Fact check: The U.S. government did not intentionally engineer COVID-19

Fact check: The U.S. government did not intentionally engineer COVID-19

The claim: The novel coronavirus was intentionally engineered by the U.S. government in research overseen by Dr. Anthony Fauci

In the newest slew of theories as to the origin of the novel coronavirus, the United States government played a role in its creation.

"After the (SARS) outbreak in 2002, the United States government funded a collaboration of Chinese scientists and the US military from a bioweapons lab in (F)ort Detrick," Malcolm Harris alleges in a May 21 article on The Duran.

It goes on to claim that none other than the director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, oversaw the research initiative that lead to the development of "pandemic superbots" and viral strains more lethal than their naturally occurring counterparts.

There were concerns raised by an unnamed "Harvard professor" that Fauci's work "was intentionally weaponizing the virus." However, research continued unfettered and subsidized by the U.S. government, Harris claims.

Years later, incidents involving the near release of the weaponized virus, on which Harris does not elaborate, put a stop to Fauci's work. "In 2014, the US government terminated Fauci’s federal funding," Harris writes. This does not truly stop the experimentation, Harris claims, instead shifting it, and U.S. funding of $3.7 million, to a military lab in Wuhan, China.

Fact check:Obama administration did not send $3.7 million to Wuhan lab

Harris draws parallels with different instances of unethical human experimentation such as Operation Sea Spray, the Tuskegee study and the CIA's mind-control project MKUltra to claim the coronavirus was intentionally created.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.

The website that published Harris' claim, The Duran, did not respond to a request for Harris's contact information or comment from USA TODAY. On its website, The Duran admits it "does not routinely moderate, screen, or edit content contributed by readers." Some believe the outlet is a possible platform for Russian propaganda.

According to Media Bias Fact Check, The Duran is owned by the Cyprus-based DRN Media PLC, with Russian native Alex Christoforou as its president.

Fauci's background

Fauci has been the face of the national coronavirus response since the start of the pandemic. It's a position that has earned him national admiration but also vilification and suspicion.

Other Fauci conspiracy theories:

Fact check: Neither Pirbright Institute nor Bill Gates owns novel coronavirus patentFact check: Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates won't profit from drug remdesivirFact check: Anthony Fauci hasn't served on the board of the Clinton or Gates foundations

While Fauci has overseen a variety of research efforts — some involving viruses like Ebola and Zika — in his 36-year directorial tenure, his primary focus has been on HIV. In the early years of the HIV epidemic, Fauci investigated how the body's immune defenses were wrecked by the virus, explaining why infected individuals were getting so sick and dying. Later, he was instrumental in working with AIDS activists to loosen clinical drug trial policies, making experimental HIV/AIDS treatments available to patients in need.

Since then, the 79-year-old immunologist has continued to advance the study of HIV and has served as a health adviser to six presidents, most recently President Donald Trump. There is no evidence to suggest Fauci himself was directly involved in coronavirus research.

Coronavirus not man-made

While there's no question the U.S has been involved in human medical experimentation in the past — Senate hearings during the early 1950s revealed testing of biological agents on the public and the CIA's mind-control program MKUltra was confirmed in the 1975 Church Committee – evidence does not point to the coronavirus being purposefully engineered.

"It's extremely unlikely that there was any intentional development or any intentional action in a laboratory, whether in China or the United States, to develop (the coronavirus)," Dr. Leonard Cole, the director of the Terror Medicine and Security at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told USA TODAY in an interview. Cole has written several books on the topic of bioterrorism including "Clouds of Secrecy: The Army's Germ Warfare Tests Over Populated Areas."

Several scientific analyses have also rejected the notion that the novel coronavirus was purposefully created.

Fact check: Coronavirus not man-made or engineered but its origin remains unclear

“By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that (the novel coronavirus) originated through natural processes,” Dr. Kristian Andersen, PhD, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, said in a March statement released by the institute.

"If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness," Andersen also added.

Our ruling: False

We rate the claim that the U.S. government purposefully created the novel coronavirus, through research efforts led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, as FALSE because it is not supported by our research. Scientific evidence has found no support for the claim that the coronavirus was intentionally engineered in a laboratory setting.

Our fact-check sources:

Smithsonian Magazine, "In 1950, the U.S. Released a Bioweapon in San Francisco"CDC," U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee"Smithsonian Magazine, "What We Know About the CIA’s Midcentury Mind-Control Project"The Duran, "Disclaimer"Media Bias/Fact Check, "The Duran"Washington Post, "Russian editor says, ‘Don’t call me Kremlin propaganda’"The New Yorker, "How Anthony Fauci Became America’s Doctor"The Journal of Clinical Investigation, "A conversation with Tony Fauci"NPR, "Long Before COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci 'Changed Medicine in America Forever'"USA TODAY, "Fact check: Coronavirus not man-made or engineered but its origin remains unclear"Scripps Research, "The COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic has a natural origin, scientists say."LiveScience, "The coronavirus was not engineered in a lab. Here's how we know."

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/06/29/fact-check-u-s-government-did-not-intentionally-engineer-covid-19/3216066001/

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