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U.S. intelligence agencies remain divided over likely Covid origin

HealthU.S. intelligence agencies remain divided over likely Covid origin

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(L-R) Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, Director of the National Security Agency Gen. Paul Nakasone, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, CIA Director William Burns and FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a House Select Committee on Intelligence hearing concerning worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill March 9, 2023 in Washington, DC. The leaders of the intelligence agencies testified on a wide range of issues, including China, Russia, Covid-19 origins, and TikTok.

Win Mcnamee | Getty Images

A long-anticipated government report on the origins of Covid-19 offered new details on the U.S. intelligence community’s findings but did not state definitively whether the source of the coronavirus was exposure to an infected animal or an event at a laboratory.

“All agencies continue to assess that both a natural and laboratory-associated origin remain plausible hypotheses to explain the first human infection,” the 10-page declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said.

The report laid out divisions within the Intelligence Community.

While the National Intelligence Council and four unnamed agencies found that natural exposure to an infected animal was most likely, the Department of Energy and FBI’s assessment was that a laboratory-associated incident was the more likely scenario for the first human infection.

Meanwhile, the CIA and an unidentified agency “remain unable to determine the precise origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, as both hypotheses rely on significant assumptions or face challenges with conflicting reporting,” the report states.

But “almost all” intelligence agencies agreed that the virus wasn’t genetically engineered, and all agencies agreed that Covid was not manufactured as a biological weapon.

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Congress passed legislation earlier this year requiring the intelligence community to declassify information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the pandemic’s origins.

The report shed light on the Wuhan institute, which has been at the center of a hypothesis that the virus escaped from a lab and began infecting people or was transmitted to humans from an animal.

In 2021, a U.S. intelligence report identified three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who sought treatment at a hospital after falling ill in November 2019 — providing inconclusive, circumstantial evidence that appeared to bolster a hypothesis that the virus may have spread to humans after escaping from the lab.

The intelligence community in March expanded its inquiry into Covid-19, by examining whether the first human infection with the virus was the result of natural exposure to an infected animal or a lab-linked incident, according to Friday’s report.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said the report’s release reflects a commitment from President Joe Biden “to declassify and share as much information as possible related to the origins of COVID-19, while protecting sources and methods.” The spokesman added that “getting to the bottom of the origins” of Covid remains a top priority for the president.

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