The U.S. intelligence community still doesn’t have a clear picture of how the COVID-19 global coronavirus pandemic began even three months after President Joe Biden ordered them to “redouble” their investigative efforts around the origins of the virus.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported the U.S. intelligence community had concluded a 90-day investigation of the virus origins, as ordered by Biden, but have provided the president with a report that was inconclusive.
On May 26, Biden had ordered the intelligence community to “bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days.” Biden called for the renewed investigation after reportedly ending a prior investigative effort ordered under President Donald Trump.
Biden said the new investigation would look into various theories about the origin of COVID-19, including the possibility that it leaked from a Chinese virology lab. He said the investigation could include “specific questions for China.”
Officials who spoke with the Washington Post said the intelligence community analyzed their existing intelligence and searched for new clues, but still haven’t reached a consensus on what caused the COVID-19 outbreak.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines cautioned in June that the U.S. intelligence community might not reach an assessment within the three-month window Biden gave them.
“We’re hoping to find a smoking gun,” Hainsed told Yahoo News in June. Haines, however, cautioned, “it’s challenging to do that,” and “it might happen, but it might not.”
One official who spoke with the Washington Post also said the U.S. intelligence community is “not necessarily best equipped to solve this problem” as it is more geared for assessing traditional intelligence questions, rather than fundamentally scientific ones. The official said U.S. intelligence analysts are “positioned to collect on a range of foreign actors” but not necessarily to find new connections in vast global health data sets.
Some scientific figures have questioned whether a 90-day investigative period is even feasible to resolve the questions surrounding COVID-19’s origins.
David Relman, a Stanford University microbiologist who has pushed for investigations of all theories surrounding the origins of COVID-19, told the Washington Post that investigative efforts should continue even after this 90-day intelligence community effort.
“We should not even be thinking about closing the book or backing off, but rather ratcheting up the effort,” Relman said.
The idea that COVID-19 originated from a Chinese virology lab has been theorized since the early months of the virus outbreak, but initially saw skepticism from mainstream information sources, which largely supported the idea that the virus outbreak resulted from a natural spread between animal hosts and humans.
Opposition to lab outbreak theory even saw the fact-checking outlet PolitiFact describe the idea as a “debunked conspiracy theory.” PolitiFact recently archived its article expressing that negative assessment of the lab outbreak theory and removed it from their fact-check database.
The lab outbreak theory has caught some renewed support in recent months. In January, the State Department under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, released a report establishing potential connections between the outbreak of COVID-19 and the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 cases were first recorded.
In March, former CDC Director Robert Redfield also threw his support behind the lab outbreak hypothesis.
“I still think the most likely etiology of this pathology in Wuhan was from a laboratory — escaped,” Redfield told CNN in March.
“I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology. I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and at that moment in time the virus became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission,” Redfield added.
The officials who spoke with the Washington Post said the intelligence community will seek to declassify elements of their report for potential public release within a matter of days.