suggested.
Eleven days later, the Slack group continued to coordinate their responses to McNeil. Kristian Andersen shared a new email, saying, “He's asking some very difficult to handle questions.”
In his drafted response to McNeil that he shared with the Slack Channel, Andersen wrote, “National security? White House? Spooks? I wish my life was that exciting, but I unfortunately don't have anything to add here - my existence isn't really in Technicolor, so I'm just focused on the science ;-).”
Privately, Andersen told his fellow authors that the smiley face was “very deliberate” and that his reply “includes humor to deflect from the fact that I’m dismissing him.” He added, “I really fucking wished my life wasn't this exciting... “
In a comment to Public and Racket, McNeil declined to comment on the contents of the emails but wrote, “Obviously, if one of the authors of the Proximal Origins paper had told me he thought it was actually created in a lab, I would have reported that.”
Who Were The “Higher Ups”?
The new emails and messages do not prove that Fauci, Collins, the FBI, ODNI, or anyone else associated with the National Academy meeting on February 3 turned Andersen and his colleagues away from the lab leak theory. Other factors may have been at play.
For example, the new messages show that a Nature Medicine editor and Nature Medicine reviewers pushed Andersen and the other authors to even more conclusively assert that natural origin was the only plausible scenario. They and others may have leaned on Andersen and the four other scientists to categorically abandon the lab leak theory.
But the messages and emails plainly show that what Andersen and his colleagues were doing wasn’t science but rather rhetoric. By their own account, they could not show how the virus had gone from bats to an intermediary, whether ferrets or pangolins, to humans.
The new messages also show that the scientists were pressured to publicize their findings by certain interested parties whom they called “higher-ups.” Andersen said the “Proximal Origin” paper was rushed because of “pressure from the higher-ups to get it out.”
Later, in an interview with a Congressional committee, when asked who these “higher-ups” were, Garry said, “I don't want to speculate on who their higher-ups were. But, I mean, I was aware that there were people that were discussing the potential origins and, you know, a possible lab origin at, you know, different government agencies.”
One possibility was the top ally to Fauci and Collins in Britain, Jeremy Farrar of Wellcome Trust. On February 16, the day Nature Medicine published “Proximal Origin,” Farrar emailed one of Andersen’s coauthors, Andrew Holmes, asking him to make the paper public.
Farrar had already shared the paper with Collins, who had also emailed Holmes to push for immediate publication. A few hours later, Holmes wrote that he had submitted the paper after “pressure from on high.” Said Holmes, “Jeremy Farrar and Francis Collins are very happy.”
In a recently released interview with the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, Andersen called Farrar the paper’s “father figure” but repeatedly denied that Fauci and Collins guided the paper and would not identify them as “higher ups.”
“I wouldn't speculate on that,” Andersen said during the interview.
But then Andersen added that there were, indeed, “higher-ups,” and that they were “in the intelligence community both here and in the United Kingdom.” It is such a remarkable passage that it is worth quoting at length.
“I mean,” said Andersen to the House Subcommittee, “it was clear that the White House Office of Science Technology Policy at that February 3rd conference call, Dr. Fauci, in my initial email to me, talked about contacting the intelligence community both here and in the United Kingdom. So that's what my assumption is, that when we're talking the higher-ups here, the White House was aware of this.”
While we still don’t know if those referred to as “on high” or “higher ups” are Fauci, Collins, Farrar, the White House, or the intelligence agencies, it’s clear that the authors were not operating independently. The paper they ultimately wrote was not just the product of a scientific inquiry but also of outside influence. What the nature of that influence is, we still do not know.
It is up to Congress to find out. For months, Fauci, Andersen, and their allies have been pushing the message that ”we may never know” what caused the Covid-19 pandemic. In truth, we are getting closer to understanding what happened with every new batch of emails and Slack messages.
Previously released messages show that a top Fauci advisor boasted of evading FOIA with his Gmail, and hiding Fauci’s role.
“Tony [Fauci] doesn’t want his fingerprints on origin stories,” wrote Fauci advisor David M. Morens. “As you know, I try to always communicate on gmail because my NIH email is FOIA’d constantly… Don’t worry...I will delete anything I don’t want to see in the New York Times.”
The evidence now shows a clear pattern of Fauci’s top advisors behaving the way that people might if they were engaged in a cover-up. Fauci and Collins pressured Andersen and his colleagues to publish an article dismissing the lab leak even though they believed in it. Morens and Andersen both attempted to evade future FOIA and Subpoena requests using Gmail and Slack.
If it was really the case, as Garry and Andersen said, that Covid-19 did not leak from a lab and that the behaviors revealed by the emails and Slack messages are not a conspiracy, then what do they have to hide? Where is the Zoom recording of the February 3 meeting? What was said?
As a nation, we need to go from “we may never know” to “we must find out.” If the behavior by Fauci, Collins, Andersen, Garry, and the others was entirely above board, then they should have no objection to helping members of Congress, journalists, and the public understand what exactly happened between February 3 and February 6 for them to abandon “project-wuhan_engineering” for “project-wuhan_pangolin.”
Public is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.