Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state for former President Donald Trump from 2018 to 2021, spoke with the Washington Examiner about his thoughts on the origins of the deadly coronavirus pandemic in China, the Chinese Communist Party’s role in covering up the outbreak and blocking of a real and credible investigation, the World Health Organization’s failures in dealing with the pandemic, his doubts about the upcoming WHO-China joint report on how COVID-19 began, and what evidence exists that SARS-CoV-2 may have originated in a Wuhan lab.
Question: I wanted to get your thoughts on the WHO-China joint investigation — looks like they’re putting out their report next week — and I wanted to get your thoughts about what the WHO and China team did in Wuhan earlier this year and their investigation.
Pompeo: I must say, when this report comes out, it will be absolutely critical that we get access to the people who conducted the investigation and ask them a series of questions. Tell me what limits were placed on who could be selected. Tell me how the individuals were chosen. Were there conflicts checks that were run? When you began to negotiate for the scope of what you could investigate, how much breadth were you given, and what were the things that the Chinese Communist Party was particularly opposed to you reviewing? Did you get access to the scientists who were in that laboratory in 2019 and the early part of 2020 — did you get to speak to them in a situation where they could speak freely? Did you get access to real data, original data, not hand-me-down, second-order information?
It is absolutely imperative when this report comes out we understand the basis for the data because I fear that in the end, this report will not be remotely reflective of what actually transpired because I don’t believe these investigators had either the capacity or the access necessary to actually conduct a thorough investigation of how this Wuhan virus ultimately commenced.
Question: With the declassified State Department fact sheet that you were able to put out —
Pompeo: In the middle of January, yep.
Question: How was that put together? Which agencies had input on that — how was that compiled?
Pompeo: So, the effort was led by the State Department. We had seen this data, and we wanted to make sure that the world had access to this data, so we did three things. One, we went to validate and make sure we had it right. You don’t want to put tings out that you don’t have a foundation for, that there’s not adequate evidence for. Once we got comfortable that we really understood what were really three fact patterns that we laid out, we then went to the intelligence community to make sure that we could provide this information in a public setting in a way that didn’t pose any substantial risk to either sources or methods. That took a little while as well.
And we put it together, put it in a format, we made sure that everyone throughout the United States government’s national security apparatus understood what we were doing, our motivation for doing this — we wanted to share what we believed was important information about the origination of the virus and the risks of what was taking place at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And everyone agreed that it was important that we put this accurate information out in just as timely a fashion as we could. I wish, frankly, that we could’ve put some of it out more quickly, but it took us that long to make sure that we vetted it and had it right.
Question: At the moment, do you think that an accidental escape from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is the most likely scenario for how this pandemic began?
Pompeo: There’s so much that we still don’t know, but every fact that I have seen would be consistent with a release from that WIV. You’ll remember, if you go back to the beginning, people were throwing around language that said, ‘Well, this had to have been natural, it couldn’t have been man-made’ — it’s not really the right way to think about this problem set.
It is very clear that the Wuhan virus could well have been something that was being worked on, the gain-of-function of activities, this work that was being done inside of this WIV, that the State Department had real concerns about for an extensive period of time, that its biosafety measures were inadequate. That combination of three things — the fact that it is possible they were working on a virus similar to the one that we now are suffering from, second, that inadequate biosafety measures at the facility, and then third, the massive, intentional cover-up coming from the most senior levels of the Chinese Communist Party. Those three factors suggest to me that it is a very valid line of inquiry.
I hope that when we see this report next week, we get answers to these questions, but I am skeptical that the Chinese Communist Party will ever permit anyone to really understand what happened there. I think that suggests that the alternative hypotheses about wet markets and the like are much less likely than the world originally believed.
Question: The fact sheet includes that the U.S. believes there was Chinese military involvement in the Wuhan lab — what does the U.S. think the Chinese military was doing there?
Pompeo: I can’t say any more than what we put out in the fact sheet with respect to that item.
Question: So, basically, what you can say is that the U.S. believes the Chinese military was involved with research there since 2017?
Pompeo: That’s correct, and it is a high-confidence assessment that that’s the case.
Question: So those cables from 2018 warning about biosafety at the lab that were sent from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to the U.S. — did the State Department take any action based on that, and was there anything that the State Department could or should have done in response to the biosecurity warnings there?
Pompeo: This was a long-standing challenge that we knew about, not just, frankly, at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but more broadly with respect to what we knew about the broad scope of the bioactivities that were taking place inside of China. So those cables are representative of the concerns and risks that we knew about, and we had done our best to flag this for the people responsible … the World Health Organization.
And I think all of the professionals, I think the professionals that had built this from France, I think all understood that the Chinese level 4 facilities did not meet the global standard, and yet, the Chinese Communist Party continued those activities inside of their country, and this is not the first time that there have been concerns that viruses have escaped from China — we saw this with SARS.
