FOI documents on origins of Covid-19, gain-of-function research and biolabs

Print Email Share Tweet

In July 2020, U.S. Right to Know began submitting public records requests in pursuit of data from public institutions in an effort to discover what is known about the origins of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease Covid-19. We are also researching accidents, leaks and other mishaps at laboratories where pathogens of pandemic potential are stored and modified, and the risks of gain-of-function research, which involve experiments on such pathogens to increase their host range, infectivity, transmissibility or pathogenicity.

For more information about our investigation, see our biohazards page. You can read our reporting here on the documents we have obtained so far from Freedom of Information requests. The documents are posted below in chronological order in which we received them.

Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) grant documents

DTRA batch #6 (7.1.22) (2387 pages)
DTRA batch #5 (7.1.22) (1499 pages)
DTRA batch #4 (7.1.22) (1216 pages)
DTRA batch #3 (7.1.22) (1132 pages)
DTRA batch #2 (2.23.22) (311 pages)

Records obtained from a FOIA request to DTRA, containing DTRA grants and awards to the EcoHealth Alliance, for projects such as: biosurveillance for zoonotic spillover of viruses in rural communities in India; reducing the threat of MERS coronavirus and avian influenza; predicting biothreat impacts from early stage data via transfer learning, and more.

DTRA batch #1 (2.22.22) (2790 pages)

Records obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, containing DTRA grants and awards to the EcoHealth Alliance, for projects such as: developing a rapid identification tool for undisclosed emerging infectious disease events, understanding Rift Valley fever in South Africa, serological biosurveillance for spillover of henipaviruses and filoviruses in Malaysia and India, and others.

Chao Shan/University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston emails

Chao Shan batch #1 (6.30.22) (932 pages)

Dr. Chao Shan conducted research on Zika virus as a postdoctoral scientist with Professor Pei-Yong Shi at UTMB-Galveston, before taking a position at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka/University of Wisconsin-Madison emails

UW-Madison batch #1 (6.26.22) (63 pages)

Records were obtained via a Wisconsin Public Records Law request to the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison for emails of Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka. Dr. Kawaoka conducts research on influenza viruses and coronaviruses, and became well-known for his gain-of-function experiments to enable the airborne spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) records

NIH batch #4 (6.17.22) (230 pages)
NIH batch #3 (6.17.22) (291 pages)
NIH batch #2 (3.3.22) (308 pages)
NIH batch #1 (2.1.22) (322 pages)

Department of Education

Department of Education batch #1 (6.15.22) (1095 pages)

U.S. State Department records

State Department batch #14 (5.24.22) (11 pages)
State Department batch #13 (4.26.22) (16 pages)
State Department batch #12 (3.28.22) (45 pages)

See our reporting: Lab accident is ‘most likely but least probed’ COVID origin, State Dept. memo says (3.28.22)

State Department batch #11 (2.24.22) (52 pages)
State Department batch #10 (1.25.22) (47 pages)
State Department batch #9 (12.27.21) (20 pages)
State Department batch #8 (12.7.21) (16 pages)
State Department batch #7 (10.28.21) (37 pages)
State Department batch #6 (9.27.21) (100 pages)
State Department batch #5 (7.26.21) (56 pages)

  • January 2018 cable on the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s BSL-4 laboratory (a more complete version of the cable first reported by Josh Rogin in the Washington Post)

State Department batch #4 (6.24.21) (129 pages)
State Department batch #3 (5.24.21) (114 pages)
State Department batch #2 (4.26.21) (37 pages)
State Department batch #1 (3.24.21) (92 pages)

See our reporting:

University of Texas Medical Branch

Vineet Menachery/Pei-Yong Shi/UTMB batch #2 (5.4.22) (5070 pages)
LeDuc/UTMB batch #1 (4.27.22) (4578 pages)
UTMB-Wuhan Institute of Virology memorandum of understanding (4.20.22) (9 pages)

See our reporting: Wuhan lab can delete data in ‘explosive’ legal agreement with U.S. lab. (4.20.22)

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records

CDC batch #4 (4.13.22) (1,864 pages)
CDC batch #3 (4.13.22) (1,864 pages)

See our reporting: Emails raise questions about China’s sway over first WHO mission on COVID-19.

