In this episode, award-winning journalist Sharri Markson takes us inside her groundbreaking research into the origins of COVID-19 and how events really unfolded at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Her findings are detailed in her new book and documentary of the same name “What Really Happened in Wuhan.”
Markson is the investigations editor at The Australian and host of the show “Sharri” on Sky News Australia.
Jan Jekielek: Sharri Markson, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Sharri Markson: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Sharri, I’ve been wanting to do this interview for a long time. And huge congratulations on a book that’s a number one bestseller now in a number of categories, but this is my favorite: “What Really Happened In Wuhan” is the number one in General China Travel Guide, somehow.
Ms. Markson: It’s bizarre the categories that they’ve put the book in, but it is the bestseller. It is selling really well, and I think that shows that this is a topic that people are desperate for information on, and yet the mainstream media have refused to cover it for such a long time, pretty much throughout the whole of 2020.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and that’s actually one of the really, really interesting elements of the book, because you explain why media—and frankly, it’s not just media. Just about almost everybody didn’t want to touch this idea with a ten foot pole. What is it that you believe happened based on this incredible body of evidence that you’ve assembled?
Ms. Markson: Yes. It’s very hard to distill a 400 page investigative book into a couple of sentences, and what I’ve tried to do is I don’t want to tell people what to think. As an investigative journalist, I wanted to present the facts and the evidence that I have uncovered, and I wanted to present interviews with people who were very familiar with events that unfolded, for example, Wuhan whistleblowers, Chinese defectors now based in the West, people from the intelligence community, and the politicians or the officials who are either investigating this or who saw the very high level intelligence.
In terms of my own opinion, which is probably less relevant—and again, the evidence is there for people to make up their own minds—but I think the evidence quite clearly points to a leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, either in mid-September or at least that’s when the Wuhan Institute of Virology became aware of it, in mid-September, and then after that, there was a deliberate decision by Chinese authorities to cover this up.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s something quite significant that happens at that time in September, which is this very large database of viruses—I think you said it’s about 22,000 odd viruses. I think it was one-third of the viruses in databases in the world or something like this.
Ms. Markson: Yeah. Look, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has the world’s largest collection of coronaviruses. It was one of only two laboratories in the world, prior to the pandemic, that had been conducting gain-of-function research on coronaviruses.
And then on the 12th of September 2019, this database of viruses, 22,000 viruses, as you say, is taken offline mysteriously for the first time. It then reappears online and then is permanently taken off a few months later.
But on that same day that the virus database was taken offline on the 12th of September, the Wuhan Institute of Virology also issued a tender to upgrade its security, beef up its security, and over the following weeks, they spent half a million dollars beefing up their security, and that’s both new CCTV systems and also security guards.
They also had a new air ventilation system, they also bought a medical air incinerator, and culminating in the purchase of a Coronavirus testing PCR machine. That tender was issued on November 6.
We only know this information because our mutual friend, the cyber security experts at Internet 2.0. They’ve done cybersecurity work for the U.S. government and for the Australian Government. That’s Robert Potter and David Robinson. They managed to recover data, these tender data that had been virtually expunged from the internet.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s actually a fascinating set of evidence that I wasn’t familiar with. You’ve been keeping a tight lid on that before the publication, it seems.
Ms. Markson: Yes. And of course, there’s a lot of other evidence as well that I put together in the book in that window for an outbreak. For example, the fact that the workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell sick with COVID-like symptoms. And Mike Pompeo and John Ratcliffe firmly believe that was, in all likelihood, the first cluster of the pandemic.
And then there’s the evidence that followed about the General Chen Wei. She was the leading army official who went in and took over the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the gag order, and the fact that Xi Jinping then issued a new bio-security law. So, there’s a lot of other evidence that points to a laboratory leak as well.
Mr. Jekielek: This is a pretty fascinating vantage point, these three people that fell sick that a number of officials believe were the beginnings of the pandemic. This was actually information that the U.S. intelligence had but didn’t look at for a very long time.
Ms. Markson: Look, this intelligence, according to David Asher—David Asher was one of the lead investigators in the State Department examining the origins of COVID-19 in the latter part of 2020. He and his team uncovered this evidence about the sick Wuhan Institute of Virology workers in the intelligence files, and they brought it to the attention of more senior figures like Mike Pompeo.
The decision was then made to declassify this intelligence, which happened in January 2021. But David Asher tells me, in a series of interviews for the book, that actually the intelligence that he only discovered in late 2020 came into the possession of the U.S. government an entire year earlier. Also, he says this on camera in the documentary I made to go with the book.
He says that he was shocked when he found that out that we could have had what he describes as full knowledge, and he says it could have been like stopping 9/11 before it happened. He describes it as a missed opportunity that no one realized the significance of this intelligence.
I actually then asked [former] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about this when I interviewed him and asked if he is concerned that intelligence seems to have not been acted on. And I asked: is this a pandemic that could have been any way been prevented?
