lab-leak hypothesis

U.S. Intelligence Review Inconclusive on COVID Origins

A colorized transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Photo: NIAID/IMAGE POINT FR/NIH/NIAID/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

U.S. intelligence agencies were unable to conclusively identify the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to an unclassified summary of their findings released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday. Furthermore, per the summary, reaching a definitive conclusion on the matter would likely require additional cooperation from China — as many in the global scientific community have also been saying.

U.S. intelligence agencies were able to rule out the coronavirus having been developed as a bioweapon, however, and assessed that Chinese government officials “did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged,” according to the ODNI summary.

President Biden had ordered a 90-day intelligence review by the country’s various spy agencies (including the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) amid growing attention on the so-called “lab-leak hypothesis.” All the agencies concluded both the lab-leak theory and natural-exposure hypothesis remain “plausible,” the summary said, though most agencies believe the virus “probably” wasn’t genetically engineered.

Four agencies and the National Intelligence Council “assess with low confidence that the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection was most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus,” according to the report.

Another agency’s analysis leaned toward lab escape, assessing “with moderate confidence that the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most likely was the result of a laboratory-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

And three agencies were unable to “coalesce around either explanation without additional information, with some analysts favoring natural origin, others a laboratory origin, and some seeing the hypotheses as equally likely.”

Determining where SARS-CoV-2 came from would “most likely” require additional information and cooperation from the government of China, but China “continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information, and blame other countries, including the United States,” the ODNI said. “These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.”

In a statement following the release of the ODNI summary, President Biden criticized China for its lack of transparency and vowed that his administration will continue to investigate the origins of the virus. “The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them,” he said — though it remains unclear how.

U.S. Intelligence Review Inconclusive on COVID Origins