WASHINGTON – American intelligence agencies have been unable to determine whether the coronavirus pandemic was the result of an accidental leak from a laboratory or whether it occurred more naturally, according to released parts of a report released to the White House on Friday.
The country’s espionage agencies, according to the office of the director of the National Intelligence Service, are unlikely to draw any conclusions without further cooperation from China or a new source of information.
As debates about the origins of the pandemic intensified, Mr Biden directed the country’s intelligence services three months ago to produce a report on the source of the virus.
Following the review, the National Intelligence Council and four other elements of the intelligence community reported that they believe the virus that causes Covid was most likely caused by “natural exposure to an infected animal from an infected animal or a nearby precursor virus”.
Before the review was conducted, only two agencies favored the natural exposure theory. However, the new report said the Intelligence Council and other agencies advocating natural theory had little confidence in its conclusions – a sign that the intelligence behind the assessment was not strong and the conclusions could change.
On the other side of the debate, an agency with moderate confidence said it had concluded that the pandemic was the result of a “laboratory-associated incident”. According to the released report, analysts at this agency stressed the risky nature of working on coronaviruses. The agency also said the accident likely involved “experimentation, handling of animals, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.
Before the pandemic, there were two laboratories in Wuhan working on the coronavirus, but intelligence agencies have mainly focused on the work of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The announcement by the director of the National Intelligence Service did not identify the agency advocating the laboratory leak theory. However, current and former officials said the FBI believe the virus was created in the laboratory. A former official said the office believed the virus was likely leaked to the public by laboratory technicians.
Intelligence agencies all agree that the virus is unlikely to be developed as a biological weapon, the same stance the US government has taken for more than a year. The agencies also agree that, according to the released conclusions, the first exposures that caused the outbreak occurred “no later than November 2019”.
Central to the debate over the origin of the virus, American intelligence officials don’t believe Chinese officials knew about it at the time of the outbreak, the report said.
“The IC assumes that China’s officials had no prior knowledge of the virus prior to the first Covid-19 outbreak,” the released report reads, using the initials for the intelligence community.
The three-month review ordered by Mr Biden was carried out to bring more scientific expertise into the investigation into the origins of the pandemic. The secret services used the three months to investigate a treasure trove of data that had not yet been combed through completely.
These data, taken from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, did not provide any additional information to convince other authorities that a laboratory leak was possible.