Pompeo’s response was that this was something he was always concerned about when he was the CIA director, the fact that intelligence was coming in that might not have been processed properly, or disseminated properly, and didn’t reach the decision makers. He suggested it would be well worth having a review or going back to look at what the agencies knew, what was the quality of that intelligence, and what happened to it? What did they do with it?
Mr. Jekielek: This is very interesting, because David Asher is part of the Arms Control Verification and Compliance Bureau, AVC, out of the State Department, and it’s not necessarily where you would expect this investigation to be run out of. How did that work?
Ms. Markson: That was because there was an assistant secretary or an acting assistant secretary there called Tom DiNanno, and he took the initiative to set up an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, and also to examine whether this, in any way, breached China’s obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention to which it is a party under the United Nations.
He brought in Dave Asher, who was technically a contractor, and his other team, although many others assisted with the investigation as well, like David Stilwell, Miles Yu, and others. They came across quite strong resistance from members of the intelligence community to even investigating the possibility of a lab leak.
There were other officials, not just the intelligence community, but other bureaucrats, quite senior officials within the State Department, who also didn’t think that this should be investigated, that it wasn’t a matter for the Arms Control Verification unit, that this was just a health policy matter.
So, they met enormous resistance. Their efforts, as you can see in the book, were quite heroic. They kept pushing back against these obstacles and forging on, demanding answers, and uncovering evidence. I’m thrilled to be able to tell their story in detail, because now it’s common knowledge that the intelligence was declassified, but we wouldn’t know about it if it wasn’t for that team.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, talking about this resistance, I remember this infamous Nature letter put together by a number of very, very prominent scientists that basically declared it’s definitely natural. And I remember, I have a friend of mine who does vaccine research, he wrote to Nature and said, “How can you possibly do this? It’s one thing to say these are the likelihood and so forth, and it’s another thing to say it’s impossible that it was anything but a natural origin.”
Ms. Markson: Yes, I think that’s right. There were actually two letters. There was one in The Lancet that was drafted by Peter Daszak, and then there was another one that followed it in Nature, and both of them came to the same conclusion, that in all likelihood, this was a natural virus, when in fact, in that early day—this is very early 2020—no investigation had taken place. It was far too early to be coming to a conclusion that it couldn’t have been a genetically manipulated virus.
And actually, Jan, when I started reporting on this in early 2020, it was very confusing to me and it derailed me for a little while. I didn’t understand—I was looking at the scientific papers, as you guys were, and I was seeing that there was the genetic manipulation of coronaviruses, that there was gain-of-function research, and I was writing about this in the newspaper I write for in Australia.
But yet all of the scientists that were speaking publicly were saying, “This is a virus that has not been genetically manipulated.” I found that quite confusing, and I didn’t understand how that could be the case—until of course, I came across some scientists like Nikolai Petrovsky, and then others. And we now know that the techniques that have been used in modern laboratories for genetic manipulation don’t leave a trace.
This is the no-see-um technique that was pioneered by Ralph Baric at the University of North Carolina. He was working with Shi Zhengli. You cannot tell if a virus has been genetically manipulated unless the scientist wants you to tell and leaves a marker or such. This is something that Ralph Baric has admitted publicly, even in interviews, about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
This was an incredibly misleading statement from parts of the scientific community. We were given this false impression that there was a scientific consensus that this was a natural virus. We were told in that Lancet letter that it was a conspiracy to suggest this was a lab leak. As it turned out, many of the scientists behind that letter were incredibly conflicted.
Peter Daszak, for instance, as you know, was working with the Wuhan Institute of Virology for 15 years, but his role in drafting and organizing that letter didn’t become clear for about 11 months until Gary Ruskin, from the U.S. Right to Know group did an FOIA and uncovered those emails in November 2020 that exposed Daszak’s role in this. Really, the public was terribly misled, and unfortunately, it meant that throughout the whole of 2020, the chosen narrative of the world’s largest authoritarian regime took hold at the expense of finding out the truth.
Narration: In June of this year, over a year after the original Lancet letter was published, the addendum to the letter was published with more information about Peter Daszak’s prior research in China. The Lancet did not respond to a request for further comment.
Mr. Jekielek: So, Sharri, you mentioned Shi Zhengli. For anyone following this story, they’re intimately familiar with her. Why don’t you tell us who she is?
Ms. Markson: She is the leading biologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. She’s become known as the bat woman globally, famous for her work in bat coronaviruses. And she was working with Peter Daszak. They were going out to caves, taking bat samples, hundreds and hundreds of bat samples and taking them back to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where they were sequencing them. Some of the samples, they were just putting in freezers, and other samples they were doing scientific research on. They were working with some of them on animals and some of them in Petri dishes or cell dishes.
What’s crucial about her work is that in 2012, some miners were clearing out guano, or bat manure, from a cave in the Yunnan Province called the Mojiang mine. They all fell sick, and three of the six miners died.
