Several cases of Chinese nationals attempting to bring samples of highly contagious pathogens into the United States prompted an FBI warning of China’s “biosecurity risk” to the U.S. The Chemical and Biological Intelligence Unit of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMDD) issued the warning in November 2019, just weeks before the world heard of the first reported cases of a dangerous new coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.
The FBI’s Tactical Intelligence Report, cited by Yahoo News, states:
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assesses foreign scientific researchers who transport undeclared and undocumented biological materials into the United States in their personal carry-on and/or checked luggage almost certainly present a US biosecurity risk. The WMDD makes this assessment with high confidence based on liaison reporting with direct access.
The FBI report cited several cases of Chinese nationals bringing dangerous pathogens into the US, but the most recent example occurred in September 2019. According to Yahoo News, the report described a Chinese National bringing a vial potentially containing a sample of H1N1 “Swine Flu” Influenza into the US at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), deceptively claiming it was something else.
The Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) confiscated the vial but released the Chinese “researcher.” Yahoo News further notes that in late November 2018, a year before the first coronavirus case was identified in Wuhan, CPB agents at Detroit Metro Airport stopped a Chinese biologist with three vials labeled “Antibodies” in his luggage. The biologist claimed a colleague in China had asked him to deliver the vials to a researcher at a U.S. institute.”
However, “Inspection of the writing on the vials and the stated recipient led inspection personnel to believe the materials contained within the vials may be viable Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) materials.”
In a third incident at DTW, in May 2018, CPB agents confiscated a centrifuge tube with unknown fluids carried by a Chinese national claiming to be a cancer researcher. The Chinese “researcher” could not produce documentation to support their claim that the tube contained “non-infectious E. Coli bacteria-derived plasmids.”
The FBI concluded that these three incidents were part of an alarming pattern, prompting the Bureau to issue their intelligence report. While the FBI report doesn’t elaborate on what the specific risk might be, Yahoo News cites Raina MacIntyre, a professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. She said the FBI appears to be concerned with “dual-use” research that would be used for bioterrorism.
The FBI report refers to both “biosecurity,” which typically refers to the intentional misuse of pathogens, such as for bioterrorism, and “biosafety,” which generally refers to accidental release. Both risks present a threat.
As Yahoo News reports, “the FBI’s focus on China’s biosecurity appears to be part of long-standing suspicion in the U.S. government about China’s involvement in the biological sciences. Several recent high-profile Justice Department cases involving the export of sensitive technology have involved Chinese scientists, or persons with alleged ties to the Chinese government.”
This January, the Justice Department announced charges against Charles Lieber, the chair of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology, for concealing ties to the Chinese government. In the announcement, FBI special agent Joseph R. Bonavolonta, head of the Boston field office expressed the concern of wider danger of U.S. academics secretly working for the Chinese government when he stated, “…unfortunately, it’s not an isolated incident.”
All this data reminds us that the Chinese “biosecurity” risk to the U.S. is a real and present danger.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is conducting a full-court press to deflect attention from its role in, or culpability for, the current Wuhan Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and any links to their Level 4 Bio-Safety Lab (BSL-4) in Wuhan. Neither the U.S. government nor the press should give them a pass.
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