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This claim is inaccurate. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a U.S. Defense Department arm that works to deter attacks and emerging threats, in November 2019 awarded a contract for non-COVID-19 training support in Ukraine, the agency said.
An agency spokesperson said the contract’s description was modified in 2020, months after the virus emerged, to focus on COVID-19 research. The Defense Department typically modifies contracts over time to address emerging needs.
False claims about the COVID-19 pandemic being a government-invented scheme keep coming.
This time, a video shared on TikTok April 6 shows Clayton Morris, a real estate investor and former TV news anchor, claiming that the U.S. Defense Department awarded Ukraine a contract for COVID-19 research months before the virus was discovered.
"Why does United States government data show that the U.S. Department of Defense awarded a contract on the 12th of November 2019 to Labyrinth Gold Health Incorporated for COVID-19 research, at least one month before the alleged emergence of the novel Coronavirus, and three months before it was officially dubbed COVID 19?" Morris says.
The video appears to come from an April 3 episode of Morris’ YouTube show, "Redacted News." He goes on to claim that the contract was for research to be conducted in Ukraine and cites an April 2022 story by the "The Exposé," a United Kingdom-focused website that has published COVID-19 misinformation.
But this is wrong. TikTok identified the video as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with TikTok.)
The government contract was awarded in November 2019, but it wasn’t designated for COVID-19 research then. It was modified later, after the virus emerged.
A search of USAspending.org, an open data source for federal spending information, shows that a government contract was awarded by the department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency to U.S. engineering company Black & Veatch. A subaward went to international expert health organization Labyrinth Global Health on Nov. 12, 2019.
The $369,511 award description read, "SME (subject matter expert) MANUSCRIPT DOCUMENTATION AND COVID-19 RESEARCH."
The first COVID-19 cases in the world were reported the following month, in December 2019, and the disease wasn’t named until February 2020.
But our reporting found that the contract’s description about "COVID-19 research" was added several months later — well after the virus started spreading worldwide.
A Defense Threat Reduction Agency spokesperson confirmed that the organization didn’t award any contracts in 2019 for COVID-19 research and, instead, last modified a task order to an existing contract on June 10, 2020, to help Ukraine respond to the pandemic.
Nov. 12, 2019, is when the initial contract (known formally as the "master servicing agreement") was entered into the system, agency spokesperson Andrea Chaney said in an email. The information on USASpending.gov shows agreement data that the Defense Department can modify over time in contracts to better address emerging issues.
"Contractors frequently sign additional sub-awards through task orders. These task orders, too, can be modified or amended," Chaney said. "The date of each modification is not reflected on the USASpending.gov page, which stays as the date the original (master servicing agreement) was entered into the system, but the project description title is updated to reflect the latest changes in the task order."
Chaney said the Defense Threat Reduction Agency contracted with Black & Veatch to continue supporting Ukraine’s "peaceful and safe biological detection and diagnostic capabilities" and to "reduce biological threats," whether naturally occurring, accidental or intentional. The company signed the agreement with the agency Oct. 2, 2019, for non-COVID training support, which was submitted in November 2019.
The agency said the contract was modified after the pandemic began, in both April and June 2020, to provide additional COVID-19 pandemic-related support to Ukraine.
"The task order directed the servicing contractor to provide high-level subject matter expert mentorship support on COVID-19 Laboratory Diagnosis, Biological Safety and Laboratory Emergency Response in Ukraine," Chaney wrote.
The Defense Department did not pay for COVID-19 research in Ukraine before the virus emerged. We rate this claim False.
TikTok post, April 6, 2023
USASpending.gov, AWARD PROFILE Contract Summary, Accessed April 14, 2023
Email interview, Andrea Chaney spokesperson for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, April 14, 2023
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