Fact Check: Former CIA Officer Selectively Quoted By Iranian Site; Did NOT Say Coronavirus Was Produced In a Lab

Fact Check

  • by: Wayne Drash
Fact Check: Former CIA Officer Selectively Quoted By Iranian Site; Did NOT Say Coronavirus Was Produced In a Lab

Did a former and controversial CIA officer say coronavirus was definitively produced in a lab? No, an Iranian news website selectively quoted as fact what was only speculation from the former CIA agent helping run a site associated with Russian disinformation campaigns.

The claim originated in an article published by Tehran-based Press TV on March 6, 2020, titled "Coronavirus was produced in a laboratory: Former CIA intel officer" (archived here) which opened:

A former military intelligence officer of the CIA has said that the "Coronavirus did not occur naturally through mutation but rather was produced in a laboratory, possibly as a biological warfare agent."

Users on social media only saw this:

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The Tehran-based Press TV pulled the out-of-context quote from former officer Philip Giraldi, in a highly speculative article, which read:

Because of that and other factors, there has also been considerable speculation that the Coronavirus did not occur naturally through mutation but rather was produced in a laboratory, possibly as a biological warfare agent.

Under the headline "Who Made Coronavirus? Was It the U.S., Israel or China Itself?" Giraldi went on to present a wildly speculative possibility of coronavirus originating as a bio-warfare agent in a lab based on no facts. His piece was published by the Strategic Culture Foundation, which claims it works "to spread reliable information, critical thought and progressive ideas."

However, an EU-linked group has said the Strategic Culture Foundation's website is based in Russia and feeds Moscow's disinformation campaign.

According to an article published by EUvsDisinfo, which was formed in 2015 by the European Union to fight Russian disinformation:

The 'progressive idea' of Strategic Culture Foundation is that authoritarianism is good. Powerful, potent, populist potentates - Kim Jong-Un, Putin, Maduro, Xi, can always rely on the support of the authors. As long as it suits Kremlin, that is.

Giraldi, the former CIA agent, has long been a controversial figure, claiming Israel had a role in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and claiming "the imposed holocaust [sic] narrative is full of holes."

As for the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, it remains an unknown. However, the World Health Organization has said evidence indicates the pandemic began with bats in China. The WHO said in February that it was imperative to identify the exact animal source to:

help to ensure that there will be no further future similar outbreaks with the same virus and will also help understanding the initial spread of the disease in the Wuhan area. It would also increase our understanding of the virus and help us understand how these viruses jump from animals to humans. Thus, providing critical knowledge on how to protect us from future similar events. In this regard, strengthening food control and market hygiene activities in live food market will be essential to protect people from similar and other zoonotic diseases.

The Scientific American published a profile on March 11, 2020, about Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli and headlined: "How China's "Bat Woman" Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus." In it, Zhengli said:

Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks. We must find them before they find us.

As of this reporting, the WHO has reported 125,000 novel coronavirus cases worldwide, with more than 4,600 deaths.

Press TV is a site based in Tehran and affiliated with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalists to rank the reliability of websites, describes presstv.com as:

The website of Press TV, an international news network funded by the Iranian government. The site has repeatedly published false information and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

According to NewsGuard, the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.

Other fact checks by Lead Stories concerning coronavirus misinformation include:

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes presstv.com as:

The website of Press TV, an international news network funded by the Iranian government. The site has repeatedly published false information and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

According to NewsGuard the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Wayne Drash

Wayne Drash, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is a former senior producer and writer for CNN’s Health team, telling narratives about life and the unfolding drama of the world we live on. He specialized in covering complex major issues, such as health insurance, the opioid epidemic and Big Pharma.

 

Read more about or contact Wayne Drash

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