A new lawsuit filed by the Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project claims that the Central Intelligence Agency is withholding records that would show payoffs to analysts for burying evidence that a lab leak was the probable cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back in September, a whistleblower told Congress that six of the seven CIA officers assigned to the agency’s COVID Discovery Team, which “consisted of multi-disciplinary and experienced officers with significant scientific expertise,” did not believe the evidence pointed to zoonotic transfer, but the most senior member of the team did. The whistleblower also testified that after receiving a “significant incentive” those six members changed their position.
After hearing this testimony, Reps. Brad Wenstrup and Mike Turner sent a letter to the CIA and a former official, according to Fox News, requesting documents related to the COVID Discovery Team. The letter read, in part:
“A multi-decade, senior-level, current Agency officer has come forward to provide information to the Committees regarding the Agency’s analysis into the origins of COVID-19.
“According to the whistleblower, at the end of its review, six of the seven members of the Team believed that intelligence and science were sufficient to make a low confidence assessment that COVID-19 originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, China. The seventh member of the Team, who also happened to be the most senior, was the one officer to believe COVID-19 originated through zoonosis.
“The whistleblower further contends that to come to the eventual public determination of uncertainty, the other six members were given a significant monetary incentive to change their position.”
The whistleblower named former CIA chief operating officer Andrew Makridis as “play[ing] a central role in [the Covid Discovery Group’s] formation and eventual conclusion that the CIA was unable to determine” the origins of COVID-19.”
Republican Sens. Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Lindsey Graham, and Rick Scott sent a similar letter to the CIA the same day.
On September 20, eight days after the House and Senate letters to the CIA, the Heritage Foundation sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the agency, seeking records similar to those requested by lawmakers. To date, the CIA hasn’t produced the documents or provided a reason for the delay.
Heritage is suing the CIA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and its lawsuit lays out five claims of relief against the CIA.
Heritage’s original FOIA request sought records from the creation of the discovery team and all records shared among team members associated with COVID-19’s origins. In addition, the conservative group demanded records of any financial bonuses and communications between discovery team members and officials from numerous agencies across the federal government.
The lawsuit asks the court to compel the CIA to produce all non-exempt records under Heritage’s prior FOIA request and to cover Heritage’s costs incurred.
Lawmakers haven’t released any information related to documents they might or might not have received from the CIA as a result of their requests, but back in September Tammy Kupperman Thorp, CIA spox, denied the allegations but said they’d check into them. (Insert wink/nod here.)
At CIA we are committed to the highest standards of analytic rigor, integrity, and objectivity. We do not pay analysts to reach specific conclusions. We take these allegations extremely seriously and are looking into them. We will keep our Congressional oversight committees appropriately informed.
In Congressional testimony in April 2023, though, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said that “a lab leak is the only explanation [for the COVID-19 pandemic] credibly supported by our intelligence, by science and by common sense.”