Top Intel Republican turns up heat on Biden to declassify COVID origins findings
After the House and Senate voted unanimously to make public the intelligence related to Covid-19 origins, House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Turner said the Biden administration has no excuse not to allow full declassification to move forward.
‘There will be no damage to any intelligence community sources or means and methods for the release of this Covid-19 material,’ Turner insisted in an interview with DailyMail.com.
‘Congress having passed this with strong bipartisan support gives the President the backing to be able to take the action to declassify this information.’
The declassification bill came after the Energy Department revealed with low confidence that Covid-19 most likely leaked from a lab and the FBI concluded the same with moderate confidence.
President Biden has not indicated he would veto the law so it’s expected to become law, requiring the Director of National Intelligence to declassify Covid-19 origin findings within 90 days and send an unclassified report back to Congress.
The bill specifically asks for details on coronavirus and gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and information on the researchers who fell ill in fall 2019, before the virus was known to the world.
House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Turner said the Biden administration has no excuse not to allow full declassification to move forward
Questions remain around whether Covid-19 originated in the Wuhan lab
It instructs the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to only redact information as necessary to protect sources and methods.
That could be interpreted loosely, though Turner says based on what he’s seen in classified settings he doesn’t believe it should be. ‘It is possible that the administration will redact some information, but no information should be redacted.’
‘Redacting the information as to how you got it is different from redacting the information. There is nothing in this information that discloses the source,’ Turner added.
‘The conclusions and the information that the intelligence community has should be out in the public domain.’
‘There’s no need to protect China,’ he added.
Republicans have alleged that Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was working to fund the Wuhan lab and gain-of-function research and therefore had incentive to point the public toward natural origin.
‘Clearly statements made by Fauci have been proven to be false,’ Turner said. ‘Just last week he made statements that even if it was a lab leak, it was still from natural origins, which is completely not supported by any of the information that the Intelligence Committee has reviewed, and that would have been available to him.’
On Saturday Fauci suggested on CNN that if the virus was found in nature then studied in the lab and spilled out of the lab it would still be considered ‘natural origin.’
‘A lab leak could be that someone was out in the wild, maybe looking for different types of viruses in bats, got infected, went into a lab, and was being studied in a lab, and then came out of the lab. But if that’s the definition of lab leak, then that’s still a natural occurrence,’ Fauci said.
‘I can’t understand why he keeps making these statements,’ Turner said.
‘This is why it’s important for this information to become public so we’re not dealing with competing statements from people who’ve seen the intelligence. The American people are smart – they need to be able to read the intelligence themselves.’
Ex-CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a Covid origins hearing last week: ‘I don’t think that answers are going to come from the scientific community. I think it’s going come from the intelligence community.’
Redfield said there was evidence of the virus as early as September 2019 and pointed to three now-declassified ‘highly irregular’ findings pointing to the lab leak theory – he said researchers deleted early Covid-19 sequences, changed command and control of the Wuhan Institute of Virology from civilian to military and allowed a contractor to redo the ventilation in the lab, which Redfield called ‘really telling.’
Researchers work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology
On Saturday Fauci suggested on CNN that if the virus was found in nature then studied in the lab and spilled out of the lab it would still be considered ‘natural origin’
Turner urges Americans not to use TikTok because they are ‘surrendering their data and information to China’
In the wide-ranging interview Turner also sounded off about Chinese surveillance on TikTok.
‘People should not be using TikTok – they are surrendering their data and information to China, which is all part of the surveillance society that they’ve subjugated their population too. It’s part of their authoritarian control of their citizens.’
Multiple bipartisan bills are floating around the House and Senate that would ban or expand President Biden’s authority to ban the Chinese video platform.
We still don’t know enough nearly enough about classified documents, Turner claims
Turner also sounded off about the classified briefing the so-called Gang of Eight, top members of the Intelligence Committees and leaders of the House and Senate, received on classified documents found in personal residences of President Trump, Biden and Vice President Mike Pence.
‘They provided us no information about the particular documents that were retrieved,’ he said of the briefing.
‘With the clearance that we have … we should have absolute access to be able to review them and determine for ourselves what what has happened and the risk, if any.’
After the Gang of Eight briefing, Turner was informed by the National Archives that as many as 84 members of Congress and other high-level officials have misplaced sensitive material since 2009.
Classified documents were found commingled with document collections donated to libraries, universities and museums.
Turner said he’d been told every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan has had issues with improperly handling classified documents.
‘This is a problem and clearly we have to fix it.’
‘I’m also concerned that all these documents are being packed up and sent to the archivist when they probably should be going back to the agencies where they came from,’ Turner added.
The Presidential Records Act requires outgoing presidents to turn over their official documents, including classified ones, to the National Archives. ‘If there’s a classified document that comes to the CIA, perhaps when they’re done, it should go back to the CIA.’
FBI is undertaking a ‘culture of abuse of an invasion of privacy of individuals’
Last week GOP Rep. Darin Lahood, R-Ill., said during an Intel hearing he believes he was the member who was improperly searched by the FBI, per a 2021 ODNI report.
The report stated that the FBI improperly searched the data of an unnamed member of Congress and local political organizations under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to see if they had ties to foreign intelligence.
Justice Department officials said the search amounted to a ‘misunderstanding’ of the law by intelligence analysts and FBI Director Chris Wray said his agency has made ‘extensive’ changes to its surveillance activities since then.
Turner said he is ‘absolutely not’ satisfied with the FBI’s changes.
‘The FBI has allowed access of FISA data that includes queries on the American people, including members of Congress, that that are clearly prohibited,’ he said.
‘The this is not a misunderstanding. This is a culture of abuse of an invasion of privacy of individuals.’
The Intel Committee has now set up a ‘working group’ to discuss reforms to Section 702, which is supposed to be used for targeted surveillance of non-Americans.
Section 702 will expire at the end of December unless Congress votes to extend it. The Biden administration has called for a clean renewal of the provision but will be fighting an uphill battle against lawmakers who want to rein it in.