CDC batch #2 (6.28.21) (1,302 pages)
CDC batch #1 (3.05.21) (1,063 pages)

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) records

HHS batch #4 (4.8.22) (248 pages)
HHS batch #3 (4.8.22) (325 pages)
HHS batch #2 (1.26.22) (321 pages)
HHS batch #1
(12.30.21) (266 pages)

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) records

USAID batch #2 (4.7.22) (357 pages)
USAID batch #1 (3.17.22) (42 pages)

UC Davis/Jonna Mazet emails and documents

Documents obtained through a California Public Records Act request for records of UC Davis Vice Provost Jonna Mazet. Dr. Mazet was the principal investigator on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Emerging Pandemic Threat (EPT) Program PREDICT-1 and PREDICT-2 grants with the EcoHealth Alliance.

Batch #4 (1.10.22) (261 pages)
Batch #3 (12.7.21) (137 pages)
Batch #2 (12.7.21) (541 pages)
Batch #1 (10.27.21)(139 pages)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) records

Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) communications with or about the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other Wuhan-based research institutes; EcoHealth Alliance; China; and the Global Health Security Agenda. Records include proposed SARS-CoV-2 human challenge studies (not clinical trials) to evaluate COVID-19 vaccine efficacy, associated with the published World Health Organization nCoV Research & Development Blueprint. Draft informed consent and study protocols as well as descriptions of biocontainment units and SARS-CoV-2 challenge strains are included.

Batch #1 (12.10.21)(262 pages)

Xiang-Dong Fu emails

Documents obtained through a California Public Records Act request for records of Professor Xiang-Dong Fu, Distinguished Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of California- San Diego. Dr. Fu has been a member of the International Executive Committee of Performance Evaluation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Batch #1 (11.12.21) (641 pages)

Latinne et al. (2020) and the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

NCBI emails (10.12.21): File #1, File #2, File #3, File #4, File #5, File #6, File #7, File #8. Emails between NCBI and scientists from Ecohealth Alliance and Wuhan Institute of Virology regarding the submission of genetic sequence information about bat betacoronavirus isolate 7896, which is very closely related to RaTG13.

National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB)

NSABB emails (10.11.21) (104 pages). Emails between Mary Ellen Groesch, NSABB members, and NIH staff regarding the replacement of 11 NSABB members, and 2014 plans to discuss dual use research guidelines (DURC) and a new biosecurity and biosafety program.

Documents obtained through FOIA to the NIH for email correspondence of Dr. Mary Ellen Groesch, Office of the Director, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and former executive director of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB).

Shan-Lu Liu emails

Zhengli Shi’s edits to a widely-cited EM&I commentary titled “No credible evidence supporting claims of the laboratory engineering of SARS-CoV-2.” (9.27.21) (10 pages). Document obtained through an Ohio Public Records Act request for a missing attachment from the email records of Ohio State University Professor Shan-Lu Liu.

Shan-Lu Liu emails: Ohio State University (8.4.21) (488 pages). Documents obtained through an Ohio Public Records Act request for the email records of Shan-Lu Liu, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University.

See our reporting:

CSIRO emails

CSIRO emails: Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Records. Documents obtained through an Australian Freedom of Information Act request to CSIRO for email records between Gary Crameri, Researcher, Health and Biosecurity Business Unit, Australian Center for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) of CSIRO, and collaborators, including Drs. Lin-Fa Wang and Edward C. Holmes.

