Author: NOMAAN MERCHANT
WASHINGTON (AP) – Except for an unexpected breakthrough, intelligence agencies will be unable to conclude whether COVID-19 is spread by animal-to-human transmission or leaked from a laboratory, officials said Friday, releasing a more complete version of their review. the origins of the pandemic.
The document, released by the Director of National Intelligence, details the findings, released in August during a 90-day review ordered by President Joe Biden. This review says that U.S. intelligence agencies are divided over the origin of the virus, but analysts do not believe the virus was developed as a biological weapon and that most agencies believe the virus was not genetically engineered.
China is resisting global pressure to fully cooperate with investigations into the pandemic or to provide access to the coronavirus genetic sequences held by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which remains the subject of speculation for its research and reports of security concerns. Biden began this review amid growing support for the theory – initially rejected by experts – that the virus had leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan. Former President Donald Trump and his supporters have long argued that a laboratory leak is possible as they sought to deflect criticism of his actions over the pandemic.
China remains an extremely difficult place to conduct intelligence operations and is grappling with accusations that it mishandled the pandemic that killed 5 million people worldwide. Senior officials who contributed to the full report expressed the hope that it will better inform the public about the problems of determining the origin of the virus.
“We don’t think we have one or two reports left to figure this out,” said one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity about intelligence matters.
The full report notes that the Wuhan Institute of Virology “has previously created chimeras or combinations of SARS-like coronaviruses, but this information does not provide a clue as to whether SARS Cov-2 was genetically engineered by WIV.”
Information that lab researchers sought treatment for a respiratory illness in November 2019 “does not indicate the origin of the pandemic,” the report said.
And accusations that China launched the virus as a biological weapon were dismissed because their supporters “do not have direct access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” make scientifically invalid statements or are accused of spreading disinformation, the report said.
Four agencies in the intelligence community have stated with low confidence that the virus was originally transmitted from animal to human. The Fifth Intelligence Agency held with moderate certainty that the first human infection was laboratory-related.
Before writing the report, the analysts conducted what is called the Team A / Team B discussion in the report to try to strengthen or weaken each hypothesis.
The report identifies the types of data that researchers still want China to provide access to, including records and tissue samples from several markets in Wuhan, including the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, Qiyimen Live Animal Market, Dijiao Open Pet Market and others. Scientists initially believed the virus originated from animals sold in the Huanan market, but they have since ruled out that.
Confirming with absolute certainty the origin of a virus is often difficult, simple, or even impossible.
In the case of severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS – a disease caused by a beta coronavirus like the current coronavirus – researchers first identified the virus in February 2003. Later that year, scientists discovered the likely intermediate hosts: Himalayan palm civets, found in live animal markets in Guangdong, China. But it wasn’t until 2017 that researchers traced the likely source of the virus to bat caves in China’s Yunnan province.
Associated Press author Christina Larson of Washington contributed to this report.