Thousands of vials of biological substances — including some labeled “HIV” — and a freezer marked “Ebola” were found inside a secret Chinese-owned biolab in California which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FBI initially refused to investigate, according to a House committee report released Wednesday.
The illegal lab was operated in the city of Reedley, Calif., and the potential public safety risk it posed only came to light in December 2022 when Jesalyn Harper, an observant code enforcement officer, noticed a green garden hose sticking out of a hole in the side of a warehouse that was thought to be vacant for more than a decade.
Once inside, Harper discovered laboratory equipment, manufacturing devices, medical-grade freezers, lab mice and vials labeled in Mandarin, English and in a code that remains undeciphered.
She also encountered several individuals in lab coats who identified themselves as Chinese nationals.
Harper’s discovery kicked off a 9-month investigation by the city, which eventually roped in Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), after being stonewalled by the CDC and FBI, to figure out what activities were taking place inside the illegal lab.
In a 42-page report, the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, which launched its own investigation into the matter in September, detailed some of its shocking findings and the troubling questions raised by the presence of an apparent Chinese-owned research lab on US soil.
“Local officials spent months repeatedly trying to obtain assistance from the CDC,” the report states, noting that “the CDC refused to speak with them and, on a number of occasions, it was reported by local officials that the CDC hung up on them mid-conversation.”
“Local officials were similarly unable to get any help from other federal agencies,” congressional investigators found, including the FBI, which informed local officials that “it had closed its investigation because the Bureau believed that there were no weapons of mass destruction on the property.”
With Costa’s help, CDC officials finally showed up at the Greeley biolab and identified at least 20 potentially infectious agents, including several “serious or lethal human diseases.”
Some of the potentially infectious agents found by the agency include SARS-CoV-2, Chlamydia, HIV, E. coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Hepatitis B and C, Dengue virus, the Rubella virus and Malaria.
The CDC, however, refused to test the samples or examine the unlabeled vials, even after city officials offered to pay for the testing.
The report slams the CDC’s initial reluctance to get involved and its refusal to test the vials as “unacceptable.”
In July, under a court order, local officials contracted a hazardous waste firm to carry out the destruction of 140 tons of lab equipment and 440 gallons of medical and biological waste found at the site.
During this process, a previously undetected freezer labeled “Ebola” was found. The disease has a death rate between 25% to 90% once it is contracted.
“Local officials and contractors reported that they found a freezer labeled ‘Ebola’ with silver sealed bags found inside consistent with how the Reedley Biolab operators stored sensitive biological and other materials,” the report states, noting that the containers within the fridge were not expressly labeled “Ebola.”
Local officials notified the CDC about their find, and the agency responded by saying that it did not recall seeing the Ebola label.
The fridge and the contents within it were destroyed, without being tested, according to the report.
Photographs of the Ebola-labeled fridge do not exist, according to the report.
The panel’s investigation also uncovered a complex connection between the Reedley biolab owner and founder, Jiabei “Jesse” Zhu, and the Chinese Communist Party.
Zhu entered the US illegally, through Canada, after being slapped with a $330 million Canadian court judgment in 2016 for running companies engaged in “massive theft of American cattle-related intellectual property,” according to the report.
“The court found that Zhu and his PRC co-conspirators made many disturbing statements as part of their plan. These include instances where Zhu, in response to a co-conspirator’s reference to ‘American imperialism,’ replied that ‘the law is strong, but the outlaws are ten times stronger.’
In another instance, Zhu claimed that his fraudulent activity would help ‘defeat the American aggressor and wild ambitious wolf!’” the report states, citing private messages Zhu sent through the Chinese app WeChat.
Once in the US, Zhu operated under the alias “David He” and began work on setting up a network of biotech companies, including the Greeley biolab.
“To incorporate and administer many of these companies, Zhu turned to an accountant tied to entities associated with the CCP,” House investigators found.
The select committee found evidence indicating that Zhu and his associates at the Reedley biolab were purchasing counterfeit COVID-19, pregnancy, ovulation, and nutritional deficiency test kits from China and relabeling and reselling the fakes in the US as “Made in the USA.”
The fraudulent scheme, however, did not require or explain the presence of the pathogens, equipment or freezers found in Zhu’s lab, according to congressional investigators.
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