Jun 3, 2021 - World

Ex-CDC director says he received death threats after backing lab-leak theory

Robert Redfield

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former CDC Director Robert Redfield told Vanity Fair that he received death threats from other scientists after telling CNN in March that he believes the coronavirus accidentally "escaped" from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Why it matters: The allegation was featured in a sweeping investigation by Vanity Fair into the battles over the origins of COVID-19 that have raged inside the U.S. government and scientific community.

  • Redfield's claims underscore the fraught nature of the debate over the lab-leak theory, which has risen in prominence in recent weeks after initially being dismissed by many scientists and the mainstream media.
  • "I was threatened and ostracized because I proposed another hypothesis," Redfield told Vanity Fair. "I expected it from politicians. I didn’t expect it from science."

The big picture: President Biden last month ordered the U.S. intelligence community to "redouble" its efforts to investigate the origins of the coronavirus and produce a report within 90 days that "could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion."

  • The request came after the Wall Street Journal reported on previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence that suggested three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill enough to be hospitalized in November 2019.
  • The WIV's lead coronavirus researcher, Shi Zhengli, had previously performed "gain-of-function" experiments to make viruses more infectious, a controversial field of study intended to help scientists combat potential future pandemics.
  • The lab received some U.S. government funding through the National Institutes of Health and a nonprofit called the EcoHealth Alliance, but officials — including Anthony Fauci — have strenuously denied that the U.S. funded gain-of-function research.

Driving the news: Led by contributing editor Katherine Eban, Vanity Fair conducted a months-long investigation that included interviews with more than 40 people and a review of hundreds of pages of government documents.

  • One of those documents was an internal memo sent by former assistant secretary of state Thomas DiNanno, a Trump appointee, alleging that staff within the department had warned leaders "not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19" because it could "open a can of worms."
  • On Dec. 9, an official warned colleagues not to ask questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s controversial coronavirus research, as it would call attention to U.S. government support for that research, according to another document.
  • The warnings "smelled like a cover-up," DiNanno told Vanity Fair, "and I wasn’t going to be part of it."

Worthy of your time: Read the full Vanity Fair investigation

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