Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, told lawmakers on Thursday that the intelligence community has seen “indications” that China is attempting to influence the World Health Organization’s assessment about the origins of the coronavirus.
“We’ve certainly seen indications that China is trying to influence the World Health Organization’s efforts in this area,” Haines told Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick during a House Intelligence Committee hearing.
Fitzpatrick, a Republican, had asked Haines whether the intelligence community has seen any “covert” link between WHO and China.
Haines’ remarks are likely to renew skepticism of the relationship between the WHO and Chinese government. The WHO has been accused of placating Beijing and downplaying a series of missteps early on in the pandemic.
On Jan. 14, 2020, WHO tweeted out a since-debunked claim from the Chinese government that the virus does not transmit from person to person.
Haines did not elaborate on what intelligence she has seen regarding the WHO’s relationship with China. She also testified that the U.S. government does not share the WHO’s assessment regarding a theory that the virus transmitted to humans as the result of an accident in a lab in Wuhan.
The WHO released a report last month that said the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely.”
Haines, along with CIA Director William Burns, testified that U.S. intelligence is looking at two theories to explain the virus’s origins: that it was the result of a lab leak and that it jumped to humans through an animal species.
“We do not make the assessment that the WHO report that it is…extremely unlikely, that’s not our assessment,” she said.
The WHO’s report laid out the findings of a team of scientists who visited China in January and February to investigate the origins of the virus.
One scientist on the mission, Peter Daszak, told “60 Minutes” in an interview aired last month that officials from China’s foreign ministry were present during all of the WHO team’s meetings with Chinese scientists.
The World Health Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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