The U.S. intelligence community released a declassified version of its assessment on the origins of COVID-19.
The document, which includes a section titled “The Case for the Laboratory-Associated Incident Hypothesis,” offers insight into the one intelligence agency that assessed with “moderate confidence” that the virus, which has killed millions worldwide since it emerged in late 2019, most likely came from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan. The release of the 17-page report on Friday follows the release of a two-page summary in August that also said four other U.S. spy agencies and the National Intelligence Council believed with “low confidence” that COVID-19 most likely has a natural origin.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the nation’s 18 intelligence elements, said the classified version of the Friday report was previously provided to President Joe Biden and “policymakers” this summer.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called on the Biden administration to release the classified report quickly months ago and argued the Senate should pass his COVID Act of 2021 that “would authorize sanctions and other restrictions if the CCP fails to allow for a credible and comprehensive investigation into the origins of COVID-19 at laboratories in Wuhan.”
GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher said in August the unclassified summary had raised more questions than it answered.
“The unclassified summary of the Intelligence Community probe into the origins of COVID-19 could have been shortened to three simple words: we don’t know. This cannot be the end of the investigation,” he said.
“One IC element assesses with moderate confidence that COVID-19 most likely resulted from a laboratory associated incident involving WIV or other researchers — either through exposure to the virus during experiments or through sampling,” the ODNI wrote on Friday. “Some analysts at elements that are unable to coalesce around either explanation also assess a laboratory origin with low confidence.”
The ODNI continued: “These analysts place emphasis on academic articles authored by WIV employees indicating that WIV scientists conducted research on other coronaviruses under what these analysts consider to be inadequate biosafety conditions that could have led to opportunities for a laboratory-associated incident. These analysts also take into account SARS-CoV-2’s genetic epidemiology and that the initial recorded COVID-19 clusters occurred only in Wuhan — and that WIV researchers who conducted sampling activity throughout China provided a node for the virus to enter the city.”
“The analysts that find the laboratory-associated origin theory most likely assess that WIV researchers’ inherently risky work with coronaviruses provided numerous opportunities for them to unwittingly become infected with SARS-CoV-2. … These analysts note that it is plausible that researchers may have unwittingly exposed themselves to the virus without sequencing it during experiments or sampling activities, possibly resulting in asymptomatic or mild infection,” the ODNI stated. “Academic literature indicates that WIV researchers conducted research with bat coronaviruses or collected samples from species that are known to carry close relatives of SARS-CoV-2.”
Numerous former Trump administration officials have said that a Wuhan lab leak is COVID-19’s most likely origin.
A World Health Organization-China study from early 2021 contended that a jump from animals to humans was most likely, but it was largely dismissed due to a lack of access to key data and Chinese influence over the investigation. In July, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus admitted there was a “premature push” to dismiss the lab escape possibility.
“The closest known relatives to SARS-CoV-2 in bats have been identified in Yunnan Province, and researchers bringing samples to laboratories provide a plausible link between these habitats and the city … Academic publications suggest that WIV researchers did not use adequate biosafety precautions at least some of the time,” the ODNI's report said.
The ODNI said that “information that would confirm a laboratory-associated incident” would include if “China’s coronavirus research or related information from origins investigations by Beijing or international organizations could provide clear indications of a laboratory-associated incident or at least yield some new insights.”
EcoHealth Alliance founder Peter Daszak maintained a long working relationship with Wuhan lab “bat lady” Shi Zhengli, sending her lab at least $600,000 in National Institutes of Health funding. Daszak was also part of the WHO-China team that dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely” earlier this year, and he has called the lab leak a “conspiracy theory.” The NIH recently concluded he violated the terms of his grant while doing bat coronavirus experiments, which he denies.
The ODNI report noted that “some genetic engineering techniques may make genetically modified viruses indistinguishable from natural viruses” and that “a 2017 dissertation by a WIV student showed that reverse genetic cloning techniques … left no trace of genetic modification of SARS-like coronaviruses.” The ODNI said that “no IC analysts assess that SARS-CoV-2 was the result of laboratory adaptation, although some analysts do not have enough information to make this determination.” But the report stressed that “repeated passage of a closely related virus through animals or cell culture — which we consider laboratory adaptation and not genetic engineering — could result in some features of SARS-CoV-2.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans concluded this summer that the evidence points to COVID-19 emerging from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in late August or early September 2019, with China covering it up for months.
A State Department fact sheet released in January contended Wuhan lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar)” and that the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.” The fact sheet asserted the lab “engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military” and that lab workers became sick with coronaviruslike symptoms in fall 2019.
The ODNI noted that “at least some relevant data on coronaviruses of interest has either been unavailable or has not been published” by the Wuhan lab. The report noted that “although the WIV described the sampling trip to the mineshaft in Mojiang in Yunnan Province where it collected RaTG13 in 2016, it did not explicitly state that RaTG13 was collected from that mine until 2020.” The ODNI said the Wuhan lab also “collected eight other coronaviruses from the same mine in 2015 that it did not fully disclose until 2021.”
The new report also included “The Case for the Natural Origin Hypothesis,” which argued that the Wuhan lab’s “activities in early 2020 related to SARS-CoV-2 are a strong indicator that the WIV lacked foreknowledge of the virus” and that the natural infection of a hunter, farmer, or merchant would be more likely than the infection of a lab worker collecting animal specimens.
The ODNI said that the intelligence community “judges they will be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 unless new information allows them to determine the specific pathway for initial natural contact with an animal or to determine that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor virus before COVID-19 emerged.”
The report also noted that the Chinese government has claimed COVID-19 originated through imported frozen food, which the ODNI called “an extremely unlikely theory.”
The ODNI said the Chinese Community Party “continues to spread allegations that the United States created or intentionally spread SARS-CoV-2 to divert attention away from Beijing.”
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