COVID ORIGINSU.S. Intelligence Agencies Have Not Yet Released Expected COVID-19 Materials

Published 23 June 2023

In March, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-⁠19 Origin Act of 2023 into law, setting up a requirement for the U.S. Intelligence Community to release as much information possible about the origin of COVID-19. The intelligence community has not yet released that information.

In March, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-⁠19 Origin Act of 2023 into law, setting up a requirement for the U.S. Intelligence Community to release as much information possible about the origin of COVID-19. Earlier that month, the Department of Energy and Federal Bureau of Investigation attracted controversy for their low and moderate confidence assessments that the virus originated in a lab. Other agencies maintained their assessments that it originated naturally, and one refused to commit to either hypothesis, similar to the breakdown in the 2021 declassified assessment.

Pandora Report writes:

This week, theWall Street Journal released an article that included the names of three Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers who were ill in November of 2019. Some have speculated that one of these researchers could have been the first person infected with COVID-19. However, according to an article from theNew York Times this week, this information did not sway any agencies’ assessments:

“This week, intelligence agencies are expected to release declassified material on what they have learned about Covid’s origins, a subject of intense interest and scrutiny among American lawmakers. But people briefed on the material say there is no smoking gun, no body of evidence that sways the intelligence community as a whole, or top C.I.A. analysts, that a lab leak was the more likely origin of the pandemic than natural transmission, or vice versa…In fact, senior intelligence officials remain more convinced than ever that the agencies are not going to be able to collect a piece of evidence that solves the puzzle. Local and national authorities in China, U.S. officials say, destroyed some virus samples and used up others in research, all of which might have helped answer the questions over Covid’s origins. But those officials also caution against overstating the importance of the destroyed samples.”

Lawrence Gostin and Dr. Gigi Gronvall recently authored a piece in the New England Journal of Medicine discussing this last part, in which they write “When health emergencies arise, scientists seek to discover the cause — such a how a pathogen emerged and spread — because this knowledge can enhance our understanding of risks and strategies for prevention, preparedness, and mitigation. Yet well into the fourth year of the Covid-19 pandemic, intense political and scientific debates about its origins continue. The two major hypotheses are a natural zoonotic spillover, most likely occurring at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, and a laboratory leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). It is worth examining the efforts to discover the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the political obstacles, and what the evidence tells us. This evidence can help clarify the virus’s evolutionary path. But regardless of the origins of the virus, there are steps the global community can take to reduce future pandemic threats.”

Another important piece of the problem highlighted by theNew York Times is that “American intelligence officials also believe the Chinese government impeded the international community’s efforts to better understand the coronavirus in the early months of the outbreak and refused to gather other information that could have aided the investigation.”

Irrespective of if SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab or not, the fact is the Chinese government delayed notifying the international community and has continuously refused to cooperate with ongoing efforts to respond appropriately to this pandemic. This should be addressed in future pandemic planning given the PRC’s past with this exact issue during earlier outbreaks.

Finally, this highlights the importance of transparency and good communications during global health crises. In the context of the Intelligence Community, however, this is more complicated. The IC has to protect its sources and methods, meaning declassification of even relatively mundane information may not always be possible. However, as mirrored by CDC’s challenges throughout this pandemic, it is still worth trying to release information when possible. As Zeynep Tufekci explained this week in the New York Times, “By keeping evidence that seemed to provide ammunition to proponents of a lab leak theory under wraps and resisting disclosure, U.S. officials have contributed to making the topic of the pandemic’s origins more poisoned and open to manipulation by bad-faith actors.”

“Treating crucial information like a dark secret empowers those who viciously and unfairly accuse public health officials and scientists of profiting off the pandemic. As Megan K. Stack wrote in the New York Times this spring, “Those who seek to suppress disinformation may be destined, themselves, to sow it.”’

This article is published courtesy of the Pandora Report.