Lawmakers and media misrepresented a bill requiring the declassification of documents related to the origins of Covid, according to several experts who warned that contrary to what the public was told, the legislation limits the types of documents the government must declassify – raising questions about the bill’s real intent.
According to the sponsors of the Covid-19 Origin Act of 2023, which sailed through the US Senate and the House of Representatives and is awaiting President Biden’s signature – the bill requires the government to declassify all documents pertaining to Covid-19.
But experts interviewed by The Defender said the bill requires the declassification only of documents related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China – the epicentre of the “lab leak theory.”
They suggested the limitations may be intended to reduce the culpability of US and private actors in the potential leak of – or development of – Covid-19, by placing full blame on China and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Independent journalist Sam Husseini said Senator Josh Hawley (Republican-Montana), the Senate’s co-sponsor of the Covid-19 Origin Act, made “claims about the bill which are false.”
Hawley, on March 1, tweeted, Speaking to Fox News on March 2, Hawley made similar claims, saying, “My bill … will declassify all of the information the federal government has on Covid origins.”
Hawley later followed up his statements with a letter addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping, informing him of the bill’s passage. This prompted a response from the Chinese government, according to The Gateway Pundit.
Another of the bill’s Senate co-sponsors, Senator Mike Braun (Republican-Indian), said in a statement: “The American people deserve transparency, free from censorship or spin. It’s time to declassify everything we know about Covid’s origins and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, now.”
Braun also tweeted: Representative Mike Turner (Republican-Ohio), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, told the House, “The American public deserves answers to every aspect of Covid-19 pandemic including how this virus was created, and specifically whether it was a natural occurrence or was the result of a lab related event.”
Statements like these led media outlets, including The Defender, to report that if passed, the will would trigger the release of all documents – not just those related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
On his blog, Husseini said the Covid-19 Origin Act is “dubiously named” and instructs Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines only to: “Declassify any and all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19), including (a) activities performed by the Wuhan Institute of Virology with or on behalf of the People’s Liberation Army [of China]. This means that information not related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology is not being requested and would almost certainly therefore remain classified,” Husseini wrote.
The bill also states, “There is reason to believe the Covid-19 pandemic may have originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology… the Director of National Intelligence should declassify and make available to the public as much information as possible about the origin of Covid-19 so the United States and like-minded countries can “(a) identify the origin of Covid-19 as expeditiously as possible,” and “(b) use that information to take all appropriate measures to prevent a similar pandemic from occurring again.”
The bill requires Haines to turn over the declassified evidence “no later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act” and to submit to Congress an unclassified report containing all the documents requested in the bill, with “only such redactions as the Director determines necessary to protect sources and methods.”
Husseini noted that parts of the bill are unusually specific, focusing “on one strain of alleged evidence” by calling for Haines to turn over classified documents pertaining to “researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who fell ill in autumn 2019.”
“Now, that could be very important,” Husseini wrote. “But why is this legislation limiting disclosures?”
Husseini suggested some members of Congress may not have been fully aware that the bill they were voting for does not appear to, in fact, fully declassify all documents related to the origins of Covid-19.
“I have no idea if members of Congress have actually read the legislation and realise how limited it is,” wrote Husseini, who, in another post, called Hawley’s public rhetoric regarding the bill “false and misleading.”
Husseini told The Defender the bill may be acting as a “limited hangout” with the purpose of acknowledging the “lab leak theory” on the one hand, but via legislation that “makes us accept half of the truth.”
Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, told The Defender, “I’m afraid this [bill] is going to be a classic Nixonian limited hangout” that “does not call for the declassification of all those sources [that] should be declassified and/or released.”
Boyle said any information that is declassified “is going to be helpful,” but that the bill’s provision allowing redactions raises concern.
“Who knows what Avril Haines is going to knock out of this report,” he said.
Husseini noted that the bill also makes no provisions for providing information that several groups, including US Right to Know and some media organizations, have requested – but not yet received – via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) submissions. Husseini said this information “is not classified but is being withheld.”
Husseini cited Gary Ruskin, executive director and co-founder of US Right to Know, who said, “Much of the federal government’s information related to the origins of Covid-19 is not classified, or likely not classified. We just haven’t been able to access much of it yet via FOIA/FOIA litigation.
“The NIH’s [National Institutes of Health] conduct in stonewalling FOIAs is especially outrageous. It’s time for the Biden administration to tell NIH to comply with the FOIA.”
At a March 9 US Department of State press conference, Ned Price, the agency’s spokesperson, appeared to stonewall Husseini when he asked why the government hasn’t responded to US Right to Know FOIA requests related to government funding of bioweapons agents’ discovery research, including the funding of such research in China.
“We can respond in writing on a question that specific,” Price replied. When further pressed by Husseini, Price said, “I would ask that you be respectful of your colleagues.”
There has been a flurry of news reports in recent weeks originating from various branches of the US government indicating broader acceptance of the “lab leak theory.”
The US Department of Energy said it now believes Covid-19 most likely emerged from the Wuhan lab – a position subsequently adopted publicly by FBI Director Christopher Wray. On March 8, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic heard the testimony of experts who also accepted the “lab leak theory.”
“All this – the recent hearings, the Hawley legislation, the WSJ piece – seem part of a coordinated effort on the part of the ‘intelligence community’ to own the pandemic story and use it for their purposes,” Husseini wrote.
Boyle shared similar concerns with The Defender, “I am concerned that this [bill] is only going to get a part of the truth. Certainly not the full truth of what really happened here with Covid-19, which we need to get at.
“My concern is that all that’s going to get out of this report … will implicate the Wuhan BSL4 [biosafety level 4 lab] in Covid-19. Well, that’s fine with me. But what about the American involvement here?
“And this was funded by Tony Fauci and Francis Collins at NIAID [National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] and NIH. Those should be in this legislation too, if we really wanted to get to the bottom of what happened here.”
- A Tell / The Defender report / By Michael Nevradakis, a senior reporter for The Defender and part of the rotation of hosts for CHD.TV’s “Good Morning CHD.”