The U.S. Energy Department has determined a Chinese laboratory leak to be the most likely source of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the U.S. intelligence community remains split over whether the virus emerged from animal-to-human spillover.
That conclusion was made in a classified report that has been given to the White House and key members of Congress, anonymous people who have read the report told the Wall Street Journal
The department’s conclusion was made with “low confidence” and is based on new intelligence, the Journal reported. It follows the FBI making a similar determination in 2021 with “moderate confidence,” as reported by CNN.
Theories of natural transmission from an animal are still favored with “low confidence” by four unidentified intelligence agencies and the National Intelligence Council, the new report says, according to the Journal. The Central Intelligence Agency and one other unidentified agency are undecided, people who read the report said.
“There is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN on Sunday.
The intelligence community remains in agreement that the virus did not emerge from a Chinese biological weapons program, according to people who read the report.
The animal spillover theory and lab leak theory, each supported by piles of inconclusive evidence, have competed since the beginning of the pandemic. Previous coronaviruses have emerged from animals, but an animal host of COVID-19 has never been conclusively identified.
The city where COVID-19 was first reported, Wuhan, is home to a virology lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, that for years had been experimenting with viruses to make them more powerful. There were also several COVID-like illnesses reported among researchers there in the months before the pandemic, according to the State Department.
In 2021, President Joe Biden gave the intelligence community 90 days to come as close as it could to a conclusion. The resulting report captured broad uncertainty among the agencies, and stated that cooperation and transparency from China would “most likely be needed” to reach a definitive answer.
The report said that China’s hindering of the global investigation partly reflects “China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead.”