An “element” of the U.S. intelligence community believes COVID-19 entered the human population due to a lab accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to a declassified summary of its 90-day review of the pandemic’s origins released Friday.
Overall, however, the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community were unable to come to a conclusive assessment on the origins of COVID-19 as a result of the review, which was ordered by President Joe Biden in May. Some in the intelligence community believe COVID-19 came from nature, while others pin blame on the Wuhan lab, which prior to the pandemic was conducting risky experiments on bat-based coronaviruses to make them even more contagious.
That the intelligence community remains split between the lab leak and natural spillover theories following Biden’s review exposes how little progress has been made on identifying the root cause of the pandemic. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement in April 2020 saying the intelligence community was split between the same two origin theories.
Analysts with the unidentified “element” of the intelligence community that assessed with “moderate confidence” that the virus could have accidentally leaked from the Wuhan lab placed emphasis on the “inherently risky nature of work on coronaviruses,” according to the report summary released Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The report said the analysts believe possible lab activities that could have led to COVID-19’s outbreak could have involved “experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Four other “elements” of the intelligence community, as well as the National Intelligence Council, assessed with “low confidence” that the first human case of COVID-19 was caused by natural spillover from an infected animal.
“These analysts give weight to China’s officials’ lack of foreknowledge, and numerous vectors for natural exposure, and other factors,” the report stated.
Despite their disagreement on the exact cause of the pandemic, the intelligence community did come to a “broad agreement” that the virus was not a Chinese-manufactured bioweapon.
And all but two agencies assessed with “low confidence” that the virus was not genetically engineered. The two holdouts said there was “not sufficient evidence to make an assessment” on the matter, according to the report.
The intelligence community said they are unlikely to come to a more definitive conclusion on the origins of the pandemic due to China’s unwillingness to allow a thorough investigation.
“These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China,” the report stated.
Biden pressured China to cooperate with international investigative efforts, according to a statement Friday following the report’s release.
“Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it,” Biden said.
“We must have a full and transparent accounting of this global tragedy,” he added. “Nothing less is acceptable.”
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