The FBI and CDC neglected to thoroughly investigate a California biolab operated by Chinese nationals containing deadly transmissible pathogens, according to a new report.
Released by the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party on Wednesday, the findings reveal how Chinese nationals have been conducting experiments on several deadly pathogens in a Reedley, California, biolab under the discretion of a Chinese man connected to Beijing’s communist government.
“This report outlines troublesome gaps that exist in federal law that allow bad actors to take advantage of the system,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., whose district includes Reedley, said in a statement. “It is my hope no other town in any Congressional district will endure what my constituents have through this experience.”
The whole scandal began to unravel in December 2022 when Jesalyn Harper, a local code enforcement officer, noticed a building code violation outside the facility. Upon gaining access, Harper discovered the warehouse was actually a laboratory being operated by self-professed Chinese nationals. In the lab, Harper noticed vials containing biological substances — one of which was HIV — labeled in Mandarin, English, and an undeciphered code. She also discovered 1,000 genetically modified lab mice, later found to have been “bred to simulate the human immune system for the purpose of laboratory experimentation.”
Following her walkthrough, Harper referred the matter to Fresno County and the FBI for further investigation. Two months later, the federal agency notified Harper it had closed its inquiry “because the Bureau believed that there were no weapons of mass destruction on the property.” While the FBI “continued to engage with local officials,” Harper and local officials took the initiative to continue their investigation.
After obtaining a warrant, local officials searched the Reedley Biolab on March 16, in which they “observed blood, tissue and other bodily fluid samples and serums; and thousands of vials of unlabeled fluids and suspected biological material.” They also discovered “ultralow temperature freezers,” raising concerns that the facility was “storing infectious agents on site.” Containers “labeled with biohazard signs” and medical cabinets containing “what authorities later identified as highly flammable, explosive, and corrosive chemicals” were also found.
Local and state officials conducted subsequent inspections on April 21 and May 1-2, respectively.
It was later determined that the Reedley Biolab was owned and operated by Universal Meditech Inc. (UMI), a company controlled by “Jesse” Zhu, a Chinese national “associated with [People’s Republic of China]-government linked companies” who is wanted in Canada for “contempt of court, where he is the subject of a CAD$330 million judgment for stealing American intellectual property.” Upon illegally entering the U.S. under the name David He, Zhu “set up a new network of companies” and has seemingly acquired “thousands of vials labeled as dangerous pathogens, as well as expensive medical equipment.”
Prior to coming to North America, Zhu worked at companies with ties to China’s communist government and would receive payments totaling more than $1.3 million from PRC banks during the years he was selling fraudulent scientific products. Zhu was ultimately arrested by federal agents last month on charges related to “manufacturing and distributing misbranded medical devices” and lying to the Food and Drug Administration.
But it wasn’t just the FBI that dismissed local officials’ concerns about the Reedley Biolab. Fresno County officials spent “months” attempting to reach the CDC, which “refused to speak with them and, on a number of occasions … hung up on them mid-conversation.” It wasn’t until Costa stepped in on their behalf that the federal health agency responded.
During their inspection of the warehouse on May 3, CDC employees discovered that the Reedley Biolab housed “at least 20 potentially infectious agents,” including “the deadliest known form of Malaria,” HIV, Tuberculosis, and SARS-CoV-2 (otherwise known as Covid-19), among others. The CDC classified these “potentially infectious agents” under risk groups 2 and 3, the latter of which is “associated with serious or lethal human disease for which preventive or therapeutic interventions may be available.”
It’s worth mentioning that the CDC based its classifications on the vial labels and refused to test any of the samples, knowing that “absent testing, local officials would have to destroy all samples pursuant to a forthcoming abatement order.” Despite already being deemed an “illegal enterprise,” the agency also issued a three-page report concluding there was no evidence UMI violated U.S. law and that there weren’t any “select agents or toxins.”
While destroying the pathogens and materials, local officials discovered a freezer filled with silver bags containing samples of Ebola. According to the report, the CDC did not appear to be aware of such materials. Nonetheless, the pathogens were destroyed pursuant to the court order.
“The CDC’s refusal to test any potential pathogens with the understanding that local officials would otherwise have to destroy the samples through an abatement process makes it impossible for the Select Committee to fully assess the potential risks that this specific facility posed to the community,” the report reads. “It is possible that there were other highly dangerous pathogens that were in the coded vials or otherwise unlabeled. Due to government failures, we simply cannot know.”