According to the Wall Street Journal, a recently updated and classified 2021 US Department of Energy study, provided to senior American lawmakers and the White House, suggests that the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic probably originated from a laboratory leak, but not as part of a weapons program.
This new finding contradicts previous studies on the virus’s emergence.
The study is an update to a document from the National Intelligence director’s office, Avril Haines, and it comes after an FBI report, which was issued with “moderate confidence,” found that the virus spread from a Chinese laboratory after a leak.
Although the report states that the Department of Energy made its updated judgment with “low confidence,” the conclusion is still considered significant because the department oversees a network of 17 advanced biology laboratories in the United States.
Hypotheses on the origins of Covid-19 have been conflicting, with some suggesting that an unidentified animal transmitted the virus to humans, while others propose that the virus accidentally leaked from a Chinese research laboratory in Wuhan.
The emergence and spread of Covid-19, one of many infectious coronaviruses, took global health organizations by surprise in early 2020, causing nearly 7 million deaths worldwide, as reported by the World Health Organization. The pandemic also caused disruptions to trade and travel.
Former US President Donald Trump made the issue political, referring to it as the “China virus,” which led to the racialization of the pandemic, a situation that his Democratic successor, Joe Biden, has attempted to avoid. However, political polarization remains beneath the surface of efforts to determine the origins of the virus.
The updated findings from the Department of Energy contradict reports from four other US intelligence agencies, which concluded that the epidemic started due to natural transmission from an infected animal. Two agencies have yet to make a decision.
US officials have not provided further information on the new intelligence or analysis that led the Department of Energy to change its stance. They have also mentioned that the Department of Energy and FBI arrived at the same conclusion but with different reasoning.
According to the National Intelligence Council study, the CIA has yet to make a determination between the theories of a laboratory leak and natural transmission. However, the study from 2021, while not reaching a conclusion, did offer a consensus view that Covid-19 was not part of a Chinese biological weapons program.
The US National Security adviser, Jake Sullivan, acknowledged on Sunday that there are varying views within the intelligence agencies on the issue. He mentioned that some intelligence elements have come to conclusions on one side or the other, while others have not obtained sufficient information to be certain.
Sullivan stated that the Biden administration has directed all intelligence agencies to put effort and resources into resolving this issue. Biden specifically requested that the National Laboratories under the energy department participate in the assessment, according to Sullivan.
Although there is no definitive answer from the intelligence community regarding the origins of Covid-19, the energy department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported in May 2020 that a lab-leak theory was credible.
The updated NIC assessment was performed “in light of new intelligence, further study of academic literature, and consultation with experts outside government,” according to The Journal, and comes as Republicans in Congress call for more information.
Chinese officials have denied the possibility that Covid-19 leaked from their labs, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.
According to the initial 2021 US intelligence report, Covid-19 first appeared in Wuhan, China, no later than November 2019, when three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who were allegedly involved in coronavirus research, became ill enough to seek medical attention.
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