It was a challenge, and it remains a challenge that the standards that are used in the West, in the United States and elsewhere in the West, are not standards that the Chinese Communist Party is prepared to invest the money to provide for the people that are working at their facilities. This is something that the world needs to continue to push on the Chinese to get right. And this is one of the central critiques of the failure of the World Health Organization — the responsibility for international health regulation enforcement. And unfortunately, the WHO has just become a political institution and not a scientific one.
Question: When it comes to the team itself that went to Wuhan earlier this year, it’s my understanding that the American on the team was Peter Daszak, who runs the EcoHealth Alliance and was involved for years with coordinating with the Wuhan Institute of Virology — do you have concerns about U.S. funding at least indirectly going to the Wuhan lab and do you have concerns about someone like that being involved with the investigative team?
Pompeo: First, with respect to U.S. funding, it was often the case that we were trying to be good global citizens and trying to help these places become more secure and safer, and so there were American resources provided to try to bring them up to the global standard for biosafety and to also try to get a little glimpse about what was taking place there.
With respect to this particular member of the panel, it seemed when he was selected that it was odd to choose someone who had an experience set there that might well be called into question. So, I’ll let him articulate what he did previously and what he did as part of this investigation — I’ll leave him to that. But I always found it odd that the only U.S. representative was someone who had been involved in the programs there and might well have the work that they did there — whatever that may have been — called into question as a result of what might be found during the course of the investigation. It’s an odd thing to send someone in to investigate the work that they were previously engaged in — or at least, if not engaged in, connected to.
Question: And what data do you think that we need from China when it comes to the Wuhan lab itself and also when it comes to the early stages of the outbreak? Is there a data set that the U.S. doesn’t have that we’ve been asking for? Is there data that you were trying to get that you weren’t able to?
Pompeo: So we early on, U.S. senior CDC officials and folks from HHS, were trying to get original virus samples. It appears that those were destroyed. If that’s true, we will never get them. I hope it turns out that someone snuck one out and somebody has a copy of that virus — and that it’s inside of a very secure facility today, right, so we don’t double back on this problem set in an odd way.
And second, the other data set that will ultimately — and I don’t know how long this will take — but will ultimately bring to light what really happened there, is I am confident that there were researchers that were engaged in activity that they knew what they were doing was dangerous and wrong and could answer for us once and for all what really took place. Those people certainly aren’t going to be given free access to the West, but as time moves on and history progresses, I hope that one day, they can find their way to sharing with the world what they knew about what took place there, not just in the moments of December 2019 and January 2020 and beyond, but what was taking place there in the years prior to that, and the political pressure that may well have been put on them by senior leaders outside of the professional scientific medical community to engage in activities that they knew presented real risk to the world.
And perhaps that will be someone who worked for the WHO, perhaps it will be a Chinese scientist who worked in the laboratory or a government official who had seen the reporting from that place. I hope one day that the world has access to that information.
Question: Is there doubt or was there doubt within the State Department or within the intelligence community about the coronavirus originating in China, specifically in Wuhan — is that a question or is that an established conclusion of State and the IC?
Pompeo: I don’t recall a single voice inside the State Department ever doubting either of those two facts, and you should know it is a rambunctious institution with lots of different voices that all are often heard, and on this particular issue, I don’t recall having heard a single voice that had any doubt that this originated in Wuhan, China.
Question: What have you thought about the Biden administration rejoining the WHO, and what have you thought about them seeming to be at least a little bit skeptical of this upcoming report?
Pompeo: I want to give them time to settle into the fact set. I think when they do, I think when they see the same facts that we saw, it’s very difficult to imagine them coming to a different conclusion about what happened. They may make different policy choices and the like, but they will come to the same conclusions that we did. The facts are inescapable.
With respect to the decision to rejoin the WHO … This is an institution that has done good work around the world, malaria prevention, there’s lots of things the WHO can deliver, but it had shown to us so clearly that at the point of maximum impact, the moment that the WHO’s pandemic prevention efforts were most critical, that they had to be the most right as quickly as they could, they allowed the Chinese Communist Party to walk all over them and denied the world the access to the information that it needed in a timely fashion that could well have saved lives all across the world. And for that, the leadership at the WHO has to be held accountable.
It doesn’t seem to me that the United States ought to spend a single taxpayer dollar supporting an institution that failed so desperately in its mission to protect not only American citizens but people all across the globe. So I regret that they made the decision to rejoin the WHO. There are ways that one could work with countries all around the world to build out pandemic prevention and response — it needs to be done in a way that is based on science and is enforceable.
It can’t be the case that China, a significant member of the WHO, has the capacity, when it matters most, to engage in behaviors entirely inconsistent with the promises they made under the set of international health regulations that were then in effect. The United States, before the Trump administration, had tried to do reforms inside the WHO on multiple occasions, and I need only tell you that the Wuhan virus has created enormous damage after those reforms took place to demonstrate that the reforms themselves were wholly ineffective.
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