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Report Says Chinese Lab Leak Likely Behind COVID-19 Outbreak

In an update to a 2021 document, the office of Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines notes the Energy Department's change of mind regarding the origin of the virus, after it had previously expressed uncertainty.

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The U.S. Energy Department concluded in a recent classified intelligence report sent to the White House and key members of Congress that the Covid epidemic was most likely caused by a laboratory leak. In an update to a 2021 document, the office of Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines notes the Energy Department’s change of mind regarding the origin of the virus, after it had previously expressed uncertainty.

The new analysis emphasises how various segments of the intelligence community have reached divergent conclusions regarding the origin of the pandemic. The Energy Department has joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation in asserting that a mistake at a Chinese facility was most likely responsible for the spread of the virus. Two agencies are uncertain, but four other agencies and a national intelligence organisation continue to believe that natural transmission is the most likely cause.

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The Energy Department’s opinion, which is based on new data, is crucial because it is scientifically savvy and in charge of a network of national laboratories across the United States, some of which conduct cutting-edge biological research. According to those who have reviewed the classified study, the Energy Department’s decision was made with “low confidence.”

The FBI previously concluded with “moderate confidence” that a slab leak most likely caused the pandemic in 2021. The FBI still maintains this position. The National Bioforensic Analysis Center, which was established in 2004 at Fort Detrick, Maryland, to study anthrax and other potential biological threats, provides support to the FBI and employs microbiologists, immunologists, and other scientists.

The US government declined to provide additional information on the new data and analysis that prompted the Energy Department to change its position. Although both the Energy Department and the FBI agree that an accidental lab leak is the most likely scenario, their reasoning differs. The revised dossier highlights the fact that intelligence agencies are still piecing together Covid-19’s origins.

The pandemic, which started more than three years ago, has claimed more than one million American lives. According to the new study, the National Intelligence Council, which does long-term strategic research, and four agencies that officials declined to name continue to have “low confidence” that the virus spread naturally from an infected animal.

According to those who have read the confidential assessment, the Central Intelligence Agency and another agency that officials declined to name are still debating whether the lab leak or natural-transmission explanations are correct. According to those who have read the confidential paper, despite the agencies’ divergent evaluations, the update reiterated their shared view that Covid-19 was not the result of a Chinese biological weapons program.

According to a senior U.S. intelligence official, the update, whose existence had not previously been made public, was conducted by the intelligence community. The official went on to explain that the action was taken in light of new intelligence, additional research into academic literature, and input from outside the government.

The update, which is under five pages long, was not requested by Congress. Legislators, particularly Republicans in the House and Senate, are investigating the causes of the pandemic and requesting additional information from the Biden administration and the intelligence community. The release of an unclassified version of the update was not specified by officials.

Jake Sullivan, the American national security advisor, declined to confirm or refute the Journal’s reporting during a Sunday appearance on CNN. He asserted that President Biden had repeatedly directed the entire intelligence community to invest in efforts to learn as much as possible about the origins of the pandemic. According to Mr. Sullivan, President Biden requested that the national labs of the Energy Department be included in this assessment because he wants to use all available resources to determine what transpired.

Mr. Sullivan acknowledged that there are “many points of view” within the intelligence community. Many of them have asserted that they simply lack adequate knowledge. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), when asked about the Energy Department’s conclusion, stated on NBC that Congress needed to hold in-depth hearings on the origins of the pandemic and that China had attempted to coerce other nations into not investigating whether the virus originated naturally.

He declared, “This is a country that has no problem lying to the world. The U.S. 2021 intelligence assessment indicates that the Covid-19 virus began to spread in Wuhan, China no later than November 2019. Researchers, intelligence professionals, and legislators have vigorously debated the origin of the epidemic. The spread of the pandemic escalated tensions between the United States and China, with American officials accusing China of concealing information about the outbreak.

