Winnipeg to Wuhan, Part Deux

In September, Dr. Gary Kobinger will become director of the Galveston National Laboratory of the University of Texas, Medical Branch. Dr. Kobinger has been directing the Infectious Diseases Center at Laval University in Québec, where he also served as professor in the department of infectious diseases, microbiology and immunology. From 2008 to 2016 Kobinger served as Chief of the Special Pathogens Biosafety Level 4 program at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, a center of controversy to say the least.

At the NML, Kobinger worked with Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, a Chinese national who came to Canada for graduate studies in 1996. She was the subject of  “China and Viruses: The Case of Dr. Xiangguo Qiu,” a January 2020 paper by Dr. Dany Shoham, a former senior analyst in military intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces. (IDF). Dr. Shoham earned a Ph.D. in medical microbiology from Tel Aviv University and has published numerous articles on virology and on chemical and biological weapons. The Israeli scientist was one of the first to link the COVID-19 pandemic to China’s biological weapons program. 

Shoham discovered that Qiu maintained a close bond with China and the students that joined her at the NML came from four facilities believed to be involved in Chinese biological weapons development: the Institute of Military Veterinary, Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Changchun; Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Chengdu Military Region; Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Hubei;  and the Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing.

“All four facilities collaborated with Qiu on her Ebola research,” Shoham explains, and Chinese interest in Ebola, Nipah, Marburg, and Rift Valley fever “might possibly be beyond scientific and medical needs.” Since only the Nipah virus is naturally found in China, “the interface between Qiu and China is a priori highly suspicious.”  Shoham also wondered what other shipments of viruses or other items might have been made to China between 2006 and 2018.

In 2017-18 alone, Qiu made at least five trips to the Wuhan lab, and in August, 2017, the National Health Commission of China approved research activities involving the Ebola, Nipah, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever viruses at the Wuhan facility. When her shipment of pathogens was discovered, Qiu and her biologist husband Keding Cheng were “escorted” from the NML by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and eventually dismissed from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which declines to answer questions about the transfer of deadly pathogens.  

Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and her husband have not been seen publicly since February 2020, six months after they were stripped of their security clearances at the NML. Former colleagues are now speaking out on Dr. Qiu’s behalf, as the mystery points to “larger issues” at the NML itself, according to a July 8 CBC report

“This is a misunderstanding and I don’t know why I was walked out of the building.” That sounds like Dr. Qiu but it’s really her former NLM colleague Gary Kobinger. “She didn’t understand,” Kobinger told the CBC. “She was, from the bottom of her heart, saying that this is a misunderstanding.”

According to Kobinger, on her trips to China, Qiu was only “doing a lot of the same work we used to do. . . testing molecules and vaccines from other labs.” China gave Qiu credit for her work but neither the NML or the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) were named on the two patents. In Canada the federal government owns inventions made by public employees, who are forbidden from filing patents outside the country without permission. Kobinger told the CBC Qiu was “unaware that her name had been added to the patents,” and that “she herself reported the second one to PHAC.” 

The CBC declined to identify another former NML scientist, “because he’s concerned about retribution from PHAC.” According to the unnamed NML veteran, security clearances take years to obtain but “upper management will sometimes skirt around that.” The unnamed scientist saw “people wandering around where they shouldn’t be,” and at times, “they can walk around and do what they want.”

According to the anonymous scientist, Dr. Qiu could not have authorized security clearances for any of her Chinese students. NML management would have to approve the clearances and “they have a lot of problems they are trying to cover up.” One of those problems involves Chinese graduate student Feihu Yan. According to the CBC report, “publications authored by Qiu and Yan going back to at least 2016 list Yan’s connection to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, an arm of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).”  

As security expert Christian Leuprecht of Canada’s Royal Military College told the CBC last month, “It appears that what you might well call Chinese agents infiltrated one of the highest prized national security elements when it comes to biosecurity and biodefence.” On the other hand, both scientists who spoke with CBC News “assert that the research at the NML is actually behind China in terms of technology and discovery, so there is nothing to steal.” 

Readers have grounds to wonder if “nothing left to steal” would be more accurate. 

Dr. Dany Shoham wondered if other items might have been shipped from the NML to China between 2006 and 2018. Maybe Dr. Gary Kobinger can provide some enlightenment from his new post at the Galveston National Laboratory. 

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