Biden orders nearer verification of Covid's origin as U.S. intelligence weighs up Wuhan's laboratory leak idea
Security guards guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus visit the institute in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, on February 3, 2021.
Hector Retamal | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he has ordered a closer scrutiny of the intelligence services of the two equally plausible scenarios for the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biden announced that earlier this year he hired the intelligence services to "prepare a report on their most recent analysis of the origins of Covid-19, including whether it was from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident . " ""
"To date, the US intelligence community has banded together around two likely scenarios, but has not reached a final conclusion on the matter," Biden said in a statement.
"Here is their current position:" While two elements in the IC tend to focus more on the scenario (human contact) and one more on the scenario (lab leak) – each with low or moderate confidence – most elements do not believe that it does Case is enough information to assess whether one is more likely than the other, "Biden said.
Biden's statement reflects the unique way the intelligence services present their findings to seated presidents. This includes explaining when various agencies within the community disagree and using a low to medium to high scale to quantify the level of confidence analysts have in the accuracy of their ratings.
Biden issued the new guidelines as the origins of the still officially unknown coronavirus pandemic are increasingly being scrutinized.
The hypothesis that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese laboratory, although originally dismissed by some as a conspiracy theory, has gained more support in recent months.
The director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, recently said on the Senate Testimony that a lab leak origin "for sure" is "a possibility."
The CDC website currently states that while the exact source of the outbreak is unknown, "we do know that it originally came from an animal, likely a bat".
Covid-19 was discovered near the city of Wuhan in China's Hubei Province. The Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has historically studied coronaviruses, is at the center of the turmoil over the origins of the deadly pandemic that killed nearly 3.5 million people.
Investigation into that lab intensified this week when the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers there developed Covid-like symptoms in November 2019, just before the first cases of the virus were reported. The newspaper quoted a previously unpublished US intelligence report.
White House officials told reporters Tuesday that China had not been "completely transparent" in its global investigation into the origins of Covid-19 and that a full investigation was needed to determine whether the virus came from nature or from a laboratory .
"We have to get to the bottom of whatever the answer," Andy Slavitt, Senior Covid Advisor to the White House, told reporters on Tuesday. "We need a completely transparent process from China, we need WHO to help on this matter, and we don't feel like we have it now."
The World Health Organization said in March it was "extremely unlikely" that the virus was transmitted to humans through an accidental laboratory leak. However, this report has been heavily criticized by scientists who said WHO briefly curtailed the possibility of a laboratory accident compared to a natural-origin scenario.
"The report lacks critical data, information and access. It presents a partial and incomplete picture," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time when asked about WHO's stance on Covid's origins.
The office of the director of the National Intelligence Service, who runs the country's 18 intelligence agencies, did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.
—- CNBC's Kevin Breuninger and Amanda Macias contributed to this story.