Intel Agencies Split over COVID-19 Origin, in Long-Awaited Report

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A newly declassified U.S. intel report on the origins of the novel coronavirus reveals that one intelligence agency has assessed with moderate confidence that the virus emerged from a lab-leak, while four others assessed with low confidence that COVID-19 originated from natural exposure to an infected animal.

The report says that the intelligence community “remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19” and that “all agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.”

“The IC 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 adds.

It says that China’s cooperation “most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19.”

“Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States,” the report reads. “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 comes after President Biden in May tasked the intelligence community with redoubling their investigative efforts to bring the U.S. closer to a “definitive conclusion” within 90 days.

“I am grateful for the thorough, careful, and objective work of our intelligence professionals, and while this review has concluded, our efforts to understand the origins of this pandemic will not rest,” Biden said in a statement on Friday. “We will do everything we can to trace the roots of this outbreak that has caused so much pain and death around the world, so that we can take every necessary precaution to prevent it from happening again.”

Biden added: “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. To this day, the PRC continues to reject calls for transparency and withhold information, even as the toll of this pandemic continue to rise.”

Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO food safety and animal diseases expert who led the organization’s investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, said in a documentary first aired earlier this month that Chinese colleagues influenced the presentation of the team’s findings.

In The Virus Mystery, Ben Embarek said Chinese researchers in the group fought against connecting the origins of the pandemic to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in a report detailing the investigation.

The team, which included experts from ten countries, released a report in March saying the virus was likely spread from an animal to humans, calling a theory that the virus was released in a lab accident “extremely unlikely.” The researchers said they would not recommend further investigation.

Health experts the world over have said that the novel coronavirus likely originated in Wuhan, China in November 2019. Scientists in recent months have questioned whether the virus originated at a live animal market in Wuhan or was the result of a lab accident at one of the city’s two laboratories — the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control — that had been studying coronaviruses that originated in bats.

China has argued that the virus did not start within its borders and instead has peddled other theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere.

Beijing has worked hard to control the narrative surrounding the virus, punishing citizen journalists who spoke out against the government’s explanation of events. The government has also controlled all research in the country into the origins of the virus, according to the Associated Press.

Last month, the head of the WHO said it was “premature” to rule out the possibility that the novel coronavirus leaked from a laboratory.

The WHO is “asking actually China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic,” director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on July 15.

He said there had been a “premature push” to rule out a lab-leak as the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, mounting evidence appears to suggest that the virus originated with a lab leak.

In May, Liang Wannian, the Chinese head of the joint Chinese–WHO effort, acknowledged that Chinese authorities “tested 50,000 animal specimens, including 1,100 bats in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. But no luck: a matching virus still hasn’t been found.”

As National Review previously reported, the virus found in nature that is closest to SARS-CoV-2 was found in a copper mineshaft in Tongguan, Mojiang, Yunnan Province, China, where three of six miners were killed by viral respiratory infections in 2012 after working in the shaft.

However, Wuhan is roughly 1,140 miles away from the mineshaft and the first COVID-19 patient in Yunnan Province was not diagnosed until January 21, 2020, well after the outbreak began in Wuhan.

Yet in 2012 and 2013, the Wuhan Institute of Virology collected numerous virus samples from the bats in the Yunnan Province mineshaft. Professor Richard Ebright of Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology says that, “Bat coronaviruses at Wuhan [Center for Disease Control] and Wuhan Institute of Virology routinely were collected and studied at BSL-2, which provides only minimal protections against infection of lab workers.”

Additionally, DRASTIC uncovered that the main database of samples and viral sequences of the Wuhan Institute of Virology went offline on September 12, 2019.

“Researchers at Wuhan University asked for [genetic] sequences to be removed from the Sequence Read Archive (SRA), a repository for raw sequencing data maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH),” according to Nature.

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