WASHINGTON, June 24 (AP) — U.S. officials on Friday released an intelligence report that dismissed some of the claims made by those who believe COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese laboratory and instead reiterated U.S. spy agencies’ concerns about How the pandemic started remains divided.
The report was released at the request of Congress, which passed a bill in March giving U.S. intelligence agencies 90 days to declassify intelligence related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Lawmakers are urging intelligence officials under President Joe Biden to release more material on the origins of COVID-19. But they have repeatedly argued that official Chinese obstruction of independent scrutiny has made it impossible to determine how the pandemic started.
The latest report has angered some Republicans who believe the government has wrongly withheld classified information, while researchers have accused the United States of holding back on disclosure.
John Ratcliffe, who served as the U.S. director of national intelligence under former President Donald Trump, accused the Biden administration of “continuing obfuscation.”
“The lab leak is the only theory backed by science, intelligence and common sense,” Ratcliffe said in a statement.
Researchers’ interest has been revived since the Energy Department’s intelligence division released a report earlier this year arguing for incidents linked to the lab.
But Friday’s report said the intelligence community had taken no further action. Four agencies still believe the virus jumped from animals to humans, and two — the Department of Energy and the FBI — believe it escaped from a laboratory. The CIA and other agencies have yet to make an assessment.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, located in the city where the pandemic is believed to have started, has faced intense scrutiny for its previous research on bat coronaviruses and reported security breaches.
As part of its research, the lab conducted research on genetically engineered viruses, including efforts to combine different viruses, the report said.
But the U.S. intelligence community “has no information to suggest that any WIV genetic engineering efforts involved SARS-CoV-2, a close ancestor, or a backbone virus closely related to the origin of the pandemic,” the report said.
Reports of respiratory symptoms among several lab researchers in the fall of 2019 were also inconclusive, the report said.
The U.S. intelligence community “continues to assess that the information neither supports nor disproves any hypothesis regarding the origin of the pandemic, as the researchers’ symptoms could be caused by a variety of illnesses, some of which are not consistent with COVID-19,” the report said. “.
In response to the report, the Republican chairmen of the House Intelligence Committee and the Pandemics Subcommittee jointly said they had gathered information to support the lab leak hypothesis. Ohio Reps. Mike Turner and Brad Winstrup hailed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as a “promising step toward transparency.”
Turner and Winstrup said: “While we appreciate the ODNI report, corroboration of all available evidence and further investigation into the origins of COVID-19 must continue.”
But Alina Chan, a molecular biologist who has long argued that the virus likely originated in the Wuhan lab, noted that the public version of the report did not include the names of the sick researchers or other details mandated by Congress.
The bill calling for the review allows intelligence officials to publicly redact information to protect the agency’s sources and methods.
“When you see a report like this that doesn’t contain any of the requested information, it’s hard to believe the government isn’t trying to hide what they know about #OriginOfCovid,” Chen tweeted. (AP)
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