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American Scientists Helped Cover Up A Lab-Leak For Communists Before — In The Soviet Union

(Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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At least 66 people were killed in the Soviet Union in 1979 after anthrax bacteria was leaked from a lab, and the public didn’t know the truth about what happened until ten years later.

For years, the Soviet government claimed the outbreak was caused by the pathogen jumping from an animal to a human. It took the fall of the communist regime and a new investigation in the 1990’s to confirm that the danger began when the anthrax was accidentally leaked from a military lab in the city of Yekaterinburg in the Russian Urals.

“You can concoct a completely crazy story and make it plausible by the way you design it,” Dr. Matthew Meselson, a Harvard University biologist, told The New York Times. He was among the scientists who, at the time, described the Soviet explanation as “plausible.”

Now, he says the world must determine if COVID-19 came from a lab like that anthrax did. “We all have a common interest in finding out if it was due to a laboratory accident,” he said. (RELATED: Why Is Dr. Anthony Fauci Ignoring The SARS Lab Leaks?)

Meselson said the Soviets theory, that people became ill from contaminated bone meal used as animal feed, was consistent and backed by some evidence. But like the Chinese Communist Party today, he Soviets prevented outside investigations into where the outbreak came from and cracked down on dissenters who tried to raise a different possibility.

Raisa Smirnova, who was stricken with the anthrax as a 32-year-old in Yekaterinburg but survived the outbreak, told the NYT she wasn’t allowed to speak out. She had heard about secret work happening at the military lab on dangerous germs, but the K.G.B. forced her to sign a document pledging her silence for 25 years after she recovered.

Epidemiologist Dr. Viktor Romanenko told the NYT he knew from the start the official government story wasn’t true, but he was made to pursue it anyways. “We all understood that this was utter nonsense,” he said. K.G.B. agents seized medical records from his office and prevented him from pursuing the truth.

“The task was to defend the honor of the country.”

Russian President Boris Yeltsin finally admitted in 1992 the lab was the source of the outbreak. But until then, it remained covered up, and Meselson wasn’t the only American scientist who aided the lie, wittingly or not.

Joshua Lederburg, a Nobel Prize-winning American biologist, wrote in 1986 that the Soviet account of events was “very likely to be true.”

“Wild rumors do spread around every epidemic,” he said at the time.

That dismissal of the lab-leak theory in the Soviet Union has distinct similarities to the dismissal of the lab-leak theory of COVID-19 origin, which was initially lampooned by most journalists and experts as a “conspiracy theory.”

Now, the theory is gaining steam and some are pointing back to the Russian anthrax leak as precedent.

The CCP is now engaging in many of the same tactics the Soviet Union did: blocking outside investigators, putting national pride before getting to the truth and silencing potential whistleblowers. (RELATED: Former State Dept. Investigator Says If China’s Not Asking For Help, They Probably Know COVID-19’s Origins)

Some scientists have engaged in similar activity too, by limiting discussion of the lab-leak theory for political purposes.