The assessment that Covid-19 was leaked from a Chinese lab is a minority opinion within the US intelligence community, sources say

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(CNN) — The Energy Department’s low-confidence assessment that Covid-19 likely originated from a laboratory leak in China remains a minority opinion within the intelligence community, three sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

While the FBI has also made a moderately confident assessment of the possibility that the coronavirus that causes covid-19 may have leaked from a laboratory, most of the intelligence community still believes that the virus arose naturally or is still there is very little evidence to make a judgment one way or the other.

Three sources told CNN that the Department of Energy’s change was based on information from research being conducted at the Chinese Centers for Disease Control in Wuhan, China, which was studying a variant of the coronavirus at the time of the outbreak. outbreak.

CNN previously reported that the Chinese CDC lab in Wuhan was investigating coronaviruses and bats, but it’s unclear how closely related the variants being studied were to SARS-CoV-2, the virus strain that has spread around the world. in 2020.

However, other intelligence agencies do not agree that this data is sufficient evidence to consider that the virus could have leaked from the laboratory, according to the sources.

A 2021 report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence revealed that the National Intelligence Council, along with four other unnamed agencies, assessed with little confidence that the initial covid-19 infection “was likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or with a close parent virus”.

Three other agencies in the intelligence community were “unable to agree on either explanation without additional information, with some analysts favoring a natural origin, others a laboratory origin, and some viewing the hypotheses as equally likely.” . One of those wavering agencies, as CNN has reported, is the CIA, which doesn’t seem to take a stance on the issue.

The only significant change from the 2021 report was the Department of Energy’s analysis, the sources said. The intelligence community provided an update to that report to lawmakers in recent weeks, which included the Department of Energy’s new assessment.

Two Democratic sources familiar with the intelligence debate downplayed the importance of the new DOE assessment because the other top agencies in the intelligence community, which also reviewed the information the DOE used for its assessment, have not changed. assumption.

Wuhan Institute of Virology, China.

Wuhan Institute of Virology, China.

But a GOP source familiar with the assessment said it’s remarkable that Energía is willing to support the lab’s theory. They also reiterated that China is still withholding critical information that it could share to shed more light on the matter.

Asked about the reported assessment during a regular briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning replied: “The parties involved should stop raising arguments about laboratory leaks, stop smearing China and stop politicize the issue of the origin of the virus.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price accused China of “from the outset preventing international researchers and members of the global health community from accessing the information they need to understand the origins of covid-19.” 19”.

A US intelligence community memorandum of June 2021 that aired as part of the investigation into the origins of covid-19 — to which CNN previously agreed — ordered the agencies to expand their data on the “extent of Chinese biological research and related activities.”

The memo specifically instructed the intelligence community to focus on “data or samples from sampling sites relevant to coronavirus research,” including the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which is located a few blocks from the Wuhan CDC.

The 2021 ODNI report noted that a definitive assessment of the origins of the pandemic is likely to be difficult to achieve as long as China does not agree to cooperate with global investigations.

“Most likely, China’s cooperation will be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of Covid-19,” the report says. “Beijing, however, continues to hamper the global investigation, resisting sharing information and blaming other countries, including the United States.”

Two important Republican legislators sent letters this Monday demanding a wide range of information from the Biden government about the origins of covid-19.

House Oversight Chairman James Comer of Kentucky and Ohio Rep. Brad Wenstrup, head of the coronavirus select subcommittee, sent requests Monday to the State Department, the Department of Energy and the FBI to obtain documents and testimony related to the ongoing investigation into the pandemic and how it started, according to letters obtained by CNN.

A Republican aide said Wenstrup’s subcommittee plans to hold its first hearing on March 8.

The coordinator of strategic communications of the National Security Council, John Kirby, reiterated this Monday at the White House that the United States government does not have a consensus on the origins of the virus.

“What the president wants are facts. He wants the entire government to be coordinated to go looking for those facts. And that’s what we’re doing and we’re not there yet,” Kirby told reporters. “And when we get there, and if we have something that is ready to be reported to the American people and to Congress, then we will.”

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