French intelligence officials warned their own government and the United States in 2015 that China was reducing cooperation it had agreed to at the Wuhan lab, the former lead investigator of the inquiry says.
That lab is now at the center of speculation of leak theories as the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic is being investigated.
The news would have given the United States the opportunity to cut off funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, The Daily Caller reported.
But cooperation continued, and by 2017, the French, who, by agreement with the Chinese, were to remain at Wuhan to train lab workers, were instead "kicked out," former State Department official David Asher told The Daily Caller.
The State Department said in January, as the Trump administration came to a close, the Wuhan lab had been conducting classified research for the Chinese military since at least 2017.
"The Chinese basically sucked State into its honey pot operation to gain access to U.S. technology, knowledge, and material support. Classic. Just as they have done in every sector," Asher said.
The U.S. Agency for International Development gave the U.S.-based EcoHealth Alliance $1.1 million for a sub-agreement with the Wuhan Institute of Virology over a 10-year period ending in 2019, USAID noted.
The Defense Department's Threat Reduction Agency also gave EcoHealth Alliance funding for the Wuhan lab, according to New York magazine.
And the National Institutes of Health gave $600,000 in grants to EcoHealth Alliance between 2014 and 2019 that went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Asher said all of that funding should have stopped as soon as the French warned the State Department in 2015.
The Wuhan lab immediately drew concern from the moment it was established in 2004 as a joint project between France and China. While French politicians favored the lab — billed as a cooperative and open source of research into potential pandemics — French security and defense experts were wary, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.
China has stonewalled on allowing investigators from the World Health Organization into the lab, and last week announced they would not be allowed in again after their initial visit earlier this year. Many of those investigators said they were not allowed to conduct an authentic inquiry, but were merely allowed to see what the lab allowed them to in controlled visits.
China has tried to blame the cause of the outbreak on the United States without providing any evidence.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international team that traveled to China earlier this year to investigate the source of COVID-19. The first human cases were identified in the city of Wuhan.
In recent months, the idea that the pandemic started somehow in a laboratory — and perhaps involved an engineered virus — has gained traction, especially with President Joe Biden ordering a review of U.S. intelligence to assess the possibility in May.
China has struck back aggressively, arguing attempts to link the origins of COVID-19 to a lab are politically motivated and has suggested the outbreak might have started abroad. At the WHO's annual meeting of health ministers in the spring, China said the future search for COVID-19's origins should continue — in other countries.
Most scientists suspect the coronavirus originated in bats, but the exact route by which it first jumped into people — via an intermediary animal or in some other way — has not yet been determined. It typically takes decades to narrow down the natural source of an animal virus such as Ebola or SARS.
Tedros said "checking what happened, especially in our labs, is important" to nailing down whether the pandemic had any laboratory links.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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