The next year, Shi Zhengli and a team from the Wuhan Institute of Virology went and collected bat samples from that cave, and they brought those bat samples back to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. One of those samples was a partial sequence. I don’t know if I’m going into too much detail here, but a partial sequence was uploaded to GenBank, and that partial sequence actually had over a 98 percent sequence identity to SARS-CoV-2. It was labeled 4991.
It was uploaded in 2016. Then you fast forward to the start of the pandemic, and Shi Zhengli disclosed a virus called RaTG13, which had a 96 percent sequence identity to SARS-CoV-2 and was meant to have been the full genetic sequence, not just the partial RdRp [RNA-dependent RNA polymerases] that was uploaded back in 2016.
It’s very significant that the closest coronavirus we’ve seen in the world to SARS-CoV-2 came from that mine where they were doing the sampling work. Peter Daszak said that that sample that they collected had just been sitting in the freezers the whole of this time.
It then turned out—because of the incredible work of open source researchers who go by the name of Drastic, they were then able to uncover that, in fact, that virus had been taken out of the freezer on multiple occasions from 2016 to 2020. But we do not know definitively what work was done on it, what research they did with it.
When I’ve interviewed Nikolai Petrovsky, he makes the case that a virus like this, either this virus itself or another similar virus, a relative, could have been the precursor to SARS-CoV-2, depending on what sort of research was undertaken, if a chimeric virus was made, because that’s what they were doing in that lab.
They were taking genetic sequences from one virus, putting them onto a backbone of another virus, adding in a different spike protein, and then ending up with a brand new virus that had never existed in nature before, and they were seeing whether these viruses could infect humans, and in doing so, making them able to infect humans.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to briefly talk about Dr. Petrovsky’s work, and you document, extensively, his struggle first with the research that he had done, what he’d found, because it was contradictory to the official narrative, and then finally deciding to publish what he had found and how he did that. I’m wondering if you could just tell us about that. It’s an amazing little tidbit in the book, which is quite powerful.
Ms. Markson: Yes. Well, Nikolai Petrovsky is an Australian scientist. He is based at Flinders University. He also is a vaccine developer, and he’s developed vaccines for many viruses in the past. When the pandemic started or when the virus broke out, he started working on a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2.
To do that, he used a supercomputer that was online to him from Oracle, and he ran simulations. He was looking for an intermediary host or the original animal host. What he found is that SARS-CoV-2 has a higher binding affinity to humans than any other animal, so it was almost perfectly adapted to infect humans, and he found that it can’t even infect bats, which is extraordinary. And the book goes into a lot more detail about Petrovsky explaining the science behind that, and how the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 was perfectly adapted to human ACE2 receptors.
When he came across this finding, this was extraordinary to him because he’d just been looking at trying to find a way to develop a vaccine. He hadn’t even considered the possibility this could have been a manmade virus, and yet this was the finding.
So he and his team—and he was working with other scientists as well in Australia and overseas—wrote up a scientific paper. They then tried to get it published, and they were knocked back everywhere, including from the same journals that were publishing basically biased opinion pieces from the likes of Peter Daszak, where there was no disclosure of any conflict of interest. I mean, those were opinion pieces, virtually. They were publishing that, and yet, then they were rejecting rigorous scientific analysis and investigation and research from the likes of Nikolai Petrovsky.
He’s not a political scientist. If anything, he’s often objecting to moves by the conservative Australian government and where they’re putting their research funding. He’s definitely not political, but he has a firm belief that the truth needs to get out, and if you’re a scientist, you can’t hide the truth because it might not be comfortable or it might not be politically correct.
When he couldn’t get his paper published, even preprint servers were knocking it back. Preprint servers are designed to get science out into the world while it’s being peer reviewed. Even they were knocking it back. For me at the time, when I was writing the book, there had been this unbelievable censorship of science.
It was quite a circular argument, because we were led to believe that there was a scientific consensus. In fact, there wasn’t, but it was just that scientists who had a different view couldn’t get their work published in the prestigious or any scientific journals at all, which then the circular thing that led you to believe there was a scientific consensus, but it was just censorship of the scientists who had a different view.
Eventually, Nikolai Petrovsky did get his paper published on a preprint server. Someone on Twitter—and I barely look at the Twitter mentions that come through, but I did notice this one. Someone sent a link to a scientific paper, and I was so lucky, I happened to read that scientific paper, and I thought it was extraordinary. Then I went to look up who the authors were, and I was so surprised to see that one was Australian. And so I emailed Nikolai Petrovsky straight away.
This is May of 2020. He wrote back immediately, and I said to him, “Will you do an interview with me on Sky News Australia, where I have a weekly TV show, as well as my newspaper reporting?” He wrote back immediately, and he said he was happy to. I did the interview with him the very next day, and it was a groundbreaking interview, because you have to remember at that time, no one was speaking out.
No one from the scientific community was speaking out publicly saying that this could have been a manmade virus, and Nikolai Petrovsky did that. It was very brave of him, and I’m sure he had incredible backlash, but I think we should all be forever grateful that he did that.
