The U.S. intelligence community has found no direct evidence of a “biosafety incident” or of the pre-pandemic presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 at a laboratory in Wuhan, China, according to a report released Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
The newly declassified document added details to a growing body of inconclusive evidence about the origins of the pandemic.
The 10-page report, which was mandated by legislation passed by Congress and signed into law in March by President Biden, looked specifically at potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but did not make an assessment of the likelihood the outbreak began there.
While some lab researchers heightened their risk of accidental exposure to viruses at WIV through insufficient safety precautions, and “several” fell ill in the fall of 2019, the report found, U.S. intelligence agencies remain divided on whether the pandemic began through natural transmission or by accident.
The report notes that some scientists at the institute genetically engineered coronaviruses through common practices, but that there was “no information” indicating such work was done on the virus that causes COVID-19. “Almost all” the agencies studying the issue assess the virus “was not genetically engineered,” it said.
The report also says that several WIV researchers showed some symptoms “consistent with but not diagnostic of COVID-19” in the fall of 2019, with some showing symptoms unrelated to the disease, and some confirmed to have been sick with other, unrelated illnesses.
The timing and type of the workers’ illnesses “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,” the report said.
China has consistently denied that the virus originated in the Wuhan lab and a spokesperson for its Foreign Ministry previously accused the U.S. of a “politicization of origin tracing.”
In aof declassified released last year, ODNI revealed that U.S. intelligence agencies had coalesced around two “plausible” theories – that the virus was the result of natural transmission or the result of a lab accident.
In Friday’s report, their breakdown was consistent. Five U.S. intelligence entities continue to believe that the virus originated naturally. Two, the FBI and the Department of Energy, favor the lab leak theory, albeit “for different reasons.” And the CIA and another agency have been unable to make a determination without additional information.
“The Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army have some serious explaining to do,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner and Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Brad Wenstrup in a joint statement, adding their view that ODNI’s report added “credence” to the lab leak theory.
“While we appreciate the report from ODNI, the corroboration of all available evidence along with further investigation into the origins of COVID-19 must continue,” they said.
In public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in March, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said the lack of cooperation from the Chinese government was a “key, critical gap” in explaining the pandemic’s origins.
“It is a really challenging issue,” Haines told the panel in March. “And I think our folks honestly are trying to do the best that they can to figure out what, exactly, happened, based on the information they have available to them.”