National Security

US intelligence says it’s investigating COVID-19’s origins

U.S. intelligence agencies in a rare public statement Thursday said they agreed with “the widespread scientific consensus” that the COVID-19 virus was “not manmade or genetically modified” but also that they are investigating whether it emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

“The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to U.S. policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China. The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,” the statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reads.

“As we do in all crises, the Community’s experts respond by surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to U.S. national security. The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” the statement concluded. 

The idea that the virus might have emerged from a lab is widely disputed among scientists, who generally believe it jumped from animals to humans in some natural way involving farming, hunting or the transporting of wild animals.

But the theory is one that has been pushed hard by conservative allies of President Trump, who has focused on blaming China for the virus’s carnage in the United States. 

More than 60,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, and there are more than 1 million cases. It has also shattered the U.S. economy months before Trump’s reelection race. 

The intelligence statement was released hours after a report in The New York Times that said Trump administration officials were pushing spy agencies to look for evidence on whether a government laboratory in Wuhan was the origin point for the coronavirus.

Some Democrats in the intelligence community have raised concerns that information could be politicized as the administration seeks to shift blame for the crisis to China. 

Most scientists believe the virus made the jump to humans outside of a lab. Other deadly viruses, from HIV to Ebola and more recently SARS, have moved from animals to humans in a natural setting. 

“I think it is a fair question to ask, if it is asked appropriately,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an interview Tuesday on MSNBC on the possibility the virus might have its origins in a lab in Wuhan, China.

“What I worry about is this now seems to be the focus of the White House and the president’s animosity, and I am concerned if the White House is trying to influence our intelligence product,” he said. 

The scientific community has focused on the idea that the virus made the jump from animals to humans in some natural way, and there has been a focus on a wet market in Wuhan where live animals were sold. A number of the initial cases in Wuhan, which is seen as the focal point of the virus’s origin, were linked to the market.

The Times noted that a paper published in Nature magazine earlier this year by five scientists concluded that a scenario in which the virus emerged from a lab was “implausible.” It also reported that the CIA had yet to unearth any data beyond circumstantial evidence to bolster the theory. 

Warner said a number of members on the Senate Intelligence Committee did make inquiries to the intelligence community as the lab theory began to surface and that the intelligence apparatus was initially “pretty dismissive” of claims that the virus originated somewhere other than an animal market in mid- to late January and early February.

Tags Donald Trump Mark Warner
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