For most of the scientific community, it wasn’t until 2021, it wasn’t until Joe Biden was in office, that they signed the letters that we have seen published where they’re calling for an investigation into this. So, you really do have to recognize [Petrovsky’s bravery].
I said Dave Asher, Tom DiNanno, and all of those people were heroes. Nikolai is another hero. And that’s what I really tried to do in this book, as well as investigating the origins, I want to celebrate or recognize the people who did play such brave roles, who did take a courageous stance in calling this out, often at great professional risk and even personal risk.
Mr. Jekielek: Absolutely. You go to great lengths to catalog the various dimensions in which this disinformation and censorship happened. It happened at multiple levels and across multiple disciplines, like you said, in media, in academia, and in government, and it went on and on. But let’s do one thing first, because this was actually a common piece of disinformation, the sort of obfuscation. When you said manmade, manmade doesn’t mean bioweapon, right?
Ms. Markson: No, of course not.
Mr. Jekielek: What does it mean?
Ms. Markson: It’s just the type of research that they were doing at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. You only have to look at their scientific papers going back until the early 2000s, when Shi Zhengli and her number two, Peng Zhou, were working in Australia at the CSIRO. Ever since then, you just look at their papers, that’s what they were doing. They were messing around, genetically manipulating coronaviruses in order to develop vaccines, in order to work out which viruses could infect humans. I’m not saying there was anything sinister in their motives. Their motives could have been [fine].
Look, I don’t know them personally, so I don’t know, but their motives could have been perfectly innocent. They could have been trying to see which viruses can infect humans to predict a pandemic. I mean, that’s what they said they were doing.
I personally think that’s irresponsible research, because in fact, you’re creating new viruses that are incredibly risky. And this has been a huge topic of debate within the scientific community going back a decade. There have been a lot of scientists. Some were called the Cambridge Working Group, and they were set up to object to gain-of-function research, and they specifically warned that it could cause a pandemic. There have been a lot of scientists who’ve been warning that this type of research could cause a pandemic.
But back to your question. We’re not saying that they were necessarily doing anything sinister or developing a bioweapon, but the point is, the research was very risky. It was being conducted in a laboratory that didn’t have experience in the type of safety protocols that our laboratories have in the West, in Australia, or in America, Japan, France, they didn’t have that experience.
And even in the book, I document that. This is something that Miles Yu, who was Pompeo’s Chief China policy adviser, alerted me to, that the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology himself had written papers where he was really concerned about the safety precautions that were being taken within his own laboratory. So, this was a really big issue.
You’ve seen the cables right? Josh Rogin at The Washington Post broke the story about the cables. … Rick Switzer and Jamie Fouss, American diplomats based in Beijing, one of them in Wuhan, went into the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and even the technicians at the Wuhan Institute of Virology admitted to them that they needed help, that there were safety problems there. They wrote those cables, and they went back to Washington.
Again, those cables didn’t reach anyone of any seniority. Pompeo never saw them. The person who was the director of the NSA at the time, Mike Rogers, I interviewed him, never saw them. So, there was actually a lot of information and a lot of warnings about the work that this laboratory was doing, yet America was still funding it, mostly through the NIH, but other agencies as well. It was just an accident waiting to happen, really.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s fascinating, and you also discuss, and this isn’t, I think, generally known, just how little access anyone or any other government actually had to this facility. The French originally helped build it but they were kicked out.
Ms. Markson: Yes. And this is a point that the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, made when I interviewed him. He said that when the French were kicked out, this should have caused alarm bells about the type of research that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was intending to conduct, and particularly, he said, its relevance to bio-warfare. Because why else would it kick out the French at the moment that it was operational after the French government and the Chinese government had both funded the construction of this laboratory?
Again, this is a similar point that was made in the cables, where Rick Switzer and Jamie Fouss made the point that there was very limited international cooperation at the WIV, and they were letting in very few international scientists. So, this was, really, a very secretive facility.
And while we can see what they were doing in their research papers that were published, there’s also evidence that there was other research going on there where the results were not published. Even in the virus database itself, while it was accessible prior to September 2019, there was also a section there for unpublished viruses as well.
We know also that the intelligence that was declassified by Mike Pompeo and John Ratcliffe at the end of the Trump administration also specifically said that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was engaging in secret projects with the Chinese military. There’s a lot of evidence that they were keeping part of their research secret, and you have to ask, why? Why was that research so sensitive that they wouldn’t publish it?
Mr. Jekielek: You actually unearthed, I think with one of your researchers, Jack Hazelwood—who I also know, so I’ll give him a little shout out here—you became aware of a submission, I think it was in 2011, about a Biological Weapons Convention that the Chinese regime gave. Then Jack unearthed this incredibly fascinating document, and what’s in there is—I was stunned to see that such a thing was submitted by the CCP to an international body. Tell me a little bit, and people can read to find out more.
Ms. Markson: Yes. Well, first I have to give credit to Miles Yu here again, because when Miles Yu was looking into this subject for Mike Pompeo, he found out that there was a Chinese government submission to the United Nations Biological Weapons Convention in 2011. He found reference to it in another document, and it had the subheadings that were included in the Chinese government’s submission, but he wasn’t able to get hold of the submission itself.
