Four Years Later, CDC Documents on COVID-19’s Origin in China Emerge as Oversight Wanes

by Colin Aamot


Newly released documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal early evidence and analysis four years ago in which U.S. government officials indicated that COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China.

These findings in the CDC documents obtained by The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project, dating from about six months after the disease’s initial outbreak, are coming to light only now because of the government’s repeated delays in releasing relevant documents through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In addition, federal employees’ use of encrypted private messaging applications such as Signal or WhatsApp to evade records-retention requirements under the Federal Records Act has become commonplace in the federal workplace, despite clear violations (as we will see below).

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To date, National Intelligence Director Avril Haines, in that post since January 2021, has released minimal documentation under the COVID-19 Origin Act, which President Joe Biden, who appointed her, signed into law in March 2023.

The new law requires Haines as director of national intelligence to declassify information about links between COVID-19 and China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology within 90 days of its enactment.

But Haines apparently didn’t make sure such documents were provided to Congress.

Heritage’s Oversight Project obtained 1,066 pages of related documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, through the Freedom of Information Act.

The intelligence community’s official assessment of the origin of COVID-19, as of June 2023, states that it can’t be determined: “The IC [intelligence community] continues to assess that this information neither supports nor refutes either hypothesis of the pandemic’s origins because the researchers’ symptoms could have been caused by a number of diseases and some of the symptoms were not consistent with COVID-19.”

However, the documents released to Heritage’s Oversight Project include a presentation labeled “Overview of COVID-19 Disease” by Dr. John T. Brooks, who was chief medical officer for the CDC’s emergency COVID-19 response, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In his presentation, Brooks repeatedly emphasizes the early analysis that the disease originated in Wuhan.

According to the documents (page 386), as of May 8, 2020, Brooks was chief of science under the principal deputy incident manager for the government’s COVID-19 Response Organizational Chart.

A slide excerpt from a June 2020 presentation by the CDC’s John T. Brooks entitled “Overview on COVID-19 Disease.” Note the word “Wuhan” in red to the left of the notation SARS-CoV-2.

One document released under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, includes the above slide presentation. It shows that in data files for a COVID-19 sample analysis, staff used the word “Wuhan” in red letters (in the so-called file paths of a phylogenetic analysis depicting patterns and similarities of DNA sequences).

One source in a position to know, who asked to remain anonymous, told Heritage’s Oversight Project that a sole-sourced, unevaluated intelligence report (meaning one without other sources and intelligence collaboration) floated around the intelligence community in late summer 2020.

That report specified that the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, site of the Chinese research lab called the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

There is no evidence that the U.S. government’s underlying raw intelligence on the origin of the coronavirus was shared with congressional committees or declassified under the COVID-19 Origin Act.

Recent releases of documents to Heritage’s Oversight Project—through the State Department and under the Freedom of Information Act—highlight the tenuous timeline of what email traffic in 2020 labeled as an “Updated timeline of PRC coverup (April 28).” (The acronym PRC refers to the People’s Republic of China, the full name of the communist nation.)

This email traffic, primarily sent to State Department principals along with several inspectors general and White House officials, detailed what it called the

suppression and destruction of evidence: E.g. virus samples destroyed at genomics labs, wildlife market stalls bleached, genome sequence not shared publicly, Shanghai lab closed for ‘rectification’ after sharing genome on its own, academic articles subjected to prior review by the [Chinese] Ministry of Science and Technology, data on asymptomatic ‘silent carriers’ kept secret …

An excerpt from a State Department document details China’s suppression of data on COVID-19.

This situation, in which Congress is falling behind in gaining timely access to information from the Biden administration, highlights the inherent imbalance between the two branches of government. A significant lag of years occurred before the executive branch provided relevant information to the legislative branch.

Jamie Metzl, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, testified March 8, 2023, about China’s record on COVID-19 before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“Since the early days of the pandemic,” Metzl told lawmakers, “China’s government has destroyed samples, hidden records, imprisoned brave Chinese journalists, prevented Chinese scientists from saying or writing anything on pandemic origins without prior government approval, actively spread misinformation, and done pretty much everything possible to prevent the kind of unfettered, evidence-based investigation that is so urgently required.”

A slide excerpt from Brooks’ CDC presentation in June 2020 entitled “Overview on COVID-19 Disease.”

Slides released under the Oversight Project’s FOIA request detail strong links to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan in early January of 2020, as well as the concentration of COVID-19 cases in early January 2020.

Four months into his presidency, on May 26, 2021, Biden announced further investigation into the origins of COVID-19, instructing Haines and the rest of the intelligence community to “bring us closer to a definitive conclusion.”

The Biden administration previously had sought to avoid directly linking COVID-19 to China or other geographic locations. The administration labeled terms such as “Wuhan Flu” as “inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric” in presidential actions during the government’s continuing response to the disease.

The COVID-19 Origin Act, the bipartisan bill signed by Biden in March 2023, tasked Haines’ Office of the Director of National Intelligence with declassifying information on the origins of the deadly disease.

This slide excerpt specifies COVID-19 cases in China, as of Jan. 20, 2020, from Brooks’ CDC presentation about six months later.

However, with Democrats in control, it took over three years for Congress to conduct oversight investigations into the origins of COVID-19 by establishing the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. The panel was created in early 2023, after the new Republican majority in the House took over from Democrats.

It also took over three years for Congress to resume its oversight of gain-of-function research conducted on coronaviruses in China through grants made by the National Institutes of Health, a U.S. government agency, to EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit. Such research produces a stronger version of a virus.

This slide excerpt, also from the CDC presentation in June 2020, depicts COVID-19 cases in and outside China.

The revelation that documents on COVID-19 weren’t provided to Congress comes on the heels of disclosures that David Morens, a senior adviser to Dr. Francis Collins, then director of the National Institutes of Health, intentionally sought to avoid disclosure of government records under the Freedom of Information Act. (Morens also was a senior adviser to Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the public face of the government’s response to COVID-19.)

In letters to the National Archives and NIH regarding records retention guidelines and adherence to the Federal Records Act, the House pandemic subcommittee disclosed that Morens deleted emails and used special characters and misspellings to avoid text matches in records requests. Fauci’s adviser also used private emails to facilitate the destruction and withholding of federal records from oversight through records retention or FOIA requests.

To date, Congress has taken little to no action to curb Morens and other federal employees in the programmatic evasion of federal guidelines on retaining records.

In the information age, with an exponential increase each year in records created by the U.S. government’s executive branch coupled with intentional destruction of records, oversight by Congress consistently has failed to obtain documents from the executive branch in a timely and meaningful manner.

Blatant violations of the Federal Records Act have become so extreme that some federal employees openly have included Signal and other encrypted messaging applications in parentheses in their email signature blocks, next to cell phone numbers, without fear of penalty or congressional oversight.

Congress should reaffirm its right to quickly access data and information, including classified information, from the executive branch via congressional inquiries and subpoenas.

Without this ability, we risk that oversight by Congress will be delayed for years, undermining the purpose of oversight and potentially rendering it ineffective.

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Colin Aamot is an investigative columnist at The Daily Signal and an investigator for The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project. He previously served as a psychological operations planner with the Army’s Special Operations Command.
Photo “CDC” by Raed Mansour.CC BY 2.0.



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