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June 19, 2021

News West

West Coast News Network

Biden asks U.S. intel agencies to ‘redouble’ efforts to investigate COVID-19’s origin

President Biden on Wednesday ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to intensify their effort to determine the origins of COVID-19 and whether the pandemic began with a lab accident in China.

The directive was a rare public statement about an ongoing classified initiative, and it escalated questions about whether negligence could have played a role in the deaths of roughly 3.5 million people worldwide.

The idea that the pandemic began at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located in the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected, was frequently dismissed as a fringe theory pushed by former President Trump and his political allies.

But scientists have said the possibility cannot be ruled out, especially since China has refused to allow a more thorough international investigation. U.S. personnel were not allowed to visit Wuhan during the pandemic’s earliest stages last year, and a more recent report from the World Health Organization was considered hamstrung by Chinese government influence.

Biden said the U.S. would work with its allies “to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence.”

There’s wide agreement among scientists that COVID-19 developed naturally, percolating among wild animals before making the jump to humans. Bats in particular are known as potential incubators for different strains of coronavirus.

However, it’s unclear whether COVID-19 might have been studied at the Wuhan Institute of Virology before it began circulating in the community and spreading around the globe.

Biden said he received an intelligence report earlier this month saying there was disagreement among U.S. spies about whether it’s more likely that the pandemic began with “human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.” Neither scenario had particularly solid evidence, according to a brief excerpt from the report — each theory could only be assessed with “low or moderate confidence” and most officials “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”

It is not unusual for different agencies to reach contrasting conclusions, reflecting the various methods that spies use to gather information. The Central Intelligence Agency, for example, tries to pry secrets from human sources, while the National Security Agency relies on communications intercepts.

“I have now 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,” Biden said in his statement. He asked intelligence officials to keep Congress updated and work closely with government laboratories.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said his panel was doing its own review of how the intelligence community responded to COVID-19.

“Beijing’s continued obstruction of a transparent, comprehensive examination of the relevant facts and data about the source of the coronavirus can only delay the vital work necessary to help the world better prepare itself before the next potential pandemic,” he said in a statement.

A March report from the World Health Organization and China said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab. But the conclusions were doubted because of China’s influence, and even W.H.O. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said more research was needed.

“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy,” he said on March 30.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top expert on infectious diseases, said Wednesday that “the most likely scenario is that this was a natural occurrence, but one knows that 100% for sure.”

He added that “since there’s a lot of concern, a lot of speculation and since no one absolutely knows that, I believe we do need the kind of investigation where there’s open transparency and all the information that’s available, to be made available, to scrutinize.”