He then passed on the details of it to the State Department, to Dave Asher and their team, but they weren’t able to get hold of the document itself. But after Miles told me about it and after he showed me what the headlines were, things like “Manmade Synthetic Viruses,” I was desperate to get hold of the document.
I had Jack Hazelwood and another researcher—I had these amazing researchers who were helping uncover things in the depths of the internet for me that I don’t know how to do. They went searching for it, and Jack was able to uncover the document. It had never been reported on before, ever. It is the single most terrifying document I have ever read in my entire life.
I include the details of it in the book. It was literally mind blowing and shocking, because it details—and this is, bearing in mind, the official Chinese government submission to the United Nations Biological Weapons Convention in 2011. That might sound like a long time ago, but they only have these conventions every five years. Their next submission in 2016 was very pared back. There was basically no detail in it.
This was their last detailed submission, and in it, they talk about the developments in technology in terms of manmade viruses, in terms of viruses that have the ability to infect specific races, specific DNAs, specific genes. They talk about how the synthetic biological research can pose “a latent threat to mankind.” They talk about the risks of doing this research specifically, and how it can cause a pandemic that could end mankind.
I mean, literally, this is the most shocking document anyone can ever read, right? And this is the official Chinese government submission. I don’t know what to say other than it is so horrifying, and I don’t know why the United Nations officials, when they received that back in 2011—why China wasn’t immediately held in breach of violations of the Biological Weapons Convention, and why we weren’t paying closer attention.
I think this is the overall story. There were so many warnings here. I don’t know what could have been done, but at least we should have been aware what China was doing, what research they were doing.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s this interesting twist here. By the way, it would be great if you could just briefly explain what gain-of-function research means in a little more detail, because people hear it all the time, but it’s not necessarily obvious. Under the Obama administration, there was a moratorium put on the U.S. being involved in gain-of-function research, but in 2017, from what I understand, the NIH changed that designation, and apparently, quietly. It was unknown by most of the people you spoke with.
Ms. Markson: Yes. Obviously, we’ve seen that debate now between Rand Paul and Anthony Fauci, and there are now different definitions being thrown about for gain-of-function. But just putting this really simply, gain-of-function is research that can increase the transmissibility of a virus, meaning it can make it more infectious or can make it more lethal, more deadly.
It’s called gain-of-function because the virus can gain new functions. For example, the ability to infect humans, when it could not infect humans previously, or say the ability to become airborne. So, in effect, you’re taking a pre-existing virus, giving it new abilities, and then you end up with a new virus that is more lethal, more deadly, more dangerous.
The scientists who were arguing for this research say that it can help prevent a pandemic. Anthony Fauci, I found out, was one of the most senior officials, government officials, who was a proponent of gain-of-function research, and I found a paper he wrote for mBio, the medical journal, in 2012, where he acknowledged, he writes in this paper, that gain-of-function research can cause a pandemic, and he talks about especially if the research is conducted in a sloppy laboratory somewhere in the world where there’s no oversight. I mean, it’s almost prophetic.
At the time, there was debate about whether or not to ban gain-of-function research. This is in 2012. Then the Obama administration did ban it two years later. In this paper, he’s admitting that it can cause a pandemic, but he argued that the risks were worth it for the benefits that it can bring, which is seeing which viruses could cause a pandemic.
Now, it’s important to note that many, many, many scientists have strongly and publicly argued that there is no proof that any of gain-of-function work, there’s no proof that it has ever been able to prevent a pandemic. Creating new viruses, they say, does not help to prevent a pandemic, and they were arguing really strongly against it. That’s why a ban was introduced, or more technically correct, it was a pause of gain-of-function research in 22 fields, including with coronaviruses, with MERS, with influenza viruses.
Now, in 2017, this pause was lifted. This was under the Trump administration. My understanding from my reporting is that this was done in a meeting with the Office of Science and Technology Policy. This is technically a White House Bureau, but it was relatively junior officials, I’m told, who were there.
Anthony Fauci was supporting the lift. He was behind or supporting the ban on gain-of-function being lifted. It seems that no one knew that this had taken place. And I interviewed a lot of people about this and asked them if they knew, and they’re on the record in the book, people like National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Matt Pottinger, Mike Pompeo, no one knew he had lifted the ban on this research. No one even had heard of the research really, until it started emerging in media reports well after the pandemic.
Mr. Jekielek: Did you reach out to Dr. Fauci for comments?
Ms. Markson: Of course. Unfortunately, he only seems to agree to interviews with journalists he knows are going to be friendly and supportive. He has done interviews with the ABC here in Australia, so it’s not just that I’m in Australia—and those interviews were incredibly soft. I think you’ll notice that he doesn’t agree to media interviews where he’s going to get a hard time or be interrogated in any way. He did not agree or his media advisors knocked back every single approach I made, including even commenting on specific queries.
