Covid-19: US intelligence releases report on virus origins

Judging that the coronavirus was not developed as a biological weapon.

By Reuters, AP

Published: Fri 29 Oct 2021, 11:07 PM

Last updated: Fri 29 Oct 2021, 11:19 PM

The Office of the US Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a declassified intelligence community assessment on Covid-19 origins on Friday, with the report judging that the coronavirus was not developed as a biological weapon.

Barring an unforeseen breakthrough, intelligence agencies won’t be able to conclude whether Covid-19 spread by animal-to-human transmission or leaked from a lab, officials said Friday in releasing a fuller version of their review into the origins of the pandemic.

The paper issued by the Director of National Intelligence elaborates on findings released in August of a 90-day review ordered by President Joe Biden. That review said that US intelligence agencies were divided on the origins of the virus but that analysts do not believe the virus was developed as a bioweapon and that most agencies believe the virus was not genetically engineered.

Biden launched the review amid growing momentum for the theory — initially broadly dismissed by experts — that the virus leaked from the Wuhan lab.

Senior officials involved in the full report’s drafting said they hoped it would better inform the public about the challenges of determining the virus's origins.

“We don't think we're one or two reports away from being able to understand it,” said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

Information that lab researchers sought medical treatment for a respiratory illness in November 2019 “is not diagnostic of the pandemic’s origins,” the report said.

And allegations that China launched the virus as a bioweapon were dismissed because their proponents “do not have direct access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology," are making scientifically invalid claims or are accused of spreading disinformation, the report said.

Four agencies within the intelligence community said with low confidence that the virus was initially transmitted from an animal to a human. A fifth intelligence agency believed with moderate confidence that the first human infection was linked to a lab.

Prior to writing the report, analysts conducted what the report describes as a “Team A/Team B” debate to try to strengthen or weaken each hypothesis.

Confirming with 100 per cent certainty the origin of a virus is often not fast, easy or always even possible.

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