COVID-19 may have come from bioweapons research accident

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As top U.S. officials prepare to meet their Chinese counterparts for their first face-to-face meeting during the Biden administration, the State Department’s former lead investigator who oversaw the Task Force into the COVID-19 virus origin tells Fox News that he not only believes the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but that it may have been the result of research that the Chinese military, or People’s Liberation Army, was doing on a bioweapon.

“The Wuhan Institute of Virology is not the National Institute of Health,” David Asher, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute told Fox News in an exclusive interview. “It was operating a secret, classified program. In my view, and I’m just one person, my view is it was a biological weapons program.”

Asher has long been a “follow the money” guy who has worked on some of the most classified intelligence investigations for the State Department and Treasury under both Democratic and Republican administrations. He led the team that uncovered the international nuclear procurement network run by the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, AQ Khan, and uncovered key parts of North Korea’s secret uranium enrichment. He believes the Chinese Communist Party has been involved in a massive cover-up during the past 14 months.

“And if you believe, as I do, that this might have been a weapons vector gone awry, not deliberately released, but in development and then somehow leaked, this has turned out to be the greatest weapon in history,” Asher said during a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute: The Origins of the COVID-19: Policy Implications and Lessons for the Future. “You’ve taken out 15 to 20 percent of global GDP. You’ve killed millions of people. The Chinese population has been barely affected. Their economies roared back to being number one in the entire G20.”

A security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan.Ng Han Guan/AP

Asher says the Chinese government’s behavior reminds him of other criminal investigations he has overseen.

“Motive, cover-up, conspiracy, all the hallmarks of guilt are associated with this. And the fact that the initial cluster of victims surrounded the very institute that was doing the highly dangerous, if not dubious research is significant,” said Asher, who engaged the Chinese government as the State Department’s lead representative during the 2003 SARS outbreak. 

At first, China said the COVID-19 virus originated in the Wuhan Seafood Market – but the problem with China’s theory: the first case had no connection to the market. Last fall the US obtained intelligence that indicates there was an outbreak among several Wuhan lab scientists with flu-like symptoms that left them hospitalized in November of 2019 – before China reported its first case. Asher and the other Hudson Institute panel experts said that in 2007, China announced it would begin work on genetic bioweapons using controversial “gain of function” research to make the viruses more lethal.

The Chinese stopped talking publicly about their research at the Wuhan lab in 2016. That, Asher believes, is when the People’s Liberation Army stepped in and went from biodefense research to bio-offense. The same year China’s top state television commentator

“We have entered into an area of Chinese biowarfare, and including using things like viruses. I mean, they made a public statement to their people that this is a new priority under the Xi national security policy,” Asher points out.

The Chinese, according to Asher, stopped talking publicly about the research into coronavirus “disease vectors which could be used for weapons” in 2017, at the same time its military began funding the research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“I doubt that that’s a coincidence,” Asher said.  

Meanwhile, U.S. bioweapons researchers are still mainly focused on older bioweapons like anthrax. A key turning point in the search for how to defend against coronavirus bioweapons included controversial “gain of function” research and a breakthrough in the Netherlands that caught the science community by surprise. 

“I remember I was in The Hague meeting with the Netherlands Foreign Ministry the day the news broke that a laboratory in the Netherlands funded by the National Institutes of Health was conducting a gain of function research on highly pathogenic avian influenza, specifically to increase the transmissibility of that very dangerous flu virus,” recalled Andy Weber, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical & Biological Defense Programs under President Obama.

The Obama administration swiftly imposed a moratorium on this kind of research, fearing it could become a playbook for terrorists. The Trump administration lifted the moratorium in 2017, but halted NIH funding to the Wuhan lab in April 2020 after the pandemic began.

Biosafety has long been a concern with respect to China’s biosafety level 4 labs, according to experts.

“China has been involved in this type of virus research since 2003, the SARS outbreak,” according to Miles Yu, the State Department official who co-wrote a recent op-ed in the WSJ with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the virus origins. “China’s biosafety standard is really low and is very dangerous. So this is an accident waiting to happen.”  

When the team sent by the WHO to Wuhan in February visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology, they did not don biosafety suits and spent 3 hours inside, but according to reports did not have access to the scientists or data they needed to fully rule out that the virus escaped from the lab.

Mike Pompeo speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.John Raoux/AP

At the time Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “It should be noted that virus traceability is a complex scientific issue, and we need to provide sufficient space for experts to conduct scientific research.” He added: “China will continue to cooperate with WHO in an open, transparent and responsible manner and make its contribution to better prevent future risks and protect the lives and health of people in all countries.”

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