Regarding its origin in the United States, it has sparked a heated and occasionally contentious discussion. Initially, it was believed that the virus arose naturally when it jumped from an animal to a human, as had previously occurred. However, as more time has passed and no animal host has been identified, the focus has shifted to coronavirus research in Wuhan and the possibility of an accidental laboratory leak.

David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University who has advocated for an objective investigation into the origins of the pandemic, was pleased to learn of the new findings. Dr. Relman, who has served on multiple federal scientific advisory committees, stated, “Kudos to those who are willing to set aside their biases and objectively reexamine what we know and don’t know about the origins of Covids. I implore you not to accept a half-baked response or give up for political expediency.

The Energy Department stated in a statement that it “continues to support the rigorous, cautious, and impartial work of our intelligence professionals in investigating the origins of COVID-19, as directed by the President,” but declined to elaborate on the agency’s assessment. The FBI decided against responding. According to China, which has restricted World Health Organization studies, the virus may not have originated from one of China’s labs; rather, it may have originated from somewhere else.

No response was given to inquiries about whether the Chinese government’s views on the origins of Covid-19 had changed. According to some scientists, the virus most likely arose naturally and spread from an animal to a human, following the same pattern as outbreaks of previously unknown viruses.

According to the 2021 report, intelligence analysts who hold this opinion base their claim that Chinese officials were unaware of the virus on “the precedent of previous novel infectious disease outbreaks with zoonotic origins,” the thriving trade in a variety of animals susceptible to such infections, and other factors.

The definitive animal source of Covid-19 has not yet been identified. Due to the absence of an animal source and Wuhan’s prominence in China’s substantial coronavirus research, several experts and U.S. authorities believe that a lab leak is the most likely cause of the pandemic outbreak. The proponents of the lab-leak theory have cited 2018 U.S. State Department cables and Chinese internal documents to demonstrate that there were ongoing concerns regarding China’s biosafety practises.

As a result of China’s painful experience with the initial severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak in 2002, Wuhan has established or expanded a number of laboratories. The locations of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, which produces vaccines, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology are among them. The virus was once believed to have originated from an epidemic at a seafood market in Wuhan, but according to a 2021 intelligence community study, some scientists and Chinese public health officials now view it as an example of community dissemination rather than the site of the first human infection.

In May of 2021, President Biden urged the intelligence community to intensify its investigation into the origins of Covid-19. In addition, he ordered that the review incorporate the work of national laboratories and other United States agencies. He promised to update Congress on the progress of this endeavour.

Covid-19 was not the product of a Chinese biological weapons programme, according to a report from October 2021. However, it did not resolve the debate over whether the incident was the result of a laboratory leak or an animal, as the Chinese authorities were still required to provide additional information. The American intelligence community consists of 18 agencies, including offices within the Treasury, Energy, and State departments.

Eight of them, including the National Intelligence Council, participated in the Covid-origins review. The Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory concluded in May 2020 that the lab-leak scenario was plausible and warranted additional research prior to the completion of the report. The U.S. intelligence that three Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers felt ill enough to seek hospital care in November 2019 has intensified the debate over whether or not Covid-19 may have escaped from a laboratory.

This revelation did not strengthen the lab-leak or natural-origin theories, according to a report from the House Intelligence Committee from the previous year, because the researchers may have contracted the seasonal flu. According to former U.S. officials, the sick researchers conducted coronavirus research.

The assessment by the FBI that a lab leak was probable has piqued the interest of legislators, who want to learn more. Kansas Senator Roger Marshall, a Republican, penned a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on August 1 urging the bureau to release its investigation records and inquiring whether it had informed Mr. Biden of its findings.

In a letter dated November 18, FBI Assistant Director Jill Tyson stated that the Justice Department’s policy of protecting “the integrity of ongoing investigations” prevented the FBI from disclosing such information. She recommended that the senator contact Ms. Haines’ office to learn more about the planned briefings for the president.

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