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Security Brief: NORTHCOM Week of May 31, 2021

Week of May 31, 2021 | Issue 14


Karen Giraldo, Krystel von Kumberg NORTHCOM


Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2[1]


Date: June 4, 2021

Location: Washington, DC, US

Parties involved: US; China; Joe Biden; Anthony Fauci; Donald Trump

The event: The Director of the United States (US) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, Anthony Fauci, has called on Beijing to release the medical records of nine individuals who allegedly fell ill with COVID-19-like symptoms before the public was informed of the pandemic, including three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who may have been sick one month before the first confirmed case in December 2019.[2] Fauci also asked China to release the medical records of six miners who became sick with viral-induced pneumonia after entering a bat cave in China’s Yunnan Province crica 2012.[3] Fauci’s email made available through the Freedom and Information Act (FOIA) also revealed that he was warning that the coronavirus was possibly “engineered” because “the genome [was] inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.”[4] He has since highlighted that “the emails were taken deliberately out of context and therefore are profoundly misleading.”[5] Former President Donald Trump had confidently spread what is known as the Wuhan lab leak theory, which holds that the virus leaked, accidentally or intentionally, from a virology lab in the city where it was first found. This particular theory has allowed controversial remarks from the former Trump administration, as well as conspiracy theorists claiming they were right all along to gain momentum, while also creating an increasingly tense atmosphere between Washington and Beijing.

The implications:

  • Fauci’s released emails now coincide with President Biden’s ordering the intelligence community to undertake a 90-day review of all evidence pertaining to the origin of the virus, bringing the Wuhan lab theory back to mainstream media outlets attention. President Biden publicly asked the US intelligence community on May 26 to arrive at a conclusion on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The intelligence community has “coalesced around two likely scenarios”— that the coronavirus either came from human contact with an infected animal, or from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.[6] If the latter is found to be true, the trustworthiness of China be greatly diminished, leading to an adverse impact onits image as an international partner, especially if concrete evidence suggesting that COVID-19 was intentionally leaked is provided. This would have dramatic long-term consequences for Beijing’s diplomatic, socioeconomic, and international relations.

  • Biden’s renewed push for COVID-19 intelligence and Fauci’s emails are spurring and amplifying conspiracy theories. Online forums criticizing Fauci are gaining momentum, as the email leak gives credence to conspiracy theories in general. To many individuals who believe that China purposely spread COVID-19, they are more likely to believe that they were right about other theories. For example one user stated “if you’re suddenly surprised that COVID was made in a lab after conspiracy theorists have been saying that for the last 16 months, just wait til’ we circle back to the election results.”[7] Fauci has been a scapegoat for conservatives, who have questioned his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and accused him of undermining Trump. Overall, these events are likely giving more confidence to conspiracy theories which will lead to a greater confidence boost to networks like QAnon that spread misinformation and disinformation. Newly released QAnon conspiracies by a variety of users online has risen significantly and an example is the idea that China will pay ten trillion dollars so the world can “flip to a gold currency” with China allegedly paying “through the Cabal.”[8] These examples indicate how many individuals have prematurely been given a confidence boost by the current political push to punish China.

  • This hypothesis may be valid, but according to former intelligence analysts, there is not enough evidence to confirm with a high degree of certainty at the moment to verify the Wuhan lab leak theory. It has been suggested that US human intelligence in China has been scarce for several years, as Beijing has effectively destroyed these networks.[9] After more than a year, there is still a problem gathering enough evidence to suggest anything with absolute certainty and until this happens, it is difficult to believe the Wuhan lab leak narrative. There is not enough concrete intelligence available to understand the origins of COVID-19 with absolute certainty. It is important to inform the public about the uncertainties within US intelligence at this moment in time, as there are currently more questions than answers available.

  • President Biden’s order to have intelligence agencies look into this lab theory and Fauci’s calls to Beijing on releasing information on the origins of COVID-19 could exacerbate anti-Asian hate sentiment in North America and the US in particular. Since the beginning of the pandemic, a large majority of the Asian population have been victims of either verbal or physical assaults. Both are detrimental and traumatizing to individuals and resources and support are often scarce for minority groups. Medical analysts believe that evidence supporting the lab leak theory would increase anti-Asian hate more than speculation about the wet market.[10] Biden’s reinstatement of the lab leak theory creates a reason for the Asian population to continue to get racially targeted. As such, there are administrators on social media platforms like Facebook and Reddit that do not take the proper steps to prevent or stop the spread of hate against these groups of individuals because of the breadth of conspiratorial networks and difficulty in determining facts from fiction.

  • Protests in Hong Kong, Taiwan, accusations on China's engaging in a genocide against the Uighur Muslims, and the Wuhan lab leak theory are exacerbating tensions between China and the US. As a result, it is likely that these tensions could stir-up the potential for a nuclear war between the two countries. The Chinese government recently expressed their urgent goal to expand the “number of commissioned nuclear warheads, and the DF-41s, the strategic missiles that are capable to strike long-range and have high-survivability.”[11] Although not enough data has been released on the potential of a nuclear war, it is vital to diligently monitor a possible belligerent Chinese response against the US. China is unlikely to back down from threats on their national security from any nation, particularly the US.

[1] Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[2] Fauci urges China to release medical records of Wuhan researchers, The Washington Post, June 4 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/06/04/coronavirus-covid-live-updates-us/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fauci was warned that COVID-19 may have been ‘engineered,’ emails show, New York Post, June 2 2021, https://nypost.com/2021/06/02/fauci-was-warned-that-covid-may-have-been-engineered-emails/

[5] Attacks on Fauci grow more intense, personal and conspiratorial, Politico, June 4 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/06/04/fauci-attacks-personal-conspiratorial-491896

[6] Biden move to investigate Covid origins opens new rift in US-China relations, The Guardian, May 27 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/27/biden-china-coronavirus-origins-beijing

[7] COVID-19 Conspiracy, Kingofsamoa, iFunny, June 4 2021, https://ifunny.co/picture/f-you-re-suddenly-surprise-ina-ghat-covid-lab-was-ifKKM6ye8?gallery=category&query=politics

[8] Save America, The_STQRM_1776, iFunny, June 4 2021, https://ifunny.co/picture/save-america-president-donald-j-trump-statement-by-donald-j-WB2kJDye8?gallery=user&query=THE_STQRM_1776

[9] The real issue with the COVID-19 lab leak theory? The US isn't spying on China like it used to, USA News Today, June 4 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/world/2021/06/04/wuhan-lab-leak-theory-murky-due-us-lack-human-intel-china/7492291002/

[10] The Media’s Lab Leak Debacle Shows Why Banning Misinformation is a Terrible Idea, Reason, June 2021, https://reason.com/volokh/2021/06/04/the-medias-lab-leak-debacle-shows-why-banning-misinformation-is-a-terrible-idea/

[11] China threatens nuclear war, expanding arsenal in case of ‘intense showdown’ with US, New York Post, June 2021, https://nypost.com/2021/06/02/chinese-media-says-beijing-expanding-its-nuclear-arsenal/


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