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‘Trail of Lies, Obfuscations and Cover-ups’: 15 Federal Agencies Knew About EcoHealth’s Gain-of-Function Proposal in 2018 But Said Nothing

Senator Rand Paul and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee are investigating 15 federal agencies that were briefed in 2018 on EcoHealth Alliance’s proposal to create a novel coronavirus “shockingly similar to the COVID-19 virus” but failed to sound the alarm when the pandemic struck.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced on Tuesday they will investigate 15 federal agencies that were briefed in 2018 on a proposal to “insert a furin cleavage site into a coronavirus to create a novel chimeric virus that would have been shockingly similar to the COVID-19 virus.”

The $14.2 million project — DEFUSE, developed by Peter Daszak, Ph.D., president of EcoHealth Alliance in collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (Wuhan lab) — was proposed on Jan. 30, 2018, during the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) PREventing EMerging Pathogenic Threats (PREEMPT) Proposers Day program.

“Disturbingly, not one of these 15 agencies spoke up to warn us that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been pitching this research,” Paul said in the announcement, which noted that it took until 2021 before the public even learned of the DEFUSE project.

In announcing the investigation, Paul cited new information from documents not yet made public revealing that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Rocky Mountain Laboratories was a partner in the DEFUSE proposal.

In Paul’s letters to the agencies, he named Rocky Mountain Laboratories’s Vincent Munster, Ph.D., as the working partner in DEFUSE. Munster was co-author of a Jan. 24, 2020 New England Journal of Medicine article about “a novel coronavirus emerging in China” that neglected to mention the Wuhan lab or gain-of-function research on coronaviruses conducted there.

The letters also named the following newly discovered DEFUSE partners: the lab of Ralph Baric, Ph.D., at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Duke-NUS (National University of Singapore) Medical School and the lab of virologist Dr. Ian Lipkin at Columbia University.

Lipkin was one of the authors of the 2020 “Proximal Origin” paper that attempted to discredit the lab-leak theory of SARS-CoV-2 origins.

Paul requested the 15 federal agencies provide all documents, records and communications related to the DEFUSE project and PREEMPT Proposers Day events since 2016 at which agency personnel were present.

In addition to the NIAID and DARPA, Paul sent requests to the heads of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Defense Health Agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Navy and Army, among other agencies.

USAID funded EcoHealth GOF research in 2015

Marine Corps Major Joseph Murphy, an internal DARPA whistleblower, in 2021 was the first to expose the 2018 DEFUSE proposal. Murphy said the EcoHealth proposal was later funded by NIAID — then under the direction of Dr. Anthony Fauci — through sub-grants to EcoHealth Alliance.

EcoHealth Alliance in turn worked with Wuhan lab to engineer SARS-CoV-2.

Murphy shared a DARPA document outlining the agency’s decision not to approve the EcoHealth Alliance project, noting “prior work under USAID Predict,” a pandemic preparedness program that “identified high risk of SARSr-CoVs in specific caves in Asia.”

In a Senate hearing Tuesday, Paul grilled USAID Administrator Samantha Power about her agency’s funding of gain-of-function research in China through EcoHealth Alliance. Power denied knowledge of any such program, “USAID has not authorized gain-of-function research,” she said. “This is the first time seeing this.”

Paul presented a poster-sized enlargement of a 2015 paper, “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence,” co-authored by Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan lab — and others, including Baric — with an acknowledgment section that credited “USAID-EPT-PREDICT funding from EcoHealth Alliance.”

After reading sections of the paper establishing that the researchers were undeniably conducting gain-of-function research, Paul raised the 2018 PREEMPT meeting where the DEFUSE project was presented, with its intention to insert a novel furin cleavage site “which doesn’t exist in nature but makes it incredibly more infectious in humans,” he said.

Paul said USAID was at the meeting — before Power joined the agency. “But nobody from USAID and nobody from all 15 agencies ever told anyone about this project,” he said, expressing incredulity that those attending the meeting would not have made a connection between DEFUSE and SARS-CoV-2 when it emerged in 2020 and “come forward to warn us that this could be a virus not from nature.”

The DEFUSE grant proposal and the PREEMPT program

In 2018, EcoHealth Alliance’s Daszak proposed the DEFUSE (Defusing the Threat of Bat-borne Coronaviruses) project to DARPA’s PREEMPT program. The proposal aimed to develop a bat vaccine to prevent SARS-related coronaviruses in Asia, focusing on high-risk hotspot bat caves in China.

The PREEMPT program was established to identify and mitigate emerging pathogenic threats. The DEFUSE proposal aligned with the PREEMPT program’s goals by aiming to suppress the viral population of SARS-related coronaviruses in bat populations, reducing the risk of spillover into humans.

DARPA hosted the 2018 “PREEMPT Proposers Day” to introduce potential applicants to the PREEMPT program. The event provided an overview of the program, facilitated networking among potential proposers, and provided a platform for attendees to present their technical capabilities and interest in forming partnerships.

