Intel community 'aggressively' investigating COVID-19 origin

Not enough information yet to decide on Wuhan lab leak theory or human-animal contact theory: ODNI

The U.S. intelligence community said it is examining "all available evidence" on the origin of COVID-19 and "aggressively" working to collect and analyze new information on the issue. 

"The U.S. Intelligence Community does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially but has coalesced around two likely scenarios: either it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident," Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Strategic Communications Amanda Schoch said in a statement Thursday.

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"While two elements of the IC lean toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter -- each with low or moderate confidence -- the majority of elements within the IC do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other," Schoch said.  

"The IC continues to examine all available evidence, consider different perspectives, and aggressively collect and analyze new information to identify the virus's origins," Schoch added. 

The statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) comes after President Biden, who has called for access to China to learn about COVID-19 origins since March 2020, released the rare statement Wednesday, revealing that the U.S. intelligence community has "coalesced around two likely scenarios" for the origins of COVID-19, "including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident," and asked for "additional follow-up." 

The president asked the intelligence community to "redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days," Biden said. 

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"As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China," he added, while noting that the effort would include work by "our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community’s efforts" and directing the IC to "keep Congress fully apprised of its work." 

"The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence," Biden said. 

But it was China’s refusal to support the World Health Organization's investigation into the origins of COVID-19 that spurred the Biden administration to accelerate the declassification of U.S. intelligence and the release of the president’s statement Wednesday, Fox News has learned. 

An administration official told Fox News that the president was briefed on the intelligence in the Presidential Daily Briefing earlier this month, which revealed that U.S. intelligence officials are torn between whether COVID-19 emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident. 

The official told Fox News that the president, at the time, took the "rare step" to request the declassification of an item out of the PDB to share publicly, saying Biden was seeking to be transparent with the information U.S. officials have to date but also felt it was in the public interest. 

But as the declassification of the information was underway, China announced Tuesday during a meeting of the World Health Assembly that it would not participate or support a second phase of the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19. 

China told the World Health Organization’s decision-making body Tuesday that it considered the probe into the origins of the novel coronavirus in its country to be complete and that the international community should move on to exploring other countries. 

The official told Fox News that China’s announcement led to the acceleration of the declassification process and the disclosure of the steps the U.S. government is taking to get to the bottom of the matter, despite the Biden administration having been publicly supportive of the WHO effort. 

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The official said it was an "unusual step" for the administration to put out a midway report on what U.S. intelligence officials do and do not know, but called the move "warranted."

A source familiar told Fox News that the administration is not ruling out scientifically credible hypotheses but is focusing its attention on the scenarios mentioned in the president’s statement Wednesday. 

The source was not aware of current evidence supporting an intentional lab leak and instead stressed the "laboratory accident" verbiage in Biden’s statement. 

And an administration official told Fox News that the "focus" is making sure the intelligence collected by the government is shared as "transparently" as possible without compromising sources and methods. 

Meanwhile, the official told Fox News that the pandemic originated in China and said China has "not lived up to its obligations to the international community as to how this originated." 

The official said the administration is putting pressure back on China, even as the U.S. undertakes a more intensive investigation, urging Beijing to open access to investigators and scientists, share underlying data and access to medical records of early patients. 

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The official noted that there is "no question" China is hiding information related to the origins of the pandemic. 

The Biden administration has been calling for a transparent international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, with the White House calling for China and the World Health Organization to provide data and information necessary for U.S. officials to draw conclusions. 

The White House has criticized the WHO and China for its "phase one" report for its lack of transparency. That report dismissed claims that COVID-19 had escaped from the lab in Wuhan and called the theory of zoonotic transmission, or transfer of infection from animals to humans, "likely to very likely."

The report called the prospect that the virus transmitted from an animal reservoir to an animal host, followed by subsequent spread within that intermediate host that then transmits it to humans, "likely to very likely." It also said the idea that the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology "extremely unlikely."

The report called for further investigation in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.

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The Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is one of China's top virus research labs, built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and has faced criticism over its transparency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

China has promoted unproven theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere or was even been brought into the country from overseas with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a notion rejected by international scientists and agencies.