Top officials in the State Department accused each other of ‘playing games’, behaving recklessly, and risking embarrassing the United States during a heated debate over how aggressively to pursue the ‘lab leak’ theory to explain the pandemic.
A series of emails from January this year show a civil war within the State Department, as Donald Trump insisted he had seen evidence that COVID-19 escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, and the scientific community remained adamant that Trump’s theory was unlikely. They have now reversed course, and the ‘lab leak’ idea is gaining more legitimacy.
Amid the highly-charged political atmosphere, Chris Ford, a former Navy intelligence officer who since 2018 was acting undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, accused his colleague of being too quick to back the ‘lab leak’ idea.
Ford told Thomas DiNanno, former acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, that his team risked embarrassing the United States by aggressively pushing unverified information about Chinese culpability.
Chris Ford, of the Arms Control and International Security division of the State Department (left), had a heated email exchange with his colleague Thomas DiNanno (right), from the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification. Ford pressed DiNanno for outside verification of his team’s findings – DiNanno pushed back, asking Ford to be specific about his doubts
Ford and DiNanno were part of a team investigating whether COVID-19 escaped from the Wuhan laboratory (above), rather than evolved naturally and passed from animals to humans
‘We need to make sure what we say is solid and passes muster from real experts before we risk embarrassing and discrediting ourselves in public,’ Ford said.
He said a presentation made to him in early January contained ‘not-exactly-confidence-inspiring arguments’, which he said would not stand up to scrutiny.
Ford accused DiNanno of being obstructive and unprofessional, telling him that he did not have the scientific background necessary to evaluate the claims.
‘I do not have the scientific expertise necessary to critique the claims,’ he wrote, in a January 6 email obtained by Fox News. ‘And nor do you.’
Ford pressed DiNanno repeatedly to assemble a panel of outside experts to evaluate the findings before they were presented to the world, even accusing DiNanno’s team of spreading the unverified information.
‘Why are you guys briefing folks around the interagency on your claims in advance of any such vetting?’ Ford asked.
Ford accused DiNanno of being reluctant to seek independent verification of their claims, telling him that the ‘burden of proof’ lay with his department.
‘Your bureau needs to shoulder that burden, or stand down,’ Ford said.
‘Please stop playing games and ducking responsibility. It is discreditable.’
The Wuhan lab is increasingly seen as a possible source for the COVID-19 outbreak. Initially scientists dismissed the idea as a wild conspiracy theory promoted by Donald Trump
Scientists are seen working inside the Wuhan lab. The site is one of only three in the world – the others are in North Carolina and Texas – where ‘gain of function’ research is carried out on viruses, to make them more transmissible or deadly
Ford emphasized that he was keen to find out more, and was personally suspicious of China. He commended efforts to understand the pandemic’s origins, and said he was in favor of ‘pressing their feet to the fire’.
But he said wanted to be certain.
DiNanno hit back, wanting to know more detail of Ford’s concerns.
‘I’d like to know what in those slides they find objectionable or where clarification is required and we’ll happily clarify, source and amend as necessary,’ DiNanno wrote.
DiNanno was evidently put out by what he saw as Ford’s reluctance to accept the ‘lab leak’ possibility.
He told Vanity Fair that his team was ‘warned’ that an investigation into a possible COVID-19 leak from the Wuhan lab would ‘open Pandora’s Box;’ and reveal that the U.S. funded gain-of-function research there.
Ford was also accused of obstructing a lab leak probe in that explosive Vanity Fair investigation, although he told the magazine he wanted to ensure the theory had been properly stood-up.
Vanity Fair also highlighted Ford’s hawkish stance on China.
It ‘smelled like a cover-up,’ DiNanno said.
Things had come to a head before Christmas, at a meeting on December 9, when State Department staff met to discuss what the department could or should say publicly about the Wuhan lab.
The State Department has rejected the claim that the investigation was stonewalled, saying ‘no-one prevented the disclosure of accurate, properly contextualized information.’
‘No effort was made at any time to suppress or withhold information from senior policymakers or the public,’ a spokesperson told Fox News.
‘Internal disagreements were about the quality of analysis and the importance of not overstating, or bending, evidence to fit preconceived narratives.’
ORIGINS OF COVID-19: THE THEORIES
US state officials have given momentum to the idea that COVID-19 either leaked from a lab or was man-made by China as some kind of weapon against humanity.
A Wuhan wet market was first thought to be the breeding ground of the virus, where the selling of live, wild animals would have given the perfect opportunity for it to naturally spread between species.
It is thought the virus first developed in bats before passing on to a creature such as a pangolin that then came into contact with humans and transmitted the virus.
Once it entered humans, the coronavirus is likely to have mutated to survive and then escalated out of control as a result of an unprepared population.
There are also theories that the virus was genetically engineered by scientists, or that it has actually been around for years and even killed people in the past.
Two high security laboratories in the city – the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control and the Wuhan Institute of Virology – have been the subject of many conspiracy theories.
President Donald Trump claims he has seen evidence the virus, which he solely blames China for, came from Wuhan Institute of Virology – but he is not allowed to reveal it.
The Institute has denied the claims from the early days of the outbreak.
In April, Trump said: ‘We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened.’
Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, claimed in May there is ‘enormous evidence’ the coronavirus outbreak originated in a Chinese laboratory – but failed to provide any of the alleged evidence.