Lab leak most likely caused pandemic, Department of Energy says

WASHINGTON — New intelligence has prompted the Department of Energy to conclude that an accidental leak from a lab in China most likely caused the coronavirus pandemic, though U.S. spy agencies remain divided over the origin of the virus, U.S. officials said Sunday.

The conclusion was a change from the department’s previous position that it was undecided on how the virus emerged.

Some officials briefed on the intelligence said it was relatively weak and that the DOE’s conclusion was made with “low confidence”, suggesting that its confidence level was not high. Although the agency shared the information with other agencies, none of them changed their findings, the officials said.

Officials do not disclose what kind of intelligence it was. But many of the DOE’s findings come from its network of national laboratories, some of which conduct biological research, rather than from more traditional forms of intelligence such as spy networks or wiretapping.

Intelligence officials believe that a thorough study of the start of the pandemic could be important to improve the global response to future health crises, although they warn that finding an answer about the source of the virus may be difficult or even impossible given China’s opposition to further research. The responsibility lies with explaining how the pandemic, which has killed nearly seven million people, began, scientists say, and a closer look at its origins could help researchers understand what poses the greatest threat of future outbreaks.

New intelligence and a shift in the department’s views were first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday

Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, declined to confirm the intelligence. But he said President Biden had ordered national labs to be involved in efforts to determine the origin of the outbreak so that the government would use “every tool at its disposal.”

In addition to the Department of Energy, the FBI has also concluded with moderate certainty that the virus first emerged by accident from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a Chinese lab that worked on coronaviruses. Four other intelligence agencies and the National Intelligence Council have concluded that the virus most likely originated from natural transmission, the director of the Office of National Intelligence said. announced October 2021.

Mister. Sullivan said those differences remain.

“There are different points of view in the intelligence community,” he said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union program. “Some elements of the intelligence community came to conclusions on the one hand, some on the other. Some of them said they just didn’t have enough information to be sure.”

Mister. Sullivan said if more information is received, the administration will report to Congress and the public. “But at the moment the intelligence community does not have a definitive answer to this question,” he said.

Some scientists believe that current data, including the genes of the virus, point to a large food and live animal market in Wuhan as the most likely origin of the coronavirus.

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Intelligence community leaders will brief Congress on March 8 and 9 as part of the annual hearings on global threats. Avril D. Haynes, Director of National Intelligence, and other senior officials are likely to be asked about the ongoing investigation into the origin of the virus.

How the pandemic started has become a point of contention in intelligence reports, and latest congress reports were not bipartisan.

Many Democrats have not been convinced by the lab leak hypothesis: some say they believe in a natural cause explanation, while others say they are not sure enough information will emerge to draw a conclusion.

But many Republicans on Capitol Hill have said they believe The virus could have appeared in one of the Chinese research laboratories in Wuhan.. A congressional subcommittee, created when the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in January, has made studying the theory of lab leaks a central focus of its work. The first of a series of hearings is expected to be convened in March.

“The evidence has been accumulating for over a year in favor of the lab leak hypothesis,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and chairs the new House Committee on China. “I’m glad that some of our agencies are starting to listen to common sense and change their assessment.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Gallagher will hold the first hearing of the new committee, considering the threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to the United States. In future hearings, Mr. Gallagher said he would review biosecurity and China’s efforts to influence international organizations such as the World Health Organization.

“Where our committee can play a role is to find out what it says about the DNA of the Chinese Communist Party, an organization that was willing to hide the origin of the pandemic and in doing so cost us critical days, months, weeks and millions of lives. in progress,” Mr. Gallagher said in an interview Sunday.

Chinese officials have repeatedly called the lab leak hypothesis lies that have no scientific justification and are politically motivated.

At the start of the Biden administration, President ordered intelligence agencies to investigate the origin of the pandemic, after criticizing the WHO report on the matter. While there was material that has not been carefully studied by intelligence officials, the review did not ultimately lead to any new consensus within the agencies.

March 2021 report The WHO said it is “highly unlikely” that the virus was accidentally introduced into a laboratory. But China appointed half of the scientists who wrote the report and exercised major control over it. American officials are largely dismissive of this work.

Intelligence agencies have said they do not believe there is any evidence that the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was deliberately created as a bioweapon. But they said whether it came naturally, perhaps from a market in Wuhan, or accidentally escaped from a lab, is a matter of legitimate debate.

Anthony Ruggiero, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a former National Security Council staffer who worked on biosecurity issues during the Trump administration, said he believes China is still “withholding important information” about how the virus emerged. He said the lab leak theory should not be dismissed.

“The origin of the lab leak for the Covid-19 pandemic is not and has not been a conspiracy theory,” he said.

Benjamin Mueller And Sheryl Gay Stolberg made a report.