This seems like it should not be true, but apparently, it is. The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) had an agreement with the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Galveston National Laboratory (UTMB). The agreement was to collaborate on scientific research and as a part of that agreement, the Wuhan Institute had the authority to ask the Texas lab to “destroy secret files.”
This agreement was written in a memorandum of understanding in 2017 and it was obtained and published by U.S. Right to Know this past week.
The agreement said, “All cooperation and exchanges documents, data, details, and materials shall be treated as confidential information by the parties. The confidentiality obligation shall be applicable throughout the duration of this MoU and after it has been terminated. The party is entitled to ask the other to destroy and/or return the secret files, materials, and equipment without any backups.”
This agreement was signed by the coordinator of UTMB, James LeDuc, and the coordinator of WIV, Zhiming Yuan.
This is an issue of concern because at least one U.S. intelligence agency believes that the origin of the coronavirus pandemic came from the Wuhan lab in China. Therefore, a U.S. government-funded institution was in a cooperation agreement with the authority to destroy documents while the research was being done in the initial stages of the worldwide pandemic.
Christopher Smith Gonzalez is the director of media relations at UTMB. He shared with the press that the Galveston National Laboratory was built at the University of Texas Medical Branch by the National Institutes of Health and the State of Texas. The purpose of the laboratory is to combat health threats. He stated that they comply with all applicable public information laws that are necessary as a government-funded program. And that includes the preservation of all documentation of the research that happens.
The university made it clear that they do not plan to renew the agreement with the Wuhan Institute of Virology at the end of this year.
Both LeDuc and Yuan wrote an opinion article for “Science” in October 2018 called “Network for safe and secure labs.”
In the article, they indicated that their laboratories deal with the most dangerous pathogens in the world and that there have to be safeguards built into their process to stop both theft and misuse. They also described the need for security that was balanced and supported the work of collaboration and specimen sharing.
In April of 2020, UTMB released a statement saying that they had hosted Chinese scientists for training on working in a high containment laboratory. There were cables from 2018 that revealed there was a warning of biosafety as well as management problems at the Wuhan lab. The cables noted that UTMB had trained lab technicians that worked at WIV. Along with these cables, there was also a 2020 letter from the former President Trump’s Education Department that explained that the Galveston National Laboratory had “substantial contractual relations” with the lab in Wuhan. In that letter, the Department of Education requested “all records” related to the Wuhan lab as well as any that related to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. There was a focus on records related to She Zhengli, also known as the “bat lady.”
The Department of Education indicated that their investigation ended in November of 2020, but they said that what was revealed indicated that the lab activities warranted “continued heightened vigilance.”
LeDuc admitted in a statement in April of 2020 that accidents happen even when you do your best to prevent them. He said, “So all I can say is [the Wuhan lab] was built comparable to ours, with a whole series of redundant safety measures in place. … But it would be foolish to say there’s no risk because there’s risk in everything.”
He went further to say that the Wuhan lab was working in an area that they did not have a lot of experience in and that it was entirely appropriate for people to look into the work being done.
What still is not clear after all the investigations is whether or not the U.S. government-funded university willingly destroyed information due to their agreement of cooperation with Wuhan.