Vanity Fair writes:

State Department official Thomas DiNanno wrote a memo charging that staff from his bureau were “warned…not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19” because it would “‘open a can of worms’ if it continued.”

I can't find any reporting that's independent of the Vanity Fair article. Is there independent evidence of the memo existing or an official denail that it exists?

  • 2
    If he did (and I don't know) it could easily just have meant that investigating the origins would have given encouragement to the people spreading conspiracy theories about the origin. That's certainly happened in the past. Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 19:03
  • I am guessing that you have read this doc linked on the Vanity Fair article? Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 19:06
  • @BarryHarrison : I haven't but I think the question of whether the document is authentic still stands.
    – Christian
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 0:28
  • @DJClayworth : The document linked by Harrison does go into more detail and according to that document the people who made the claim were not willing to go into details (if they were just worried about spreading conspiracy theories they could easily say so).
    – Christian
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 0:30
  • @pipe : I fixed the title.
    – Christian
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


I could not find any independent reporting that didn't cite the Vanity Fair article (Fox News additionally included a statement from the State Department). Other sites have written the same thing, crediting Vanity Fair. I could not find a specific denial of the veracity of the supposed memo. A State Department spokesperson said that "no-one prevented the disclosure of accurate, properly contextualized information. ... No effort was made at any time to suppress or withhold information from senior policymakers or the public. Internal disagreements were about the quality of analysis and the importance of not overstating, or bending, evidence to fit preconceived narratives."

The Vanity Fair article links to 5 documents. For more context, here's a quote from the fourth (formatting copied from the original document):

  • Over the past months, members of Former Assistant Secretary Ford’s staff, and some AVC staff members, warned AVC leadership not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19. Both AVC and ISN staff members stated that AVC would “open a can of worms” if it continued.

When asked, none of these staff members could or would elaborate, but their reluctance to pursue this effort was evidenced by failure to provide information when requested and a complete lack of responses to briefings and presentations that were undertaken by AVC. AVC will continue to pursue its statutory mandate to investigate all matters dealing with BWC compliance including aspects of this pandemic that may indicate a failure by the PRC to honor its treaty obligations and commitments.

(For those who didn't read the full article, AVC refers to the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.)

Here's the accompanying text from the Vanity Fair article (the text in the question is not from within the article but from a caption of an image of Thomas DiNanno):

Thomas DiNanno sent back a five-page rebuttal to Ford’s memo the next day, January 9 (though it was mistakenly dated “12/9/21”). He accused Ford of misrepresenting the panel’s efforts and enumerated the obstacles his team had faced: “apprehension and contempt” from the technical staff; warnings not to investigate the origins of COVID-19 for fear of opening a “can of worms”; and a “complete lack of responses to briefings and presentations.” He added that Quay had been invited only after the National Intelligence Council failed to provide statistical help.

Is "memo" from the image caption really the best way to describe this document? I'm not sure.

Fox News reported a similar story, also referencing Vanity Fair. However, unlike other websites, they further wrote:

Multiple former State Department officials told Fox News that the reported memo accurately describes what was happening at State at the time and that there was an effort among some officials at the department to oppose an extensive investigation into a possible lab leak.

Another source told Fox News that nonproliferation experts told investigators not to open "the can of worms."

The State Department has rejected the claim that the investigation was stonewalled, saying "no-one prevented the disclosure of accurate, properly contextualized information."

"No effort was made at any time to suppress or withhold information from senior policymakers or the public," a spokesperson told Fox News on Thursday. "Internal disagreements were about the quality of analysis and the importance of not overstating, or bending, evidence to fit preconceived narratives."

There are 2 sides to every story, of course. For those interested, read former Assistant Secretary Ford's email, which does explain his reasons for why he cautions against certain things, such as "suggesting that there is anything inherently suspicious - and suggestive of biological warfare activity - about People's Liberation Army (PLA) involvement at WIV on classified projects."

Also, Fox News found an additional email not reported by Vanity Fair. In this email, former Assistant Secretary Ford discusses problems with Thomas DiNanno's methodology, such as not having scientists or anyone with scientific training evaluate their hypothesis, not having someone from the intelligence community in their group, and, most importantly (from former Assistant Secretary Ford's perspective), not having enough proof.

... the burden of proof is upon AVC here ... If you're right, you should be willing to prove it, and to confront experts ...

In an earlier email in the same email exchange:

It is, however, becoming embarrassing - and, if I may say so, more than a little worrisome - that AVC seems still to be ducking an expert-level engagement to evaluate its own WIV allegations, even while it has continued, over the last month or more, to brief its claims to non-experts across the interagency.

I am of course not qualified to comment on who is right and who is wrong. That said, I feel this answer adds a lot. What's clear is DiNanno and Ford have conflicting views on the accuracy of DiNanno's theory that the WIV lab may have been involved in COVID-19's origin.

  • Accepted as the Fox News article seems independent confirmation given that they asked State Department officials about it.
    – Christian
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 12:23

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