This is a first-class piece of investigative journalism. Those who backed Sharri Markson to undertake it deserve great credit. She merits high praise for the extraordinary work she has done in pulling together and publicly exposing for our close scrutiny what the Chinese Communist Party, cabals of self-interested and complicit American scientists and bureaucrats and politically correct journalists covered up: the actual origins of the COVID-19 virus.
As a narrative and an argument, this book is a forensically compelling page-turner. Markson concludes that while, abstractly speaking, the virus could have originated in the wild, there’s no evidence it did.
The available evidence points compellingly to the conclusion the virus was engineered in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), escaped from there and the Xi Jinping regime has strenuously attempted ever since to cover up the whole story. If not for Markson and others, Xi would have succeeded.
She leads us persuasively to the following conclusions:
THE WIV was conducting gain of function experiments on coronaviruses for years before the pandemic;
THIS was being done in the context of violations by the party-state of its commitments under the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), to which it is a signatory;
WIV scientists were looking at how to engineer such viruses to enhance human infectivity;
COVID-19 was so engineered;
WIV safety standards were very poor, which made an accident disturbingly likely;
SUCH an accident occurred in October 2019;
SEVERAL WIV workers fell ill in October 2019, but this was covered up and a lot of data suppressed to prevent knowledge of all this from leaking to the outside world;
RESEARCH was, meanwhile, being conducted on a vaccine for that coronavirus and one was patented in late February 2020 by a military scientist, Zhou Yusen, who then died under mysterious circumstances, in May 2020;
THE PLA stepped in and took over the laboratories, because WIV was part of a biological warfare research program that was in violation of the BWC;
SCIENTISTS, journalists, doctors and lawyers, including some researchers at WIV, tried to get word out as to what had happened, and they have now vanished without trace;
ANTHONY Fauci, Peter Daszak and others in the US Ecohealth Alliance and National Institute of Health were compromised by all this, because they had been involved in the research itself and in funding it;
THEY deliberately misled the public, the media and the US intelligence community, by insisting, from the outset, that any suggestion of a lab leak was a nutty conspiracy theory;
IT took strenuous efforts by a few insiders, championed by Mike Pompeo, as Secretary of State and former director of the CIA; open-source investigators and independent scientists such as our own Nikolai Petrovsky, to pin down what was going on; and
IT is still going on, because the Party, under Xi Jinping, is obdurate in refusing any transparency or authentic independent inquiry.
These are damning findings. Markson couches them in suitably restrained and Bayesian language. Hers is not a polemic. It is a piece of independent inquiry that lays bare a scandal vastly, indeed incomparably worse than Watergate, as exposed by Woodward and Bernstein half a century ago.
It exposes what was, in fact, China’s Chernobyl. It also exposes the alarming extent to which American and other Western government officials, scientists and major media were led by the nose or compromised by conflicts of interest in this matter.
Why is this China’s Chernobyl? Quite simply because Chernobyl consisted of a massive accident, due to poor safety standards, at a nuclear power plant that was then covered up. The cover-up was orchestrated by self-interested Party bureaucrats and scientists until, when it was clear the problem could not be concealed from the world or papered over and was dire, Mikhail Gorbachev bit the bullet. He came clean about what had happened and its implications. He mandated greater openness (glasnost). The Communist Party fell from power six years later.
What happened with Covid has been far more catastrophic than Chernobyl, but the cause — an accident — may be very similar.
Whereas thousands died as a consequence of the Chernobyl meltdown, millions have died as a consequence of a deadly virus that originated in China. The Party must not be allowed to hide from this. For the information war it has strenuously and mendaciously fought on the subject, it must now be routed and shamed.
But back to the qualities of the book. I was delighted and astonished to find it begins with a dinner gathering in the home of my friends Dimon Liu and Bob Suettinger, in southeast Capitol Hill, on the evening of January 2, 2020. The great Chinese democratic dissident Wei Jingsheng came to dinner and told them he was learning from personal sources in Wuhan something was very wrong there, a novel epidemic was loose in the city. They didn’t know what to make of his story. It would assume greater significance in the following weeks.
Markson tells the story of Dimon and Bob, a survivor from Mao’s China and a veteran CIA China analyst. I was fascinated by this opening narrative, because it is beautifully written and deeply humane. But also because, a month later, I was a dinner guest of Dimon and Bob at the same table. That was on February 1, 2020, and still none of us was really alert to the pandemic that was breaking out. They had passed on Wei’s story to officials, but it hadn’t got any traction in Washington.
From there, Markson introduces us to an immensely rich range of sources whom she interviewed and steps us through the events in Wuhan and the debates in Washington and around the world in a masterful manner. The book reads better than any spy thriller and is certain to become a bestseller. Its few defects are it lacks endnotes, an index and maps.
Paul Monk is a one-time head of the China desk in the Defence Intelligence Organization (DIO) and the author of Thunder from the Silent Zone: Rethinking China (2005) and Dictators and Dangerous Ideas (2018) among other books. He was a consultant, for twenty years, in applied cognitive science.