Three previously unreleased State Department cables, obtained by the public-health group U.S. Right to Know through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, confirm that Chinese officials covered up the outbreak and spread of Covid-19 and that their virology laboratory in Wuhan had close ties to the Chinese military. The cables add to mounting evidence suggesting that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory.

It is undisputed that the first human infections with SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes Covid-19—were in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. It is also undisputed that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)—located in its namesake city—is a leading center for research on bats and coronaviruses and was actively engaged in gain-of-function research to genetically engineer bat coronaviruses to attack human cells. Some WIV research was, as a PNAS article puts it, “part of an active and highly collaborative US–China scientific research program funded by the US Government”—namely, Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The program was funneled through the EcoHealth Alliance of New York, which has a long history of collaboration with WIV. A letter from former NIH principal deputy director Lawrence Tabak confirmed that, during 2018–19, the NIH, through EcoHealth, funded WIV research that successfully grafted spike proteins onto a bat coronavirus, enabling it to bind to human ACE2 receptors in mice—the same receptor to which SARS-CoV-2 binds in humans.

Finally, it is well established that SARS-CoV-2 contains a unique chemical feature unlikely to have arisen naturally: a furin cleavage site (FCS) between the S1 and S2 subunits of its spike protein that augments the virus’s infectivity and pathogenicity for humans. SARS-CoV-2 is the only member of the genus of SARS-related betacoronaviruses with an FCS. Moreover, while other, more distant coronaviruses do have FCSs, the protein components (amino acids) in the SARS-CoV-2 furin cleavage site are coded for by a set of nucleotides in its RNA that are rarely found in the other viruses, making natural recombination between viruses unlikely. (EcoHealth submitted a proposal to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2018 to partner with the WIV in constructing SARS-related bat coronaviruses by inserting FCSs into their spike proteins.)

It remains disputed whether SARS-CoV-2 leaked from the WIV to infect humans, or occurred naturally, passing from bats through an intermediate host to humans. Fauci and his allies in the scientific establishment, supported by the mainstream press, pushed the natural-transmission narrative and suppressed arguments from lab-leak proponents. Some, apparently under pressure from Fauci and other government scientists, have changed their minds and published papers supporting the natural-origin hypothesis. Other government officials are less certain.

A Department of Energy report on the origin of SARS-CoV-2 concluded that the virus leaked from the WIV. The DOE—which, despite its name, runs biosecurity labs, a biological-safety program, and the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program—agrees with the 2021 assessment by the FBI that a lab leak was likely the source of the pandemic. State Department inspectors reported that WIV conducted virus research with subpar safety controls. The verdict is not unanimous: four other unnamed agencies and a national intelligence panel reportedly favor, with “low confidence,” natural transmission and two other agencies remain undecided. But “numerous federal agencies,” according to journalist Matt Taibbi, “designed their probes of Covid-19’s origins so as to discount the possibility of lab origin in advance.”

The new cables and previous disclosures strongly suggest that the Chinese government had something to hide. U.S. intelligence sources and the State Department reported that several WIV researchers were hospitalized with Covid-19-like symptoms months prior to the Chinese government’s announcement of the first cases. A recent report claims that U.S. government officials named three WIV gain-of-function researchers—including Ben Hu, who led WIV’s gain-of-function research on SARS-like coronaviruses—as the first Covid-19 cases.

One of the newly revealed State Department cables reports that “Beijing Knew [about the outbreak] Earlier than They Admit” but muzzled local officials and “Restricted Disclosure of Virus Information and Samples.” It concluded that the “Initial Outbreak Could Have Been Contained in China if Beijing Had Not Covered it Up.” Separately,  the NIH’s Tabak testified that the agency complied with Chinese scientists’ request to conceal early genomic sequences of SARS-CoV-2, information that might have shed light on the origins of Covid.

The other two new cables reveal multiple links between the WIV and the Chinese military and provide information on military integration into civilian academic research institutions and Chinese government encouragement and control of biomedical research.

Other facts support the lab-leak hypothesis. In previous cases of animal-to-human transmission of respiratory viruses, researchers quickly uncovered intermediate animal hosts and serologic signs of infections in human animal handlers. But more than three years after the initial outbreak, no one has found a bat-source population, SARS-CoV-2 circulating in an intermediate species that passed the virus from bats to humans, or evidence that SARS-CoV-2 existed anywhere else before it appeared in Wuhan. While a recent article belatedly reports the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in locations where animal DNA was found at a Wuhan market, the virus was present at multiple types of establishments, and all the samples from animals tested negative, undermining the likelihood that animals brought into the market started the pandemic.

Chinese stonewalling and censorship make it unlikely that we will ever know with assurance the true origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Yet, the entirety of the evolving evidence suggests that the pandemic began, possibly with U.S. taxpayer help, at the Wuhan lab, and spread because of Chinese malfeasance.

Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/Getty Images


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next