It may seem that, in a matter of days, the entire focal point of the country went from the coronavirus to widespread protests, riots, and civil unrest, but this is just a friendly reminder that the world is still in the midst of a global pandemic and the origin of said pandemic is still under scrutiny.
National Review reports that, back in April, an organization called White Coat Waste which is opposed to government funding of medical research that involves animal experimentation filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the US National Institutes of Health which requested all correspondence, memos, and reports relating to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
As you may recall, while it was originally suspected that the origin of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 had originated at a wet market selling in the city of Wuhan, but suspicion has been mounting for some time now that it may have, in fact, leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology where they were studying coronavirus in bats.
Beginning in 2014, NIH issued grants to EcoHealth Alliance, which partnered with the WIV to study viruses in bats.
On April 19, Michael Lauer, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, wrote to EcoHealth, “There are now allegations that the current crisis was precipitated by the release from Wuhan Institute of Virology of the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Given these concerns, we are pursuing suspension of Wuhan Institute of Virology from participation in federal programs.”
In a follow-up five days later, Lauer stated, “the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), an Institute with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has elected to terminate the project . . . NIH does not believe that the current project outcomes align with the program goals and agency priorities.”
On May 22, Gorka Garcia-Malene, the FOIA officer at NIH, responded to White Coat Waste’s request, writing:
The records you requested involve pending investigations. I have determined to withhold those records pursuant to Exemption 7(A), 5 U.S.C. § 552 and (b)(7)(a), and section 5.31 (g)(l) of the HHS FOIA Regulations, 45 CFR Part 5. Exemption 7(A) permits the withholding of investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes when disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.
In other words, they are unable to provide the group with the documents they have requested because said documents are under investigation.
What this investigation may be, exactly, we can only guess.
Lauer had written in his original letter that “it is in the public interest that NIH ensure that a sub-recipient has taken all appropriate precautions to prevent the release of pathogens that it is studying.”
NR notes that it is not clear if the NIH review is in the “pending investigation” and “law enforcement proceedings” referred to in the FOIA response, or if there is a separate criminal investigation into WIV on the part of US law enforcement.
The NIH has its own police force to ensure facilities are secure, but the Department of Health and Human Services refers violations of civil or criminal law to the Department of justice.
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