The Biden administration awarded more than $250,000 to an organization whose founder waged a secret campaign last year to undercut the theory that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency granted $253,279 to EcoHealth Alliance in July to conduct research to thwart the use of viruses as weapons of mass destruction. EcoHealth Alliance worked closely with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the lab that many U.S. officials believe was ground zero for the coronavirus outbreak. The group's founder, Peter Daszak, secretly organized a group of scientists early in the pandemic to publicly undermine the theory that the pandemic sprung from a leak at the Wuhan lab.
The U.S. intelligence community is divided on whether the virus came from the lab or naturally spilled over from animals to humans. One intelligence agency assessed with moderate confidence that an accident at the Wuhan lab resulted in the first coronavirus infection, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Four other intelligence agencies assessed with only low confidence that the first infection came through natural exposure. Though the lab-leak theory was widely dismissed in 2020, a growing number of scientists now say it is the most likely explanation for the outbreak.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which operates within the Defense Department, has awarded $37 million to EcoHealth since 2013, though the July grant was the first given during the Biden administration. The Trump and Biden administrations have investigated whether the Chinese government covered up evidence of a 2019 lab accident at the Wuhan Institute that may have caused the pandemic. Republicans in Congress have called for investigations into EcoHealth Alliance’s relationship with the Wuhan Institute.
Daszak, a British-American zoologist, organized a group of scientists in February 2020 to sign a letter published in the Lancet, the prominent British medical journal, which cast doubt on the lab-leak theory, according to emails released last year. Undisclosed in the letter was that the EcoHealth Alliance had received grants from the U.S. government to conduct research at the Wuhan Institute. The EcoHealth Alliance gave $600,000 in grants to the Wuhan Institute between 2014 and 2019, the Daily Caller reported.
One watchdog group investigating the origins of the virus called on the government to cut its funding for EcoHealth Alliance, citing the group’s refusal to cooperate with congressional documents requests.
"Taking tax dollars appropriated by Congress and thumbing your nose at oversight investigations into the origins of COVID-19 is unacceptable," said Jason Foster, a former investigative counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee and founder of Empower Oversight.
"The government should stop funding those who refuse to be transparent about how they use the money," Foster told the Washington Free Beacon.
Daszak was the only American scientist on the World Health Organization team that investigated the origins of the virus in China earlier this year. While Daszak insisted the virus did not originate from a lab leak at the Wuhan Institute, other scientists on the mission have acknowledged that Chinese authorities withheld information that would have aided the investigation.
Daszak’s opposition to the lab-leak theory has earned him praise from Chinese state-run news outlets. The scientist has appeared for multiple interviews with Beijing-controlled propaganda outlet CGTN.
The Defense Department and EcoHealth Alliance did not respond to requests for comment.