The truth can be so very infuriating.
Over the course of four hundred pages, Sharri Markson’s What Really Happened in Wuhan narrates what is now going on nearly two years of infuriating fact after infuriating fact. What really happened in Wuhan? In all likelihood, something went terribly wrong in a Chinese virology lab that was, unsurprisingly, covered up and spun by the Chinese Communist Party with a healthy dose of cooperation from Western scientists and governments.
That the Chinese government has been engaged in a massive propaganda campaign on the subject of COVID-19 is not surprising and, to be honest, it’s not that infuriating. Nobody with a basic knowledge of contemporary Chinese policy should be surprised. Communists have a habit of totalitarian obfuscation. You can’t really get mad at communists for acting like communists. You can, however, and should, get mad at Western democracies who act like communists.
The first point of note is that Mrs. Markson is an Australian journalist and What Really Happened was published in Australia by HarperCollins’ Australian branch. It’s not that she is Australian and that the book was published in Australia that’s infuriating. It’s the realization that virtually all of the information she has collected, organized, and published was available to American journalists who either refused to or were prevented from pursuing these same leads and lines of inquiry.
Being a doctoral student in the field of public policy, I’d say I give an above-average level of attention to political topics, with the caveat that I’m often so focused on my own academic work–on top of my day job, parenting, and other adult responsibilities–that news can get to me a few days late.
A few days.
Reading this book, however, I feel like so much of this information is getting to me a few years and months late. This isn’t because I had to read other stuff or because I decided to watch my kids play sports or because I had too many movie nights with my family or because I worked one too many overtime shifts. This is because the American media and certain actors in the United States government willfully and intentionally refused to tell me this information. In what remains of this post, I’ll try to narrate some of this information.
In early 2020, as the American public first came to realize the danger the virus posed, a researcher from the Wuhan University hospital had uploaded genetic information about early SARS-CoV-2 samples collected from patients in Wuhan to a database maintained by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. In June 2020, the NIH removed that information from the database at the request of Chinese health officials. According the the NIH, the scientists who had originally uploaded the data reserved all rights to the data. In Markson’s book (pg. 375), David Asher raises the possibility that once the data was placed in the NIH database, and given the pandemic conditions, this data effectively became a public record that was subject to preservation requirements under U.S. law. I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot comment on that opinion. However, according to Jesse Bloom, the researcher who managed to recover these deleted files, what made them important was the revelation that the genetic data given to W.H.O. investigators did not accurately represent all of the earliest strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus present in Wuhan at the start of the outbreak. Bloom has published an academic paper on his findings.
One reason for the Chinese reluctance to keep this information in the American public domain may have been the possibility that Shi Zhengli, the now infamous “Bat Lady” of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, had recovered a very similar virus as far back as 2012, which she reported in a published paper in 2016. That virus’ genetic sequence (BtCov/4991) was identical to the genetic sequence of the RaTG13 virus that Shi Zhengli published in early 2020 claiming it was likely the source of the human COVID-19 virus. The husband-and-wife scientist team that discovered this link also published their findings, which makes two important points. First, the research published by the Chinese scientists implicitly revealed, by connecting a few dots, that they were very much aware of where the human COVID-19 virus had originated–and it wasn’t in a wildlife wet market. Second, the virus that was the source of the pandemic was and had been stored in the WIV lab. This revelation, coming from the husband-and-wife team, was published in October 2020. However, the U.S. government and the American media consistently refused to acknowledge the possibility that the “lab leak theory” was anything more than a debunked conspiracy theory.
It wasn’t until the Spring of 2021 that the American intelligence apparatus would be tasked with conducting a more thorough investigation into the possibility of a lab-related incident being the origin of the pandemic. In August 2021, President Biden finally gave everyone permission to acknowledge the obvious fact that China was not being transparent with the world on how, when, and where COVID-19 originated. Even then, in an unclassified summary of the Intelligence Community’s views on the virus’ origins, only one expresses “moderate confidence” in the lab leak hypothesis. The rest either favor a zoonotic animal-to-human origin or say they just don’t know. However, if Markson’s work in What Really Happened in Wuhan demonstrates anything, it’s that certain elements of the intelligence bureaucracy worked very hard to gather and present evidence that made a strong circumstantial case for a lab-related origin. It also makes clear that other elements worked very hard to stonewall that evidence from making it up the chain of command or in front of the American public.
Timing, of course, is everything.
Why the Spring of 2021? Simple. Donald Trump was no longer in office.
Save your eyerolls and don’t turn away. I’m no fan of Donald Trump. However, Markson relates several sources–some named, some anonymous–from within the intelligence and security agencies, the media, and the scientific community (and not all of them American)–that make it very clear that the hesitation to consider any of this evidence was primarily fueled by the reluctance to say or do anything that could benefit Trump’s reelection campaign.
