On the heels of finding that the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) had its level 3 and 4 biological research labs sanctioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we learn that many of those same viruses that USAMRIID was researching are on their way to China, courtesy of a Canadian laboratory.

In early July 2019, Xiangguo Qui, a Chinese scientist at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, was dismissed and her ties with the University of Manitoba cut. What makes this somewhat unusual is that Qui is recognized globally as one of the leading researchers on infectious diseases. Furthermore, Qui is credited with being instrumental in creating a new drug for treating the Ebola virus. Despite her accomplishments, the CBC reports that Qui, her husband Keding Cheng, and her students were “forcibly dispatched from the facility on July 5.

In response to pathogen samples being sent to China, the National Microbiology Laboratory spokesperson commented:

“To advance scientific work worldwide, the National Microbiology Laboratory routinely shares samples of pathogens and toxins with partner laboratories in Canada and in other countries. These transfers follow strict protocols.”

from canada To china, with love: Henipavirus and Ebola

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating the sharing of Ebola, as well as a second pathogen, a henipavirus, which in real life kills 100% of those infected. While the lab claims this is normal and is part of the global research into deadly pathogens, the potential transfer of knowledge to China may be advancing their biological weapons program.

In a research paper published by the National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, the authors note, “Continued outbreaks of Henipaviruses in South Asia and Australia cause severe and lethal disease in both humans and animals. Together, with evidence of human to human transmission for Nipah virus and the lack of preventative or therapeutic measures, its threat to cause a widespread outbreak and its potential for weaponization has increased. ”

Providing the henipavirus to China would seem to feed the weaponization narrative. One could also argue that given the proximity of the henipavirus outbreaks in South Asia, research into treatment is a high priority for China.

Intellectual property theft of the virus?

The Ebola treatment drug, ZMapp, in which Qui had a collaborative hand, has already been cloned (pun intended) by a Chinese company, even though the the experimental drug was under patent. The Chinese firm, Mabworks, admitted they had duplicated the drug without authorization, and then continued working with researchers in Canada.

Digging into Qui’s dismissal, coupled with the obtuse and contradictory statements coming out of named and unnamed sources to the Canadian press, the worst case scenario is that Qui, her husband and research students made possible an unauthorized transfer of technology and deadly pathogens to China. They facilitated the theft of research and pathogen strains by China. The other end of the spectrum has Qui being investigated for administrative lapses which exposed intellectual property to a foreign entity in an unauthorized manner, though without malice or interest in advancing China’s biological weapons program, nor putting coin into her own pocket.

Bottom line?

China now has samples of the heniparvirus and research from the Canadian National Lab, which may be useful in advancing China’s biological weapons program, occurring at a time the USAMRIID’s defensive biological research lab is shut down.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).