Narration: Our team also reached out to Dr. Anthony Fauci about his position on gain-of-function research, but we did not immediately receive a response.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to talk briefly about something in the documentary that you made alongside the book. You interview President Trump, 45, so to speak, and you basically asked him why he thinks that the Wuhan Institute of Virology may be involved, and he says there were body bags outside of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It’s a fascinating moment, and you ask for a clarification, and you get further clarification from Secretary Pompeo. Tell me a little bit about this and what verification you’ve done around this. It’s very interesting.
Ms. Markson: Well, one of the reasons I was so keen to interview President Donald Trump was to ask him [this]. Look, in April 2020, he said there was evidence that the virus leaked from a laboratory. He said that at a press conference where a journalist from Fox News asked him about it. So he didn’t make a big song and dance of holding a press conference to say, “This virus has come from a lab,” he was responding to a question at a press conference and he said, “Yes, there is evidence to indicate that it leaked from the lab.”
But he’s never really gone into detail about what evidence he saw that convinced him of the case for a lab leak. And so, that was one of the really important things I wanted to ask him about when I sat down and interviewed him.
He said that, and it was quite a stunning admission, because as you know, I’ve been reporting on this very closely, and I have never heard of bodies being dumped outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and that was what he said. He said he had seen evidence or been told evidence that there were body bags dumped outside the Wuhan lab.
I clarified that he did mean outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology. He said, yes, that’s what you heard a long time ago. Then I asked if that was information given from the intelligence agencies, and he was deliberately vague. He didn’t say where he’d heard it from. Luckily, with the way my interviews were timed, I was interviewing Secretary Pompeo—I’d already spoken to him for the book, but I was interviewing him for the documentary a couple of weeks later—so I was able to ask him. I said to him that President Trump had told me about the body bags, and was this accurate?
Secretary Pompeo’s response was that presidents have the ability to talk about things that some of the rest of us don’t. That was a very interesting answer, and it indicated that there might have been something behind it.
I then made more inquiries of a very senior confidential source in the intelligence community about this piece of evidence in particular, because before including it in the documentary, I just thought it would be helpful to know whether this was intelligence or just other information that the former president had seen elsewhere. And I did get confirmation from a very senior intelligence source that this was intelligence, that there were bodies outside the Wuhan lab, but that it had been assigned a low confidence assessment, meaning, it couldn’t be verified through other sources.
Now, bearing in mind, most of the evidence in this space does not have a high confidence assessment. You saw that when Joe Biden released the results or the analysis with his 90-day intelligence probe, many of the agencies that said this was a natural virus did so with a low confidence level, low confidence assessment. There was only one agency that had a moderate confidence level, and that was for the case of a lab leak.
When you’re dealing with human sources coming out of Wuhan, I think that information is very difficult to verify. That’s why when I interviewed President Trump, he said to me that great line, “Well, knowing you, maybe you can figure it out.” It was something that he was saying I should go on to investigate further.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about the fact that this all happened under the Trump administration and the reaction to President Trump saying that a lab leak was a possibility. You go into great detail of even how that is actually one of the dimensions. There were a lot of people who just reflexively went and said, “If President Trump said it, the opposite must be true.”
Ms. Markson: The way this issue was politicized last year is shocking. It’s deplorable. I mean, this is such a crucial question: how the first pandemic in our lifetimes started. It’s changed our lives forever, nothing will ever be the same again, not to mention the 4.7 million people who have died. You think getting to the bottom of this would be more important than anything, than politics, and yet it wasn’t. The reality is that this issue played out during an election year in the United States, the most politically divisive place on Earth probably, and so it’s very hard to separate how this issue was treated from that election cycle.
You had the scientific community not wanting to give any credence to what Trump was saying, even though as I pointed out, Trump was just responding to a question at a press conference initially. You had that play out in the scientific community, and you had it play out in a major way in the media.
The mainstream media outlets called it a conspiracy theory. They were siding with the likes of Peter Daszak, giving him so much airtime. Really disgraceful. And even people who were reporting on it—this even got politicized in Australia. I was reporting on it, and the left-leaning public broadcaster here, the ABC, insisted this was a conspiracy, and they were attacking me for just reporting on this story, reporting on the fact that the intelligence agencies were investigating a lab leak. This issue was very politicized.
Richard Dearlove, in the book, uses the phrase that President Trump’s comments contaminated the issue. I understand his point, coming from Britain, he thought Trump contaminated the issue, but I also think that presidents and secretaries of state and other politicians do have a responsibility to tell the truth and they do have a responsibility to be transparent with the American people.
What was Trump meant to do? Cover up the fact that there is evidence that pointed to a lab leak, which there was, we know there was intelligence that pointed to a lab leak that was later declassified? What was he meant to do? Lie to the American people? I mean, that’s just preposterous.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things I started thinking as I was reading: there’s all these dimensions around this issue, and how it must be a natural origin, it must be a natural origin. Some U.S. agencies were funding this research in Wuhan or some of the research in Wuhan, and of course, EcoHealth Alliance and Peter Daszak were involved.