Under these circumstances, I don’t much care what your politics are or who you voted for and why. I myself have never cast a ballot for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. And even if I had, it wouldn’t matter. Science, facts, evidence, and truth are what they are and when they are denied and ignored for politics when lives and liberty are at stake, that’s despicable and immoral.
But as it turned out, it wasn’t just politics–not entirely.
It wasn’t until Summer 2021 that news reports in the United States began to discuss the connections between the Wuhan lab and France. As it turns out, the lab was built using French technology, but the Chinese largely pushed the French aside and reneged on an agreement to collaborate with French scientists once they had the technology in hand. This prompted the French to warn the United States and other allies about the national security problems they feared would arise from China’s lack of transparency–as far back as 2017. This was openly reported outside the United States in the Spring of 2020, even if it was sometimes in line with the natural-origins theory. Despite these concerns, however, the United States continued to fund and cooperate with WIV research.
At this point, it’s undeniable that American taxpayers’ money was funneled to the WIV via NIH grants to the EcoHealth Alliance for the specific purpose of studying bat coronaviruses. The question that needs to be answered is: Why, given all the evidence that China was engaging in research that was not only dangerous generally but that could very well be weaponized?
Several possibilities come to mind. First, as Markson points out, this community of researchers in pathogenic agents is fairly tight-knit, even internationally. This isn’t surprising. Earning advanced degrees in the subjects that qualify you to engage in this kind of research is hard and–take it from a nerd–when you find other nerds who geek out over the same stuff you do, a bond is created. What makes this problematic is that there are very good reasons to believe that these scientists began to develop more loyalty to science than to their nation or to the principles of democracy. Second, I think it is about public credibility. Take Anthony Fauci, for example. He’s a highly accomplished professional bureaucrat within the government-funded scientific establishment. If, when questioned by Sen. Rand Paul as to whether and why the NIH funded gain-of-function research, Dr. Fauci had admitted to what the documentary evidence is hard to deny, it would have been a huge blow to his ego and his reputation.
Although, an unwillingness on the part of public servants to admit when they are wrong and to then be proved less-than-truthful via documentary evidence after the fact is just as damaging.
Take Peter Daszak and his colleagues, for example, who became some of the most vocal critics of the lab leak theory. As it turns out, many of these people, who claimed to be operating an independent task force investigating the origins of COVID-19, had ongoing significant ties to the research being conducted at the Wuhan lab. In fact, when the W.H.O. created its initial investigatory task force, it rejected all the candidates suggested by the U.S. government in favor of Daszak, who they were confident would arrive at conclusions favorable to Chinese–rather than American–interests. Critics pointed out the obvious conflicts of interests, which were reported in international news outlets, but nary a peep from the U.S. media. Daszak, of course, claimed it was all just politics, which as a scientist, of course, he was above. But of course, he wasn’t and isn’t above it because his funding comes from the U.S. government. And when the Trump administration decided maybe that funding wasn’t a good idea, given the circumstances, it became political.
I could go on, but I wouldn’t do the work that Sharri Markson has done justice. What I hope I’ve conveyed in this post is the sense that the book has given me: that there’s much, much more to the story of COVID-19 than what we’ve been led to believe by officials in the U.S. government and the propagandists in the U.S. media. I’ll close with two final thoughts.
First, one of the most important points to take away from this book is that there are factions within the U.S. security and intelligence establishment that are at odds with one another. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I can intuit what does or does not drive those factions. What I can intuit is that some of the people within the bureaucracy have motives that cohere with a commitment to traditional American values and principles. Others are driven by other motives, but what those motives are I do not know. What is clear, however, is that whatever those motives are causes some to put political, factional, or ideological interests above national interests. That’s a problem.
Second, it seems possible that the Chinese government has found ways to exert an undue and undesirable influence on American institutions. On some level, this isn’t surprising. After all, the revelations of men like Whittaker Chambers demonstrated that it did not take the Soviet Union long after the Bolshevik Revolution to plant people sympathetic to its cause within American institutions, including the government. Maybe that sounds too conspiratorial. I don’t think it is.
In the end, what Markson’s book does best is demonstrate how overly focused on temporary things the American public can become while China very much plays the long game. A lot of the material she highlights throughout the book was published in the United States, but it was overshadowed by news coverage of impeachment trials, riots at the Capitol, and mostly peaceful protests. And now, even after Trump, much of this information is being drowned out by yet more silliness.
Maybe that’s the final lesson. While totalitarian regimes like China are deadly serious, we’re too busy being silly.
Click Here to watch a one-hour documentary based on this book, aired on SKY News Australia.