Attendees included government personnel — the 15 agencies Paul listed — academic researchers and representatives from various organizations interested in collaborating on the project.

Presenters were allowed only a single slide and three minutes to pitch their projects. EcoHealth’s slide included the following gain-of-function research proposition:

“Experimental assays to test QS0 jump potential: Sequence QS0 spike protein similarity to high-risk SARSr-CoVs, model spike structure to assess ACE2 binding, then in vitro and ACE2 humanized mouse experiments. Use results to test machine-learning genotype-to-phenotype model predictions of viral spillover risk.”

DARPA ultimately rejected the DEFUSE proposal due to significant weaknesses, including the potential for dangerous gain-of-function research and the lack of risk mitigation plans.

Daszak under increasing scrutiny

Paul on April 9 penned an op-ed for Fox News outlining his committee’s new investigation.

“Under duress, the administration finally released documents that show that the DEFUSE project was pitched to at least 15 agencies in January 2018,” he wrote.

Paul alleged Daszak concealed the DEFUSE proposal and that UNC scientist Baric failed to reveal that the Wuhan lab had already proposed to create a virus similar to COVID-19.

On the “RFK Jr Podcast” Thursday, Paul called Daszak “the bag man for Wuhan, China” and “basically a money guy” who has been able to procure “over $100 million from the government … through schmoozing and … fancy proposals.”

Daszak was a U.S. representative to the World Health Organization’s 2021 investigation into theorigins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which ultimately found the lab-leak theory “extremely unlikely.”

Paul, who on April 1 announced the launch of a bipartisan investigation into the origins of COVID-19, told Kennedy he believed Daszak has been concealing information about the development of viruses in China. “He’s evidence of what’s gone wrong and what has gone amok in a scientific community and the grant community,” Paul said.

House Republicans have also been investigating Daszak. In November 2023, the House Oversight and Energy and Commerce committees conducted a closed-door transcribed interview with Daszak.

Because new documents recently received by the committees under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request contradict portions of Daszak’s testimony, the committees have scheduled a public hearing with Daszak on May 1.

At issue is Daszak’s statement that EcoHealth Alliance would only be conducting gain-of-function research in the U.S. if DARPA approved the DEFUSE proposal. But the FOIA documents suggest, “EcoHealth intended to mislead DARPA and conduct the risky research at the Wuhan lab instead,” according to an Energy and Commerce Committee press release.

In the announcement for the upcoming hearing, the committee chairs quoted from their letter to Daszak:

“These revelations undermine your credibility as well as every factual assertion you made during your transcribed interview. The Committees have a right and an obligation to protect the integrity of their investigations, including the accuracy of testimony during a transcribed interview. We invite you to correct the record.”

‘Just a trail of lies, obfuscations and cover-ups’

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Paul said Fauci likely knew as early as 2018 about the Wuhan lab’s desire to create a coronavirus. He also said Fauci “commissioned people to say the opposite” of what they actually thought about the origins of the virus.

Fauci repeatedly denied that NIAID funded gain-of-function research under his watch. During acontentious exchange with Paul at a July 2021 Senate hearing, Fauci said, “Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly. … The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., then-director of the NIH, in a May 2021 statement made the denial even broader, saying, “Neither NIH nor NIAID have ever approved any grant that would have supported ‘gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses.”

Paul told Kennedy he had a 250-page document on his desk concerning a briefing for Fauci on NIH’s interaction with coronaviruses, but that “every word has been … redacted.”

“I do think there was an enormous conspiracy … because they knew that they had funded this lab in Wuhan, and that … blame would attach to them for the pandemic,” Paul told Kennedy. “And there’s just a trail of lies, obfuscations and cover-ups.”

Jamie Metzl, a former senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who in 2021 called for the removal of Daszak as president of EcoHealth Alliance, weighed in on the emerging controversy:

NIAID has not commented on its involvement, according to the Daily Mail. Spokespersons for the Army and CDC acknowledged receipt of Paul’s letters and said they would be responding, according to The Epoch Times.

A statement released by EcoHealth Alliance claimed Paul’s op-ed “uncritically repeats several unfounded and false claims” and that the organization “did not support ‘gain-of-function’ research at Wuhan lab” or “send ‘millions of dollars’ to another scientist to create chimeric coronaviruses.”

EcoHealth further claimed that at the time of the 2018 meeting, the DEFUSE proposal had not yet been drafted or submitted to DARPA, and that “the presence of a Federal Agency at the Proposer’s Day event does not mean that they had detailed information” about the proposal.

The Defender on occasion posts content related to Children’s Health Defense’s nonprofit mission that features Mr. Kennedy’s views on the issues CHD and The Defender regularly cover. In keeping with Federal Election Commission rules, this content does not represent an endorsement of Mr. Kennedy, who is on leave from CHD and is running as an independent for president of the U.S.

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