Emily Kopp on the Search for Covid Origins

In China last week, independent journalist Zhang Zhan was released from prison after serving four years on charges related to reporting on the Covid outbreak in Wuhan.

Zhang Zhan

Zhang was sentenced to prison on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

Emily Kopp, a reporter for US Right to Know in Oakland, California, has been doing the same kind of poking around the Covid origins story here in the United States.

One difference is that here is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which helps reporters dig out the dirty little secrets of the corporate state.

For more than two years now, Kopp has been filing FOIAs, getting information and writing stories about what she finds. 

Some of those FOIAs have fueled recent Congressional hearings into the matter.

Just this month, Kopp has posted these stories:

Fauci aide triggers deeper concerns about hidden emails on COVID origins

Fauci aide allegedly boasted about ability to ‘make emails disappear’ including ‘smoking guns’

Organization at center of ‘lab leak theory’ suspended from federal funds

Virus hunter at center of ‘lab leak theory’ grilled by congressional committee

We asked Kopp about Zhang.

“She’s an independent journalist about my age who was imprisoned for four years for poking around the Wuhan Institute of Virology and doing other reporting on the early pandemic period,” Kopp told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. 

Have you been able to communicate with her?

“I would love to,” Kopp said. “But I’m not sure that would be helpful. She is already under so much surveillance. I would hope that one day she would end up in America. I would love to meet with her.”

“It could have been me if I wasn’t fortunate enough to be born in a country with the First Amendment,” Kopp said. “When I’m feeling pitiful about people thinking I’m a conspiracy theorist, I remind myself to be grateful that’s my critics’ only tool. It could be much worse.”

You graduated from the University of Georgia in 2013. What have you been doing since?

“I immediately moved to DC because I thought I wanted to do political journalism. Over the first few years of my career, I accidentally fell into health policy reporting. I fell in love with it. The investigations I was doing into the American healthcare system coincided with my mom getting sick. It became a purpose, in a sense, for me.” 

“I was working for this paper called Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call. I was the newest person on the health policy team at the time that the novel coronavirus emerged in China. Given that I was the newest member on the team and no one wanted to cover it, I was stuck with covering it.”

“At the time, we thought – this will be ancillary to our core coverage, it’s not going to be a big deal. And then quickly it became apparent that it was going to impact our lives forever. I led Covid reporting for CQ/Roll Call for two years. I focused on first responders. By the end of 2021, I was pretty severely burned out on the daily grind of deadlines and also thinking about deaths for eight to ten hours a day.”

“I thought, I will do a long term investigation and that will help with my burn out. I became curious about the lab leak theory because of a now infamous email in which Kristian Anderson said that the genome looked inconsistent with evolutionary theory. But the project hasn’t helped with my burnout. It has been very intense and difficult. I don’t know what I was thinking. But it has also been a lot of fun and rewarding.”

“I went from CQ/Roll Call to US Right to Know.”

Did you want to work for a mainstream news organization initially?

“At the beginning of my career, yes. But at this point I’m thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be a good culture fit. I don’t know if there is a big investment in investigative journalism at most of those places anymore – at least the kind of investigative journalism I’m doing now.”

“But if the New York Times came calling, I would take the meeting.”

How did you land at the US Right to Know?

“I was deeply impacted by what I was covering. I felt like I owed the public some answers as to how it started. And US Right to Know was the only group doing that work.”

Where are you now on the question – what was the origin of the Covid virus?

“I keep an open mind. I get criticism that I’m not familiar with the literature in this field. But I absolutely am familiar. I read all of those papers. But my perspective is that the default presumption should be lab – an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology or at the Wuhan CDC lab, just given all of the evidence pointing to the fact that researchers there were interested in precisely the sort of virus that is SARS CoV-2.”

“I read everything and listen to the virologists who disagree with me. I’m not dogmatic.”

If it was a lab leak, is there any talk of holding those responsible for the millions of deaths?

“I struggle with answering these broader implication questions. I’m so head down, get the facts out that I don’t spend a lot of time ruminating on – what’s next? It’s day by day, trying to get as much information as possible and get to the truth.”

“The magnitude of the pandemic makes it hard to know what accountability would even look like. But clarity, transparency and peace of mind for the families of loved ones who have died are top of mind for me.” 

Is there a government investigation into what happened?