CSIRO Batch #5 (8.31.21) (63 pages)
CSIRO Batch #4 (8.31.21) (99 pages)
CSIRO Batch #3 (8.31.21) (50 pages)
CSIRO Batch #2 (8.31.21) (4 pages)
CSIRO Batch #1 (8.31.21) (154 pages)

Fang Li emails

Fang Li emails: (6.25.21) (1234 pages). Documents obtained from public records requests for emails of Fang Li, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, University of Minnesota.

Linda Saif emails

Linda Saif emails batch #1: (4.7.21) (303 pages). Documents obtained from public records requests for emails of Linda Saif, PhD, Distinguished University Professor, Department of Veterinary Preventative Medicine, Center for Food Animal Health, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, Ohio State University.

See our reporting: Chinese-linked journal editor sought help to rebut Covid-19 lab origin hypothesis (5.24.21)

Ralph Baric emails

Ralph Baric emails batch #4: (12.30.21) (24 pages) Documents made available through a North Carolina public records law request for communications of Professor Ralph Baric related to biodefense and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Ralph Baric emails batch #3: (2.25.21) (22,736 pages) Documents obtained from public records requests for emails Ralph Baric, PhD, William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the Department of  Epidemiology and Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Ralph Baric emails batch #2: (2.17.21) (332 pages).

See our reporting:

Ralph Baric emails batch #1 (12.14.20) (83,416 pages). Dr. Ralph Baric’s emails with EcoHealth Alliance, Wuhan Institute of Virology, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and experts in biodefense and infectious diseases.

See our reporting:

Rebekah Kading and Tony Schountz emails

Rebekah Kading and Tony Schountz (1.21.21) (2276 pages). Documents obtained from Colorado State University professors Rebekah Kading and Tony Schountz of the Center for Vector-Born Infectious Diseases (CVID).

See our reporting:

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

NCBI Emails (12.29.20) (63 pages). Emails with coronavirus scientists who authored four key studies on coronavirus origins, about their revisions to genomic datasets associated with these studies.

See our reporting: Altered datasets raise more questions about reliability of key studies on coronavirus origins (12.29.20)

Rita Colwell emails

Rita Colwell emails with EcoHealth Alliance staff (11.18.20) (466 pages). Documents obtained from public records requests for emails of Rita Colwell, PhD, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland at College Park and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a member of the EcoHealth Alliance board of directors.

See our reporting:

Wuhan Iab can delete data in ‘explosive’ legal agreement with U.S. lab

Print Email Share Tweet

The interior of the Galveston National Laboratory is pictured. (Photo credit: UTMB)

April 20, 3:40 p.m.: This story has been updated with comment from UTMB. 

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has the right to ask a partnering lab in the U.S. to destroy all records of their work, according to a legal document obtained by U.S. Right to Know. 

A memorandum of understanding between the Wuhan lab and the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch states that each lab can ask the other to return or “destroy” any so-called “secret files” — any communications, documents, data or equipment resulting from their collaboration — and ask that they wipe any copies. 

“The party is entitled to ask the other to destroy and/or return the secret files, materials and equipment without any backups,” it states. 

This right is retained even after the agreement’s five year term ends in October 2022. All documents are eligible for destruction under the agreement’s broad language.

“All cooperation … shall be treated as confidential information by the parties,” the agreement states.

The directors of the maximum biocontainment labs in Wuhan and Texas announced a formal cooperative agreement in Science in 2018. The labs are two of just a handful of facilities in the world that do similar cutting edge work on novel coronaviruses. The lab in Texas, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, was doing biosafety training with the lab in Wuhan, which operates under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The labs also intended to do joint research projects and share resources, according to the agreement. 

The revelation that the Wuhan lab retained the right to call for the destruction of data on U.S. servers funded by U.S. taxpayers comes amid a debate about what sort of investigation is necessary to exculpate the city’s coronavirus research from suspicions it sparked the COVID-19 pandemic. It also raises questions about assurances from Wuhan Institute of Virology senior scientist Zhengli Shi that she would never delete sensitive data.

The clause also raises a number of legal red flags for the Texas lab, experts say.

