U.S. intelligence agencies admitted for the first time on Thursday that they are investigating the Chinese lab suspected of having sparked the coronavirus pandemic.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which acts as a clearinghouse for the various U.S. spy agencies, issued a press release in which it confirmed the ongoing investigation and stated its consensus with the scientific community that the virus was not man made.
“The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to U.S. policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China,” the press release states. “The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”
The release is the first official indication that U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating the origins of the coronavirus. The assessment also appears to dispel theories that coronavirus was developed as a bioweapon.
The intelligence office stated it is continuing to investigate the precise origins of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The office said it is continuing to investigate other theories about the virus’ origin, such as that it spread from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, rather than from a live animal wet food market in the city.
“As we do in all crises, the Community’s experts respond by surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to U.S. national security,” the press release continues. “The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
Speculation about the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s involvement in the coronavirus outbreak has been ongoing. In February, Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton raised the possibility that the virus began as a laboratory accident.
.@nytimes “reporter” @jotted lied when she said that I claimed the Wuhan coronavirus was a “Chinese bioweapon run amok” (her words, not mine). I simply said we couldn’t rule out any possibility yet for the virus’ origin, including a laboratory accident.https://t.co/e0N9uMCPZg
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) February 18, 2020
Last week President Donald Trump announced he would discontinue an Obama-era line of funding to the lab by the National Institute of Health.
The Daily Mail reported that the Wuhan lab was involved in research on bats, which have been identified as a likely source of origin for the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, into the human population.
“More and more, we’re hearing the story,” Trump said in comments this month, reported by the Associated Press.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang recently pushed back on theories about a lab origin for the virus.
“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Geng said.
The Chinese ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye recently offered a similar claim that “source of the virus is complex” amid talk of Australian government interests in investigating the origin of the coronavirus.
The comments, suggesting that the origin of the virus is “complex” comes as Officials in the U.S. State Department, and international observers, have characterized the Chinese government as having adopted both an offensive and defense propaganda effort. The offensive Chinese propaganda effort appears to criticize other country’s in their handling of the virus and insinuate that it started in the U.S. while the defensive effort appears focused on shifting the focus of the coronavirus coverage and discussion away from the origin of the virus in China.
The involvement of Chinese biology labs in the spread of viruses is not necessarily a new theory. In 2004 the U.S. National Institute of Health published a report based on World Health Organization findings, that a 2004 outbreak of another strain of coronavirus, SARS, originated from one of China’s top virology labs.