“Not as far as I know – not since the intelligence community’s 90 day review back in 2021. Part of the problem is that many of the people with the most intimate knowledge of what was going on at the Wuhan Institute of Virology are Americans. The intelligence community’s ability to obtain the records of Americans is quite rightly limited. So, in a way, our best way of investigating comes from FOIA or Congressional subpoenas.”

Lay out for us the best case for a lab leak and the best case for nature.

“For the lab theory, there is a proposal called the DEFUSE proposal. It was submitted by Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Ralph Baric from UNC. They were interested in viruses similar to SARS CoV-2. Long story short, the Wuhan Institute of Virology had pieced together the ancestor viruses that contributed to the first SARS virus. They were looking for their next project. They were interested in viruses that had the ability to infect human cells but that could evade SARS vaccines and therapeutics. They were looking for viruses in the same family as SARS that were ten to twenty-five percent different.” 

“They knew that the furin cleavage site on the spike protein could elevate one of these SARS related viruses to epidemic status. So they were looking for viruses that were ten to twenty-five percent different with a furin cleavage site on the spike protein – and at a particular junction of the spike protein – the S1/S2 junction.” 

“That proposal was being hammered out in 2018. Lo and behold at the end of 2019, the virus – ten to twenty-five percent different from the SARS virus with a furin cleavage site on the spike protein at the S1/S2 junction emerges at Wuhan where they were going to be conducting much of this experimentation.” 

“That’s point one. The esoteric research interests of the top coronavirus researchers in the world, working at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were interested in viruses just like SARS CoV-2.” 

Do we know whether they actually did that work they were proposing to do?

“We don’t know. And that is a major point of contention. DARPA was the intended funding agency for this project. But they turned down the project. So it appears that they were not receiving American funding for this work.” 

“But there is a group called Drastic. And they have uncovered public documents out of China suggesting that scientists in China were interested in simply copying the work of the American scientists doing this research. There is speculation that scientists working in Wuhan moved with this proposal. And there was a Wuhan Institute of Virology scientist on the proposal. That’s the speculation, but we don’t have confirmation that the project definitively moved forward.” 

What’s the second point for the lab theory?

“The second point for the lab theory is – we obtained a draft of this proposal and in the margins of one of the drafts, you have the principal investigators, Daszak, saying – we are going to downplay the involvement of China in this proposal when we submit it to the Pentagon. Then he went on to say they were going to have the Wuhan scientists do many of these tests.”

“So on the one hand Daszak was telling the Pentagon that they would be doing these tests in a relatively rigorous biosafety level (BSL) in America, but he was actually going to outsource it at a lower biosafety level – at a BSL level two lab. BSL 2 labs are quicker and cheaper, but they have fewer protections against airborne viruses.” 

“We now know that SARS CoV-2 is airborne and extremely infectious. So if they were working on it at a BSL 2 lab, it would have almost certainly leaked.”

“They were interested in viruses just like SARS CoV-2 and they were interested in outsourcing that work to a low BSL level in order to save money. Those are the two major points for the lab theory.”

What do you think – did the Chinese go ahead with the research even though it wasn’t funded? Or was there some funding?

“My understanding is that by the time these proposals are submitted, much of the work is already completed. It’s possible they were using other funding for laying the groundwork for this experimentation, that it already had a head start.”

“Given the public documents in China showing a clear interest among scientists there in copying this work, it is possible they moved forward without the knowledge of their American collaborators.”

You have laid out the best case for a lab leak.

What’s the best case for nature?

“The best case for nature would be the signal. And that signal emerged from a wet market – just the place you would expect if the pandemic was natural. Many of the earliest cases that we know about from December 2019 are connected to the wet market – not all of them. But even the ones not connected to the market appear to cluster around the location of the market in a way to suggest that they were connected to people at the market.”

“People who lean toward lab theory have not fully explained the early pandemic story of why the signal first emerged there.”

“Nobody fully explained that early pandemic period in part because of the censorship in China. It’s much easier to uncover the cover up that went on with Western institutions. That information is more accessible.” 

What would be a second point for the nature theory?

“Censorship in China was not limited to the viral databases and the early cases. There were also attempts to obscure the degree to which China had not gotten its wild animal trade under control.” 

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Emily Kopp, see 38 Corporate Crime Reporter 22(12), June 3, 2024, print edition only.]

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