(PatriotWise.com)- According to recently released records, the National Institutes of Health removed two “sequencing runs” of the pangolin coronavirus from its National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the request of a Chinese researcher on the eve of U.S. COVID-19 lockdowns, months before another known removal requested by a different Chinese researcher.
As a result of an alleged “inadvertent failure” to redact the names of the earlier Chinese researcher and his NIH handler in its response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, the agency is now attempting to persuade a federal court to seal portions of those records and a litigant’s filing.
According to Jason Foster, the founder of Empower Oversight, whose whistleblower advocacy organization filed the complaint last year, the government is attempting to “put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
The government is suddenly “moving heaven and earth,” according to the former Senate Judiciary Committee investigator when it comes to protecting the privacy of a researcher “connected with the Chinese government” and material that might provide insight into “the roots of the epidemic.”
Foster said this is a tremendous contrast to what we see them doing with American government leakers, including a case he’s working on.
In the initial emails received by Empower as part of the lawsuit, an NIH employee was seen agreeing to take down a DNA sequence from the public eye in June 2020 at the request of a researcher from Wuhan University and seeking confirmation on whether to take down another sequence. Both names had been obscured.
The latest set of emails reveals NIH employees contemplating how to react to inquiries Jesse Bloom, who directs a lab studying the evolution of viruses and proteins at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, posed last October.
A contentious meeting with scientists, including then-NIH Director Francis Collins and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, was sparked by his preprint post on the NIH’s sequence erasure at the request of the Wuhan researcher months earlier. According to Bloom, neither official requested that he take the publication out of the public eye.
A year later, the sequences reappeared on the SRA. The organization claimed the agency improperly invoked an exemption for “unwarranted violation of personal privacy.” There is “no public interest in discovering these names,” NIH argued in its application to seal documents, and they may be subject to “harassment or media scrutiny.”