This is all being done in the context of the civil military fusion reality in China. It’s just stunning to avoid the obvious conclusion that this should be researched very heavily, right?
Ms. Markson: Yes. When you look at it and when you look at the extent of the links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Chinese military—that is something that I just document in the book. I put the proven links in there between Chinese military scientists and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
When you look at the fact that there was such an extensive involvement with the Chinese military and the People’s Liberation Army in this lab, you have to ask, “Why was America funding it? Why was funding from the NIH pouring into the Wuhan Institute of Virology to do risky, dangerous research in a lab that we had no oversight, no transparency?” That’s been proven.
We haven’t even been able to get the virus database produced with our own funding. How absurd, right? How was this allowed to happen? There was a lab with well-known Chinese military connections, and no one put a stop to the fact that American money was going into it? And it’s not just America. Australia has been involved with the lab and with the scientists, as I’ve already mentioned.
This is a really big problem, and it’s a problem not just in this specific instance, but it’s something that now needs to be examined more broadly, because you have a lot of Western funding going into Chinese labs. As you say, now it’s using civil-military fusion, that research can be misused for malevolent purposes or to advance Chinese military, to advance the modernization of Chinese military at a time when China is being increasingly aggressive and assertive, particularly in our region, and Australia is on the front line of this.
This is a massive issue, enormous, and no one, I don’t think any policy settings anywhere in the world are probably dealing with this at this point in time.
Narration: We reached out to the NIH to ask about their funding of the Wuhan Institute of Virology but we have not yet heard back.
Mr. Jekielek: The other thing I think you make a convincing case of in the book is just the extent or the great lengths, using every tool that you can see, that the Chinese Communist Party worked to push their version of the story, the disinformation around the origin, frankly, every element. It’s astounding. On one hand, you have the U.S. politicization, and on the other hand, it seems to be fitting perfectly into the required Chinese Communist Party narrative.
Ms. Markson: Yes. This was quite a big revelation when you unpick that this has happened, and it was quite an aha moment for me, probably five or six months ago now when I was writing the book and investigating this. It is really big.
We know that China has influence operations around the world, but that realization: why do they have these influence operations in place? Why have they developed these networks? Well, it’s precisely for this reason, that should another event occur, say another Tiananmen Square or another event like this, a pandemic, where there’s been a massive cover up and they need to get their version of events out there, they rely on these networks and these influence operations.
This is exactly what happened. We saw China’s official narrative take hold, as I’ve said already. We’ve seen China’s narrative take hold at the expense of finding out the truth, and it’s so unfortunate and unfair, and you just despair at the fact that there was not just a cover up in the Chinese Communist regime, which you expect to a certain extent, but then a cover up over this in the West, partly because of those networks already in place by the Chinese Communist Party regime and partly because of the Trump factor that we’ve already spoken about.
For all of those reasons, it took what 20 months or 21 months before everyone started to wake up and think this might have been a lab leak, maybe we should investigate this, which to you and me, was obvious right from the start, and of course, to many others whose brave actions I really detail in the book because I want to celebrate them, and that’s why I wrote this.
Mr. Jekielek: Sharri, tell me this, this kind of boggles my mind. We’re looking at all these researchers, virologists, and others working in the free world. Are they just naive and don’t understand that the Chinese Communist Party has supremacy over any decision any Chinese scientist makes? Even if they had the best intentions working, the Chinese Communist Party can come in at any moment and say, “No, this is what you’re going to do,” and everyone, almost, as you documented, not everybody, but almost everybody will act, right?
Ms. Markson: Well, in many cases, they don’t even have a choice because the safety of their family could be jeopardized. … We have progressed for so long down the path of international scientific cooperation, and that guiding principle has come at the expense of national security, sovereignty, and our very values. I guess governments have not wanted to interfere or felt that they couldn’t say no to scientists, that this idea of international scientific cooperation was more important than anything else.
But we can’t progress down that path anymore when we have seen that a pandemic that has cost 4.7 million lives may have started in a laboratory where we can’t even have an investigation, even though there was American funding going into it. This really is a problem, and I think governments are now trying to address this, but there’s heavy resistance from the world of academia, heavy resistance from universities.
I’ve actually also done a lot of reporting into the Thousand Talents Program. It’s the most prominent Chinese government recruitment program. They pay a salary and give perks to scientists or academics in western universities, so American, New Zealand, Australian universities. The CCP pays them money, they have to sign a contract, and then their research, their intellectual property, has to be patented in China, even though that research might have been funded by Australian taxpayers or American taxpayers.
You end up having the situation where, say, American funding goes towards developing unbelievable new scientific research or other developments, and it is then patented in China. China, then owns that research and then makes money from it. It’s intellectual property theft, but also, the research is potentially being misused to advance China’s military modernization. This is a massive, massive problem.
I did a huge investigation into it last year, and I actually named [researchers]. It is an extraordinary legal risk, a defamation risk, that my paper backed me and took, but I had the proof. Conclusively, we named 30 academics in Australia who were part of the Chinese government’s Thousand Talent Plan.
