Pentagon gave millions to EcoHealth Alliance for Wuhan lab

The Defense Department doled out millions of dollars to the same nonprofit that funneled federal grant money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for bat coronavirus research — with most of the Pentagon money going toward murky research on countering biological weapons.

New York City-based EcoHealth Alliance has already come under scrutiny for redirecting funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the Chinese lab, from where many believe COVID-19 leaked to set off the worst pandemic in a century.

But federal spending data shows that EcoHealth has a long and profitable relationship with the Pentagon, receiving $41.91 million in awards since fiscal year 2008. That’s more than three times the next-largest amount awarded to it by any other agency over the same period ($13.17 million from the Department of Health and Human Services).

Of the $41.91 million, $37.61 million was awarded to EcoHealth Alliance by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), which describes its mission as “to protect the United States and its allies by enabling the DoD and international partners to detect, deter, and defeat WMD and threat networks.”

Beginning in fiscal year 2014, the DTRA began awarding funding to EcoHealth for a work program labeled “Scientific Research – Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction”. After three straight years in which awards were fewer than $1 million, the amounts sent to the program jumped considerably. In fiscal year 2017, $2.34 million of the $2.91 million EcoHealth received from DTRA went toward the weapons research. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, 100 percent of DTRA’s awards to EcoHealth went toward the program — $4.24 million, $2.99 million, and an eye-popping $21.33 million, respectively.

Researchers work in a lab of Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.
EcoHealth Alliance has come under scrutiny for redirecting funds from the NIH to Wuhan Institute of Virology.
FeatureChina via AP Images

The final total: $33.85 million — 90 percent of EcoHealth’s awards from DTRA and 81 percent of its total Pentagon awards — over seven years for a single program.

By comparison, emails obtained earlier this month by the conservative group Judicial Watch found that EcoHealth was allocated approximately $7.5 million over 11 years from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to carry out its study “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence”. The Wuhan Institute of Virology was to have received around $1.5 million of that sum before the Trump administration pulled the plug on the grant in April of last year.

The DTRA awards to EcoHealth Alliance may be small compared to the $700 billion Pentagon budget, but according to Dr. Richard Ebright, “by the standards of biomedical research, it is an enormous sum.”

Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University and lab director at the school’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology, told the Post that such awards from the defense and intelligence communities are distributed “outside the normal processes” for such research, with no transparency and oversight beyond what can be provided by members of Congress.

In this shadowy, near-impenetrable world, Ebright explained, EcoHealth acts as one of many “funding subcontractors” directing money from a “blank check written by [government] program officers who often go on to be employed” by the same non-profits to whom they once doled out taxpayer cash.

Chinese State Media CCTV offered a rare glimpse inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology P4 Lab in February
Chinese State Media CCTV offered a rare glimpse inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology P4 Lab in February.

Furthermore, though it is impossible to determine whether any of the $33.85 million went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology or other labs in China, Ebright noted “almost all” of such research takes place outside the United States out of what he called an “ill-conceived” belief the government is able to keep tabs on the work if it directly funds it.

The Pentagon did not respond to the Post’s request for comment on its awards to EcoHealth Alliance. The DTRA did not respond to requests for more information about the “Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction” research program. Calls and emails to EcoHealth Alliance requesting comment also went unanswered.

EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak has kept a low profile in recent months. Earlier this year, he reportedly blew off questions from House Republicans about the organization’s ties to the Wuhan lab, what information the nonprofit had about the lab’s research on bat viruses and the lab’s virus database. Last week, the UN-backed commission examining the origins of the pandemic quietly noted on its website that Daszak had been “recused from Commission work on the origins of the pandemic.”

A view of the P4 lab inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology is seen after a visit by the World Health Organization team in Wuhan in China's Hubei province on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.
Most of the money from the Pentagon was going toward murky research on countering biological weapons.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

The lack of information about the relationship between the Pentagon and EcoHealth Alliance, as well as EcoHealth’s established ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, have made some Republican lawmakers sit up and take notice.

“EcoHealth Alliance – a group that knowingly misled the world about what may have happened in Wuhan, China—should not receive another dime from taxpayers until it fully complies with the law and answers questions about what was really going on at the Wuhan Institute,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told the Post in a statement last week.

“I plan to offer an amendment to the Senate’s annual defense bill that would immediately cut off and prohibit additional funding from DOD to EcoHealth until the group provides answers about their work with Communist China’s Wuhan Institute, including an itemized breakdown of how much U.S. taxpayer money was paid to the lab.”

For now, the flow of government money to EcoHealth Alliance has slowed to a trickle. After receiving $24.8 million in awards in fiscal year 2020 — the vast majority of it as the $21.33 million award from DTRA — the non-profit has been awarded just $1.51 million this fiscal year, all from the Department of Health and Human Services.

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