A U.S. intelligence agency with significant advanced biological expertise now believes that COVID-19 likely emerged unintentionally from a Chinese laboratory.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Energy Department, which in 2021 was undecided about the origins of COVID-19, has updated its conclusion based on new intelligence. It rated its own former conclusion as “low confidence.”
The agency’s revised conclusion occasioned an update of a 2021 document about the origins of COVID-19 that included the findings of eight agencies of the U.S. intelligence, 18-agency community. In the first report, only the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concluded that COVID-19 had likely emerged from a Chinese biological lab by accident, with “moderate confidence” in its conclusion. Four of the agencies and a national intelligence panel maintain their conclusions that the disease is the result of natural transmission, while two are still undecided.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the new report highlights how different intelligence agencies have reached disparate conclusions regarding the pandemic’s origins and that investigators are still trying to reach definitive conclusions on the origins of the COVID-19 virus that spread around the world from China in 2020, killing approximately seven million people since then. The report also stated that none of the agencies believe COVID-19 is the result of a biological weapons program.
There are two main theories on the origins of COVID-19 in humans. One theory is that it jumped from an animal to human, a common pathway for new infectious diseases. Scientists who support this idea point to the increasing trade in exotic animals that can be vectors of infections. COVID-19 was initially thought to have emerged in a Wuhan seafood market, but, also according to the Wall Street Journal, the 2021 intelligence report states that some scientists and Chinese public-health officials now see the seafood market cases as part of community spread. Scientists also have yet to pin down the precise animal origins of the virus.
Proponents of the ‘accidental lab leak’ hypothesis cite the extensive research into coronaviruses done in China, including in the Wuhan province, since the country was hit hard in 2002 by the coronavirus SARS. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal cites U.S. State Department communication from 2018 and internal Chinese documents expressing concerns about China’s biosafety procedures.
When asked by the Wall Street Journal, U.S. officials declined to provide any further details on the new intelligence or how each agency reached its conclusion.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the FBI has significant resources dedicated to bioforensic analysis including support from the National Bioforensic Analysis Center, established in 2004 to analyse possible biological threats.
The journal considered the Energy Department’s conclusions significant because it operates a network of biological labs that do advanced research.
The updated classified intelligence report was recently provided to the White House and key members of the U.S. Congress.