Federal officials are pressing Galveston National Laboratory — one of the nation’s most advanced biocontainment lab — to reveal more information about its work and relationship with the controversial Wuhan Institute of Virology in China's Hubei province, Fox News reported Friday.
In an April 24 letter to University of Texas Chancellor James Milliken, the U.S. Department of Education’s office of the general counsel demanded federally mandated disclosures involving links between a texas lab and the one in Wuhan. The latter has become the focus of intense interest about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Between June 6, 2014, and June 3, 2019, U.T. reported approximately twenty-four contracts with various Chinese state-owned universities and ten contracts with Huawei Technologies, all purportedly worth a reported total of $12,987,896," the letter, signed by Reed Rubinstein, principal deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Education, states.
"It is not clear, however, whether U.T. has, in fact, reported all gifts from or contracts with or relating to the Wuhan MCL, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and/or all other foreign sources, including agents and instrumentalities of the government of the Peoples' Republic of China."
It gave the university 30 days to hand over the records requested.
The GNL, which is part of the University of Texas system, is one of just 14 biosafety level 4 labs in the U.S. Such labs conduct diagnostic work and research on pathogens that are readily transmissible and can cause fatal illness.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page on the different biosafety levels had this to say about Level 4: "The microbes in a BSL-4 lab are dangerous and exotic, posing a high risk of aerosol-transmitted infections. Infections caused by these microbes are frequently fatal and without treatment or vaccines. Two examples of microbes worked with in a BSL-4 laboratory include Ebola and Marburg viruses."
In a 2018 agreement,the exchange of some of America's most talented research and national security scientists was provided, in addition to wide-ranging research sharing — an arrangement that Fox News reported has some experts concerned about national security risks, especially considering the Wuhan lab has been implicated by some as the source of the coronavirus. Recently, some U.S. officials, including President Donald Trump, have referred to theories that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab, perhaps through an accident of some sort.
The Wuhan lab is another rare Biosafety Level 4 lab.
"The academic and research exchanges that have opened up more widely with China [have] reached a tipping point. Beijing [is] exploiting our open system with our help," Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific security chair for the Hudson Institute told Fox News.
"Universities provided unguarded access to sensitive if unclassified data; American research institutions became hubs for information collection and the recruitment of spies; and universities with large numbers of Chinese students engaged in self-censorship lest they offend the Chinese government."
Fox News reported that GNL boasted about its work directing operations of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, with a 2018 release declaring: "In preparation for the opening of the new China MCL, we engaged in short- and long-term personnel exchanges focused on biosafety training, building operations and maintenance, and collaborative scientific investigations in biocontainment. We succeeded in transferring proven best practices to the new Wuhan facility."
According to the news outlet, the Department of Education also is asking for records and communications with Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, a researcher at the Wuhan Institute thought to be involved with coronavirus and bat research.
In a statement to Fox News, the University of Texas insisted that "each of the institutions within the UT System is required to complete and submit documentation annually to the Department of Education reporting gift and contract relationships with foreign entities, and UT institutions comply with these obligations," and vowed to "continue to respond to any request from state and federal authorities, should they arise."
"As one of the nation’s 14 Bio Safety Level 4 laboratories, the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB belongs to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Biodefense Laboratory Network," the university said. "It has collaborated with more than 70 countries and with scientists from the U.S. and abroad on biosafety and biosecurity, as part of its broad mission to advance global scientific collaboration."
Fox News reported there have been other red flags concerning U.S.-China scientific interactions.
In November 2016, it was reported research partnerships between U.S. and Chinese scientists had surged significantly, with collaborations between the two economic leaders outnumbering all other international alliances.
And in April 2019, National Institutes of Health (NIH )officials informed lawmakers 16 investigations were underway, with regard to hidden influences of foreign governments on federal grant applications, the news outlet reported.
According to concerned lawmakers, the contracts offer incentives for scientists to set up "shadow labs" in China that emulate U.S. taxpayer-funded research at their home institutions, Fox News reported.
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