The U.S. director of national intelligence late Friday released an unclassified report on potential links between COVID-19 and a major lab in central China, as required by law, but it does not solve the mystery of whether the virus escaped from a lab or slipped to humans from an animal.
The report says American agencies remain divided over the virus’s origins, and the report says both a natural and lab-associated origin from the Wuhan Institute of Virology “remain possible hypotheses.”
Director Avril Haines was required to hand over the report under a COVID-19 origins law that breezed through Congress and earned President Biden’s signature in March.
However, the 10-page report doesn’t offer a smoking gun that ties the virus to the lab in Wuhan — the Chinese city where the pandemic began in late 2019.
It acknowledges that Wuhan scientists studied and tweaked viruses at the lab but doesn’t see a direct link to SARS-CoV-2, the formal name for the virus that causes COVID-19.
“We assess that some scientists at the WIV have genetically engineered coronaviruses using common laboratory practices,” the report said. “The [intelligence community] has no information, however, indicating that any WIV genetic engineering work has involved SARS-CoV-2, a close progenitor, or a backbone virus that is closely-related enough to have been the source of the pandemic.”
The report said the Wuhan lab probably had safety issues “at least some of the time prior to the pandemic” but it does not know of “a specific biosafety incident at the WIV that spurred the pandemic and the WIV’s biosafety training appears routine, rather than an emergency response by China’s leadership.”
The report says it looked into reports of lab workers falling ill in late 2019, a development that is often viewed as a close link between the lab and the discovery of the virus in Wuhan.
“Some of their symptoms were consistent with but not diagnostic of COVID-19,” the report says. “The IC continues to assess that this information 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.”
A series of Capitol Hill reports and congressional testimony has lent credence to the lab-leak theory, which was once dismissed as an online conspiracy.
House Republicans who’d pushed for the DNI report said there was enough in the documents to suggest it is a viable possibility.
“The Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army have some serious explaining to do,” House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner and Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup said. “This declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Intelligence Community lends credence to the ‘lab leak’ theory, which suggests that the coronavirus outbreak most likely originated from a Wuhan virology lab in China.”
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