Biden orders the intelligence community to report on the origins of Covid within 90 days.
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he has directed the US intelligence community to redouble its efforts in investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and to report back to him in 90 days. The announcement comes after a US intelligence report revealed that several researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill and had to be hospitalized in November 2019 – a new detail that has fueled further debate about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. “As part of that report, I requested areas for further investigation, including specific questions for China. I have also requested that this effort include work by our National Laboratories and other government agencies to supplement the efforts of the Intelligence Community. In addition, I have requested that the Intelligence Community keep Congress fully informed of its activities “In a statement, Biden said. “The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hampered any investigation into the origin of COVID-19,” the President said. According to the statement, Biden directed his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, in March to task the intelligence community with preparing a report on the most recent analysis of the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, including whether the virus emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident. Biden stated that he received the report earlier this month and requested further follow-up.
“As of today, the United States Intelligence Community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios,’ but has not reached a final decision on this question. Here’s where they stand right now: ‘While two elements in the IC lean toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is enough information to assess one to be more likely than the other,’ says the report “According to Biden’s statement. That is essentially the same public conclusion that the intelligence community has had for more than a year about the origins of Covid-19, though Wednesday’s statement emphasizes that these two scenarios are “likely” and not just being investigated. In April 2020, CNN reported that the intelligence community was looking into whether the novel coronavirus spread from a Chinese laboratory rather than a market in Wuhan, China. The Chinese government has insisted that the virus arose and spread naturally. Last month, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified that US intelligence agencies still do not know “exactly where, when, or how Covid-19 virus was initially transmitted” in China, but are instead focused on two primary theories: “it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident.” On Sunday, two sources told CNN that their assessment had not changed. Biden stated that the US would continue to press China to “participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and provide access to all relevant data and evidence.”
When asked if the announcement was related to the recent US intelligence report on the researchers becoming ill, principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during a White House briefing on Wednesday that the issue is “something that the President has been working on for some time.” “We’ve been saying for a long time that China needed to provide more access to the lab and cooperate more fully with scientific investigators, and we don’t think they’ve met that standard,” Jean-Pierre told CNN’s Phil Mattingly. “Getting to the bottom of what caused this pandemic will help us understand how to prepare for the next pandemic and the next one,” she added. According to three sources familiar with the decision, Biden’s team shut down a closely guarded State Department effort launched late in the Trump administration to prove that Covid-19 originated in a Chinese lab due to concerns about the quality of its work. According to a State Department spokesperson, the decision to end the investigation, which was led primarily by the State Department’s arms control and verification bureau, was made after Biden officials were briefed on the team’s draft findings in February and March of this year. The Wall Street Journal was the first to break the news about the earlier hospitalizations.
The State Department investigation, which was terminated, is distinct from the intelligence community’s investigation, which has never been terminated. US intelligence agencies have continued to investigate whether the virus arose naturally from human contact with infected animals or if it was the result of a laboratory accident. The World Health Organization investigated the pandemic’s origins and concluded in a report that the risk of an accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute, where coronavirus research on bats was being conducted, was “extremely low.” According to the report, there was “no reporting of Covid-19 compatible respiratory illness in the weeks/months preceding December 2019, and no serological evidence of infection in workers via SARS-CoV-2-specific serology-screening.”
However, the WHO investigation was criticized by the United States, the United Kingdom, and other governments for its lack of access to “complete, original data and samples.” Throughout the study, the organization was also accused of being overly deferential to China. The study was co-authored by 17 Chinese scientists, many of whom were affiliated with state-run institutions. When the WHO report was released in March, the organization’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated in a statement that the report was only the beginning of the investigation into the virus’s origin.
“We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in a statement. This story has been updated to include new information. This report was contributed to by CNN’s Natasha Bertrand, Kylie Atwood, Katie Bo Williams, and Zachary Cohen.