The intelligence community’s review of the origins of COVID-19 said there is “broad agreement” among agencies that the virus was not developed as a biological weapon and that Chinese officials “did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.”
The unclassified Office of the Director of National Intelligence summary of the IC assessment said that COVID-19 “probably emerged and infected humans through an initial small-scale exposure that occurred no later than November 2019 with the first known cluster of COVID-19 cases arising in Wuhan, China in December 2019.”
“Most agencies also assess with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered; however, two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way,” the report states.
On the key question, the IC “remains divided” after assessing available evidence on the most likely origin of the virus: natural exposure to an infected animal or a laboratory-associated incident.
“Four IC elements and the National Intelligence Council assess with low confidence that the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection was most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus — a virus that probably would be more than 99 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2. These analysts give weight to China’s officials’ lack of foreknowledge, the numerous vectors for natural exposure, and other factors,” the summary said.
One unidentified IC element “assesses with moderate confidence that the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most likely was the result of a laboratory-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
“These analysts give weight to the inherently risky nature of work on coronaviruses,” the report added.
Three other IC elements said they were internally divided to their point that they couldn’t collectively throw their weight behind one of the two hypotheses.
“Variations in analytic views largely stem from differences in how agencies weigh intelligence reporting and scientific publications, and intelligence and scientific gaps,” ODNI noted.
Ultimately, the intelligence community determined “they will be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 unless new information allows them” to determine whether the virus first infected humans through natural origin or a lab mishap.
“The IC — and the global scientific community — lacks clinical samples or a complete understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest COVID-19 cases,” the summary continued. “If we obtain information on the earliest cases that identified a location of interest or occupational exposure, it may alter our evaluation of hypotheses.”
That means China would most likely needed to cooperate, ODNI added, but Beijing “continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States.”
“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 summary said.
President Biden announced in late May that he had “asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days.”
“Shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident,” he said then. “I received that report earlier this month, and asked for additional follow-up. As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios’ but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question.”
In a statement today, Biden said the United States will continue to “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.”
“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,” he said. “We needed this information rapidly, from the PRC, while the pandemic was still new.”
“The United States will continue working with like-minded partners around the world to press the PRC to fully share information and to cooperate with the World Health Organization’s Phase II evidence-based, expert-led determination into the origins of COVID-19 – including by providing access to all relevant data and evidence,” Biden added.
“We will also continue to press the PRC to adhere to scientific norms and standards, including sharing information and data from the earliest days of the pandemic, protocols related to biosafety, and information from animal populations.”