A 2021 US energy department study, which was updated and classified, indicates that the Covid-19 pandemic was most likely caused by a virus that originated from a laboratory leak, but not as a result of a weapons program.
This finding, which departs from earlier studies on the virus’s origins, was provided to the White House and senior American lawmakers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the study was an update to a document issued by the office of National Intelligence director Avril Haines.
The FBI also reportedly concluded with moderate confidence that the virus spread after leaking out of a Chinese laboratory.
The energy department, which oversees a network of 17 US laboratories that includes advanced biology, has reached a significant conclusion, despite the fact that the report states that the agency made its updated judgment with low confidence.
The origins of Covid-19 have been the subject of conflicting hypotheses, with some proposing an unknown animal as the source of transmission to humans, while others suggesting that the virus accidentally leaked from a Chinese research laboratory in Wuhan. The unexpected spread of Covid-19, one of many infectious coronaviruses to emerge, caught global health organizations off guard in early 2020.
The virus has caused nearly 7 million deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and has had significant impacts on global trade and travel. Former US President Donald Trump politicized the issue by referring to it as the “China virus,” leading to a racialization of the pandemic that his Democratic successor, Joe Biden, has tried to avoid. However, political polarization remains beneath the surface of attempts to determine the virus’s origins.
The energy department’s updated findings are contradictory to reports from four other US intelligence agencies, which concluded that the pandemic resulted from natural transmission from an infected animal.
Two agencies have not made a definitive determination. US officials declined to provide additional information or analysis that prompted the energy department to alter its stance, according to the Journal. They also noted that the energy department and FBI came to the same conclusion for different reasons.
The CIA has not reached a verdict on whether the virus was leaked or transmitted naturally, according to the National Intelligence Council study. However, the initial 2021 report did not draw a conclusion, but it did express a consensus view that Covid-19 was not a product of a Chinese biological weapons program.
On Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan acknowledged that there are differing opinions on the issue within US intelligence agencies. Sullivan told CNN that some segments of the intelligence community have reached conclusions on one side, some on the other, and some have stated that they do not have enough information to make a definitive determination.
According to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, the Biden administration has urged every element of the intelligence community to devote effort and resources to uncover the truth about Covid-19’s origins.
Sullivan added that President Biden specifically requested that the National Laboratories under the energy department be included in the assessment. “He wants to use every tool available to determine what happened,” Sullivan said. Currently, there is no definitive answer from the intelligence community on this issue, he added, noting that eight of the 18 agencies, as well as the National Intelligence Council, have examined Covid-19’s origins.
A prior report from the energy department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in May 2020 determined that a lab-leak theory was plausible. The updated, five-page NIC evaluation was conducted in light of new intelligence, further review of scholarly literature, and input from outside experts, and comes as Republican lawmakers in Congress call for more information.
In a statement, an energy department spokesperson said that the agency remains committed to supporting the thorough, careful, and unbiased work of our intelligence professionals in investigating the origins of Covid-19, as directed by the President.
Chinese officials have rejected the possibility that Covid-19 could have originated from its laboratories, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.
The original 2021 US intelligence report stated that Covid-19 was first detected in Wuhan, China, no later than November 2019, when three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who were reportedly conducting research on coronaviruses, were ill enough to require hospitalization.