Director of National Intelligence releases declassified COVID origins report
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released the declassified COVID-19 origins report to members of Congress.
The nine-page report on the ‘Potential Links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Origin of the COVID-19 Pandemic’ analyzed the U.S. intelligence community’s understanding of the Wuhan, China-based institute at the center of the theory that the pandemic could have come from a lab leak, including its capabilities and actions of its personnel, the summary of the report said.
‘This report does not address the merits of the two most likely pandemic origins hypotheses, nor does it explore other biological facilities in Wuhan other than the WIV,’ it said.
The report was declassified in response to the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023, which President Biden signed in March, requiring government information on what may have led to the pandemic to be declassified.
While the intelligence community hasn’t come to a conclusion on whether the pandemic was spurred by a lab leak or from ‘natural exposure’ by an infected animal – like at one of the wild animal markets in China – ‘All agencies continue to assess that both a natural and laboratory-associated origin remain plausible hypotheses to explain the first human infection,’ the report said.
The National Intelligence Council and four other intelligence community agencies have assessed that natural contact with a wild animal was the most likely cause while the Department of Energy and the FBI believe a lab leak was most likely.
The report said the CIA and another unnamed agency haven’t come to a conclusion, ‘as both hypotheses rely on significant assumptions or face challenges with conflicting reporting.’
But ‘almost all’ of the agencies have assessed it was not ‘genetically engineered’ and the entire intelligence community agrees that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was ‘not developed as a biological weapon.’
The report said that while the Wuhan Institute of Virology is independent of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the two have worked together on ‘public health-related research and collaborated on biosafety and biosecurity projects,’ including coronaviruses that sometimes involved animal sampling and genetic analysis (for example, vaccine-related work) before the pandemic, ‘but no known viruses that could plausibly be a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2.’
‘Between 2017 and 2019, the WIV funded and some of its personnel conducted research projects to enhance China’s knowledge of pathogens and early disease warning capabilities for defensive and biosecurity needs of the military,’ the report said, adding the intelligence community assessed the vaccine work was for ‘public health needs and that the coronaviruses known to be used were too distantly related to have led to the creation of SARS-CoV-2.’
It added that there is no direct evidence of a leak at the lab.
‘We continue to have no indication that the WIV’s pre-pandemic research holdings included SARSCoV-2 or a close progenitor, nor any direct evidence that a specific research-related incident occurred involving WIV personnel before the pandemic that could have caused the COVID pandemic.,’ it said.
Analysis shows the institute, which contains one of the world’s largest repositories of bat samples, first acquired SARS-CoV-2 at the start of the pandemic in Dec. 2019 ‘when WIV researchers isolated and identified the virus from samples from patients diagnosed with pneumonia of unknown causes.’
And while scientists at the institute had previously created combinations of SARS-like coronaviruses using common lab practices, the intelligence community has no information ‘indicating that any WIV genetic engineering work has involved SARS-CoV-2, a close progenitor, or a backbone virus that is closely-related enough to have been the source of the pandemic.’
Some of the techniques used in their genetic engineering projects, however, could make it difficult to determine ‘intentional’ changes, the report said.
Regarding safety at the lab, the report assessed that some scientists at the institute ‘probably did not use adequate biosafety precautions at least some of the time prior to the pandemic in handling SARS-like coronaviruses, increasing the risk of accidental exposure to viruses,’ adding that prior to the pandemic the institute had been trying to improve safety standards.
‘Nearly a year after the accreditation of the WIV’s BSL-4 laboratory in 2017, China’s decisions of which pathogens required higher biocontainment protocols remained opaque, while the facility had a shortage of appropriately trained personnel,’ it said, adding that scientists at the lab continued to conduct SARS-like coronavirus research in less stringent BSL-2 laboratories by Jan. 2019, ‘despite acknowledgements going back to 2017 of these virus’ ability to directly infect humans through their spike protein and early 2019 warnings of the danger of this practice.’
A 2020 inspection of the institute shortly after the pandemic started also showed it needed to upgrade equipment, add disinfection equipment and enhance ventilation systems.
The report included that several researchers at WIV were infected with symptoms that mirrored COVID-19 in the fall of 2019, which Fox News previously reported.
‘The IC continues to assess that this information neither supports nor refutes either hypothesis of the pandemic’s origins because the researchers’ symptoms could have been caused by a number of diseases and some of the symptoms were not consistent with COVID-19,’ the report said.
The scientists later tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, the World Health Organization said in a 2021 report.
The ill scientists exhibited a range of symptoms indicative of colds or allergies and some were determined to have illnesses unrelated to COVID-19, the report assessed.
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A statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said it had released the report on Friday due to the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023, which ‘required the Intelligence Community to declassify information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.’
This is a developing story.