The Defense Department gave away millions of dollars to the same nonprofit that granted federal money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for research on bat coronavirus, with most of the Pentagon money going toward research on countering biological weapons, new report claims.
New York-based EcoHealth has come under fire for channelizing funds from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to the controversial Chinese lab from where many believe the deadly coronavirus leaked. EcoHealth has reportedly been receiving huge chunks of federal funds since 2008 that has gone to research in Wuhan for years now.
Channelizing Federal Funds
According to a New York Post report, federal spending data shows, EcoHealth Alliance has a long-standing relationship with the Pentagon and has been receiving huge proportion of funds since 2008. The nonprofit has received at least $41.91 million in awards till now, which is more than three times the next-largest amount given to it by any other agency over the same period.
EcoHealth Alliance's next highest award has just been $13.17 million received from the Department of Health and Human Services. Of the total amount received so far, $37.61 million by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The DTRA 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."
DTRA started awarding funds to EcoHealth since 2014 for a project titled 'Scientific Research – Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction.' The funding initially was below $1 million but suddenly soared after three years. In 2017, EcoHealth channelized $2.34 million of the $2.91 million received from DTRA toward weapons research. Over the next three years, it the entire 100 percent of the DTRA's awarded fund went toward the program. While in 2018 and 2019 the amounts were $4.24 million and $2.99 million, respectively, in 2020 a whopping $21.33 million of award money form DTRA was given for weapon research by EcoHealth.
Money Goes Toward Murky Research
The final total comes down to $33.85 million, which is 90 percent of EcoHealth's awards from DTRA and 81 percent of its total Pentagon awards, that went for weapon research over seven years. The NY Post reports that emails obtained earlier this month by the conservative group Judicial Watch show that no other agency awarded so much funds to EcoHealth during this period.
Records show that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), awarded $7.5 million over a period of 11 years to EcoHealth for a program titled "Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence". The Wuhan Institute of Virology was supposed to have received around $1.5 million of that amount but that never happened after the Trump administration pulled the plug on the grant in April 2020.
The amount awarded to EcoHealth by DTRA might look small when 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 outlet that such awards from the defense and intelligence communities are distributed "outside the normal processes" for such research and there is no transparency and oversight in such dealings and funding beyond what can be provided by members of Congress.
Ebright said that 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.
He also told the outlet that it is almost impossible to determine whether any of the $33.85 million went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology or other labs in China, but mentioned that "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 lack of information about the relationship between the Pentagon and EcoHealth Alliance, as well as its ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, has raised quite a few eyebrows. Interestingly, following such reports, the flow of federal money to EcoHealth suddenly slowed down this year. 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.