The 30 we named, I had the proof, but they denied it, the universities denied it. And I then went back to say, “Well, look, here’s this research that a patent has been launched in China; here’s another research for a patent that has been launched in China.” So they were caught out red handed. And as a result, James Paterson, who’s the chair of the Intelligence Committee in Australia, launched an inquiry to examine foreign influence in our university sector. So, that’s ongoing at the moment.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s incredibly important and valuable reporting, I might add, which of course we’ve been following and developing on our end too, on the U.S. side and in other countries.
We’ll finish up shortly. There’s one thing I wanted to touch on, which again, I find astounding. I’d almost forgotten about this until I read your book. Incredibly, in February 2020, a Chinese military research filed a patent for a COVID-19 vaccine. That was really fast.
Ms. Markson: This is what happened. This is a crucial link between the Chinese military and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. A Chinese military scientist, Zhou Yusen, was working with Shi Zhengli and American universities as well on research in late 2019, and that research involved coronaviruses and MERS. And then in late February 2020, he filed the world’s first patent for COVID-19 vaccine.
When I asked Nikolai Petrovsky and other scientists about this, they said, “Well, it’s potentially possible to have developed a vaccine that quickly but it would be more likely, given the detailed paperwork involved in filing a patent, it seems more likely that they were developing a vaccine for this before they had admitted to the world that there was an outbreak,” which is just extraordinary, and that shows the extent of the deliberate cover up of this virus. And they were still allowing international travel, still allowing international spread.
Now, what’s then fascinating is Zhou Yusen develops this COVID-19 vaccine. Now, for such a decorated scientist, who’s listed as the lead inventor on this vaccine, a military scientist, he then dies around May, and there are no articles celebrating his achievements, his success, nothing. It is treated as a mysterious death. Something that I have found out is that the Five Eyes intelligence network are aware of this and were investigating his death.
As far as I’m aware, obviously, I don’t have access to the latest information, but from the people I spoke to, they were not able to say conclusively why he had died, but they were treating it as suspicious and probably treating it as he was killed because there were no articles or any celebration of his life at all.
It’s interesting to note, and I’ve not named this person because I think it would be a concern to name this person, but there is a close relative of his who is now living in the United States. So, that’s an interesting piece to it as well.
The whole thing, yes, indicates that a vaccine was developed early, and it provides, again, just another link between the Chinese military and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Mr. Jekielek: Also, I think towards the end of the book, Mike Pompeo says, “Well, the cover up continues,” in one of your interviews. Where do we go from here? There was a WHO investigation, which I think was considered a farce by most that followed it, that actually went to China. It’s unlikely the Chinese Communist Party is going to let any serious investigation in. Where are we at here, and what can be done to counter all this realm of cover up and weaponized information?
Ms. Markson: As a journalist, it’s a great frustration to watch leading officials and politicians in the international community just repeatedly call on China to be open and transparent. That’s fine, that pressure should continue on China to allow an international inquiry by a credible body, not the WHO. I firmly believe the World Health Organization is incapable of conducting any sort of independent or credible inquiry. They are so compromised and so complicit in the spread of this virus, and they’re so beholden to China.
I can’t even speak strongly enough about the fact that the World Health Organization deliberately led to this virus spreading around the world, which lead to people dying because they were blindly repeating China’s lies, saying that this virus wasn’t capable of human to human transmission, objecting to America’s travel ban, and Europe was listening to the WHO. It’s just extraordinary.
But the point is that, apart from calling on China to open up, it is so frustrating as a journalist that all the new information we need to get on this, even just scraps of information like Fauci’s emails for example, has to be obtained through FOI [Freedom of Information Act] and lawsuits. It costs money and time, and even then, as I say, you get scraps of information; a lot of it is redacted.
I mean, we need an inquiry into what people, what agencies, what scientists know in the West. It’s one thing to say China needs to be transparent. Well, America needs to be transparent too, and not just America, but also CSIRO in Australia, and all the research institutions that have information about the research projects that were underway at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
As I’ve already just mentioned, there were scientists deeply involved in some of that research who were in the United States. The New York Blood Center, for example, was very involved in the research, and the University of North Carolina and the Texas laboratory. So, we need a proper inquiry. We need to know what else Fauci knows about what was being funded. The NIH needs to open its books. There’s a lot of information. We would be a lot closer to knowing what happened if an inquiry was held in the West, and I think that it should be.
What form it should take is up to others to decide, but there are many forms, whether it’s a presidential commission, a proper bipartisan congressional inquiry. I don’t understand why the Democrats don’t want to look into this. It’s just beyond belief.
There are very clear avenues to pursue here, even if China refuses to cooperate, and there’s no sign that the Communist Party regime is going to suddenly become transparent.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Sharri Markson, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Ms. Markson: It’s been so wonderful talking to you, Jan, I really appreciate it. Thank you.
Narration: We reached out to the World Health Organization about their statements in the early weeks of the pandemic but we did not receive an immediate response.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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