“The clause is quite frankly explosive,” said Reuben Guttman, a partner at Guttman, Buschner & Brooks PLLC who specializes in ensuring the integrity of government programs. “Anytime I see a public entity, I would be very concerned about destroying records.”

Guttman said that even private entities are expected to have internal records retention and destruction policies, but that as a public institution the Texas lab faces an even higher standard under laws meant to safeguard federal and state taxpayer dollars. These laws include the federal False Claims Act and the Texas Public Information Act. The Galveston National Laboratory is part of the University of Texas System and receives federal funding. 

“You can’t just willy nilly say, ‘well, you know, the Chinese can tell us when to destroy a document.’ It doesn’t work like that,” he said. “There has to be a whole protocol.”

The clause could also risk obstructing Congressional investigations into the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Texas lab was “built by the National Institutes of Health to help combat global health threats,” said Christopher Smith, a spokesman for UTMB, in a statement. “As a government-funded entity, UTMB is required to comply with applicable public information law obligations, including the preservation of all documentation of its research and findings.”

“UTMB believes it is an operational — and moral — imperative that all scientists working in biocontainment anywhere in the world have first-hand knowledge of the proven best practices in biosafety and laboratory operations,” Smith continued. “All research at UTMB is subjected to a rigorous and transparent pre-experiment approval protocol, including involvement and oversight by scientific experts who helped design federal guidelines.”

Only the Texas attorney general can make a determination about what otherwise releasable public records should be exempted from disclosure, according to Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. It’s also unlawful to destroy records requested under the Texas Public Information Act. 

Liza Vertinsky, an expert in global health law and intellectual property at Emory University, said that the all-encompassing definition of what is considered “secret” in the memorandum of understanding, or MOU, is problematic. 

“The way I read the MOU, although it is poorly drafted, ‘secret’ refers to the ‘cooperation and exchanges, documents, data, details and materials’ that are part of this MOU,”  she said. “It is as broad as the MOU, covering what the MOU is intended to cover.”

Edward Hammond, an independent biosafety proponent and a longtime advocate for more transparency at the Galveston lab, also flagged the broad language.

“In agreements like this that I’ve seen before, you have confidentiality provisions in relation to intellectual property…I can’t recall seeing an instance of these more general confidentiality provisions,” he said in an email. “Doesn’t this run against the purportedly pure academic interests of UTMB?”

In 2009, the Galveston lab unsuccessfully lobbied the Texas legislature for an exemption to the Texas Public Information Act to be written in order to prevent records being released to Hammond. 

WIV calls data deletion accusations appalling

The agreement could also undermine claims that the WIV would never delete records. A WIV virus database that went dark in 2019 remains a source of intrigue for reporters, scientists, and U.S. intelligence agencies interested in the pandemic’s origins. 

Wuhan Institute of Virology senior scientist Zhengli Shi told MIT Technology Review that allegations by Western biosecurity experts that her lab may have scrubbed records relevant to COVID-19 are “baseless and appalling.” 

“Even if we gave them all the records, they would still say we have hidden something or we have destroyed the evidence,” Shi told the outlet, which cast any such suspicions as rooted in anti-Chinese prejudice. 

The agreement also seems to address suspicions that the partnership could aid a bioweapons program either in the U.S. or in China, stating the labs will “exchange the virus resources strictly for the scientific research purposes.”

A number of clunky or unusual provisions in the agreement suggests it may have been drafted at least in part by Chinese partners and translated into English. 

For example, it states nothing in the agreement should be construed as establishing a relationship between “master and servant,” unusual language in modern American legal documents. 

Other documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know demonstrate that despite the formal collaboration, Galveston National Laboratory faced delays in obtaining a sample of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from its partner lab at the pandemic’s epicenter. The Texas lab ended up obtaining its first sample from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

U.S. Right to Know obtained the WIV-UTMB memorandum of understanding through the Texas Public Information Act as part of an investigation into risky viral research funded through taxpayer dollars.

Written by Emily Kopp