Pentagon didn’t adequately track funds sent to Chinese research labs

by Vern Evans

The Pentagon did not keep adequate track of funds awarded to Chinese research labs or other countries that could have been used to enhance pathogens of pandemic potential, according to a report published Tuesday by a Pentagon watchdog.

The Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General report was required in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act to look at grants, contracts and other forms of collaboration with China and affiliated parties on pathogens of pandemic potential between 2014 and 2023. Investigators did not find any funds were given to organizations for pathogen enhancement, but they ran into difficulty tracking the movement of funds through organizations.

The Pentagon did not track funds “to the level of detail necessary” to allow investigators to completely determine if funds went to Chinese or other foreign laboratories to enhance pathogens, according to the report.

The issue stemmed from the Pentagon not tracking how the institutions that received funds — which frequently contract out work to other institutions — spent the money. The report found that the Pentagon receives a list of intended secondhand recipients of funds during the application process, but organizations can change recipients while in the “performance period” without being required to document those changes.

The Defense Department “did not track funding at the level of detail necessary to enable the [inspector general] to completely and accurately determine if the (Defense Department) provided funding to Chinese research laboratories or other foreign countries for research related to the enhancement of pathogens of pandemic potential,” the report stated. “These limitations hindered our ability to determine the extent of (Defense Department) funds allocated for those research activities.”

The Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General notified Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and former Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, in April that the watchdog agency would investigate the diversion of funds from the Pentagon into entities working to enhance pathogens.

In a January letter, Ernst and Gallagher requested a “comprehensive review” of possible experiments being conducted in foreign laboratories with Pentagon funds.

Investigators did find seven awards, sub-awards or fee-for-service agreements from the Army for research that involved potential enhancement of pathogens, according to the report. Army officials told investigators that the research did not “necessarily enhance the virus for pathogenic potential.”

Army officials offered investigators a couple examples of what the research they funded produced, such as the modification of a virus to infect a rodent versus a human. Another project looked at combining genetic sequences to produce a protein to develop antibodies in order to study immune responses, according to the report.

“We determined that (defense) officials viewed the enhancement of pathogens of pandemic potential as offensive biological work that does not align with the mission and authorities of the (Defense Department),” the report stated. “Army officials also stated that all pathogen research is for defensive purposes in support of understanding the threat, developing diagnostic systems to identify the threat, and developing medical countermeasures to prepare for, or respond to, the threat.”

Investigators also did not find that any of the $46.7 million awarded to EcoHealth Alliance ― which has come under fire from Republican lawmakers over its ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology ― was sent to China.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been at the center of right-wing conspiracies and accusations of being the originator of the coronavirus pandemic.

Investigators’ findings corroborate an April 2023 Government Accountability Office report, which found that collected data is often incomplete or inaccurate.

Zamone “Z” Perez is a reporter at Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

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