US intelligence report on COVID-19 origins rejects some points raised by lab leak theory proponents
Jun 23, 2023, 5:52 PM
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials released an intelligence report Friday that rejected several points raised by those who argue COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese lab, instead reiterating that American spy agencies remain divided over how the pandemic began.
The report was issued at the behest of Congress, which in March passed a bill giving U.S. intelligence 90 days to declassify intelligence related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Intelligence officials during the Biden administration have been pushed by lawmakers to release more material about the origins of COVID-19. But they have repeatedly argued China’s official obstruction of independent reviews has made it perhaps impossible to determine how the pandemic began.
The newest report is likely to anger Republicans who say the administration is wrongly withholding classified information and researchers who accuse the U.S. of not being forthcoming.
There was newfound interest from researchers following the revelation earlier this year that the Department of Energy’s intelligence arm had issued a report arguing for a lab-related incident.
But Friday’s report said the intelligence community has not gone further. Four agencies still believe the virus was transferred from animals to humans, and two agencies — the Energy Department and the FBI — believe the virus leaked from a lab. The CIA and another agency have not made an assessment.
Located in the city where the pandemic is believed to have began, the lab has faced intense scrutiny for its previous research into bat coronaviruses and its reported security lapses.
The Wuhan lab genetically engineered viruses as part of its research. But the report says U.S. intelligence “has no information, however, indicating that any WIV genetic engineering work has involved SARS-CoV-2, a close progenitor, or a backbone virus that is closely-related enough to have been the source of the pandemic.”
And reports of several lab researchers falling ill with respiratory symptoms in fall 2019 are also inconclusive, the report argues, saying some of their symptoms weren’t consistent with COVID-19.
U.S. intelligence, the report said, “continues to assess that this information neither supports nor refutes either hypothesis of the pandemic’s origins because the researchers’ symptoms could have been caused by a number of diseases and some of the symptoms were not consistent with COVID-19.”