US to Make Intelligence on COVID-19 Origins Public
By Jeff Seldin May 27, 2021
The United States will share the results of a new deep-dive by its top intelligence agencies into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed millions of people across the globe.
Before boarding Air Force One on Thursday for a visit to Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters he would make the findings of the 90-day review public, "unless there's something I'm unaware of."
Biden ordered the fresh review Wednesday amid growing speculation that COVID-19 might have leaked from a Chinese laboratory, with the White House promising to make additional resources available, including from the country's national labs.
Top U.S. intelligence agencies said last year that their information supported "the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified" but that they would "continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence" to determine whether the outbreak began after the virus was transmitted to humans from animals in nature or as the result of a laboratory accident.
In a new statement Thursday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said U.S. intelligence agencies are still trying to answer the question surrounding its origin.
"The U.S. Intelligence Community does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially but has coalesced around two likely scenarios: either it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, or it was a laboratory accident," said ODNI spokeswoman Amanda Schoch.
"The majority of elements within the IC do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other," she added.
The statement confirmed Biden's assertion that two of the three top intelligence agencies were leaning more towards one of the scenarios, but that all three had only "low or moderate confidence" in their assessments.
U.S. officials have stressed for months that a lack of cooperation from the Chinese government hinders outside efforts to learn more about the origins of the coronavirus that has killed at least 3.4 million people worldwide, including nearly 600,000 in the United States.
In an interview with Fox News late Wednesday, the top U.S. military official repeated the criticism of China's handling of the outbreak.
"Once this virus started appearing, there seems to have been a fair amount of activity or cover-up or lack of transparency, probably the best way to put it, and all of that is disturbing," said General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I think that the president is exactly right, we need to get to the bottom of it."
Some U.S. lawmakers are also expressing frustration with China.
"After 15 months we have zero evidence or proof that the #Covid19 pandemic began naturally from an animal to a human," Marco Rubio, the lead Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted Thursday.
In a statement Wednesday, Adam Schiff, Democratic chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, accused China of serving to "delay the vital work necessary to help the world better prepare itself before the next potential pandemic."
The Wall Street Journal on Monday cited a U.S. intelligence report that researchers at a Wuhan, China, lab fell ill in November 2019, a month before the Chinese government reported to the World Health Organization the first cases of the illness that would be designated as COVID-19.
"It is most likely that this is a virus that arose naturally, but we cannot exclude the possibility of some kind of a lab accident," Dr. Francis Collins, the National Institutes of Health director, told Senate lawmakers at a hearing on Wednesday.
The WHO, which is to conduct the second phase of an inquiry into the virus's origins, has faced mounting criticism for dismissing the possibility that the new coronavirus escaped from the Chinese scientific facility, a supposition that officials in Beijing have repeatedly rejected.
Two months ago, the organization concluded in a report that it was "extremely unlikely" that COVID-19 had escaped from the Wuhan lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Collins told senators that the report "satisfied nobody" and "this time we need a really expert-driven, no-holds-barred collection of information, which is how we're mostly really going to find out what happened."
White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman contributed to this report.
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